Samsung Galaxy Note 9 vs. Huawei P20 Pro: Two high-end phones clash

Galaxy Note 9 pink and black
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 9 is finally here, and it’s a magnificent tour de force, representing everything a 2018 Android flagship needs to be. While it’s fresh out of the gate, we had the chance to pair it up against one of the marketplace’s seasoned veterans. The Huawei P20 Pro has a long-lasting battery, super-smooth performance, and an incredible triple-lens camera.

Out of these two amazing flagship phones, which one’s best for you? We pitted them head-to-head to find out.

Specs

Samsung Galaxy Note 9 Huawei P20 Pro
Size 161.9 x 76.4 x 8.8mm (6.37 x 3 x 0.35 inches) 155 x 73.9 x 7.8 mm (6.1 x 2.91 x 0.31 inches)
Weight 201 grams (7.09 ounces) 180 grams (6.35 ounces)
Screen size 6.4-inch Super AMOLED 6.1-inch OLED display
Screen resolution 2,960 x 1440 pixels (516 pixels per inch) 2,240 x 1,080 pixels (408 pixels-per-inch)
Operating system Samsung Experience UI (over Android 8.1 Oreo) Emotion UI 8.1 (over Android 8.1 Oreo)
Storage space 128GB (with 6GB of RAM), 512GB (with 8GB of RAM)
128GB
MicroSD card slot Yes, up to 2TB No
Tap-to-pay services Google Pay, Samsung Pay Google Pay
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 Kirin 970
RAM 6GB (with 128GB storage), 8GB (with 512GB storage) 6GB
Camera Dual 12MP (with OIS) and 12MP zoom (with OIS) rear, variable aperture, 8MP front Triple lens 40MP, 20MP, & 8MP rear, 24MP 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 30 fps, 720p at 960 fps
Bluetooth version Bluetooth 5.0 Bluetooth 4.2
Ports 3.5mm headphone jack, USB-C USB-C
Fingerprint sensor Yes Yes
Water resistance IP68 IP67
Battery 4,000mAh

QuickCharge 2.0

Qi wireless charging

4,000mAh

Huawei SuperCharge fast-charging

App marketplace Google Play Store Google Play Store
Network support T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint T-Mobile, AT&T
Colors Ocean Blue, Lavender Purple Black, Blue, Pink Gold, Twilight
Price Starting from $1,000 800 British pounds (around $1,030)
Buy from Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart, Samsung Huawei, Amazon
Review score Hands-on review 4.5 out of 5 stars

Performance, battery life, and charging

huawei p20 pro security scaremongering back opinion

You will get great performance regardless of which of these two phones you pick. The P20 Pro scored high in our review benchmarks, but it has since been superseded by the raw power of the Snapdragon 845 — the chip you will find in the Note 9, alongside Samsung’s new water cooling system. You would be hard-pressed to tell the difference in most circumstances though, since the P20 Pro’s Kirin 970 provides smooth performance, and didn’t struggle with anything we threw at it.

The Note 9 has an advantage in storage capacity, thanks to the addition of a 512GB model that brings the Note 9 to a theoretical 1TB of storage (with a Samsung 512GB MicroSD card). The P20 Pro only has a single option for 128GB, with no MicroSD card slot. RAM is in the Note 9’s favor too, with the 512GB model coming with 8GB — 2GB more than the 6GB on the P20 Pro.

Both of these phones are packing a 4,000mAh battery, with the P20 Pro managing an incredible two days of battery life. You can expect the Note 9 to manage at least a day, but until we test it fully, we can’t vouch for battery life just yet. Both have fast-charging equipped, but only the Note 9 has wireless charging.

This is an exceptionally tough category to mark, with both devices showcasing incredible performance, but the Note 9 edges the win with slightly faster performance and wireless charging support.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy Note 9

Design and durability

Galaxy Note 9 blue with s pen
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Both of these devices are attractive glass and metal builds with a lot to admire. The Note 9’s gentle glass curves are extremely elegant, while the P20 Pro’s constantly shifting colors are beautiful to behold. You’ll find USB-C ports on both, but only the Note 9 has a headphone jack — so keep that in mind if your headphones are important to you. The P20 Pro also has a notched display — a design choice that could put some users off.

There is a bigger gap in durability. While both are fragile glass phones that will probably need a case, the Note 9 comes with IP68-rated water resistance. That is stronger protection than the P20 Pro’s IP67-rating, and while it might not sound like much, it could make a difference if your phone ends up in the pool. Accidents happen, and it’s good to know that your expensive flagship is well protected.

It’s still extremely difficult to pick between the two — the headphone jack and the water win the Note 9 serious points, but the P20 Pro’s color gradient is utterly stunning. This is a tie.

