Huge phone launches are a busy time of year for tech bloggers usually. We have reviews, comparisons, feature focuses, and all kinds of other content to write about. However, the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 launch felt like a funeral procession. It just didn’t have the same bounce as previous flagship phone launches.
Whether it’s industry burnout, laziness, or catering to a specific audience, I can only speculate. It was an oddly tame reaction for likely one of the top two or three best phones of the year. A surprising number of comparisons have popped up between the powerhouse, power-user friendly Note 9 and the affordable, basic, but decently equipped OnePlus 6. We don’t know why everyone seems to be picking the OnePlus 6, but it is what it is.
Let’s take a closer look at these two devices. In reality, there is no real comparison here.
This comparison isn’t about price
Nobody can really win or lose a cost-vs-worth argument, because what matters changes from person to person. Anyone can toss the argument of value around and be right half of the time without even trying. It’s a cheap kind of article. It’s everywhere, easy to swallow, and bad for your health if you consume it consistently — It’s the McDonald’s of hot takes.
A ton of people consider the OnePlus 6 a great value and just as many believe the Note 9 is a great value. Neither demographic is wrong because value is in the eye of the beholder. It’s like watching a video where someone says their favorite color is green and, because of that, it’s better than all of the other colors. That’s not how a comparison works.
Worth is derived by weighing the size of your wallet against your preferences and needs. Obviously, your needs differ from mine. Our needs (yours and mine) differ from the other people reading this. Thus, in an actual, objective comparison between two devices, discussing price is counter-productive. It’s used to level what is otherwise an uneven playing field between two devices that otherwise are not comparable.
If you want to know which phone is the best between any two devices, discussing price gets in the way more than it adds clarity.
Worth is a function of your budget, needs, and preferences, not someone else's.
Sometimes the better things are simply more expensive and that’s the way it is. Whether or not it’s worth it to you is your opinion and your opinion is unique to you alone. What you can afford doesn’t affect what I buy and what I can afford doesn’t affect what you buy. Worth isn’t a metric you can gainfully measure and that makes it pointless to talk about when comparing two things so different from one another.
From this point forward, nothing about this comparison is going to deal with cost. Let’s begin!
Let’s start with the similarities
Basically the only similarities in these devices are the specs, which you’ve likely seen ad nauseum already. We won’t bore you with a super detailed analysis of minor differences, so here’s a quick list of the things these phones both do very well:
- Both phones run on a Snapdragon 845, 6GB-8GB of RAM, a 128GB storage option, with a glass-metal-glass style design.
- There is a 0.12-inch difference in display size. They are basically the same size. They also both use AMOLED screens. We’ll get more into the screens in a bit.
- We ran Geekbench 4 ten times on each device. The scores were basically even given the variables for things like software. The battery drain was also about the same when battery size was taken into account. In practice and in testing, performance on both are excellent. Some reports indicate that similar testing showed the OnePlus 6 had basically the same performance, but was several degrees warmer than the Note 9. However, none of the numbers were different enough to give the other one an advantage one way or the other. They perform tasks at a close enough pace to call it even.
- Both phones have basic peripheral functionality like USB Type-C and a headphone jack. It’s good to see both phones catering to niche markets.
- Neither device has an IR blaster and that’s lame.
- You can take respectable photos in good lighting with both phones.
- Both have dual-SIM functionality.
- Both support Project Treble, according to this app.
- The Note 9 and OnePlus 6 should both get somewhat consistent security updates. Samsung’s entire 9-series lineup (S9, S9 Plus, and Note 9) have the August 2018 security patch. Meanwhile, the OnePlus 6 has the July 2018 security patch, but most of OnePlus’ lineup has the August one. Neither OEM is consistent with it, but both are consistent enough to be equal to us.
- Both devices are capable of all day battery life most of the time. Obviously, hardcore gamers and music streamers may need a bump charge occasionally.
- Both devices have Bluetooth 5 and both of them run a new enough version of Android to have all of the commercially available Bluetooth codecs (AAC, LDAC, Aptx, Aptx-HD).
What the OnePlus 6 does better
There are some things the OnePlus 6 does better than the Note 9. The list isn’t very long.
- The OnePlus 6 charges faster than the Note 9, mostly due to its Dash Charging capabilities and its smaller battery. The Note 9’s older Qualcomm Quick Charge protocol simply isn’t as fast.
- OnePlus 6 software is lighter than the Note 9. Whether or not that’s better comes down to personal preference. Some enjoy a minimal software footprint, even if it means fewer features. Lighter OEM customizations usually mean faster updates to newer versions of Android. We would bet money that the OnePlus 6 gets Android 9.0 Pie before the Galaxy Note 9.
- You get seamless system updates with the OnePlus 6, but not the Note 9. Additionally, the OnePlus 6 is solely an unlocked device, so carriers can’t get in the way of updates like with most Samsung devices.
- No carriers should mean less overhead when it comes to updates. There is also no carrier-specific bloatware.
- The OnePlus 6 has an iPhone-style slider for silencing the phone. It’s like the only piece of hardware on this phone the Note 9 doesn’t also have, even if its use is limited and basic.
