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Why Samsung's Galaxy Note 9 is my favorite phone since the days of Lumia

Since the death of Windows phones (shout out to those still hanging on), I've struggled to find a phone that I really enjoy. The closest, up until now, was the BlackBerry KEY2 (opens in new tab), which made blogging on Word for Android completely viable with its tactile QWERTY keyboard. However, as a mid-range device, I found myself longing for more screen real estate, a better camera (literally, any other camera), and more customization options.

I bit the bullet on a Samsung Galaxy Note 9 (opens in new tab), and I am so glad I did.

It's the little things

I'm not going to deep dive into the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 hardware, but if you're interested, our friends at Android Central have an excellent review over here. For me, the biggest complaint about Android has always been in the little things I miss from Windows Phone 8.1 and Windows 10 Mobile.

Personalization was a big draw for me on Windows 10 Mobile, and with Note 9, it's like I'm back on my Lumia 950 XL.

As a relative newcomer to the Android ecosystem, one of the central criticisms of Samsung phones seems to pertain to its software. People often call it bloated and messy and decry things like Samsung's Bixby assistant, which cannot be disabled via Samsung's own settings. Thankfully, Android is heavily customizable, and Samsung offers OS tweaks that some other vendors simply don't.

One of the things I miss most about Windows phone is system-level accent colors and dark modes. Samsung brings this with gusto with its Samsung Themes app, allowing me to skin system apps like Settings and the Dialer, in addition to the Notification Center. Personalization was a big draw for me on Windows 10 Mobile, and with the Note 9, it's like I'm back on my red and black Lumia 950 XL.

Whether or not you like Samsung's launcher experience is personal preference. Again, as a heavy Microsoft ecosystem user, simply installing the Microsoft Launcher and setting it to the default brushes away a lot of the extraneous Samsung features, such as the screen-edge navigation bar.

I was also daunted by the prospect of having such a huge phone again without Windows 10 Mobile's one-handed navigation mode. Samsung's phones also have these features, allowing you to either swipe up from the corner or tap the home button three times to shrink the display into the corner, allowing you to reach those pesky hamburger menus with greater ease.

Additionally, Microsoft's SwiftKey seems to have improved leaps and bounds since I last used it, to the point where I can finally say it's better than word flow on Windows Phone 8.1 and 10 Mobile. SwiftKey is also heavily customizable visually, allowing me to match it up to my system theme, and also making it larger for more accurate swiping. I barely miss the QWERTY keyboard on my KEY2 now, although I'm still not sure swiping on glass is reassuring enough for writing out full blog posts.

Inking on Android, wishing for Andromeda

Beyond obvious things like stellar battery life, a stunning display, and an impressive camera, one of the aspects I didn't expect to love so much is the S-Pen.

Finding ink support in the Android world isn't easy. Effectively, the only big-name brand doing it is Samsung, and perhaps that's for good reason. Samsung does it bloody well.

The Note 9 makes me yearn for a world where a device like Surface Andromeda actually exists.

The S-Pen is about as powerful as the Surface Pen (opens in new tab) theoretically, stored neatly within the body of the Note 9 with 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity. I've actually found it performs better with tilt shading, and the tip of the pen provides a type of resistance I'd more associate with pen and paper than what you get with the Surface Pen. The only downside is that it's quite small, and the active button on the stylus is positioned in such a way that accidental presses happen often.

Additionally, the palm muting on the Galaxy Note 9 isn't the best, when compared to a larger device like a Surface, but it's completely usable for heavy note-taking and light artwork in apps like Adobe Photoshop Sketch, which work well with the S-Pen and its features. Being able to use the S-Pen as a camera shutter is also a nice touch.

The Note 9 makes me yearn for a world where a device like Surface Andromeda actually exists.

The future of mobile inking

Clearly, Microsoft is deeply invested in inking, particularly for the education sector. I certainly find that in the German classes I'm taking, the notes I made with the S-Pen have stuck better in my mind than the notes I made with the BlackBerry KEY2's QWERTY keyboard. The issue for me is, despite how large the Galaxy Note 9 actually is, it's still quite a cramped experience for handwriting, at least for someone like me with an "unrefined" inking style.

