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Samsung Galaxy Note 9 review: Samsung's best 'everything' phone. But...

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The Good The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is a big, beautiful phone with top-tier specs including a massive battery and internal storage that starts at 128GB. The new S Pen doubles as a wireless remote for taking long-distance selfies.

The Bad It's expensive and offers few real innovations over last year's Note 8. The fingerprint reader is uncomfortably close to the camera.

The Bottom Line The ultrapricey Note 9 is one of the year's best phones. But unless you're in dire need of an upgrade, the smart move is to wait for what the next iPhone, Pixel and even Galaxy S10 bring.

9.0 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 9
  • Performance 9
  • Camera 9
  • Battery 10

Update, Aug. 24: The Galaxy Note 9 is now officially on sale. You can buy it at Samsung's website, and local carrier stores and retailers.

I picked up the Galaxy Note 9, popped out the S Pen stylus and started to write on the black screen in tart lemon-colored digital ink. It hit me: This phone is more fun to use than your phone. When I'm using the Note 9, I feel more inspired to write, draw, take precise screenshots using the tool, snap selfies with the S Pen's remote shutter, and playfully annotate photos to send to friends.

But the Note 9 is no mere toy. It's also powerful as hell, with a 6.4-inch screen, 4,000-mAh battery, Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor and either 128GB or a whopping 512GB (!!!) of onboard storage, plus a microSD card if you want more, more, more. 

Yet the fizzing question at the center of it all, the one that's pounding away at your grey matter, is this: Are the power and fun of Samsung's new Galaxy Note 9 worth $1,000 of your hard-earned cash? (That's £899 and AU$1,499 -- or $1,250, £1,099 and AU$1,799 for the 512GB version.) It's the same question Apple fans have been asking themselves since the iPhone X first hit the $1,000 mark last year.

For Android fans who want the best, the answer is "yes."

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The Galaxy Note 9 looks great from every angle.

Angela Lang/CNET

The Galaxy Note 9's specs are top-notch. This is an everything phone, one of the absolute best you can buy with All The Things. It will carry you through the next two or three years with excellent photos, Android updates and all that jazz.

And while the price is eye-wateringly high compared to last year's Note 8 (unless you live in Australia, in which case it costs the same), promotions, preorder savings and future holiday deals can knock hundreds off the Note 9's cost, making it suddenly much more "affordable."

Read: Sorry, your iPhone or Android phone is getting more expensive

So, is there any reason to not get the Note? Well, yes. For starters, it lacks a certain "wow" factor. Apart from the tad higher battery capacity and double the storage, there's not all much different from the Galaxy S9 Plus, or really from the Galaxy Note 8 before it.

Bonkers storage is good, but you could also buy a cheaper phone and scoop up external memory for much less than the cost of a new Note 9 -- there are fewer phones with this option, but the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus have it. And while the Note 9's battery life will take you from morning to late night on a single charge, is it really worth the price of 300 cappuccinos? Can you find two hours each day to charge from 0 to 100 percent? And 15 minutes extra if you need an emergency top-up?

As for the Note 9's new, cool S Pen stylus -- Bluetooth turns it into a remote control, but it feels forced to use it in day-to-day life.

We didn't get a rumored in-screen fingerprint reader like what some other Android phones have, or a 3D front-facing camera like the iPhone X and Oppo Find X ($929 at Amazon Marketplace). And the Note 9 can't latch on to insanely fast 5G data speeds whose networks will start bubbling up in 2019. This phone feels like Samsung's holding back for next year's Galaxy S10.

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The Note 9's S Pen gets a Bluetooth antenna for a brain.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Read: 'Missing' Galaxy Note 9 features that Samsung may be saving for the Galaxy S10

So yes, buy the Galaxy Note 9 if you're upgrading from an older phone today and want the most feature-rich, super-powerful, large-screen Android phone out there. But if your current phone is in good shape and you don't care two clicks about the S Pen stylus -- then wait. 2018's iPhones and Google's Pixel 3 ($800 at Best Buy) are on their way in weeks, not months, and next spring's Galaxy S10 should help kick off a larger revolution with 5G.

Keep reading for the Note 9's new features, and how it compares to rival phones like the iPhone X. Here are the Galaxy Note 9 specs compared with the Galaxy S9, S9 Plus and Note 8.

Editor's note: This review first posted March 8, 2018 and was updated August 24, 2018.

Note 9 highlights

  • Battery life is strong in real-world testing. I'll continue to keep an eye on long-term drain.
  • The S Pen stylus' new Bluetooth features work as advertised.
  • As a natural note taker, I love being able to jot things down. I've made so many lists to pin to the lock screen.
  • I tested in both blue and purple, and the Note 9's bold colors stand out. It also sells globally in black and metallic copper.
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Every Note phone (except the recalled Note 7) from the very beginning.

Angela Lang/CNET

Note 9 low points

  • You won't be able to write or draw to the screen edge without the S Pen falling off the curved sides.
  • The fingerprint reader is too close to the camera array. Why hasn't Samsung figured out the optimal placement yet?
  • The Note 9's new AI camera tool works more slowly than I'd like for identifying scenes and optimizing settings for the best shot.
  • Bixby 2.0 is expanded, but the button on the Note 9's left side still only maps to Bixby, as it does with the Galaxy S8 and newer.
  • If you write on the phone screen with the S Pen's signature color (yellow, purple or copper), any notes you save will save in that color "ink" on a white background, which can be hard to read.

Where and how to buy the Galaxy Note 9

You can preorder the Galaxy Note 9 now. The phone goes on sale generally on Aug. 24. Keep an eye out for trade-in deals, promotions and bundled gifts. These values can change region by region.

Here's everything you need to know about buying the Galaxy Note 9 in the US.

Galaxy Note 9 looks smooth and oh-so-familiar

I've been using the Galaxy Note 9 in ocean blue and lavender purple, both of which I like. This phone is classic modern Samsung, with deep color and shine, a glossy finish that effortlessly picks up prints, and gracefully curved edges. It's a gorgeous device, even if very little of the Note's design feels fresh.

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The Galaxy Note 9 is the only Galaxy phone to pack a digital pen.

Angela Lang/CNET

That's because the phone's 83 percent screen-to-body ratio (18.5:9) hasn't changed all that much from last year's Note 8. There are a few minor exceptions, including the fingerprint reader that now sits just under the camera module, and a slightly larger S Pen holder for a slightly larger S Pen.

I found the tall, narrow Note 9 easy enough to hold and use in my smaller hands, but I really had to lunge to hit that fingerprint reader. Those with larger hands will have more luck, but may find the target a little small. It's a good idea to unlock the phone interchangeably with the iris scanner as well (both are secure enough for mobile payments).

More than one coworker or friend pointed out that the towering Note 9 was threatening to drop out of my back pocket. I typically carry it there when it's not hitching a ride inside my purse pocket.

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