Opinion

Two years later, Galaxy Note 9 is still an excellent high-end phone

The Galaxy Note 9 will soon be two years old. The Galaxy Note 20/Note 20 Ultra is on the way, as the second Note flagship in Samsung’s new world order in which the Note lineup comes with more limitations than some fans would like. For the longest time, Galaxy Notes were meant to represent the best of Samsung’s smartphone game, but that changed last year when the company decided to ditch the headphone jack with the Galaxy Note 10 series.

The smaller Note 10 also lacked a microSD slot and featured a Full HD display instead of the Quad HD panel that we’ve come to expect from Samsung’s top-of-the-line phones in recent years. Those are some of the reasons why the Galaxy Note 9 may have been the last true Note flagship, as many of our readers often point out.

It was also quite an excellent phone in general, but how well has it aged in the two years that have passed since it first hit store shelves? Well, I decided to switch to a Note 9 as my primary phone to find out.

The display is perfect even today

The first thing you notice on any phone is the display, and apart from the lower refresh rate, the Galaxy Note 9’s screen holds up amazingly well even today. The colors, the deep blacks, and its ability to go extremely bright or dark are no less than what you get on the Galaxy S20 series. The Galaxy Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra probably won’t change that, and one thing is certain: Whether you pick up the newest Galaxy flagship or one from 2-3 years ago, a great viewing experience is guaranteed.

The S Pen is free of the Air Gestures gimmick and isn’t any lesser for it

The S Pen had remained fundamentally unchanged over the years, with Samsung more or less simply introducing new software features to go along with the stylus with each new Note. That changed with the Galaxy Note 9 – it was the first in the series to come with a Bluetooth-enabled S Pen, letting users remotely control some functions, such as playing or stopping music or capturing photos in the camera.

With the Galaxy Note 10 and Note 10+, Samsung also introduced what it calls Air Actions, which are gestures made possible by a gyroscope built into the stylus. The Galaxy Note 9 doesn’t have them, but that doesn’t take anything away from how useful it is. The remote functionality was the last truly major update the S Pen received, and the Note 9 also has all of the software features that were introduced on the Note 10 and Note 10+ thanks to the One UI 2.1 and Android 10 updates.

Performance has held up well, but it isn’t perfect

The Galaxy Note 9 is a powerful phone even today, but there are a few times when it doesn’t respond as quickly as you would like. For example, I saw the splash screen in apps like WhatsApp when opening them more often than I would like, suggesting the phone was killing them in the background. That’s probably because it has just 6GB of RAM, though, instead of a fault of the Exynos 9810 under the hood.

All the latest games run without any hiccups, and I have to say that despite the slowdowns here and there, performance on the Note 9 is still top notch. I do need to point out that I reset the phone before I started using it, so I can’t say how well the performance will hold up over time. But if you have been using a Note 9 for the last year or two, I’d love to know what your experience has been like in that regard.

Not a versatile setup, but the Note 9’s cameras hold their own in 2020

No matter what Samsung might tell you, the reality is that the quality of pictures taken by the main camera on its flagships hasn’t really changed much over the last 2-3 generations. The Note 9 takes great photos in all kinds of lighting conditions – they aren’t as good as the photos phones released in 2020 can capture, but you’d only really notice the difference in a side-by-side comparison. And thanks to One UI 2.1, it has all the latest camera features — such as Single Take — as well.

The zoom camera has also held up well, but the limited zoom capability can feel, well, limited. But even worse is the lack of an ultra-wide camera. I’ve gotten used to having one on every device, because an ultra-wide camera has become commonplace on Galaxy phones in the last year and a half. But the Note 9 is a product from a time when ultra-wide cameras weren’t a thing, and it’s one of the major concerns I’d have if I were to buy the phone today.

I love the physical fingerprint reader and iris scanner combo

I’ve talked before about how I miss Samsung’s iris scanning tech from its older flagships now that wearing masks has become a lifestyle. After using the Galaxy Note 9 again for a couple of weeks, my opinion has been reinforced. The iris scanner is great for unlocking the phone without taking off my mask, and it also acts as a secondary way of unlocking secure apps such as Samsung Pay, which isn’t possible on newer Galaxy phones because they only have a fingerprint scanner as a properly secure biometric feature.

It was also liberating to use a physical fingerprint reader after so long. Despite a year and a half of using phones with in-display fingerprint readers, I still haven’t warmed up to them and probably never will. Physical fingerprint readers probably aren’t coming back, though, because fancy features are what drive the smartphone market today, and there’s nothing fancy about physical sensors. They’re just perfect in their speed and accuracy, but hey, who cares about those, right?

The battery lasts until bedtime, thanks to the mostly at-home use

The 4,000 mAh battery on the Galaxy Note 9 was the biggest ever on a mainstream Galaxy flagship at the time, and it’s still more than enough to get you through the day on a single charge. However, since I spend most of my time at home and have access to my PC, the phone never saw any real heavy use, so I can’t say if the battery life would hold up if everyone wasn’t cooped up at home because of the virus that’s ravaging the planet.

While battery life wasn’t an issue, I did miss the 25W fast charging you get on newer flagships, even though I don’t technically need it because of all the time I spend in the house. 15W fast charging just feels archaic now, and I’m glad Samsung is making 25W charging more and more mainstream as time progresses.

No software update future is what makes Note 9 hard to recommend today

Thanks to One UI 2.1, the Galaxy Note 9 feels quite fresh, especially thanks to the new camera functionality that I mentioned earlier. I did miss having Bixby Routines at my disposal, as I have plenty of automated tasks set up in Routines on my Galaxy S20 Ultra. But the one thing that would really stop me from recommending this phone if someone wanted to purchase it today is that it is no longer going to get any major software updates.

People are hopeful Samsung will provide One UI 2.5 to the Galaxy Note 9 and Galaxy S9, but I don’t think that’s going to be the case. Even One UI 2.1 for these phones was unprecedented and came as a surprise, and it’s probably what they will be stuck at going forward. It’s a shame, really, because the Note 9 is fully capable of running the next couple iterations of Android and One UI, and maybe one day Samsung will extend the number of major software updates it provides to all of its flagships. Until then, all we can do is keep hoping.


Are you using a Galaxy Note 9? Are you happy with the phone, or are you looking to upgrade to the Galaxy Note 20 or Galaxy Note 20 Ultra in the coming weeks?

  • Model: SM-N960F
  • Dimensions: Bar: 161.9 x 76.4 x 8.8 mm
  • Display: 6.4 inch / 162.56 mm Super AMOLED Display
  • CPU: Exynos 9810
  • Camera: 12MP
Join the Discussion