- The Galaxy Note 9 is one of the best Android phones you can buy, but most folks should just buy the less-expensive Galaxy S9+, CNBC's Todd Haselton says.
- The camera, large display, battery life and speed are all great, he says.
Samsung's Galaxy Note 9 launches on Aug. 24. It's the best phone Samsung has ever made, but it's also one of the most expensive, with a starting price of $999.99.
I've been testing it for several days and I'm convinced it's only for two types of buyers: Android fans who want the absolute latest and greatest hardware, and people who buy Samsung's Galaxy Note phones because they love the styluses.
Here's what you need to know.
The Galaxy Note 9 is good looking, but really humongous for a phone. Two colors are available in the U.S: blue and purple. The blue model has a unique yellow-colored S Pen stylus, something you won't get from any other high-end phone.
I love the 6.4-inch display paired with the new stereo speakers, the latter of which haven't appeared on a Galaxy Note before. This is a phone for someone who loves to watch movies, TV shows and play games, since they all make the most of the massive screen. Samsung also tweaked the insides of the phone so that it doesn't get as hot while playing games, and I definitely noticed that was true compared with my personal Galaxy S9+ and iPhone X while binge-watching TV shows.
The cameras on the front and back are exceptional. I'd put them right up there with the iPhone X and Galaxy S9+, two phones that I think have the best cameras on the market.
The Note 9 steps it up a bit with a new AI feature that can automatically detect what it's taking a photo of and then adjust the camera so it takes the best shot, tweaking the colors, exposure and other details accordingly. It took about a second to detect a flower I was taking a picture of in my garden, and it automatically detected trees when I took a picture from my porch in the evening. Here's the flower picture, which I think came out nicely:
Here's another example of the AI in action. In the first shot, the camera AI feature is off, so it didn't detect that I was taking a picture of food:
In this shot, the AI was on and it noticed I was taking a picture of food. It automatically enhanced the colors and details. I think it looks like a better picture:
Just keep in mind that most high-end phones already have really good cameras. You're still getting a great camera with the iPhone X or the Galaxy S9, for example, so you don't need the Note 9 just to get a good picture.
Samsung sent me the 128GB model with 6GB of RAM and Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 845 processor. It felt plenty fast running multiple apps at once, though I've often noticed that in previous Samsung phones I've tested over the years that the company's software tends to slow down over time. Samsung also sells a more expensive model with 512GB of storage and even more RAM, which is better for running multiple apps at once and could keep your phone from slowing down over time.
I found that the Galaxy Note 9 was able to provide faster speeds on T-Mobile's network than my iPhone X did, likely because it had a stronger signal. But, like the iPhone X, the Galaxy Note 9 doesn't support next gen 5G networks that will roll out this year.
Samsung promises the huge 4,000mAh battery in the Galaxy Note 9 will offer "more than a day of battery life." That's mostly true: It usually lasted more than a day if I just used it for the basics, like listening to music while working and checking e-mail.
But when I tried watching a couple episodes of "The Americans" and playing a few rounds of "Fortnite," I found I could drain the battery pretty rapidly.
I know the S Pen has a cult following, and it works well, but I just don't find it as useful as typing out notes.
Normally, when someone recommends a book or a song, I open my phone and type a note to myself to read it. With the Galaxy Note 9, I tried to get adjusted to pulling out the S Pen and writing that recommendation down on the screen. It's fun, but I have terrible handwriting and just felt like it was more work than typing something out quickly.
It also seems like Samsung is running out of new use-cases for the S Pen. You can now use it to skip forward in Spotify, which works fine, but just isn't something I'd do. The act of popping out the pen just to do that is weird. Or it can be used as the camera shutter button, but again it's not something I find myself really needing.
I love the Galaxy Note 9. It has the best hardware of any Android phone on the market. If you liked earlier Galaxy Note phones, you'll love this and you should buy it. It's the best Android phone right now — as the Galaxy Note 8 was last year — and it will probably hold that title for a while, unless Google really wows the world with its next Pixel phone expected in the fall.
But the Galaxy Note 9 starts at $999, which is a lot of money. It's also overkill for most folks. If you want a similar experience but want to save some cash, consider the Galaxy S9 or Galaxy S9+. U.S. carriers have started to offer savings on those phones now that they're about 6 months old. Samsung's website offers them for $719.99 to $959.99.