The Note9’s been has been out for several months now, but unfortunately we never really did get to reviewing the phone. A big question from a lot of our community members that kept coming up is whether we’d redo testing of the Snapdragon vs Exynos models of the Note9, and see if there would be any major differences between these phones and the results we got earlier in the year on the Galaxy S9s.

While it took a while, I’ve finally got my hands on both variants of the Note9, and we can finally deliver on the results of our testing. This piece isn’t a full review of the phone itself; here there’s really no doubt about Samsung’s overall quality of the phone as the Note9 continues the excellent results of the Galaxy S9 in categories such as design, build quality, display as well cameras. For camera results I’ll refer to my more recent device articles such as the Pixel 3 or Mate 20s review where the Note9 is included.

Samsung Galaxy Note Family
  Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Samsung Galaxy Note 9
SoC (US, China, Japan)
Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 
4x Kryo 280 (CA73) @ 2.35GHz
4x Kryo 280 (CA53) @ 1.90GHz
Adreno 540 @ 670MHz
(Americas, China, Japan)
Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 
4x Kryo 385 (CA75) @ 2.8GHz
4x Kryo 385 (CA55) @ 1.77GHz
Adreno 630 @ 710MHz
 (Rest of World)
Samsung Exynos 8895
4x Exynos M2 @ 2.30GHz
4x Cortex-A53 @ 1.70GHz
ARM Mali-G71MP20 @ 546MHz
 (Rest of World)
Samsung Exynos 9810
4x Exynos M3 @ 1.8-2.7GHz
4x Cortex-A53 @ 1.76GHz
ARM Mali-G72MP18 @ 572MHz
Display 6.3-inch 2960x1440 (18.5:9)
SAMOLED (curved edges)
6.4-inch 2960x1440 (18.5:9)
SAMOLED (curved edges)
Dimensions 162.5 x 74.8 x 8.6 mm
195g
161.9 x 76.4 x 8.8 mm
201g
RAM 6GB LPDDR4X 6GB / 8GB LPDDR4X
NAND 64GB / 128GB (UFS)
+ microSD
128GB / 512GB (UFS)
+ microSD
Battery 3300mAh (12.7Wh)
non-replaceable
4000mAh (15.4Wh)
non-replaceable
Front Camera 8MP, f/1.7 8MP, f/1.7
Rear Cameras 12MP, 1.4µm pixels,
f/1.7,
dual-pixel PDAF, OIS
12MP, 1.4µm pixels,
f/1.5 / f/2.4 adaptive aperture,
dual-pixel PDAF, OIS
2x zoom telephoto
12MP, f/2.4, OIS
2x zoom telephoto 
12MP, f/2.4, OIS
Modem Snapdragon X16 LTE (Integrated)
2G / 3G / 4G LTE (Category 16/13)
Snapdragon X20 LTE (Integrated)
2G / 3G / 4G LTE (Category 18/13)
Samsung LTE (Integrated)
2G / 3G / 4G LTE (Category 16/13)
Samsung LTE (Integrated)
2G / 3G / 4G LTE (Category 18/13)
SIM Size NanoSIM
Wireless 802.11a/b/g/n/ac 2x2 MU-MIMO,
BT 5.0 LE, NFC, GPS/Glonass/Galileo/BDS
Connectivity USB Type-C, 3.5mm headset
Features fingerprint sensor, heart-rate sensor, iris scanner, face unlock, fast charging (Qualcomm QC 2.0, Adaptive Fast Charging, USB PD),
wireless charging (WPC & PMA), IP68, Mobile HDR Premium
Launch OS Android 7.1.1 Samsung Experience Android 8.1 Samsung Experience

We’ve covered the key aspects of the Note9 in our release article. This year, the two most notable features of the Note9 are the inclusion of a new bigger battery, coming in at 4000mAh as well as an increased maximum storage capacity of 512GB.

