The Galaxy Note 9 is Samsung’s passionate love letter to Note fans. It has insane specs, a gigantic, gorgeous screen, a Bluetooth-powered S Pen, and a headphone jack—all critical features for the kind of Android user that Samsung is targeting with a Note update. For devotees of the phablet, the Note 9 is a dream come true.

galaxy note 9 air command Christopher Hebert/IDG

The Air Command menu works just like before on the Galaxy Note 9.

But once you get past the megahertz and gigabytes, the Galaxy Note 9 doesn’t bring much to the table beyond what’s in the Note 8. Granted, that phone was one of 2017’s best handsets, but a lot has changed in a year. In a post-iPhone X world, a recycled design, been-there camera, and gimmicky S Pen aren’t really enough to justify a price hike that pushes the phone firmly into four-figure territory.

Even with upgraded specs across the board, the Note 9 feels very much like a phone we’ve seen before. Note fans may love it, but very few of them will be in love with it.

A predictably great display

The most interesting thing about the Note 9’s design is its color options. In the U.S., you can only buy it in blue or purple, choices that will more than likely split along gender lines. Otherwise, if you’ve held a Galaxy Note 8, you already know how the Note 9 feels. It’s taller and boxier than the Galaxy S9+ and a bit heavier as well. The Note 9 weighs 12 grams more than the S9+ (which in turn is heavier than the S8+), a noticeable increase, especially when trying to use it with one hand.

galaxy note 9 screen Christopher Hebert/IDG

The screen on the Galaxy Note 9 is simply stunning—but we already knew it would be.

But with a 6.4-inch, 1440 x 2960 AMOLED screen, it’s unlikely most people will use their Note 9 without gripping it tightly with two hands. That’s a tenth of an inch bigger than last year’s phone, and it’s butting against the maximum this form factor can handle without being uncomfortably large. At about 6.4 inches (161.9mm) tall, the Note 9 is actually a touch shorter than last year’s phone, and it’s only a skosh wider at 3 inches (76.4mm, 2mm more than last year). Still, the whole package feels significantly larger than a phone like the 6.25-inch OnePlus 6, which measures just 6.1 x 3 inches (155.7 x 75.4mm). So next year’s model will need to trim the forehead and chin if the Note plans to continue growing.

The back of the phone is nearly the same as well, with one notable change (other than the color). The location of the fingerprint sensor has been moved again, and it’s now below the camera rather than next to it. That makes it more likely to reach without smudging the lens, but it’s still too high and too small for my fingers. It’s almost comical now how Samsung just can’t get it right.

galaxy note 9 lilac Christopher Hebert/IDG

The location of the fingerprint sensor on the Galaxy Note 9 is slightly improved, but it’s still not ideal.

In the meantime, the Note 9 has a predictably excellent screen. Plenty of superlatives have been written about Samsung’s display technology, and if anything, it’s a victim of its own success. It’s hard to discern much of a difference between the Note 9 and the S9, and in some instances, I actually found the S9 had richer colors and smoother gradients upon up-close inspection. But really, there isn’t much to complain about here. Sure, it would have been nice to get a 120Hz option like the Razer phone, or a true edge-to-edge design, but there’s no denying the Note 9 has one of the best displays you can get at this or any size.

All-day performance, for the most part

Samsung has made a big deal about the specs inside the Note 9, but unless you spring for the $1,250 model (which bumps the storage to 512GB and the RAM to 8GB), you’re not going to see too much of a difference over its peers. The $1,000 Note 9 has 128GB of storage and 6GB of RAM, the same specs available for less in the OnePlus 6T and Galaxy S9+, and it performs as you’d expect, which is to say it can handle pretty much anything thrown at it.





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