Samsung has officially launched the Galaxy Note 9 (after several unofficial mistakes) and it has an immediate and obvious rival: Samsung’s own Galaxy S9 Plus. The company’s two biggest and most expensive smartphones are a lot alike, but for upgraders there are key differences you need to understand…
Displays – Bigger Meet Biggest
The Galaxy S9 Plus has one of the largest displays on any Samsung phone, but the Galaxy Note 9 is even bigger:
- Galaxy Note 9 – 6.4-inch, 18.5:9 aspect ratio, Super AMOLED, 1440 x 2960 pixels (516 ppi pixel density), 83.4% screen-to-body ratio, HDR10 compliant, Corning Gorilla Glass 5
- Galaxy S9 Plus – 6.2-inch, 18.5:9 aspect ratio, Super AMOLED, 1440 x 2960 pixels (529 ppi), 84.2% screen-to-body ratio, HDR10 compliant, Corning Gorilla Glass 5
There are a couple of factors to highlight here. Yes, the Galaxy Note 9 has an even larger display but the S9 Plus actually has the slightly higher pixel density and screen-to-body ratio (aka bezel size), so the February phone stands toe-to-toe with the brand new Note.
Interestingly, the Galaxy Note 9 also still uses Gorilla Glass 5, despite manufacturer Corning already having announced Gorilla Glass 6 which provides added drop protection. Samsung has confirmed the Galaxy Note 9 display is slightly brighter and more colour accurate, but the S9 Plus still has one of the best displays available so no-one will complain.
Design & Size – Heavyweight Champs
The S9 Plus may be one of Samsung’s largest and heaviest premium smartphones but – just like their displays – the Galaxy Note 9 tops it:
- Galaxy Note 9 – 161.9 x 76.4 x 8.8 mm (6.37 x 3.01 x 0.35 in), 201 g (7.09 oz)
- Galaxy S9 Plus – 158.1 x 73.8 x 8.5 mm (6.22 x 2.91 x 0.33-inch), 189g (6.67 oz)
Surprisingly, both models are slightly thicker and heavier than their predecessors but they pack in the features for this weight gain. The two phones are IP68 water and dust resistant, have stereo speakers (with a ridiculous Dolby Atmos certification), USB-C charging, wireless charging (more later) and retain the 3.5mm headphone jack.
As such, differences again are subtle but the Galaxy Note 9 has a noticeably more angular design as well as a microSD card slot capable of supporting 512GB cards while the S9 Plus is limited to 256GB. Both phones have wisely moved their fingerprint sensors below their dual rear cameras (more next) though they have different vertical and horizontal lens alignments.
But far the biggest difference, however, is the Galaxy Note 9’s S Pen. Now upgraded with Bluetooth LE, it works like a remote, programmable button, not just a (class leading) stylus. As such you can have it open the camera, take photos, control music playback and more. It also charges in just 40 seconds when inserted back into the phone, ingenious.
Not everyone needs or wants a stylus, but for those who do this will be the Galaxy Note 9’s deal maker.
Cameras – Similar Hardware, Smarter Software
The Galaxy Note 9 and S9 Plus have identical camera hardware. This means dual rear 12MP cameras with dual apertures that cleverly switch between F1.7 (good light, high speed) and F2.4 (low light, longer exposures) apertures, as well as the same front facing 8MP camera with F1.7 aperture.
The difference is Samsung has significantly upgraded the image processing on the Galaxy Note 9 and added a ‘Scene Optimizer’ to automatically recognise and enhance subjects and landscapes). As such the company claims low light performance, in particular, will improve and there will be high hopes the truly awful front facing camera benefits as well.
I’m loathed to make too big a deal of this since Samsung should upgrade the image processing on the S9 Plus as well in future via a software update. But for now, the Galaxy Note 9 will produce better results, even if 2017’s Google Pixel 2 still sets the standards.