The new S-Pen also has gained wireless connectivity which allows it to control various configurable features on the phone. The new feature means that the S-Pen is no longer a passive component, but rather a powered one. Samsung implemented this in a very interesting way: the S-Pen now draws its power from a capacitor instead of a regular battery. What this allows the phone to do is charge the new pen in seconds when docked into the device, rather than the more extended charging times that are required for lithium batteries.

I could go on about the specifications here, but really the point of this article and what the majority of readers are interested in are the differences in internal hardware:

As in the Galaxy S9s, the Note9 is again dual-sourcing the SoC from Qualcomm as well as S.LSI. This has been a big discussion topic for me this year with our coverage of the disappointing results of the Exynos 9810 variant of the Galaxy S9. While over the last few years we’ve been used to seeing differences between the SoC variants, they’ve never been as great as this generation. We’ve extensively explained as to why this happened in our review of the Galaxy S9 as well as follow-up articles centring on the 9810’s software.

One big critique of the results back then was that I only had a smaller Exynos S9 versus the bigger Snapdragon S9+, somewhat blurring the differences to some people. Today’s results Note9 results are on the same device model, so hopefully comparisons will be more straightforward.

Battery life – Improved at a cost

Before we get to the more detailed talk of what has actually changes for the Exynos in the Note9, let’s just jump to the most critical results: battery life. On the Galaxy S9s, the Snapdragon variant was always consistently higher. Let’s see how the Note9 fares:

Web Browsing Battery Life 2016 (WiFi)

In our web browsing battery test, the Snapdragon and Exynos Note9 surprisingly end up within margins of each other. In absolute terms, both units showcase outstanding results just shy of 12 hours, only really being beaten by our more recent result of the Mate 20.

This is an excellent improvement over the results of the Exynos S9 back at release. In my piece altering the S9’s kernel and scheduler, I showcased that performance as well as battery life could be improved just by altering the behaviour of the software. The one thing that made the greatest improvements in both aspects was the removal of the 2.7GHz boost of the big cores.

Over the summer following that article I had made some further improvements software wise, as well did some digging into the battery of the S9: For some reason, Exynos S9’s are shipping exclusively with a battery model “EB-BG960ABE” while the Snapdragon variants all exclusively were shipping with “EB-BG960ABA” batteries. The two models come from different factories. There was one discrepancy that bothered me here: the fuel-gauge on the small Exynos S9’s were consistently showing smaller nominal capacities than the Snapdragon S9’s while both have the same charger and fuel gauge IC. I ended up ordering a fresh set of both battery models and replaced them in my S9 unit, and skipping over a lot of technical details about how the fuel-gauges work, the end result is that the ABA models do seem to have a 5% better longevity over the ABE models.

Overall I managed to raise the battery results of the S9 in our web test from 6.8h up to ~8.8h all while improving performance. The Exynos Note9’s 11.66h here represents a 32% increase – something quite in line with the 4000mAh vs 3000mAh difference of the two phones, barring of course software differences and the fact that the Note9 has a much bigger screen.

Do keep these results in mind while we talk about performance on the next page.

PCMark Work 2.0 - Battery Life

In PCMark, the Snapdragon Note 9 retains a notable lead in battery life, with the Exynos Note9 coming in at 15% behind it. Again the Exynos Note9 fares 32% better than the small Exynos S9 on stock firmware, in line with the battery capacity difference but not in line with the screen size differences of both devices.

At first glance, it seems that Samsung has largely resolved the battery differences between the Snadpragon 845 and Exynos 9810 units of the Note9. However as I’ve hinted at several times now, things aren’t quite as straightforward as to what it cost to achieve this. Next up we’ll investigate the system performance of both Note9s.

System Performance
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  • Andrei Frumusanu - Monday, November 26, 2018 - link

    > Please kindly do mention the workings of them.

    It's a bit too much to cover as it goes into the actual registers of the fuelgauge and the battery drivers. In general you can just read up on Maxim's ModelGauge algos.

    https://www.maximintegrated.com/en/design/partners...