Samsung and Google are already reportedly working on a collaboration to make folding Android displays a reality, while we've known for a while Microsoft has been spamming patents related to folding tablets under the Surface Andromeda codename. I doubt Andromeda will realistically compete with the Samsung "Andromeda," should either device ever make it to store shelves, purely because of the app gap issue. But Microsoft's services will remain present on Android, making the marriage of Android inking and Microsoft Office a match made in digital heaven.

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Jez Corden is a Senior Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

  • I see you have OneNote for Android open on one of those screen shots Jez. How does the OneNote experience compare to what we can do versus Windows Ink. Obviously it's not going to be as good (you mention the size issue), but how well does the S Pen work with OneNote? I'm heavily invested in the OneNote system, so I don't think I'd want to use Samsung's built in notetaking apps. Anyway, I'd love to hear what you think about all that.
  • It works really well. The screen size is an issue, of course, also there's no rainbow ink (OMG!!) but for basic note taking it's perfect. I just recommend using ruled lined paper, or you'll easily lose orientation against zoom level (my first notes were all different sizes cus I didn't realize how zoomed in I was … haha).
  • Thanks! Could you elaborate on the palm muting issue? So if you rest your palm on the side of the screen while you're scribbling, does the screen scroll and zoom when you don't want it to, is that what you mean?
  • Idk what he's talking about. My Note9 mutes - i.e. ignores - my palm when I use my S-Pen. The only time palm muting is an issue is if you use a 3rd party capacitative stylus. The Note9 can't tell the difference between those and your palm.
  • Jez... I will be replacing my 950 with a Note 9. I will be the first non Windows Phone phone I've bought in over a decade... I can't wait. Mainly for apps. My work phone is a S7, so I know how much more beautiful WP is,,,, but support, and apps, wins.
  • Exact same boat (minus the s7 workphone part :-) ). Switching today. Sad to lose MyTube and a few others, and the OS in general, but given the level of MS support for Android and the S9 camera quality, it seems like I won't be giving up much, and will be gaining a lot).
  • I own a Note9 also. OneNote is the best handwriting notetaking app for it, by far. I don't think Windows Ink is a fair comparison as the S-Pen isn't available in that form factor (unless you could the Galaxy Tab S4) and Windows Ink isn't available on phones (yet?)
  • How much can you use the pen with the note 9.. It works in OneNote? Does it work with Word?
  • Microsoft Apps support the SPen natively. Onenote auto switches to I king when you pull the S Pen out, even. And Samsung Notes is better anyways. Definitely performs better; so that's what I personally use. I cannot deal with OneNote's oppressive sync speeds.
  • OneNote sync speeds used to be terrible, but now they're pretty good. It looks like the promo videos: ink or type on one device and it starts showing up immediately on the other. I'm talking Windows to Android. And my tablet is pretty old, a Samsung from 2014.
  • Last week the sync speeds were still molasses. I just moved to the Note last month, so I had been trying it. I can't deal with those sync speeds. The desktop versions have the same issue. I don't really need it on desktop anyways, so the Samsung app is perfect for me.
  • The S-Pen experience is available on several Samsung Windows laptops and tablets. The Galaxy Book 2,which just came out, for example.
  • Hi There! I use one note on my Note9 heavily, I work in marketing and I don't have a physical notebook anymore. I ink on my phone, type on my PC, snap pics of charts and ink on them. It's by far the best note taking ecosystem and it works like magic with the spen.
  • Now you just need to install a new launcher like SquareHome 2 and you can be back in Windows Phone heaven with live tiles and everything.
    I love SquareHome 2 on my Galaxy S8 and highly recommend it.
  • I do like SquareHome2! But I like the Timeline access that Microsoft Launcher brings. :)
  • I tried Square Home 2, but like Launcher 10 better. It feels more like the real deal. Square Home 2 adds a bunch of stuff, making it clunky.
  • For me, it's DeX. Combine that with the 512GB of storage and 8GB of RAM, no more need for a dock that now allows me to run an app (and ink) on the phone simultaneously while running DeX on a display, etc. and I've got a computer that can do most things for me, that's always with me.
    I miss W10M as well, and I was always a huge fan of Continuum, but Samsung made it actually work.
