First look: A hands-on glimpse of the Samsung Galaxy Note 9

How do the battery, camera, design and functionality of the Samsung perform?

Galaxy Note 9: The screen is slightly bigger at 6.4 inches, and the handset is a fraction shorter.  Photograph: Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg

Galaxy Note 9: The screen is slightly bigger at 6.4 inches, and the handset is a fraction shorter. Photograph: Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg

 

Unveiled at an event in New York in recent days, the Samsung Note 9 is due to go on sale on August 24th. Ahead of its launch, we’ve got our hands on one to give it a try. So what are the initial impressions of Samsung’s latest Note?

Design

Bigger, more powerful and longer-lasting than any of Samsung’s previous devices, the design of the new Note isn’t a huge leap forward. The screen is slightly bigger at 6.4 inches, and the handset is a fraction shorter, neither of which is massively noticeable. The Note 9 is still a fairly big handset, although it doesn’t feel unwieldy.

One important change is the location of the fingerprint reader. It’s now located below the camera, which makes it easier to reach and less likely that you’ll keep smudging your lens trying to unlock your phone.

There are some new colours too, and the blue version has a contrasting yellow S Pen. It’s a shame that the copper colour won’t be available at launch in Ireland, but the blue and purple should satisfy those who want to break out from the standard black phone.

Camera

Speaking of the camera, this is where Samsung has done some of its best work with the Note. The hardware is the same as the S9+, so you get two12 megapixel cameras, both with optical image stabilisation and dual aperture on the main camera.

But it’s the extra software Samsung has built in that makes the difference. There are now 20 preset scene modes that the Note will automatically choose from, depending on your shooting conditions. In tests, it switched easily from portraits to landscapes to text without a hitch. Great photographs, great video, but no HDR video just yet.

S Pen

If there is one reason that Note users keep coming back to the device, it is the S Pen. Otherwise, the S9+ would satisfy demands for a large-screen Android device from Samsung. So it’s no surprise that Samsung chose to look a bit more closely at it for the Note 9. The new version has Bluetooth built in for the first time. That means it can work with the phone from a distance and do things like control the camera to take a selfie. Double click to switch between front and rear cameras and click once to activate the shutter.

The bad news is you’ll only get 30 minutes of use out of it. The good news? It only takes 40 seconds to charge, and all you have to do is pop it back into the phone. As you work with the pen, a battery indicator on the phone’s screen lets you know how things are going, so you don’t get caught out. It’s quite difficult to run the pen down entirely, but if you were controlling a presentation, it could happen.

You also don’t need the Bluetooth capability for it to perform its standard functions; those will work just fine without the new feature.

Performance

Depending on where you buy your phone, you’ll get either a Exynos chipset or a Snapdragon. Regardless, the phone is built for high performance, with Samsung promising it will even be suitable for gamers. We haven’t pushed it to the limit yet, but it has so far handled a few games with ease, plus all the regular work-related things we would demand of a large screen phone like the Note. No stutters, no freezing, very little frustration.

You get plenty of storage space too. The base model is now 128GB with 6GB of RAM, and there is a new 512GB version too. The one we saw was the 128GB handset, and when you team it with a micro SD, it’s unlikely the average user would run out of space.

Battery

Battery life is often a point of frustration with smartphones, although things have been improving. Samsung has decided to boost the Note 9’s battery to 4000 mAh and, perhaps with the Note 7 disaster still fresh in their minds, there are some extras in there to stop the battery from overheating. A watercooling system, for example, plus some AI that will adjust performance if it detects the battery is getting a little too warm for comfort.

The jury is still out on whether Samsung has managed to push the Note into “all-day battery” territory, but stay tuned.

The verdict . . . so far

Samsung may have a winner on its hands with the Note 9. Is it enough of a progression to push people from last year’s Note 8 though?