Note 9 vs Note 8 Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Samsung has taken a bold decision to stick to the same design as the Note 8 for its flagship phablet — Note 9 — from the outside. Note 9 is the combination of S9 Plus and Note 8.

From the inside, it has made some changes such as powerful specs, more battery, Dex without the docking station, innovative S Pen, improved camera features with AI and largest storage capacity in the market.

It is easily the most expensive smartphone from Samsung as well as in the Android space and the second most expensive phone in the market after Apple X.

Samsung always used the Note brand’s extra-large screen to differentiate it from its Galaxy line of handsets and target power users with the large format and functionality.

Note 9 does not offer any new innovative technology but it has overcome the shortfalls on Note 8. What Samsung has done is it went deep into the smaller details to make it more perfect than Note 8.

If you keep both the Note 8 and Note 9 on the table, it will be difficult to differentiate from the front side.

Samsung has shrunk the bezels above and below the screen even further on Note 9 and now it has a screen-to-body ratio of 83.4 per cent compared to 83.2 per cent on Note 8. The difference between the two is only 0.2 per cent, which is negligible.

Also read our Note 8 review here.

Display 

The 6.4-inch Quad HD+ Super AMOLED Infinity Display has a resolution of 2960x1440 pixels with 516 pixels per inch density while the 6.2-inch Galaxy S9 Plus had 529 pixels per inch density and Note 8 had 521.

Recently, screen calibration company DisplayMate crowned Note 9 as the best display on a mobile phone for brightness and contrast.

That is why Samsung is the best in the display technology. The benefits of HDR-capable AMOLED display are pronounced as photos looked amazing with colours popping out and nice shadow detail.

The default resolution is in Full HD+ and can be changed to Quad HD+ in settings but remember it will drain the battery.

It runs on Android 8.1 Oreo out of the box and while Android 9 Pie is already being rolled out on certain devices, Samsung did not specify when this device will get the latest update. Samsung is always slow in rolling out the OS updates.

It is slightly heavier and wider than Note 8 but slightly shorter than Note 8. It weighs 201 grams compared to Note 8’s 195 grams.

Storage capacity

It comes in two variants — one with 6GB of RAM and 128GB storage capacity and the other with 8GB RAM and 512GB. Both the devices support up to 512GB storage expansion via microSD.

Placement of fingerprint sensor at the back is the major change made on Note 9’s back and now it is below the dual cameras compared to Note 8’s next to the camera — which was difficult for some to reach. Even with the new placement, it may be out of reach for some; sometimes my fingers used to land on the camera lens.

It has also stuck to the 3.5mm headphone jack, which is a plus factor as many high-end smartphones have started omitting the headphone jack.

AI voice assistant

The AI voice assistant — Bixby — has improved with translation, location-based landmarks, QR code scan and calories calculator of the food you shoot.

Some features are still a hit and miss. It needs fine-tuning to match with Google Assistant.

Camera

The camera system is similar to S9 Plus but it has AI engine built into Note 9.

The 12MP wide-angle lens with a dual aperture (F/1.5/F2.4) and telephoto 12MP autofocus sensor (F/2.4) has dual optical image stabilisation, phase detection autofocus, 2x optical zoom, 10 x digital zoom and LED flash.

The lens behaves like a human eye with F/2.4 for daylight pictures and F/1.5 to capture more light and details for low light images.

The camera produces very good shots in any condition, with bright and vivid colours and good exposure, and it has a very wide dynamic range.

In a comparative study with iPhone X and Google Pixel 2 XL, Note 9 had better noise-free photographs in low light than iPhone X and matches with Pixel 2 XL. Samsung’s zoom images are also much cleaner.

Camera of Note 9 vs the Camera of Note 8

The camera app has plenty of manual settings but also good automatic modes.

The “Live Focus” feature lets users take images and artificially control the amount of blurring in the background before or after taking the picture, similar to DSLR cameras. However, beware: This feature will not work if there is not enough light.

It can record 2160p (4K), 1440p and Full HD at 60 frames per second, 1080p at 240 frames per second, 720p at 960 frames per second. It doesn’t support HDR recording.

Newly-added features such as ‘Scene Optimiser’ use AI to identify scenes such as food, beaches, portraits, pets, landscapes, sunrises and sunsets, and the subject to automatically classify it into one of 20 categories and instantly optimise it based on the category and the ‘Flaw Detection’ feature lets users know if the image is blurry or if the subject blinks or if there is smudge on the lens.

Both these features are value-added and very useful. It did identify subjects well and quicker compared to other AI-powered devices but I did not see much of a difference in the images after optimisation.

Samsung uses software optimisation for AI with this chip compared to other manufacturers which have a separate NPU (neural processing unit) hardware to do the job. You can turn it off in the settings if you don’t like the software interfering with your photos.

The 8MP front-facing autofocus camera with f/1.7 aperture takes decent snaps even in lowlight conditions. It can record 1440p at 30 frames per second, and auto HDR.