  • I'm glad that works for you, but I need more than that. I need a Windows desktop. I'd rather just dock my Surface. And I'm a Galaxy Note user since the original Galaxy Note in 2011.
  • "I need a Windows desktop" - Me too. Nothing's stopping you from using both; that's what I do. Currently I have a triple monitor setup with my Windows 10 desktop feeding all 3 monitors, and DeX and a Raspberry Pi feeding 1 monitor each. I switch between all 3 using a Logitech Keyboard & Mouse Bluetooth set. While DeX can theoretically replace a desktop PC, it's best thought of a larger form factor via which to interact with the phone. Whereas previously you were limited to a tiny display, you can now have desktop size multiwindow, scaling, etc.
  • DeX is ChromeOS done right. Samsung's software is good these days. I'd never replace most of it with Microsoft's. I forward my email to Gmail, have Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, OneDrive and Skype installed and tucked in a folder just in case. That's its. Apps can only go so far. Microsoft does not feel like a native ecosystem on Android. No matter how you much you try to force it... And Bixby is literally better than Cortana, so I use that I stead of throwing data at Google :-P I like the button and the "walkie talkie feel" of it. That way I never need to turn on the wake up phrase (saves battery that way). Samsung keyboard is pretty necessary for accessing S Pen features, stickers, etc. Its also where the Handwriting panel is. Swiftkey is good, on vanilla phones. Less attractive on a note, unless you don't use the pen. Honestly, I only have a Microsoft Account these days due to Office 365. If not for that, I wouldn't have one at all.
  • To me that sounds like a pretty narrow use case. The most important phone functions I need on a desktop are SMS and chat clients, and there are good native Windows solutions for those. Unfortunately Samsung Health doesn't even have a browser experience, so I just just that on my phone. The good news is there are some decent phone mirroring apps, and Your Phone should start doing that soon too. About multiple monitors - I prefer having both of my external monitors for Windows. Again, YMMV but I might suggest my use case is more typical than yours.
  • Samsung has a 1st party phone mirroring solution for their phones. They have had that covered since 2013...
  • Dex Pad really works well and it functions much better than the old MS Continuum dock. But I don't really use the Dex that much since I mainly use the W10 desktop apps. The Andromeda will be much more useful if its Continuum feature can be built as good as Dex/Dex Pad.
  • I actually use my continuum dock as a spare DeX dock, works perfectly. DeX is where Lumia was supposed to be a year after launch (according to the tech demos) and works really well as a lightweight desktop.
  • Note 9 doesn't need a dock. Just a USB To HDMI cable. Super cheap. How it should be, IMO.
  • Take a look for Shadowtech! Win10 PC in the Cloud. 12GB RAM NVidia1080 GraphicsCard. It's like a dream come true.
  • Exact same setup here. 512 GB Note9 + 1200p monitor.
  • I am one of those 950XL hold outs who is finally being forced over to Android with my Note 9 shipping now. Unfortunately, the 950XL is starting to act up too much with the camera app getting buggy, black screens during calls, the volume keys acting up, etc. I guess 3 years was a good run. Can folks direct my to any guides to strip the Samsung bloat and make my experience as Windows Mobile as possible?
  • Let me know when you completely switch so I can send you my mailing address, would like to get your old 950XL to fix mine broken screen. :)
  • I have an old 950 xl that works I can send you
  • Hi there is a app that you need to pay for that disables Samsung and Google bloat ware. Something like BK manager however good thing about Samsung phones is with the exception of 4 apps (phone, contacts, Samsung store and messages) everything can be disabled Also try Samsung good lock
  • Sorry, I keep my old phones as back up in case I lose or break the current one. It is my penalty to go back if I "waste" money breaking or losing the new one.
  • Ruufus, Stripping the Samsung bloat, as some call it, is pretty easy. I personally love their take on apps such as as email, messaging, etc but everyone has preferences. I dont have a guide but the best thing about android is it is easy to disable an app you dont use and set a default for another. For example when you set up the phone it will automatically set up your email in their app but when you download and then open outlook it will ask you if you want to make that the default. Same with edge and others. Best part is when you click the share button it will default to those apps you've picked or if you haven't picked an app it will as you. You can click use once and it will ask you each time or use this app always. It really is super easy. The customization is why I stay with android.
  • Lipstick on a pig.