Winner: Tie

Display

huawei p20 pro security scaremongering notch opinion ab
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Large OLED displays dominate both of these phones, with the P20 Pro’s screen at 6.1 inches, and the Note 9’s at 6.4 inches. Both are excellent, with bold color reproduction and the deep inky blacks you would expect from OLED displays. However, the Note 9 comes with a considerably higher resolution, which consequently gives it an edge in sharpness. It scores a pixels-per-inch measurement of 516, beating the P20 Pro’s 408 by a distance. The Note 9’s display is just sharper and crisper, and it wins this round.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy Note 9

Camera

Galaxy Note 9 camera app
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The Note 9’s main camera suite will come with two 12-megapixel lenses — one equipped with the S9’s variable aperture, the other with a 2x optical zoom lens. We haven’t had a chance to really play with the Note 9’s camera yet, but we’re expecting strong all-around performance. The Note 9 is also able to shoot video in 4K, as well as super-slow-motion video at 960 frames per second. Around the front of the phone, you will find an 8-megapixel lens. The cameras have some artificial intelligence trickery too. The A.I. will notify you if there’s a problem with your photo — like someone blinking — or will alter settings automatically based on scene recognition.

The P20 Pro comes with a staggering triple lens system on the back. It’s made up of a 40-megapixel lens, an 8-megapixel zoom lens, and a 20-megapixel monochrome lens. It’s a staggeringly good camera, with 5x hybrid zoom, and some of the best low-light performance we’ve ever seen. It also shoots video in 4K, and in super-slow motion — and the selfie lens is a huge 24-megapixel monster. Add all this to the P20 Pro’s A.I. assistance that helps you to take the perfect photo and you’ve got a very capable camera.

While the Note 9 has an exceptionally strong camera, it’s basically the same as the Galaxy S9 Plus — which we think the P20 Pro beats.

Winner: Huawei P20 Pro

Software and updates

huawei p20 pro 20
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

You’ll find Android 8.1 Oreo on both of these phones, hidden under skins. The P20 Pro has Huawei’s Emotion UI (EMUI) skin — and thankfully, it’s not the burden it once was. It’s smooth, easy to use and is only really shackled by the lack of notch support in Android Oreo — which should be fixed by Android 9.0 Pie. The Samsung Experience on the Note 9 is similar, with good performance and an easy-to-use interface. Neither is close to stock Android, but neither should be too hard to use for anyone with prior Android experience.

You’re probably looking at similar performance for updates, too; not great. Since both use heavily modified versions of Android, neither manufacturer has a strong record with getting updates out quickly. This is a tie.

Winner: Tie

Special features

Galaxy Note 9 yellow s pen slot
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

We mentioned the A.I. capabilities in the camera section, but that is not all the Kirin 970’s dedicated A.I. chip is up to. When it’s not suggesting modes on the camera, the A.I. system in the P20 Pro works mainly in the background of the phone, optimizing resources to ensure smooth performance. Over time, the A.I. learns which apps are most important to you, and balances system resources to ensure that you’re getting as good an experience as possible — and this is something that should only get better over time. Huawei also included a desktop mode in the P20 Pro, activated with a simple cable, and it also has a speedy face unlock system.

Where do we start with the Note 9? First off there’s the S Pen. In addition to familiar features like writing on the display and quick menus, the improved Note 9 S Pen now also works as a Bluetooth clicker, with different functions available in different apps. The Note 9 also debuts a revolution for Samsung’s DeX mode, thanks to improvements that mean it’s now able to work with just a USB-C to HDMI cable — ditching the expensive dock. There’s also Bixby, as well as facial unlocking.

The Note 9 overpowers the P20 Pro with sheer weight of features.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy Note 9

Price

The Huawei P20 Pro is currently available, with prices ranging from anywhere between $800 and $1,100. Unfortunately, it’s not fully available in the U.S., and you’ll be forced to import it after a sale — but be aware it will only work on select networks like T-Mobile and AT&T.

Pre-orders for the Galaxy Note 9 are open now, and the phone will be launching August 24. It’s available in two colors — lavender purple and ocean blue. Pricing starts at $1,000 for the 128GB, going up to $1,250 for the 512GB version. As a Samsung flagship, expect to see it offered on every U.S. carrier.

Overall winner: Samsung Galaxy Note 9

It’s testament to how good a smartphone the P20 Pro is that it’s able to hold the Note 9 to so many draws across our series of categories — but at the end of the day, the Galaxy Note 9 is simply the stronger of the two devices, with a crisper display, a performance edge, and the improved S Pen.

If none of that is particularly exciting to you, and you can deal with the hassle of importing, limited network support, and lack of a headphone jack — then you’ll probably be very happy with the Huawei P20 Pro regardless.

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