The Galaxy Note9 is the most expensive Galaxy smartphone ever launched in the United States (there have been more expensive Samsung phones sold abroad). It's also easily the best. I've been using it the past five days, and I am left with the same basic impressions I had with the Galaxy S9+, but better. And that's exactly what the Note 9 should deliver.
Of course, with every smartphone release comes the question of whether this generation is the one to buy, or if a rival manufacturer is simply going to release something better a month or two from now. With the Note9, I believe you can rest assured that a purchase today is unlikely to be one you'll regret tomorrow.
Ample storage, RAM, and battery
The Galaxy Note9 comes with 128GB of storage and 6GB of RAM. While Android isn't especially well-optimized for using more than 4GB of RAM at a time, more RAM means more processes can be kept in their saved states, and that the operating system is less likely to kill one because it believes it's running out of memory. While the difference is hard to truly illustrate, I have noticed that multitasking performance on the Note9 is excellent. Perhaps more importantly, when future versions of Android are delivered down the road, and applications become more demanding as your phone ages (something that tends to occur as developers take advantage of ever more powerful hardware), that extra couple of gigabytes could be what keeps your phone bearable to use for a full two years or more.
The storage will help, too - I think we've all noticed that, as the average smartphone's storage has increased, so too has the use of that storage by our applications. While 64GB is probably more than enough for most of us today, being ready for tomorrow with twice the room is a big plus. And for those of us that keep a lot of local media on-device for playback, this means resorting to a microSD card may go from necessity to emergency backup plan.
Now, as you're probably aware, there's a 512GB Note9 coming later this year (it has a whopping 8GB of RAM). It also costs $250 on top of the Note's already sky-high $1000 MSRP and, if you ask me, there's just no way it's worth the extra money. If you really want extra storage, you've got the microSD card, and it seems pretty unlikely another 2GB of RAM are going to make a serious difference in UX terms, at least given how long this phone is likely to be supported by Samsung, and what will probably become the real performance bottleneck (software optimization) over time. Save your cash for a good case and fast microSD card, and make use of Google Photos' automatic space-freeing features and unlimited cloud backup to keep your storage load low.
Perhaps the most notable "big thing" about the Note9 is its battery. At 4000mAh, it's 700mAh larger than the one in last year's Note, and my testing so far confirms that it really does make a big difference. The Note9's battery is lasting around 15-20% longer than my Pixel 2 XL with similar usage (and that phone has great battery life), which I think just goes to show that when it comes to the battery, more really is better.
Buying unlocked, trading in can make the price easier to stomach
Last year's Galaxy Note 8 currently sells on Swappa, on average, for around $500-550 in its SIM-unlocked trim for a well-maintained device. That's a depreciation of $380-430 from MSRP ($930) over the course of a year, which isn't great - it's around the price of a similar condition unlocked Pixel 2 XL, a phone that was $50 cheaper to start with. Carrier-branded variants are substantially less, meaning if you want to maximize your resale value, buying SIM unlocked is the way to go (unless your carrier is giving you some kind of discount).
You can also get the Note9's price down quite a bit if you have a device to trade in. Samsung provided pretty large trade-in incentives for the Galaxy Note8 last year as a way to maintain customer loyalty, and it's doing so again with the Note9 this year. Samsung is accepting a very wide variety of older Galaxy phones for trade credit, and if you happen to have one sitting around (or are upgrading from one), you can shave a good chunk off that $1000 price tag.
Carrier-branded Galaxy S5 and S7 devices represent a particular good deal (i.e., Samsung is offering substantially more than they're worth), but later phones rarely end up doing more than breaking even. Given the cost of selling a phone on your own, that could still make it more than worth your while. Samsung's even offering $450 for Pixel 2 XLs, easily the best trade-in offer on Google's flagship at the moment - though still well below its typical market value.
And if you don't have anything to trade in? Samsung is bundling a pair of AKG headphones "valued" at $299 with all Note9s, though the current Amazon price is closer to $150. You can also choose Fortnite V-Bucks, but unlike the Fornite offer, you can at least resell the headphones to recoup some of your phone's cost.
If you're not eligible for a trade-in and don't find the value proposition of the Note9 palatable, the best bet may be to wait until Black Friday and Cyber Monday in November. While there's no guarantee the Note9 will go on sale (aside from the typical buy-on-get-one-free carrier deals), the longer you wait, the more likely you are to score a deal.
It's a great all-rounder, and it will be for a while
While I have many critiques of Samsung phones, their well-rounded nature is hard to take issue with. Is the software perfect? No, but at least it's generally well tested and stable. Are its cameras the best of any phone's? No, but they're damn close - so close it probably won't matter to the vast majority of people. The same can be said of battery life, performance, durability, and a host of more minor features of the phone.
Samsung's fast wireless charging is a fan favorite feature, and for good reason.
That's not to speak of the areas where Samsung, at least in the Android world, reigns supreme. Its third-party accessory selection is unmatched, it has the fastest wireless charging of any phonemaker, the best carrier compatibility, the best displays, and features like Samsung Pay and headphone jacks that increasingly serve to set it apart from competitors. Not all of these things make a huge difference on their own, arguably, but taken together, it's easy to see why Samsung remains an extremely compelling option in the high-end phone space even when accused of playing it safe.
As for phones from the likes of Google, LG, and OnePlus later this year? They're not likely to tick any major boxes the Note doesn't, and won't feature appreciably newer hardware components, as all are expected to use the same Snapdragon 845 chipset as the Note. Looking further ahead to the launch of 5G, I feel confident in saying there is absolutely no reason to wait for a 5G phone if you're in the market to upgrade in the next year. 5G simply won't matter in the near-term for consumers.
The upgrades over the S9+ could be worthwhile for the right buyer
Generally, my advice to people is to buy the best high-end smartphone they can afford. The Note9 happens to be among the very most expensive of such phones at the moment, though, making it something of an outlier. Should you go for the Note when the very-similar Galaxy S9+ can be had for substantially less money? Here's how I think it breaks down.
A 128GB Galaxy S9+ has the same 6GB of RAM as the Note9 and costs $110 less unlocked, but there's no getting around the difference in battery - and battery life is something that's been a significant complaint with the S9+. In my anecdotal testing, I'm seeing figures that have the Note9 lasting 30-40% - if not more - longer than the Galaxy S9+ when I reviewed it earlier this year. As to the other major differentiator, the S Pen, I think it's highly personal - I could go a full two years without ever touching it: I value the Note for its big screen more than anything. Your mileage will vary.
That all said, if battery life isn't too concerning to you and the S Pen an afterthought, the S9+ does pretty clearly present the better value on paper. It's also a bit easier to handle, being slightly smaller - the Note9 is a behemoth of a phone and, once you put it in a case, you may find that it's just too large. Still, for me, I end up back at the battery life: I love the freedom of knowing my phone is going to last me all day even under demanding conditions, and with the Galaxy S9+, that's something I don't have. With the Note, I do.
When it comes down to it, of course, phone-buying decisions are personal, but as phones go, the Note9 is among the very best you can choose right now.