Augmented Reality Emoji

The Augmented Reality Emoji, similar to Animated Emoji on iPhone X, which was such a big play on the Samsung Galaxy S9 series is back on Note 9. It is a fun feature but it does not have the depth as iPhone X.

Samsung has added a few extra avatar customisation options on Note 9.

It uses the 8MP front-facing camera to turn the selfie into an emoji by scanning your facial expressions in 3D and creates 18 different emojis of the person. When I scanned my face with a beard, my avatar was totally a different person without a beard.

The user can change the gender, colour of the face and clothes, with or without specs and hairstyles. The user can use the avatar to record videos with talking, singing and share it with friends. It supports third-party messaging and not like Apple for the only iMessage. In my view, AR Emoji is unpolished and needs work.

S Pen

The S Pen, with low-power Bluetooth value-added features, is water and dust resistant and has 4,096 pressure sensitivity. It is comfortable to use and does not slip when writing on the Gorilla Glass 5 screen, making it a productivity smartphone. You can take group selfies by using the S pen and standing at a distance. It works up to 30 feet away and acts as a wireless remote control.

Samsung has taken the stylus to a higher new level compared to last year’s Galaxy Note 8.

The S Pen recharges to full in under a minute when you reinsert the stylus into the holster. You can do 200 clicks or 30 minutes.

The stylus, when pulled out, shows six icons — create a note, view all notes, smart select, screen write, live messages and translate. The new feature added is the Penup. It is the live drawing of a picture or artworks and then colour it. It can also be shared.

Live Messages, while allowing it to write off-screen memos of up to 100 pages without unlocking the device, and translate text or convert a unit or currency in real time just by hovering over the sentence.

You can assign camera actions for S Pen such as take pictures, switch camera, record video for a single or double press. Similarly, you can assign the next item or previous item for single or double press in the photo gallery and the same way in PowerPoint presentation also. The options are limited for now but Samsung wants app developers to develop apps for this function.

These features may be interesting for some but a powerful feature when presenting slide shows for businesses.

The stylus can also be used underwater to take notes, make selections, and write annotations on screen, translate, magnify and glance.

One drawback to note is that when you take notes with the S Pen’s signature colour (yellow, purple or copper), the notes will be saved in that colour with white background. It is difficult to read.

Gaming

Gamers get access to free-to-play hit game Fortnite: Battle Royale on Note 9 and later it will be available to download for other Galaxy lines from its Game Launcher service as it is not available on Google Play Store. Gaming is a pleasure with the big screen and it also has a water-carbon cooling system and a heat sink to help dissipate heat. Despite this, the phone gets warm when playing Fortnite but cools down fast.

The stereo speakers are now tuned by AKG and Dolby Atmos surround sound. The speakers are louder than Note8 and S9 Plus.

Connectivity

Regarding connectivity, Bluetooth 5.0, 1.2GBPs LTE speed, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band, Wi-Fi Direct, hotspot, NFC and GPS.

DeX

The chip is powerful enough to turn your monitor into a virtual Android desktop using Samsung’s DeX feature. The Note 9 in DeX mode doubles as a keyboard and mouse and Samsung first debuted DeX as a dock accessory for Galaxy S8 series, S9 series and Note 8.

All the apps run on the external display such as a Windows desktop and some apps resize to fit the big screen. Users can unlock the phone and use it as a phone while it powers the desktop and, at the same time, use the S Pen to take notes. It is an interesting feature for small- and medium-sized business.

Battery

The battery size of 4,000mAh is the biggest for Samsung, 700mAh more than Note 8 and 500mAh more than S9 and enough to power the device for a full day and almost two days for moderate users. You also get fast charging and fast wireless charging capabilities apart from battering saving features. It charges from zero to full in one hour and 50 minutes using fast charging technique.

Verdict

For Galaxy S9 Plus and Note 8 users, the changes made on Note 9 may not be much but for people who are using more than two-year-old Note devices, it is a dramatic jump.

At the same time, the price of Note 8 is also getting a price cut and if you are not fond of S Pen, then you can save a few dirhams with S9 series.

But if you are in need of an upgrade, I suggest you wait for next year’s anniversary editions of S10 or Note 10 which may incorporate foldable screen and on-screen fingerprint sensor.

Note 9 does have some interesting features than some of the premium phones in the market and if that is what you are looking for, then Note 9 is the answer.

The 6GB/128GB is priced at Dh3,699 while the 8GB/512GB at Dh4,599. It comes in midnight black and lavender purple with matching S Pen, and ocean blue with a pearl yellow S Pen.

Pros

• Get creative with the S Pen

• Visible user experience enhancements

• Excellent battery life

• First 1TB storage capacity on a phone (microSD included)

• Big and beautiful display

• Fast performance

• Exclusive Fortnite game

• Turn your monitor into an Android desktop with DeX

• 3.5mm headphone jack

Cons

• Similar design as last year’s Note 8

• AR Emoji still gimmicky

• Highly priced for top-end model

• Bixby needs more work to do

• Running on older Android OS out of the box

• Camera specs same as S9 plus

• No HDR video recording

• No support for 5G

• Hit-or-miss camera AI features