Elsewhere both the Galaxy Note 9 and S9 Plus have Samsung’s ‘Intelligent Scan’ facial recognition software which combines iris and facial recognition. It’s better than previous Galaxy phones, but still doesn’t hold a candle to Face ID on the iPhone X. Then again, it doesn’t have to because both these phones retain their fingerprint readers.
Performance – Noted Memory Muscle
When it comes to chipsets, once again, the Galaxy Note 9 and S9 Plus are identical in both their US and international variants:
- United States – Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 octa-core chipset (4x 2.7 GHz Kryo 385 Gold & 4×1.7 GHz Kryo 385 Silver CPUs), Adreno 630 GPU
- Europe and Asia – Exynos 9810 (4x 2.8 GHz Mongoose M3 & 4×1.7 GHz Cortex-A55 CPUs), Mali-G72 MP18 GPU
These chipsets are approximately 20% faster and 30% more efficient than their predecessors, so it’s a recognisable step up. But where the Galaxy Note 9 differentiates itself is the option of 8GB of RAM with the top storage model (more next) while the S9 Plus is limited to a (still perfectly reasonable) 6GB.
The Galaxy Note 9 should run cooler as well thanks to a new ‘Water Carbon Cooling system’ which Samsung says will reduce performance throttling under periods of extended load.
Elsewhere, connectivity is identical with LTE Cat.18 capable of 1.2 gigabits per second (1,200Mbits/sec) 4G speeds you’ll never attain in the real world, 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth 5.0 (2x speed, 4x range of Bluetooth 4.2).
An interesting separation, however, is Dex – Samsung’s system for transforming Galaxy phones into minimalist desktop computing environments. The S9 Plus requires a dedicated Dex unit (circa $130) but the Note 9 can plug directly into a monitor with just a cable and use its display as a touchpad and keyboard. Again, this functionality should come to the S9 Plus but, for now, it’s an exclusive.
Battery Life – Notable Victory
Stylus aside, perhaps the biggest win for the Galaxy Note 9 over the S9 Plus comes from its battery life:
- Galaxy Note 9 – 4000 mAh
- Galaxy S9 Plus – 3500 mAh
This is a great upgrade from Samsung. While the S9 Plus hasn’t improved on the last two generations, the Galaxy Note 9 is 700mAh larger than the (admittedly disappointing) Galaxy Note 8 battery. Samsung claims this will deliver multi-day use from a single charge.
Beyond this, the two are once more identical with quick wired and wireless charging and excellent battery longevity thanks to Samsung’s ‘8 Point Quality Check’ which promises just 5% capacity degradation in two years. For comparison, Apple expects 20% loss over the same period.
Price And Storage – The Deal Breaker
If you’ve been starting to think the Galaxy Note 9 is the phone for you, here’s where you might suddenly rethink that:
- Galaxy Note 9 – 128GB – $999 / £899
- Galaxy Note 9 – 512GB – $1,250 / £1,099
Yes, you get a lot more base storage (the S9 Plus is only available in 64GB in the US and Europe) but the $840 launch price of the S9 Plus has since fallen rapidly and can be found in deals as low as $650 on contract. For my money, given its expandable storage, the Galaxy Note 9 needed a 64GB $899 option to hook more mainstream users.
The Galaxy Note 9 does a lot right and – size and weight aside – it matches or beats the S9 Plus in every category. If you love a phone with massive battery life and storage and you’ll use the stylus then the Galaxy Note 9 really is worth the extra money.
That said, for most users, the S9 Plus offers almost identical functionality for a much lower cost. In terms of style, there are also smaller handset makers like Oppo and Vivo delivering more eye-catching, true bezel-less, notch-less designs for less money.
The Galaxy Note 9 is undoubtedly a worthy update to the Note range’s famous do-it-all heritage. But with Samsung now focusing on more mainstream devices like the redesigned 10th anniversary Galaxy S10, the Galaxy Note 9 is widely expected to be the last Note ever made. So if you’ve ever been curious to try these phones you should do so now. It might be your last chance…
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