  • Oink oink Mickey Fickey.
  • Paul Thurrott did some guides on getting rid of the android cruft and getting better usability with Microsoft Apps and launchers. I have Square Home 2 but I use Launcher 10. I still use my HP Elite X3 Verizon version but have an android phone for some apps that I don't have access to.
  • I wouldn't call any of Samsung's features bloat. They're just there for whenever you need them. You can use Package Disabler Pro, but I wouldn't recommend going that route as an Android beginner as you could really bork your device.
  • Without the Samsung software, you're better off getting a Pixel. "Bloat" is faux cliché. The software on this phone is designed specifically for its hardware capabilities. Much of it can be uninstalled. The stuff that isnt necessary. Otherwise you're just paying extra for benefits you're deleting from the UX. Android isn't iOS or Windows Mobile. There are other choices of you like the illusion of "no bloat."
  • Well, yes and no. I'm glad you appreciate some of Samsung's great software (S-Note really is good; their calendar app has been great for years) but we don't need a third browser, a second or third email client, a third or fourth voice assistant, a second SMS client, a second translation app, and so on. These are vestiges of the days when Samsung wanted to break free of Android. They effectively duplicated a bunch of Android apps. I'd still call that bloat, especially since you can't remove most of it.
  • Third browser? You mean second and the only one optimized specifically for the phone with tracking protection and support for content blockers? Have fun with them ads. Samsung Internet is literally one of the best Android browsers out there. Not even close to being worth complaining about. Their PIM apps are all excellent. They always have been, as Samsung has always targeted the business markets. Almost nothing is on oar with their Email, Calendar, Reminders, and Notes apps - especially in the Android ecosystem (which frankly is poor compared to iOS for productivity app quality and design). There is no second SMS client. The phones only ship with one. What are you talking about. Samsung is building support for RCS directly into its client, which is pretty good and not worth complaining about. There is no translation app on the Note 9. Have you ever used one? This literally doesn't exist. The translation features (S Pen. Bixby Vision) offer functionality not built into Android, and requiring additional app installation. Google translate is not a preload on Any OEM android devices, so Samsung cannot be second there. The "vestiges" you speak of have already been culled - by Samsung. Most of their apps are NOT built into the FW and can be completely uninstalled by the user. If you used an S9/Note 9, you would know this. But you'd rather just parrot an expired argument, instead. Most Google apps aren't even in the FW, even. You can just uninstall almost everything except the core basics. You are peddling 2013-era FUD, guy.
  • Hi Jez - love the theme that you have. Could you pass the name along?
  • What Samsung theme are you using? It's gorgeous.
  • I'd like to know as well
  • While I certainly can't speak to the Galaxy Note, I have tried to endure the disaster that is Android for the sake of seeing if there's any way it could be a tolerable replacement for my Windows phone.
    1. SwiftKey is a joke. The absolute best keyboard was on Windows Phone 8, with Windows 10 Mobile a distant second. At least on W10M keyboard you can simply backspace over a wrong word (which happens way too frequently) to shape the right one. On Android, the accuracy is even worse (by a LOT) than even W10M, and you DON'T have the convenience of simply backspacing the whole word.
    2. One of the things I HATED about the old PocketPC/Windows Mobile Era was that you HAD to skin the thing to make it more useful. I despise having to customize something that much. That's why Windows phones were better--you had some customization, but it was more sweeping (thus quicker and more CONSISTENT) and still left you with a user experience that had integrity. You HAVE to customize, skin, whatever, Android to make it useful and half way attractive...and STILL it looks and functions like crap. Microsoft's Launcher hardly helps. Using virtually all Microsoft apps hardly helps. This is because, of all the things you can customize, the things that MATTER MOST cannot be customized and you are forced to use Google's filthy garbage.
    3. As for inking, I have zero use for that on a phone, particularly because I think it's just stupid to carry something THAT big around and pretend it is useful as a phone OR as a tablet. I'll use my Surface Pro, which is infinitely better than any large "phone", and I'll continue to carry a phone that REALLY can be used one-handed and not look like I'm carrying a slab in my pocket.
