Samsung Galaxy Note 9 vs. Galaxy Note 8 vs. Note 5: All the changes of note

Leading the charge toward bigger smartphones, Samsung’s stylus-toting Note series has built a loyal, growing audience. This year’s Galaxy Note 9 looks a lot like its predecessor, but there are some important improvements and new features to consider.

Samsung’s latest productivity powerhouse sports a souped-up S Pen, but what else sets it apart from last year’s Note 8 or 2015’s Note 5? We decided to pit Galaxy Note 9 vs. Galaxy Note 8 vs. Galaxy Note 5 to find out precisely how the specs differ and examine whether it’s worth upgrading. If you’re wondering what happened to the Note 6 and the Note 7 — Samsung skipped the sixth version, and the seventh was the subject of an infamous recall due to the phones catching fire.

Specs

Samsung Galaxy Note 9 Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Samsung Galaxy Note 5
Size 161.9 x 76.4 x 8.8 mm (6.37 x 3 x 0.34 inches 162.5 x 74.8 x 8.6 mm (6.40 x 2.94 x 0.34 inches) 153.2 x 76.1 x 7.6 mm (6.03 x 3.00 x 0.30 inches)
Weight 201 grams (7.09 ounces) 195 grams (6.88 ounces) 171 grams (6.03 ounces)
Screen Size 6.4-inch Super AMOLED display 6.3-inch Super AMOLED display 5.7-inch Super AMOLED display
Screen Resolution 2,960 x 1,440 pixels (516 pixels-per-inch) 2,960 x 1,440 pixels (521 pixels-per-inch) 2,560 x 1,440 pixels (518 pixels-per-inch)
Operating System Samsung Experience 9 (over Android 8.0 Oreo) Samsung Experience (over Android 7.1.1 Nougat upgradable to 8.0 Oreo) Samsung Experience (over Android 5.1.1 Lollipop upgradable to 7.0 Nougat)
Storage Space 128GB, 512GB 64GB, 128GB, 256GB 32GB, 64GB, 128GB
MicroSD Card Slot Yes, up to 512GB Yes, up to 256GB No
Tap To Pay Services Samsung Pay, Google Pay Samsung Pay, Google Pay Samsung Pay, Google Pay
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 with water carbon cooling system Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 Samsung Exynos 7 Octa 7420
RAM 6GB, 8GB 6GB 4GB
Camera Dual sensor 12MP rear with dual OIS, variable aperture, 8MP front Dual sensor 12MP rear with dual OIS, 8MP front 16MP rear, 5MP front
Video 2,160p at 60 frames per second, 1,080p at 240 fps, 720p at 960 fps 2,160p at 30 frames per second, 1,080p at 60 fps, 720p at 240 fps 2,160p at 30 frames per second, 1,080p at 60 fps, 720p at 120 fps
Bluetooth Version Bluetooth 5.0 Bluetooth 5.0 Bluetooth 4.2
Ports 3.5mm headphone jack, USB-Type C 3.5mm headphone jack, USB-Type C 3.5mm headphone jack, MicroUSB
Fingerprint sensor Yes Yes Yes
Water resistance IP68 IP68 None
Battery 4,000mAh 3,300mAh 3,000mAh
App Marketplace Google Play Store Google Play Store Google Play Store
Network support T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint
Colors Ocean Blue, Lavender Purple Midnight Black, Maple Gold, Orchid Gray, Deep Sea Blue Black Sapphire, Gold Platinum, Silver Titan, White Pearl
Price $1,000 $595+ $295+
Buy From Samsung Samsung, Amazon Amazon
Review Score 4 out of 5 stars 4 out of 5 stars 4 out of 5 stars

Performance, battery life, and charging

Galaxy Note 9 front
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The Note 9 features Qualcomm’s latest flagship processor in the shape of the Snapdragon 845 and it offers some serious improvements over the Snapdragon 835 you’ll find in the Note 8 or the proprietary Samsung Exynos 7 Octa 7420 in the Note 5. Most importantly, it’s faster and more power efficient, but it also brings more advanced artificial intelligence support, not to mention improvements in security, connectivity, and camera performance. The Note 5 is still a decent performer today and capable of running graphically challenging games, but it’s no match for the Note 9. The improvement over the Note 8 will be less obvious unless you really push it. Samsung has added a special water carbon cooling system for the Note 9 so you can game or engage in other intensive tasks for longer.

Both the Note 9 and Note 8 have an ample 6GB of RAM for easy multitasking but the base model Note 8 offers 64GB of storage while the Note 9 starts at 128GB. There’s still the option to go for 128GB or 256GB Note 8 handsets, but if you jump up to 512GB in the Note 9 you’ll also jump to a whopping 8GB of RAM. There’s also support for further storage expansion via the MicroSD card slot. The Note 5 lags behind with 4GB of RAM and 32GB, 64GB, or 128GB of internal storage with no room for expansion.

While there is support for fast charging, with Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 2.0 standard in the Note 9 and Note 8, as well as wireless charging for all three of these phones, the Note 9 streaks ahead in the battery department with an extra 700mAh of battery life over its most recent predecessor. That is an enormous jump from the already impressive 3,300mAh capacity in the Note 8 or the 3,000mAh capacity in the Note 5. With light use, the Note 9 may even have the stamina to go two days between charges.

Winner: Galaxy Note 9

Design and durability

Galaxy Note 9 and Galaxy Note 8 comparison
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Very little has changed on the surface for the Note 9 compared to its direct predecessor. Samsung has spent a few years perfecting its curved Infinity Display and the Note 9 has the same glass sandwich design as the Note 8. The good news is that it feels expensive and still looks a bit futuristic. The one thing of note that Samsung has fixed is the fingerprint sensor placement, which is now in the middle of the back beneath the camera module instead of to the right of it. This is a positive tweak that makes it easier to find and use without looking, and reduces smearing on the lenses. The Note 5 is also a glass sandwich, but sports the older Samsung home button on the front and lacks the curved display of the newer smartphones.

