Performance and battery life
Speaking of -- the Snapdragon 845 together with the 6GB of RAM on board make the Note 9 an absolute multitasking beast. It's great at simultaneously managing taxing apps -- like playing a YouTube video while running Fortnite in the background. Plus, little things like having my Instagram feed fully loaded the second I opened the app or seeing my friends' Stories the instant I tapped on their pictures meant the Note 9 fed my desire for instant gratification more than most phones. The bottleneck here is going to be your data provider -- not the CPU.
Graphics were also smooth as I awkwardly stumbled around looking for opponents to destroy in Fortnite, but the phone felt significantly warmer after just a few minutes. It wasn't uncomfortable, but I noticed it.
The Note 9's 4,000mAh battery lived up to expectations though. The phone not only lasted about two whole days on average use but also hit more than 15 hours on our video rundown test, a little longer than the Note 8 and iPhone 8 Plus. I expected it to last a lot longer than the previous Note, since it has a much bigger battery, but the difference between the two came down to just minutes. I'm going to chalk that up to the Note 9's (slightly) bigger screen for now.
There's plenty I've come to expect and love about the Note phones, like big, bright screens; slim, elegant chassis; and reassuring water resistance. But there are a number of things I'm not impressed with.
The Note 9 will ship with Android Oreo, which is about a year old. Android Pie has already started rolling out to the public, and it's not yet clear when Samsung intends to push the update out for the Note 9.
Another feature borrowed from the S9 is Intelligent Scan, which blends face recognition and iris detection for convenient hands-free logins. Unfortunately, it still proved to be an unreliable way to unlock the phone. It often didn't recognize my eyes or face. Thankfully, the fingerprint sensor on the rear serves as a handy alternative.
I'm not a fan of DeX mode, but I appreciate that Samsung has made it easier to access. Instead of having to buy or carry around a dock, you can just plug the Note 9 into an external display via a separate HDMI to USB-C converter to use the phone like a PC.
Finally, Bixby is still kind of a mess: The features Samsung showed off at its keynote, like integrating third-party app results without having to first install the apps, didn't work well. The assistant would randomly pull up completely unrelated apps, like FlightStats when I asked for directions to the office. When I told it, "Text Chris Velazco," Bixby tried to send one of the five Chrises on my phone the message "Velazco." Sigh. The company stressed that this was a pre-release version of Bixby, so maybe it'll get much more useful by August 24th, when the phones arrive. But I'm not holding my breath.
Still, none of these things are deal breakers. They're mostly optional features that you can avoid on a daily basis.
Few phones do as much as the Note 9, even if they cost about the same. At $1,000, the Note 9 is one of the most expensive phones around. But compared to the iPhone X, the Note 9 gives you much more for the money. You get a bigger, better screen; more storage; longer-lasting battery; a stylus; and theoretically better LTE speeds... when carriers fully deploy their gigabit LTE networks, anyway.
A strong contender is the Huawei P20 Pro, which you can't get in the US. If you live elsewhere or don't mind possibly poorer network speeds, you'll like its excellent cameras, reliable performance and gorgeous design. The incompatibility with American carriers is going to be a major issue though.
You might find a suitable alternative from LG, whether it's the V30s ThinQ, with its big screen but older processor, or the G7 ThinQ, with the Snapdragon 845 but smaller display. But neither of those lasts as long as the Note 9, takes pictures that are as good or comes with a stylus.
Ultimately, the Note 9 is the best big phone out there, and those who don't mind splurging will adore it.
The Note 9 is a satisfying update that will please power users, and with its new S Pen features, it even has the potential to appeal to a more mainstream audience. Samsung only needs to iron out a few quirks (I'm looking at you, Bixby) and push out its Android Pie update for this to be the best phone I've seen all year.
Video - Camera: Brian Oh; Editor: Kyle Maack