    4. A folding display does nothing but make this worse, so I'm not even entertaining this.
  • Stubbornly hang onto your antique Windows phone then while the rest of us move on. It's gone
  • And why are you so bothered by that? lagdroid fan boy?
  • Dude, the only people who use terms like "lagdroid" are fanboys. Insecure, obsessive fanboys.
  • "At least on W10M keyboard you can simply backspace over a wrong word (which happens way too frequently) to shape the right one." You can do this with the Samsung Keyboard. As well as Swiftkey. "I despise having to customize something that much. That's why Windows phones were better" I run my Note with the Samsung Software. The only customization I needed was the settings. You feeling like you need to customize just cause others do is not Android's problem. Check yourself. Samsung's software isn't even close to bad. It's actually pretty solid. Welcome to 2018. "You HAVE to customize, skin, whatever, Android to make it useful and half way attractive...and STILL it looks and functions like crap. " See above. Just, no. "you are forced to use Google's filthy garbage." 90% of Google Apps are not preloaded, or can be uninstalled (I don't mean disabled, either) on this phone. Gmail is needed for Account emails, and Play Store is the app ecosystem, but you're free to stick to Damsung Apps. If Microsoft didn't fail so hard at mobile, we wouldn't have to read your whine about it. You can, theoretically. Avoid 95% of Google on this phone. That's why there are Email, Calendar, Reminders, Gallery, Camera, Messages, Internet, Music, Health, Notes, Voice Recorder, Clock, Calculator, Video Player, Samsung Pass, Samsung Pay, and Fike Management apps NOT from Google on it, and secure folder... It's why Bixby exists; so you don't have to let Google farm you. You just disable all the assistant stuff, and account t level Histories. They even implemented their own Universal Search. This is necessary cause businesses don't want Android phones dependent on Google. Core apps need to be agnostic. Samsung gives us these, so we don't have to go full re-re like you have in your comment. Samsung even has their own cloud sync and storage for their services, you you don't have to store the data on Google Drive! Learn how to live within the ecosystem you choose. Complaining accomplishes nothing. Clearly you have barely if at all used Android. You are parroting propaganda. The thing about newer Samsung and Google phones that make them nice is that you don't have to replace any of the stock software. We are well past TouchWiz 3, guy.. "As for inking, I have zero use for that on a phone, particularly because I think it's just stupid to carry something THAT big around and pretend it is useful as a phone OR as a tablet. " As an athlete, the pen is indespensible for being able to tolerate in apps like Dartfish Express. Try to see beyond your own nose, some time. The Stylus also let's you start and stop recording in these apps, which is absolute baller for ski recording at the training center. Check yourself, fool. No one is saying you should get this phone. You're free to stay on your burning, dead platform! Windows Phone's keyboard wasn't that amazing. Microsoft bought Swiftkey for a reason. It was also as customizable as iOS. Tiles really arent that much, or that big a deal. They just looked quite different, which is why people went gaga over it. Functionally, they were not much more that huge icons or small widgets, and for the entirety of WP7/8 they could barely update reliably (forcing you to delete and reprint the tile). Rose tinted glasses, much? WM10 was a buggy mess, according to their own users - who were mostly fanboys, by that point.
  • Well said
  • That just crap **** of load you spit out of your mouth.
  • Nice rebuttal. Have a nice day. Facts are welcome, BTW.
  • "Check yourself, fool." I totally re-read that in Mr. T's voice and it was ridiculously hilarious!
  • You really need to switch to being an Apple fanboy. Unlike Microsoft, they have a full modern ecosystem and won't make you customize or think much about anything. It will work much better for you instead of continuing to try and shove a square peg in a round hole.
  • why are you here? obviously, you're not a big fan of Microsoft so why are you on a Microsoft fan site.
  • I think closer to Lumia's are the Nokia and Sony Android phones. Since Sony still has that dedicated camera button, and Nokia has great value with similar price ranges. E.g. 7.1 or 6 is pretty good deal, Sony not so much but if you wait little bit it gets lot cheaper.
  • All about dark mode. One Plus does it. But never tried.
