Samsung Galaxy Note 9 Review
Samsung’s latest high-end smartphone, the Galaxy Note 9, follows on from last year’s Note 8. So-called because of its use of an integrated “stylus” pen (S Pen), the Note 9 has several functions which are appealing to photographers.
In fact, the phone uses a very similar specification to the very high performing Galaxy S9+, but with the added bonus of some extra software tweaks. It’s not yet known whether these updates will be added to the S9/S9+.
One of the new headline features is the ability to alert the user when the phone detects you may have taken a bad photo. Samsung has also added advanced scene recognition to apply what it believes to be the most appropriate settings depending on what you’re photographing. Another new feature is the ability to employ the S Pen as a remote shutter release.
Like the S9+, the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 has a dual 12 megapixel camera set-up. One of the lenses features “dual aperture” control (f/1.5 or f/2.8 is available), something which was also seen on the S9+. The second lens offers a 2x optical zoom which is 52mm equivalent.
Other features of note include an all-day battery life, internal memory up to 512GB, a micro SD card slot and super-slow motion video recording.
For this review, we have been loaned the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 from Vodafone UK, where you can pick up the device on a number of different contract options. To buy the phone outright, the 128GB version costs £899.99, while the 512GB version costs £1,099.00.
Ease of Use
The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 has a 6.4-inch Super AMOLED screen, making it one of the larger phones on the market. How you feel about this is likely down to preference, but it certainly crosses into the “phablet” area of the market. You’ll find that you need to engage two hands in order to use the phone properly, using the second one to steady the device.
Android 8.1 (Oreo) is the operating system of the Note 9, but Samsung uses its own skin on top of the “base” Android. While it works in pretty much the same way, there are some differences, including how it looks, which aren’t always to everybody’s tastes. In order to launch the camera, you can simply swipe up from an icon in the corner of the lock screen.
Samsung’s native camera apps are extremely well-featured, especially for enthusiast photographers. By default, the app launches in “Auto” mode, but you can very easily switch to the other modes that the phone offers, including “Pro” mode. In this latter mode you have access to a number of key settings which you can change, including ISO, shutter speed and white balance. You can also choose between an aperture of f/1.5 or f/2.8, depending on how much light you want to let in.
Unlike most other smartphones, changing the aperture is mechanical, meaning you can actually see it opening and closing if you look carefully at the lens on the rear of the phone. If you’re shooting in Auto mode, you should find that it wides and closes independently depending on how much light is detected.
In order to switch between modes, all you need to do is swipe left to right on the main camera screen. This is super speedy, but we’ve noticed on other Galaxy phones that it can be a little over-sensitive, leading you to end up in modes that you didn’t necessarily want to use. This doesn’t seem to be as much of an issue with the Note 9 as I found with the S9 or S9+, and I have rarely found myself in the wrong shooting mode. Similarly, if you swipe downwards, you can switch to the selfie camera. Alternatively, you can simply tap the different modes displayed at the top of the screen, or tap the selfie icon.
Live Focus is a mode which we’ve seen before on the S9+. It utilises the two lenses on the phone to create shallow depth of field effects. To use it, you need to be a certain distance away from the subject - if you aren’t, a warning will pop up on the screen.
A particularly useful new feature of the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is the ability to use the integrated stylus with the camera app. After releasing the Stylus from its slot in the phone, you can use a button on it to take a photo, record a video and even switch between the different cameras. You can also set up the Stylus to perform other tasks, such as opening the gallery and move through the different photos displayed within. Having the Stylus proves to be very useful when shooting selfies, but you can also use it to good effect when placing the phone on a tripod - that might not be something you do all that often with a smartphone, but if you want to take long exposures, or take a group portrait, it’s a nice feature to have. The stylus fits neatly into the body of the Note 9, so you shouldn’t really have to worry about losing it or misplacing it - especially as the phone will alert you if the Stylus is missing for a significant length of time.
Another useful way of taking a selfie is by showing the camera your palm (it only appears to work when using the front facing camera). After you’ve lined your face up into the position you want to shoot, you can raise your palm towards the camera to launch a countdown timer - remove your hand and the camera will take the photo.
Heading into the settings menu while in the native camera app reveals some extra functions, some of which are new to the Samsung Galaxy Note 9. One which is particularly appealing is the “flaw detection” setting. This works by detecting certain problems with your shot, such as if someone has blinked, and warning you take the photo again.
This could be extremely useful in certain scenarios, and will be particularly appealing to beginners. It works quite well in obvious situations, such as if you’ve been moving the camera while taking the shot and been left with a blurred shot. A message pops up on screen saying “the last photo might be blurry”, giving you the option to have another go. The warning is a little on the small side, and disappears quite quickly, making it easy to miss if you’re not paying proper attention.
Another new feature is Scene Optimiser. This should automatically choose from 20 different categories, optimising the photo appropriately. I’ve had this switched on while I’ve been reviewing the phone - a little bit like with the Huawei P20 Pro, you’ll be alerted when the phone has detected a specific type of subject. In this case, a small icon, such as showing a dog, a flower, or a landscape will appear - quite what settings it’s applying in these situations is not immediately obvious.
The minimum inbuilt storage for the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is 128GB, but for extra cost, you can get a 512GB version. A micro SD card slot is also included, which can also accommodate cards of 512GB – potentially this could leave you with 1TB of storage space in your pocket. To save some cash, you could get the 128GB version and invest in an additional memory card if you find you’re running short on space. Either way, it’s a much more flexible storage system than those found on either the iPhone X or Huawei P20 Pro.