The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 has already been out for a whole year. It's time for us to draw our final conclusion on the phone in this long-term review - and despite some criticism at the end, it's a pretty clear winner.
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What I still like about the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 after a year
Any reputable manufacturer can build good smartphones. But there are still differences in quality, workmanship and materials. Samsung's top smartphones are among the best you can buy for this, and the Galaxy Note 9 is no exception. The thing not only looks chic and extremely high-quality, but also incredibly robust. I've already had one or two broken smartphones this year, most recently the spectacular Huawei P30 Pro. But the Galaxy Note 9 has endured everything, whether falls on hard floors, keys in the same bag or children playing around with it, and it hasn't even picked up a scratch. I can confirm that my praise of the Galaxy Note 8, in this respect, continues with the Note 9.
I can still remember the first Galaxy Note. When the Samsung people in charge held the pen under my nose, I was by no means the only press representative who said: "My opinion has changed over the years, which is also due to the fact that the current S-Pen has nothing more to do with the first model." Samsung has continually improved the pen, made it more sensitive, and equipped it with new features that are not just gimmicks, but really helpful. The latest improvement was being able to use the S-Pen as a remote trigger for the camera. Anyone who has ever taken a self-timer picture of a group of people knows how great that is. Also, my children like to scribble with the S-Pen on the Note. If you don't like the pen, simply leave it in the case, it won't bother you.
For me to use a smartphone for longer than a few weeks, there's a key component needed, and it regards the camera. If it's not really good, it's not gonna work out between us. With the Galaxy Note 9 I had to cut back on two aspects: there is no wide-angle lens and no usable zoom, this double optic stuff doesn't count for me. The Note 9 makes up for this shortcoming with its extremely fast camera, with which I never miss a snapshot, the usually very balanced exposure, the great attention to detail and the tidy camera app. The front camera is also convincing. As far as cameras are concerned, the Galaxy Note 9 in my long-term test after one year, offers more than I had expected.
My expectations for the display were already high, but the Galaxy Note 9 was a joy. This large screen is simply a feast for the eyes. Although there are now smartphones with particularly high refresh rates such as the OnePlus 7 Pro, the Super AMOLED display of the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 doesn't ever feel slow. The Galaxy Note 9 has a fantastic display, which I can recommend without reservation.
What I don't like about the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 after a year
A Galaxy Note has to be big, no question about it, and I got used to the great, huge display. But "big" doesn't necessarily have to mean "wide", as the extreme example Sony Xperia 1 shows. Over the course of this long-term review, the Galaxy Note 9 always seemed somehow unwieldy and therefore uncomfortable to me, and that's because it's so wide. Large smartphones can't be operated completely with one hand anyway, but you can make things a bit more pleasant as a manufacturer.
Of course, the Galaxy Note 9 is not a slow smartphone, on the contrary. The Exynos 9810 with 6 GB of RAM can handle everything you put in its way. Nevertheless, the Galaxy Note 9 showed unexpectedly smaller pauses in my tests again and again. Even the software still seems to slow down the system from time to time, despite all of the optimizations. The animations are a bit sluggish and not as slick as they are at OnePlus. The Snapdragon version of the Galaxy smartphone, which was released in the USA, has a bit more power to offer, especially in terms of graphics. In our performance test last year, the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 (the Exynos version) already had to let the OnePlus 6 with its Snapdragon 845 pass by. As I said, the Galaxy Note 9 is not really slow, but I had hoped for more.
The unlocking features
This also applies to unlocking the smartphone via fingerprint and face recognition. The sensor is now located in the middle on the back, but very close to the camera - so the lens attracts fingerprints again and again. The sensor is also quite small and not as fast as with other manufacturers. Facial recognition isn't the fastest either and has problems when it gets a little gloomy. The iris scanner is the safest, but slower and more uncomfortable in everyday life.
Samsung's Software compulsion
When it comes to software, Samsung does a lot right with One UI and deserves plenty of praise for it. Especially the dark mode and the shifting of most control elements to the lower half of the screen are a blessing in everyday life. What bothers me, however, is the persistence with which Samsung wants to draw me to its own services, which serve as an alternative to cross-platform offerings or Google apps. Especially Samsung's browser and password manager attracted my attention. I am generally no friend of such doublings, especially when one waves them then again and again under my nose.
The bottom line
You see, I didn't like everything on Samsung Galaxy Note 9 in this long-term review. But the bottom line is that my conclusion is really positive. The Galaxy Note 9 is a great smartphone that could easily keep me happy for another year or two. This phone is the friend who has always got your back.
For the Galaxy Note 9, you'll pay around £575 these days, that's more than a good price. If you're thinking about buying the Note 9, a little patience might pay off, because the successor, the Galaxy Note 10, will soon be on the market - and then the price for the previous year's model should go down again.