    > To add my OP3 fuel gauge chip also blocks installing the 3Ts higher spec battery (3000 vs 3300)

    In general kernels can't do anything because the PMIC/FG is initialised by the bootloader, which is again a whole other topic.
    Reply
  • Quantumz0d - Monday, November 26, 2018 - link

    Thanks, that should help. Yes, OnePlus patched it with a firmware update iirc. Reply
  • eastcoast_pete - Monday, November 26, 2018 - link

    @Andrei: Thanks for this review and the analysis. I know you wouldn't write this w/o strong, more direct evidence, but would you care to speculate on how the strange behavior of the snapdragon Note 9 in the graphics benchmark (allowing temp to rise quite high) might affect battery longevity (actual useful lifetime, as in number of charges before it degrades)? I for one am concerned whenever a Li-ion device is allowing itself to get quite toasty. Lastly, there is also the suspicion that Samsung has massaged the SoC software to recognize GFx and Aztec and allow a "performance mode" when these are detected.

    Regarding Samsung's insistence of using its S-LSI in-house Exynos whenever possible: I am not even sure that it ends up costing Samsung that much less than using QC's 845. I believe it's a case of what in banking is called throwing good money after bad, i.e. the reluctance to say "well, this (Exynos/Mongoose) didn't work out", and move one. Until the most recent Kirin, the Android mobile SoC landscape really had two players: QC and Samsung. If you lived in a country that only gets the Exynos, there were few competitive non-Exynos handsets to have at the higher end. However, the competitive landscape has changed, with the newest A-76 Kirin designs giving Samsung a run for its money. I wonder if the desire to move $ 800 - $1100 handsets will overcome Samsung's reluctance to use QC flagship SoCs for Europe and Asia also. Otherwise, they're in for a world of hurt. I would be surprised if Huawei isn't working on a pen-input device based on its P 20 Pro to go after the upcoming Note 10.
    Reply
  • Andrei Frumusanu - Monday, November 26, 2018 - link

    > I know you wouldn't write this w/o strong, more direct evidence, but would you care to speculate on how the strange behavior of the snapdragon Note 9 in the graphics benchmark (allowing temp to rise quite high) might affect battery longevity (actual useful lifetime, as in number of charges before it degrades)?

    As you say, I don't have any data on this and can't say anything other than it gets hotter than it should be allowed to. In most games it's not an issue but that's besides the point.
    Reply
  • eastcoast_pete - Tuesday, November 27, 2018 - link

    Thanks Andrei! I was really surprised by Samsung's apparent willingness to have the 845 Note heat up to levels that one usually wants to avoid when dealing with Li-ion batteries. Especially given the debacle they had with the battery malfunction in their Note 8. At least for here in the US, they have just opened themselves up for a class-action lawsuit if Note 9s have battery issues also. It can now be argued that any damages to the battery are due to defective software that allows overly high temperatures, resulting in premature failure. Reply
  • HStewart - Monday, November 26, 2018 - link

    I am curious about Note 8 compared to Note 9 on your comparison list.

    With my Note 8 the OS detects which applications use the batter. One thing is sure, when I switch iPhone 6 to Note 8, I used my phone a lot more.
    Reply
  • HStewart - Monday, November 26, 2018 - link

    Just to be clear - not on specs which was listed - but on performance battery life and …

    For me the phone is fast enough - how much performances does one need - battery life is different story

    But the battery life on Galaxy Watch is a total different story, I get almost a week on it.
    Reply
  • Andrei Frumusanu - Monday, November 26, 2018 - link

    We never had a Note8 to test. Reply
  • FrankSchwab - Monday, November 26, 2018 - link

    Probably because, as long as they have a viable second-source, they can beat up on QC to keep the price of the Snapdragon low. "You want how much for 50 million Snapdragons? That's too much. We'll buy a few at that price - say, 20 million - just to keep our relationship intact, and use our Exynos for the other 30 million". Reply
  • Iczeman - Monday, November 26, 2018 - link

    Wow, what a disappointment of Exynos performance of S9. Really pity that on European market is not Snapdragon version available as much worth for the same money. Hopefully with S10 will get difference smaller but it's only wish for several years already. Reply

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