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Most of us didn’t know we wanted a greather-than-5in screen, let alone a stylus, for our smartphones before the Note series. Today, Note users are some of Samsung’s loyalist customers, and also some of their most demanding, so expectations for every new version of the category defining handset are always very high. Are the updates to the Note9 enough to warrant an upgrade, or bring you back to the S Pen fold if you’ve defected?
People buy Note smartphones for two reasons: they love the jumbo display and/or they want to be able to draw on it. The Note 9 seeks to please on both fronts. The screen’s size is up from the 6.3in of the Note8 to 6.4in, yet the device doesn’t feel much bigger in hand than the S9+. That's thanks to even slimmer bezels than usual top and bottom of the display, which along with the squarer corners and subtler curves along the edges make the useable screen real estate feel more roomy than comparing specifications would suggest.
Superb pressure sensitivity and responsiveness from the S Pen have been standard for ages, but with the Note9, Samsung’s added a few new party tricks to it’s iconic stylus’s picnic basket. Low-energy Bluetooth means the S Pen's button can fire the phone’s camera, play and pause media, or even serve as a wireless clicker for presentations.
Going the distance
Samsung’s opted to power the Note9 with its Exynos 9810 octa-core processor, and 6GB of RAM, at least for the 128GB version. The RAM allocation jumps to 8GB for the supersized 512GB edition. Both models can have their storage expanded via a microSD card, and both support cards up to 512GB, meaning if you’re a serious media junkie, planning to shoot lots of 4K video, or are simply a chronic digital hoarder, you can now have up to 1TB of storage in your pocket.
Just as Note users expect a lot from Samsung’s designers and software engineers, the Note expects lots of juice from the battery… so this time around it’s getting the highest capacity battery seen on a note: a substantial 4000mAh. Combined with Samsung’s smart power modes, that should see even the most avid sketch artists through a full day. And if not, Samsung’s fast charging tech and support for wireless charging ought to make topping up speedy.
Being a Note you can also expect a killer camera. We didn’t get long with the Note9 at the launch, but our test pictures in the lowlight conditions of the demo area were as good as we’ve come to expect from the latest S-series phones. Little wonder, given the dual rear cameras — one of which has a variably aperture that can flip between f1.5 and f2.4 in the blink of eye — have the same specs as those on the S9+.
Samsung’s managed to pack in some more imaging smarts, though. Got a greasy fingerprint on the camera lens? Mom and dad both blinked when you said ‘cheese’? The Note9 will let you know, so you can snap again before it’s too late. It’ll also assess what you point it at and try to optimise settings accordingly, and with the fingerprint sensor moved from alongside to below the rear lenses, you should spend less time wiping them clean than S8 owners do.
Pop the S Pen out for the first time while in camera mode, and you’ll get a quick tutorial explaining how you can use its button to trigger the camera, whether for group shots you want to be in, too, or selfies from unusual angles.
If you’re still using the Note5, the Note9 is going to feel like a marked upgrade. It’ll be less pronounced if you’re coming from an 8, and S Pen said, it’ll feel very familiar indeed if you’re coming from an S9+. No matter how you come to get one, though, if you do let one into your hands (and pockets) you’ll find it’s still by far and away the best big phone for getting things done.