There are very few tech products that cause enough fuss to inspire their own niche in the market.
But if you ever cringed at the word phablet as much as we did, you'll know that the Note series did just that when it dared to suggest a 5.3in screen might be a worthwhile consideration in 2011.
As it turns out, Samsung was actually on to something, and aside from that rather explosive hiccup in 2016, the Note series has gone from strength to strength ever since.
Now, the big-screen hero is back, and it's bringing some sizeable boasts with it. That is, the biggest ever Note screen, biggest ever Note battery, up to 1TB of storage and a Bluetooth-packing S-Pen.
Sound like something you could get your teeth into? We got some first impressions at the UK launch event to see how it sizes up.
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Design: on the same Note
While the Note 9 might offer up plenty to talk about on the inside, challenged to a game of spot the difference with the Note 8, we reckon we might come up short.
Of course, look a bit closer and there have been some subtle tweaks - the fingerprint scanner has moved to a more handy central position on the back of the phone, and the bezels at the top and bottom have been shaved back even further - but for the most part, this is a Note phone through and through.
The means subtly curved Gorilla Glass to front and back, with an aluminium band around its edges. It’s feels gorgeous to hold, but if you held the Note 8 - or any of the S9 family for that matter - you won’t need us to tell you that.
Despite its large screen (6.4 inches for the impatient among you, but more on that shortly), its 18.5:9 screen ration means doesn’t feel overly large to hold.
At 76mm wide, it sits very comfortably in my hand indeed - yes, it’s probably going to be one for two-hand texting but I do that now with my iPhone 8 Plus. We’re all getting used to larger phones - the way the Note does things no longer feels like an exception to the rule.
The Note 9 comes in a choice of four colours - midnight black, ocean blue, lavender purple and metallic copper - and for the first time, the S-Pen carpets match the Note 9’s drapes.
Well, all except one. The ocean blue variation is the rebel of the group, with a striking yellow S-Pen instead.
As usual, the S-Pen is tucked away out of sight at the bottom right of the phone when not in use, with a gentle click at any time popping it out to do your stylus-based bidding.
Screen: biggest ever... just
The Note 9 is the largest Note yet. But don’t be bowled over by that claim too much, there’s only 0.1in in it.
That means it’s up to 6.4in from 6.3in, but every spec boast counts when you’re trying to improve on an already excellent phone.
You won’t notice the difference in use, of course. In fact, the screen looks pretty much identical to last year all round, with a Note 8-matching 2960 x 1440 resolution (516ppi) and the same Super AMOLED display that works wonders with deep blacks.
Mobile HDR Premium is on board here, as it was in the Note 8, meaning punchier colours with compatible content from the likes of Netflix.
Its effect is a lot subtler on a smaller screen than you might notice on your telly, but it’s still noticeable, and there is more and more content becoming available to boot.
There wasn’t a lot of content for us to take a look at on the phone, but a few random YouTube videos and a quick blast on Fortnite showed up the standard Samsung display fare - rich, sharp and punchy with outstanding contrast. More on this in our full review.
Performance and features: plenty to Note
During our hands on time, and even under Fortnite duress, the Note 9 didn’t show any signs of slowing down once. There were no dropped frames, no lag, no stutters. It offered a silky smooth performance at every turn.
In the States and other territories, you’re likely to get the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 under the hood, but we can’t imagine there being many complaints about Samsung’s proprietary chip from our experience.
The difference in RAM is purely down to which model you choose - the entry-level 128GB one or the whopping 512GB version.
The fact that the Note 9’s storage starts at 128GB is pretty bonkers. What’s even crazier, is that both options come with expandable storage as well, up to another 512GB. Plump for the larger storage device and you could have up to 1TB of content in your pocket. That’s more than most laptops.
Speaking of which, you can actually use the Note 9 as a makeshift PC thanks to Samsung’s DeX functionality. It’s been featured in a few of the company’s devices to date, but the Note 9 makes it simpler to access and use than ever.
Instead of needing to faff around with a separate dock, you can simply connect the Note 9 to a display using any USB-C to HDMI adapter (Samsung is of course doing one of its own, but any will do).
This will then launch a more desktop-style version to your phone’s operating system - it won’t replace a laptop or PC in the long run, but it will give you a big second-screen experience for your phone when you need it. And let’s not forget that Microsoft has most of its Office apps available for Android now.