Drop the Note 8 or 9 and you’ll be hoping the Gorilla Glass 5 is enough to guard against damage, but the smart move is to get a case. There’s no difference in terms of durability here and both phones score an IP68 rating that means they can survive a dunk in up to 1.5 meters of water for up to half an hour. The Note 5 makes do with Gorilla Glass 4 and lacks any real water resistance.

Winner: Galaxy Note 9

Display

Galaxy Note 5
Malarie Gokey/Digital Trends

Samsung’s Super AMOLED display is still the best in the business, so you will find it largely unchanged here. Both the Note 9 and Note 8 sport a 2,960 x 1,440-pixel resolution and an 18.5:9 aspect ratio, but the Note 9 display is a hair bigger at 6.4 inches compared to the 6.3-inch screen in the Note 8. Samsung has managed to squeeze the screen-to-body ratio just a little higher. The Note 5 has the same awesome display, but it’s more squat with a 5.7-inch display with the once-standard 16:9 aspect ratio. It still boasts a 2,560 x 1,440-pixel resolution which is every bit as sharp as the newer phones.

Winner: Galaxy Note 9

Camera

Galaxy Note 9 camera app
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

You’ll find dual 12-megapixel lenses in the main rear camera module and an 8-megapixel front-facing camera in both the newer Note smartphones. The Note 5 lags way behind with a single 16-megapixel lens and a 5-megapixel front-facing camera. On paper, the camera in the Note 9 looks very much like the camera in the Note 8, but there are two major improvements worth highlighting.

Firstly, the Note 9 features the same variable aperture upgrade we saw in the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus, which allows the main 12-megapixel lens to adjust between f/1.5 and f/2.4 depending on the conditions.  The Note 8’s main 12-megapixel lens is fixed at f/1.7. The dual setup allows for a great bokeh effect and 2x optical zoom, but the Note 9 is able to handle low-light conditions a lot better than its predecessor because the wider aperture is capable of taking in more light. We’ve seen what this camera setup is capable of in our S9 Plus low-light camera test and we compared it directly with the Note 8 in a Samsung smartphone camera shootout.

The second big upgrade is in the video department where the Note 9 can shoot 4K at 60 frames per second (fps), 1080p at 240 fps, and 720p at a super slow motion 960 fps. The Note 8 is limited to 30 fps, 60 fps, and 240 fps respectively. The Note 9 also features AI scene recognition, where it’s capable of detecting and fine-tuning up to 20 scenes, and Flaw Detection, which alerts you to errors such as when someone blinks in a photo, or if there’s a smudge on the camera.

Winner: Galaxy Note 9

Software and updates

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review map
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The Galaxy Note 5 shipped with Android 5.1.1 Lollipop, which has since been updated to Android 7.0 Nougat, while the Note 8 originally shipped with Android 7.1.1 Nougat, but has been upgraded to Android 8.0 Oreo since then. The Note 9 will come with Android 8.0 Oreo out of the box. All of them have Samsung’s Experience user interface over the top, which is much improved and more streamlined than the old TouchWiz skin.

It’s not clear whether the Note 5 will be updated to Android 8.0 Oreo, but it seems unlikely and we definitely don’t see it being updated again beyond that. The user experience in terms of software is going to be virtually identical with the Note 8 and Note 9. We fully expect both of them to get upgrades to Android 9.0 Pie and probably Android Q as well, but since the Note 9 is newer, it’s likely to get future upgrades for a bit longer than the Note 8, and that’s why it wins this round.

Winner: Galaxy Note 9

Special features

Galaxy Note 9 pink and blue s pens
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The Note 8 and Note 9 are two of the most feature-packed smartphones around. They both have Samsung’s Bixby on board, they can both double as desktop replacements with the Dex Station, and they both have support for the special S Pen stylus. However, the newer Note 9 has a souped-up S Pen with Bluetooth support, which allows it to act as a handy remote control. You can still use it to sketch and take notes, but with the Note 9 it can also act as a remote shutter for the camera, a remote control for slideshows, and more. The Note 5 has the S Pen but lacks many of the other new features.

Winner: Galaxy Note 9

Price

If you bought a Note 5 when it first came out, you would have paid close to $700. An unlocked handset can be found for closer to $300 these days from retailers like Amazon.

The Galaxy Note 8 was north of $900 when it was first released, but you can pick one up unlocked direct from Samsung for $750 now and we expect further price reductions in the next few months. It’s also available from all major carriers and retailers like Amazon.

The Galaxy Note 9 starts at $1,000 and jumps to $1,250 for the 512GB model. You’ll be able to buy it direct or through any of the major carriers in the U.S. and beyond with pre-orders starting August 10 and the first handsets hitting stores on August 24.

Overall winner: Galaxy Note 9

It won’t come as a major surprise to find that this year’s Note is better than last year’s. The Note 9 offers a significant bump in performance and battery life, an improved camera, and the first major overhaul of the S Pen, which is what really sets this phone apart from Samsung’s Galaxy S9 Plus.

The Note 8 is still an excellent phone — this is refinement, not revolution — and it may still be the better choice for some, especially if your budget is limited. If you already have a Note 8, then we’re not convinced there’s enough going on here to make an upgrade essential, but if you’re still using a Note 5 then you will really feel the benefit of upgrading to the Note 9.

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