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Samsung Galaxy Note9 review: the best phone from Samsung is impressive, if not exciting.

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The expensive Samsung Galaxy Note9 phablet that I used as my main smartphone during a recent family vacation in South Beach makes the rival iPhone X look small except the price. That is at least until Apple reveals, if speculation proves, its supersized iPhone on its media event on September 12th. We will soon know enough about new iPhones. In the meantime, the latest Note is a handsome, spirited, physically imposing device with the kind of beautiful display - an edge-to-edge notch-free 6.4 inches in this case - I'm used to Samsung.

Pack in extraordinarily generous storage capacities (128 GB or 512 GB, which can take up to a full terabyte with an optional microSD card) and a huge battery that will not let you chase to a wall outlet, even if it is a long summer day becomes dark and Samsung has produced a phone with very little to worry about. I enjoyed using it.

How good it is, I would not call this an exciting phone, or one you should miss and buy, unless you are too late for an upgrade. Note 9 stands for an incremental update without the hustle and bustle associated with the elongated folding smartphone that Samsung's South Korean-based mobile chef Koh told that CNBC could finally be unveiled this fall. For the time being, the details are vague.

It is more natural to compare the Note9 with the other latest Android flagships from Samsung, the Galaxy S9 and S9 + which came out at the end of February and which, depending on the storage capacity, cost several hundred dollars less. All three phones have beautiful cameras; the Note9 gets a few fresh AI-driven photo tricks that the company hopes is one of the most important factors to ensure that you spend at least $ 1000. (You can pay $ 1250 for the Note9 with 512 GB.)

That is the friction. A big or more is a hefty price to pay for every smartphone, even one that is so solid. Of course you can say the same for the iPhone X, which despite its elevated amount since the release has become Apple's best-selling iPhone. If Android is your preference and the price is indeed not an object, go for it, because this is the best phone from Samsung and the best Android smartphone on the market.

However, it is not the best of a country mile, especially if you can not use the S Pen stylus, the main distinguishing feature of the Note in relation to the S9s. And other functions have become staples here on other Samsung's, from fast wireless charging to, yes, the Samsung Bixby digital assistant. And yes, there is still a standard headphone connection.

Here are my main takeaways now that I've spent a few weeks with the Note9:
A more versatile S Pen
I have never been a heavy user of the S Pen that you can use to draw or sketch, reveal a cursor when you move around the screen, or even translate text from one language to another. But the pen is a big deal for Note diehards.

And even I found it useful to quickly write a handwritten note on the otherwise dark lock screen. My ocean blue tester has a yellow S Pen, which corresponds to the standard ink color when drawing, a small but beautiful aesthetic. (The pen is lavender on other models).

I also appreciated the newest feature of the S Pen: it also functions as a Bluetooth remote control. You can use it to run a presentation, browse Chrome, or pause a YouTube video. I used it mostly in Florida as a sometimes handy remote control for the camera.

A long press of a button on the pen launches the app. A double click switches the camera back and forth from the front. When taking selfies, I often held the phone in my left hand and pressed the button to shoot the photo with the right.

Samsung says the S Pen will be fully charged in less than 40 seconds when it is in its slot, with Bluetooth features that can support up to half an hour or 200 clicks per full charge.

New camera tricks
I have admired the cameras in Samsung phones through different generations of Galaxy devices. Here also. A new photo feature on the Note9 is 'error detection', which warns you when a subject is blinking, the lens is dirty, the backlight is messy or the image is blurred. In other words, you are asked to shoot again under such circumstances, although the truth is that I did not see many of these warnings.

Another new camera function, the "scene optimization", analyzes an environment or subject to determine in which of the 20 scene categories they fit: a person, dog, beach, food, landscape and waterfalls. A small symbol on the display reveals which category Samsung chooses. Based on the scene, the camera adjusts the brightness, white balance, contrast, and so on accordingly.

It sometimes takes longer than you would want before the camera identified a scene, but the symbol was usually right, with the camera well able to distinguish trees from other green. The real test however is how the photos look like. In that respect, I was generally happy. The colors were usually lively and the photos clear, as this picture of my son shows.

Water resistant and yet
As with other Samsung phones, the Note9 is water and dust resistant, so I have not thought about bringing it to the beach to take pictures. Strangely enough, however, I got a message to disconnect the charger because moisture had been discovered - but only after I had returned to an air-conditioned apartment. I had to wait until both the charger and the USB-C port were dry.

DeX did not specifically mark the spot
I have not tested the DeX feature that allows you to connect the phone to a TV or monitor to create some kind of pseudo-desktop PC-like environment until I came back from vacation, although some of you will be most useful get out of the job when you are indeed on the road and do not want to use a real computer. And with the Note9 you can discard the optional DeX dock that was required in the past.

You need an HDMI-to-USB-C cable or adapter, and Samsung recommends its own - and in fact I could not make DeX work with an adapter that was in my office. But even with Samsung's own adapter I encountered problems - start up, stopped, restarted, stopped. I was more fortunate with the borrower of a colleague Note9.

If everything works properly, you can use the Note9 as a not-very-good trackpad or virtual keyboard to determine which desktop apps are on the screen, which means that you still want to use a real Bluetooth mouse or keyboard, which the purpose of DeX in the first place. With the S Pen you can also use the Note9 to draw on the larger screen.

Of course it is important to play videos or other content on that larger screen. It is important to note that you can also use the phone as you normally would, while playing other content on the monitor. But for my purposes anyway, I'm not completely sold on DeX.

I myself am sold to the Note9, even if this impressive newcomer will not break a lot of new ground. Sold, that is, if you have enough space in your budget and it's been a while since you've updated your phone.

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