Galaxy Note 9 vs Galaxy Note 8: what's different and should you upgrade?


Samsung’s Galaxy Note line is arguably one of the most compelling out there, offering a package that no doubt caters to power users. With this year’s iteration, however, it appears as though Sammy once again opts to take a predictive approach with the Note 9. Considering how the Note 8 had to overcome the sourness left over by its predecessor, some were probably expecting the Note 9 to be an even more revolutionary offering. If you’re thinking about making the upgrade to the newer model, read on to uncover whether it’s worth doing.

Design


Looking at the two phones in question, it’s really tough to distinguish what’s new and what’s old. That’s because the same design language is in place, as the Note 9 adopts many of the signature qualities we’ve seen previously in the Note 8 – like its glass-meets-metal construction, dual curved edges, and Infinity Display. Putting the phones side by side, we see that many of the buttons, ports, and their placements are unchanged. However, we will note that we appreciate Samsung finally repositioning the fingerprint sensor below the camera with the Note 9.

It’s quite apparent that the design hasn’t changed all that much, which is evident in the fact that the two phones both feature IP68 water resistant constructions, heart rate sensors, and yes, even 3.5mm headphone jacks. By now, though, you could argue that the design has run its course. With the S Pen, the two appear very similar, but Samsung clearly focused a lot on this aspect with the Note 9 because now it features Bluetooth LE – adding more functionality to its package, like the possibility for it to be used as a remote shutter for the camera or to control media playback.

Display


Yet again, it’s nearly impossible to tell any difference with their displays. Last year’s Note 8 packed a sizable 6.3-inch 1440 x 2960 Super AMOLED panel, while the Note 9 gets a marginal increase with its size to 6.4 inches. It’s still the same Quad HD+ resolution as its predecessor and it’s still Super AMOLED technology, so the difference is essentially negligible. Looking at the two briefly, they’re both exquisite-looking with their sharp details, punchy colors, and exceptional viewing angles. Those qualities are more than enough to make the Note 9’s display still lovable, so Samsung's decision is indicative of that old adage – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

User Interface



Not surprisingly, the Note line has always been one that focuses a lot on productivity – and that continues to show here with the Note 9. On the surface, the look and feel of the interface here, which is running on top of Android 8.1 Oreo, is no different from what we see with the Note 8. However, there are new features added to the Note 9 that makes it more beastly when it comes to productivity. For starters, you no longer need a DeX Pad to get that desktop-like experience, seeing that all you need now is a simple USB Type-C to HDMI adapter. Secondly, they’ve enhanced its AR emojis by being more realistic and offering new background options. And finally, there’s a “photo drawing” mode that allows you to trace a picture using the S Pen over photos you’ve taken.

Going deeper with the S Pen, we mentioned already how it now features Bluetooth LE, which allows it to act as a tool for presentations. In PowerPoint, it can be used to advance or go back to a previous slide by clicking the button on the S Pen. The same function applies to other things as well, like the photo gallery where you can go forward or backwards. While these features may seem insignificant, we’re eager to see what developers will come up with thanks to the SDK that’s going to be made available.



Performance


There should be no surprise here, folks, seeing that the Note 9 leverages the latest processors, which in this case is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 for US-bound devices and the Exynos 9810 for other markets. This, naturally, is an upgrade over the Note 8’s hardware, which is running the Snapdragon 835. For gamers, though, the Note 9 implements a brand new “water carbon cooling system” to better dissipate heat and improve performance during game. Superficially, however, the two smartphones exhibit the same fluid responses with most basic actions.

Moreover, Samsung continues to be generous by offering 6GB of RAM with the Note 9; the same tally as its predecessor. However, we really have to applaud them for boosting the base storage option to 128GB, which is double the amount – plus, there’s an option with 8GB of RAM and 512GB of storage. And yes, there’s still expansion courtesy of a microSD card slot with the Note 9.

Camera




Samsung’s flagships are notable for their picture-taking abilities, so you surely can bet that the Note 9 will deliver the goods. Improving upon its predecessor’s dual-camera implementation, the Note 9 also takes after the recent Galaxy S9 and S9+ by offering a variable aperture. This year’s combo breaks down to a wide-angle 12MP sensor with f1.5/f2.4 aperture, and a telephoto 12MP sensor with f/2.4 aperture. The main difference here again with the Note 9 is that variable aperture, which alleges to deliver better results under low light and sharper ones in daytime. We’ll see about that one!

On the software side, we’re glad that Samsung doesn’t try to use the trendy AI terminology that rival manufacturers insist on mentioning. Instead, the Note 9 offers an intelligent camera that detects what you’re shooting and applies a “scene optimizer” to enhance the shot. It'll also detect if the lens is smudged or if someone blinked during a shot. And lastly, it’s mentioned that HDR and live focus have been improved.

Unfortunately, there was very little being mentioned in the way of its video recording. We imagine it’ll at the very least follow what was offered by the S9/S9+ already.

Battery


If you take a closer look at the chassis of both phones, you may realize that the Note 9 is just a smidgen thicker. That’s because Samsung has stuffed a significantly larger 4000 mAh battery into the Note 9, which is a sweet upgrade over the 3300 mAh battery of the Note 8. Thrown in the optimizations with the newer chipset and software, the Note 9 has some promise in being a beast with longevity. And as we mentioned earlier, there’s still wireless charging available with the Note 9 – so nothing has really changed in this area.



Expectations


When it was launched last year, the Note 8 fetched for around $930 to $960 with most carriers, so it shouldn’t surprise us to see it close to the same range. Of course, we shouldn’t be shocked if it were to reach that $1000 threshold, but for those thinking about upgrading, it’s a really tough decision besides having to consider the price. From what we can gather so far, the most notable additions center around the Note 9’s new S Pen features, a higher-capacity battery, double the base internal storage, and its ability to offer that desktop-like experience using only a standard USB Type-C to HDMI adapter.

Beyond that, the Note 8 can still put up a good fight, seeing that it’s still quite formidable in all areas. While it may be rocking last year’s hardware, you can bet that the Note 8 still has enough gas in the tank to compete against the Note 9. Going back to what we mentioned earlier, the Note 9 is an iterative successor – it has all the upgraded hardware, but there’s nothing terribly earth-shattering that would greatly differentiate it.

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