  • My older bro used to love his galaxy note 9, however he is now always complaining about it's unreliable screen casting abilities as it constantly freezes and crashes - which has been exacerbated as of late by Sony. They have been shoving updates on the bravia making it more and more unreliable every update. Also he says the battery life has not held upto his expectations previously he would get 2 to 3 days now it's barely a day. He hardly has any apps installed (nor does he have many emails syncing), so it's not poorly optimised apps or emails draining the battery. I can only guess that the battery is not holding up well or it's the old curse of poor optimisation of updates.
  • "his galaxy note 9, [...] which has been exacerbated as of late by Sony." - Huh? How is Sony causing a Note9 to crash?
  • TV firmware bad. He's likely exaggerating things. Note was never advertised as a 2 day phony. It's a 1 day phone for battery life. And what you install and run on your phone has a huge impact on that. That's not a phone problem. My Note o is fine. Casts to my smart TV and no battery issues.
  • Perhaps you need to understand how Miracast works, it's not a one way stream from the phone. The TV sends faulty authentication packets which causes the phone to crash (happens with my L950 XL and every other android phone). Hence why Sony is fault there and also it's down to android being android as well as there has been systemic decay in reliability of the screen casting functionality on the phone. Which is not an exaggeration the nature of android will always cause systemic decay and why it's so vulnerable to hacks and zero day exploits. In regards to the battery life, that was a verbatim quote from someone who uses the Note 9 extensively daily. I am going to place more credence on that than your opinion as battery life is a highly subjective matter.
  • Implementation matters for things like MiraCast and DLNA. There are lots of devices that font work properly due to implementation issues. This is widely known fact. Yhe XBox 360 was renown for DLNA issues with Android phones, for example, and OEMs can send out Smart TV FW updates that affect MiraCast compatibility. Just because it's a standard doesnt mean all implementations are of equal quality, or cannot be broken like any other software/firmware. Quoting someone who uses a Note isn't really useful at all. The Note was advertised as an all day phone. Expecting 2 days out of it is borderline re-re. That was never hinted as a third g unless you run it in 720p mode and/or barely use the phone. Too many things can affect battery life to jump straight to blaming the hardware. You're well beyond jumping to conclusions. "Both of you." In QHD+ screen mode yhe phone is going to get through a day comfortably with moderate usage. If its giving you iPhone 8-level battery life, then you probably have installed some crap apps on it. That's a common situation with Android. The app ecosystem is kind of poopy. So you really have to be discriminate, there ;-) Also. If you have apps like Cortana on the phone, remove her. She is a battery killer o Android and iOS. Android has Granular permissions. Remove location permission from apps that don't depend on it. That's a common way apps can destroy batteries on iOS and Android. If you have third party apps that constantly crash in the background (phone will probably notify you of this), replace with alternative or set it to always sleep. Don't constantly run battery down to nothing. The more charge cycles you use. The faster your battery degrades, the more its max charge capacity lessens, and the less battery life you get. Dont fast charge if you can avoid it. Use a low voltage wireless charger. Had an iPhone 8 Plus. 100% capacity after 11 months. While most people with same aged phone had 80-85 because they still believe crap like "always run battery down to 30% before charging."
  • @n8ter#AC. Thanks for your input. I'm am well aware of the dos and don'ts when it comes to android and ios as I live in a multiplatform household. As well as the implementation issues with Miracast and DLNA. Thanks for the info about charging electronic devices, I am aware life cycles of batteries in phones, there are reasons why I am aware of such information but I don't like to brag hence why I hardly talk about such knowledge. In regards to the quoting someone who is using a Note is helpful as it denotes the experience which may or not be the norm. The other facet of that point - is that it points out and highlights the hypocrisy of your own comment :P lol, because by your own definition your comment about iphone 8 plus battery capacity is not "helpful" at all :P haha. I suggest best to refrain from personalising comments and keep it to factual discussion even it's based on annecdotal evidence or not. The key fact that I mentioned the issue with the Bravia smart tv is because that is my annecdotal experience and given TV updates are hardly "fine tuned" (as it forces people to buy another TV - which is the main reason I mentioned it) it is more than likely my experience is not going to be isolated. Because if a TV works flawlessly for a long period of time, the OEM is not going to sell many TVs are they? C