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

I also kept inadvertently hitting the Bixby Voice button on the phone's left edge, which calls up Samsung's version of Google Assistant and Apple's Siri. It's a minor design problem, but still.

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Who wouldn't want a headphone jack?

Angela Lang/CNET

The Galaxy Note 9's new S Pen picks up Bluetooth tricks

The new S Pen is the Galaxy Note 9's standout feature by far. You can still write, draw, navigate around and create live messages. But now, the S Pen's button can trigger different actions: You can open the camera app, flip the camera around and take a photo, all in a couple clicks. Of all the things you can do with the S Pen, this impressed me the most.

The Pen also lets you control a presentation -- you can advance slides, play or fast-forward songs in a music player and shuffle through photos in a kind of gallery slideshow. The new skills rely on Bluetooth Low Energy (there's an antenna inside the pen body), and you can customize the actions in a dedicated settings menu. Your options are limited for now, but Samsung wants to get other app makers on board.

The S Pen remote is said to work up to 30 feet away from the phone, but I was still taking photos from 100 feet away. Standby time is either 200 clicks or 30 minutes, and the S Pen recharges inductively in under a minute, starting when you reinsert the stylus into the holster.

Your phone will warn you if it's been without the S Pen for too long. If you lose the tool, you'll have to buy a replacement -- there's no Find my S Pen feature.

Here's another fun perk: The Note 9 will now write in the color of its S Pen when you're jotting notes on the black lock screen (the feature is called Screen-off memo). So, that's yellow, purple, copper and white (for the black version). You can also switch to white "ink" if you'd prefer. At this point, though, why can't you pick any color you like?

Note 9's new AI camera features

Sadly, Samsung's new AI camera software for it dual 12-megapixel cameras isn't anything to get excited about.

The AI software analyzes a scene and quickly detects if you're shooting a flower, food, a dog, a person or something else entirely. There are 20 options, including snowflakes, cityscapes, fire -- you get it. Then the camera optimizes white balance, saturation and contrast to make photos pop.

Food mode pops on automatically.

Angela Lang/CNET

It works fine, and you'll see some big differences when photographing your lunch for Instagram photos. But the scene optimizer often takes a beat to kick in, and you can't dismiss the suggestions with a swipe the way you can on the Huawei P20 Pro. It's either on, or off.

Samsung is following the way the industry is going with AI camera software. But others got there first, so it feels like a minimal addition to what is essentially the S9 Plus' camera app. It's hardly worth calling out.

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Yes, you can draw with it, too.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Another tiny featurette: flaw detection. If someone blinks an eye or moves, or the lens is smudged or there's too much backlight getting in the way of a clean shot, a dialog box pops up right after you take the picture, prompting you to retake the picture.

Apart from these software additions, the Note 9 keeps the S9 phones' main camera lens, which automatically changes aperture when it detects the need for a low-light shot. (Samsung calls this dual aperture.) There's also portrait mode and an 8-megapixel front-facing camera for your selfies. Photos from both are very good, though any movement in low light shots can cause unwanted blur.

Read: Our epic phone camera shootout with the Galaxy S9 Plus, iPhone X, Huawei P20 Pro and Pixel 2

Battery life, internal speeds, speakers

Battery life was pretty terrific on the Galaxy Note 9. Sometimes, for whatever reason, a phone doesn't always live up to its battery capacity. This one does. The US version of the Note 9 lasted for an average of 19 hours and 20 minutes in CNET's looping video drain test, involving five tests so far with two different devices.

For chipset nerds, our test of the Note 9 running on Samsung's own processor, the Exynos 9810, is still underway. It's topping 20 hours in our battery drain test so far.

In real-world observation, the Note 9 is holding its own, and I haven't yet gotten nervous that the phone will die on me if I stay out late. I'll continue to keep an eye on battery drain day-to-day in the coming weeks.

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Angela Lang/CNET

Keep in mind that all batteries are at their most efficient when you start using your device, and then drain faster (they won't last as long between charges) as time goes on. It isn't ideal, but it's the way things will go until or unless battery tech changes dramatically. Regardless, with the Note 9, you're off to a good start.

Internal speeds are just as fast on benchmark tests and real life usage as other phones using Qualcomm's Snapdragon 845 chipset. Some tasks will still take time because all your photo processing, and PUBG- and Fortnite-playing take their toll on system resources. We did notice that the Note 9 didn't get nearly as hot as the Galaxy S9 while playing Fortnite, and you won't notice undue lag while you're in the business of using your phone.

One final shout-out goes to the Note 9's surround speakers, which are (the same) and just as loud as those on the Galaxy S9. Just remember not to cover the bottom speaker if you hold the phone to your ear.

Galaxy Note 9 versus iPhone X, Galaxy S9 Plus, Google OnePlus 6


Samsung Galaxy Note 9 Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus iPhone X OnePlus 6
Display size, resolution 6.4-inch Super AMOLED; 2,960x1,440 pixels 6.2-inch; 2,960x1,440 pixels 5.8-inch; 2,436x1,125 pixels 6.28-inch OLED; 2,280x1,080 pixels
Pixel density 516ppi 529ppi 458 ppi 402ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 6.37x3.01x0.35 in 6.22x2.91x0.33 in 5.7x2.79x0.30 in 6.13x2.97x0.31 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 161.9x76.4x8.8 mm 158.1x73.8x8.5 mm 143.6x70.9x7.7 mm 155.7x75.4x7.75 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 7.09 oz.; 201g 6.66 oz; 189g 6.14 oz; 174 g 6.2 oz; 177 g
Mobile software Android 8.1 Oreo Android 8.0 Oreo iOS 11 Android 8.1 Oreo
Camera Dual 12-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (telephoto) Dual 12-megapixel Dual 12-megapixel 16-megapixel standard, 20-megapixel telephoto
Front-facing camera 8-megapixel 8-megapixel 7-megapixel 16-megapixel
Video capture 4K 4K 4K 4K
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 octa-core processor Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor (2.8GHz + 1.7GHz), or Octa-core Samsung Exynos 9810 (2.7 GHz + 1.7 GHz) Apple A11 Bionic 2.8GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 845
Storage 128GB, 512GB 64GB, 128GB, 256GB 64GB, 256GB 64GB, 128GB, 256GB
RAM 6GB, 8GB 6GB 3GB 6GB, 8GB
Expandable storage 512GB 400GB None None
Battery 4,000mAh 3,500mAh ? 3,300mAh
Fingerprint sensor Back Back None (Face ID via TrueDepth camera) Back of phone
Connector USB-C USB-C Lightning USB-C
Headphone jack Yes Yes No Yes
Special features Water resistant (IP68); wireless charging; S-Pen with Bluetooth connectivity; Iris and facial scanning Dual-aperture camera, water-resistant (IP68); super slo-mo video; wireless charging; iris scanning Water resistant (IP67); wireless charging; Face ID 3D unlock, Animoji Portrait mode, notifications toggle, dual-SIM, Dash Charging
Price off-contract (USD) $1,000 (128GB), $1,250 (512GB) Varies: $840-$930 (64GB) $999 (64GB), $1,149 (256GB) $529 (64GB), $579 (128GB), $629 (256GB)
Price (GBP) £899 (128GB), £1,099 (512GB) £869 £999 (64GB), £1,149 (256GB) £469 (64GB), £519 (128GB), £569 (256GB)
Price (AUD) AU$1499 (128GB), AU$1,799 (512GB) AU$1,349 (64GB), AU$1,499 (256GB) AU$1,579 (64GB), AU$1,829 (256GB) AU$702 (64GB), AU$769 (128GB), AU$835 (256GB)

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