Other features of note (ahem) - the Note 9 continues to buck the smartphone trend to keep its 3.5mm jack, plus gains AKG-tuned stereo speaker to boot, complete with Dolby Atmos boasts. We’re still unconvinced at its effectiveness on mobile devices, but it’s there if you fancy a play around.
It’s also waterproof, rated to IP68, meaning it can take a dunking to 1.5m in fresh water for up to 30 minutes.
S-Pen: Note-able improvement
Whether you’re a doodler, note-jotter, or just prefer jabbing at your screen with a stylus instead of your finger, the S-Pen has always been the standout feature of the Note series.
It’s one of the big reasons to buy the Note over the S9+, but it could finally be the S-Pen we've wanted all along.
That’s because it’s got Bluetooth functionality, meaning it has extra uses at the click of a button.
These are all customisable in the S-Pen menu, with the ability to programme single and double clicks of the button, and even long holds, for when you are in certain apps - such as to fire the shutter on the camera or flip the camera into selfie mode, for example.
You can also use it to control playback of YouTube videos, control presentations, swipe through photos or control your music - but expect plenty more to come.
Samsung has opened up the SDK to allow software developers to build the functionality into their apps.
The S-Pen can be used in Bluetooth mode for 30 minutes non-stop before it’ll require a charge - which takes just 40 seconds, by simply being slotted back into its holder.
It can be used passively for the Note stuff you know and love though, which is all still here as standard.
Battery life: All-day promises
Samsung appears to have got its got its confidence back in large battery capacities, after the whole Note 7 debacle caused it to play it safe with the Note 8 last year.
While Samsung was careful not to go overboard on its claims for the Note 9’s battery life, it has stuck its neck out to at least an “all day” boast.
That’s thanks to confidence in the 4000mAh battery - the largest in a Note device yet - combined with the efficiency of the processor.
There are also some pretty handy battery saving modes on hand should you need them. If you’re playing Fortnite as much as us on this thing, you might need them - don’t expect it to last a day under that kind of pressure.
Supporting this longer battery life are some helpful charging capabilities, including Quick Charge 4.0 for when you need it, and wireless charging too.
Camera: Like the S9+, but better
The Note 9 borrows its camera setup from the excellent S9+… and that’s no bad thing. We had plenty of good things to say about it in our review, and we’d expect that to be no different here.
In short, it means a dual main lens - one 12MP dual pixel snapper with variable aperture and OIS, and one 12MP zoom lens offering 2x optical zoom - plus an 8MP f/1.7 selfie cam.
The variable aperture on the main camera allows the Note 9 to switch between the two depending on the light available in the shot, which it reckons should help improve results as well as reduce noise.
While we saw this on the S9 family, it’s new to the Note series, so will be an upgrade for existing Note users.
The only difference between the cameras here and the ones on the S9+ is that the Note 9’s are a little smarter.
Here, there’s the ability to automatically optimise a shot by scene or have the Note 9 detect when a shot is blurry, or someone is blinking.
With the latter, it will let you know immediately with a pop-up on screen, so you can quickly take another picture again without missing the moment.
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 first impressions
With the S9 family and now the Note 9, it certainly feels like Samsung is having something of a “building” year - that is, working on the solid foundations of last year’s devices and honing them to be even better.
And with the big 1-0 coming up next year, I can’t help but wonder if it is saving up the truly revolutionary stuff for then.
That does mean that, on paper, there don’t seem to be lots of real wow moments in the Note 9.
Yes, 1TB in your pocket is pretty incredible, and the new S-Pen functionality only strengthens the Note family’s USP, but truly unexpected stuff this ain’t. Think of an S9+ on steroids, with a suped-up S-Pen sidekick, and you'll come pretty close to what the Note 9 offers.
But just think about that - is that really a bad thing? If you’re a Note 8 user, you might not see lots that makes you want to upgrade, but other Android owners are likely to be very tempted by the excellent package the Note 9 has to offer - something that becomes less niche every year.
In fact, with every year that passes, I think Samsung’s original vision for the Note series gets clearer.
Big on screen, big on performance, big on functionality - who doesn’t want that? I can’t wait to get more acquainted with it in our full review.