Samsung Galaxy Note 9 Review: Pen Wielding Android Powerhouse

Samsung Galaxy Note 9: Display, Design, Build Quality And DeX

Display Galaxy Note 9
Let's start with what could be considered the star of the show for some users, with respect to the Galaxy Note 9, and that's Samsung's magnificent 6.4-inch Super AMOLED display. We put a picture of a Cheetah up here because the animal exudes awesome, and the camera simply doesn't do the OLED display in the Galaxy Note 9 justice. Suffice it to say that the 6.4-inch Super AMOLED display in the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is fantastic. It's bright, vibrant and extremely accurate with respect to color reproduction. It has great viewing angles and is plenty visible in sunlight settings as well. The only display we'd offer even comes close to the Note 9 currently is that of the OnePlus 6, which is also excellent, but a touch over-saturated. The Galaxy Note 9, however, with its slightly curved radius glass edges is darn near perfect. Again, just ask the folks at DisplayMate.
Note 9 left side buttons bottom
Note 9 top

Of Supercapacitors And Super Sound

Then there's the rest of the hardware. This is the Ocean Blue Galaxy Note 9, again specifically with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage on board. It's a highly polished device (literally, a little slippery), understated, dare we say downright pretty, and a total fingerprint magnet, no two ways about it. Its profile is thin and with its rounded aluminum-strapped edges, it cradles well in the hand. For smaller hands its definitely a little on the tall side, but the Note 9's fingerprint scanner is nicely positioned under the rear camera array and within reach for most average-sized human hands.

The Note 9's S Pen slides into its traditional bottom slot location, and with a super-capacitor now on board, it can now charge in just 40 seconds and maintain Bluetooth (BLE) connectivity for up to 30 minutes in standby mode with functionality from up to 10 meters away. Also on the bottom with the pen is a USB-C port, a standard headphone jack (amen) and a down-firing speaker. That down-firing speaker, coupled with the top front firing speaker deliver one of the better smartphone audio solutions on the market currently. For a phone, the Galaxy Note 9's low-end response is actually somewhat satisfying and present while overall volume is decent too. Color us impressed here, Samsung.

Cameras, More Of The Same And Something New

rear camera galaxy note 9
On the backside is where Samsung's new camera array resides. This is the same camera setup that's in the Galaxy S9+ from a hardware perspective. As noted, there are pair of 12MP sensors back here, one with an F2.4 wide aspect lens and another with a standard aspect, dual aperture F1.5/F2.4 lens. Also returning here are similar features to the Galaxy S9+, like Super Slo-Mo mode and Samsung's excellent Live Focus mode for depth of field bokeh blur effects. More on this later, but beyond these features, the Note 9 also ushers in an automatic Scene Optimizer. This is an AI-algorithmic image detection method that scans a scene and categorizes it into one of 20 types. The camera also has Flaw Detection capability now too, but more on this in our camera performance section. 
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 back with pen
S Pen build
Last but certainly not least, built into the phone is Samsung's S Pen for the Galaxy Note 9, which though not literally mightier than the sword, is still a pretty great tool for anyone inclined to pen stylus input, and a few other tricks it offers. It nestles in tight in the Note 9's silo and a matching painted tip meshes flush with the bottom edge of the device with a nice firm snap. If you weren't paying attention, you wouldn't even know it's there. It's a very clean integration hardware-wise and we'll get to its user functions shortly. And then there's that, supercapacitor, which sounds cool for sure, and hits full charge in 40 seconds, powering the new S Pen's Bluetooth BLE capabilities. 

Samsung's DeX Dock And DeX Refined

Samsung's DeX has been out since the introduction of the Galaxy S8 series, but the company has been refining both the software and hardware implementation. At this point, DeX is a highly functional and polished environment that just works. Just about anything that runs on the Galaxy Note 9 will run in a DeX environment, even games. However, no, we haven't had time to check out Fortnite yet (but there's still time and you know we will). Check out our live demo in the video on page 1 where you can see DeX in action, however. 

Note 9 DeX Dock
DeX Environment
Note 9 DeX Dock docked
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 In DeX Dock

With the Dex Dock you get full PC keyboard and mouse support and it works quite well. Or, as you can see in the shot above, you can use the Note 9 itself as a touchpad, as was demonstrated in our quick video tour on the previous page. Navigation is crisp and simple with multi-finger gesture support and the S Pen again adds a remote control element, with the ability for simple app control like stepping through slides of a PowerPoint presentation, for example. Samsung has also introduced a DeX USB-C adapter that directly connects the Note 9 to a display via HDMI and enables the same functionality with the Note 9 for touch control. DeX has come a long way and it's really quite functional now. Samsung basically took Microsoft's Contiuum concept, and made it real for Android. Hey Google, anybody home? Samsung DeX is definitely a bit of an unsung hero, but it has some really great potential in the enterprise, as well as with mainstream consumers. 

rain shot galaxy note 9

And even with all that baked-in functionality, the Galaxy Note 9 stays IP68 liquid and dust resistant. Going for a quick dip or singing in the rain is covered, fortunately. It's August in New England right now, but feeling pretty Seattle lately. 

All the better an excuse to stay indoors and play with software, next...

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