That’s a relatively sizable list. We’re not trying to marginalize one device in favor of another here. The OnePlus 6 is a good device. No one’s debating that.
What the Note 9 does better
The Note 9 does basically everything not previously listed better. A lot of people don’t know everything the Note 9 even does, so let’s get this list going!
- The 4,000mAh battery is larger than the 3,300mAh in the OnePlus 6. Both can last all day, but with the right use cases, the Note 9 can go longer than one day.
- Stereo speakers. They’re not front facing, but two speakers in a stereo arrangement will always be better than a single, mono, bottom-firing speaker like on the OnePlus 6. Plus, the Note 9 has Dolby Atmos tuning options in the software for further customization.
- Wireless charging and fast wireless charging are available on the Note 9, but not the OnePlus 6.
- The Note 9 supports HDMI-out while OnePlus 6 does not. This is necessary for its Dex feature, another thing the Note 9 does that the OnePlus 6 does not do.
- The Note 9 has IP68 water and dust resistance. The OnePlus 6 apparently has some water resistance, but it’s not certified with an IP rating.
- Samsung has a whole theme store with wallpapers, themes, and icons. Admittedly, the icons are kind of terrible because they only work on the stock Samsung icons, but the themes and wallpapers are pretty awesome. The OnePlus has a dark mode and an accent color changer. In terms of pure volume, the Note 9 has more options here.
- There is a built-in, system-wide equalizer in the settings for wired headphones with Dolby Atmos, various sound effects, and several additional sound profile options for further customization. It even works with some Bluetooth headsets. You usually need root for that sort of feature. To be fair, the OnePlus 6 does have an equalizer, but the Note 9 has more additional options.
- The Note 9 has expandable storage. It also has a higher maximum storage option with 512GB. The OnePlus 6 has no SD card slot and maxes out at 256GB.
- The OnePlus 6 and the Note 9 take convincingly similar daylight photos. However, based on our review samples, the Note 9 takes better low light photos. Check out our Note 9 review and our OnePlus 6 review to see for yourself.
- The OnePlus 6 has a slightly better (0.03 percent) screen-to-body ratio, but Samsung achieves its numbers with a front-facing speaker and no notch.
- The Note 9 is reportedly more color accurate, and has a higher resolution, with several display settings to change color, presets, and more. You can also turn the resolution down to 1080p or 720p in the settings menu to save battery life on the Note 9. It has vastly more options than the OnePlus 6 and its 1080p display.
- You can buy the Note 9 basically anywhere and on all major carriers (in North America) and networks worldwide. The OnePlus 6 is a little harder to find. Additionally, it does not work on Sprint or Verizon networks even though it has the hardware. Those on Verizon or Sprint cannot use a OnePlus 6. This doesn’t matter in most of the world, but Verizon is North America’s largest carrier. That’s quite a large chunk of people that can’t use a OnePlus 6.
- The S-Pen doesn’t get enough credit. It has a capacitor battery (new in the Note 9) that gets 30 minutes of charge in ten seconds and Bluetooth remote capabilities. It also has 4,096 pressure levels, on par with the highly publicized Surface Pen (Apple doesn’t list the specs of its Apple Pencil for comparison). All of that fits within the body of the device and costs $50 to replace (the Surface Pen and Apple Pencil cost $99.99). To put that in perspective, this $1,700 Wacom tablet has a stylus with 2,048 pressure levels. The OnePlus 6 does not have a stylus.
- Samsung does all this without removing features or introducing compromises. While it may be unfair to expect OEMs with less resources to emulate that feat of engineering, it’s still a feat of engineering either way.
That is a much longer list and it doesn’t even include bunch of smaller features like the Secure Folder, the ability to clone some apps for multiple accounts, a Find My Phone function with your Samsung account, Knox security, Samsung Pay’s MST technology, and all that other stuff specific to Samsung phones (though not exclusive to the Note 9).
No, this comparison isn’t fair
Comparisons like this aren’t fair at all. These devices are not built for the same type of consumer. The OnePlus 6 is a basic device with high end specs. It’s mostly for scrolling Facebook, taking the occasional photo, playing the occasional mobile game, and making the occasional phone call. It’s not a power user phone and it’s not supposed to be. Despite what you might be told, phones are not as generic as they may seem. They are built for different types of people. The Note 9 is nothing like the OnePlus 6 aside from some common specs under the hood.
The OnePlus 6 competes very well with devices like the LG G7 ($749.99), the Samsung Galaxy S9 ($719.99), and the Google Pixel 2 ($649). If you want to see the OnePlus 6 on a pedestal, ask people to compare it with those phones. Those devices were all built, priced, and marketed to the average consumer. You don’t see a stylus in the body of those devices because average consumers don’t usually need stuff like that. There is a reason the OnePlus 6 sold one million units this year so far. It’s not because it’s taking a piece of the Note 9’s cake. It’s because it’s taking pieces of the Galaxy S9’s cake. The OnePlus 6 does what the S9 was designed to do better and at a cheaper price.
Phones are tools, and the Note 9 is like a Swiss Army Knife.
Let’s bring price back into this. The OnePlus 6 goes for under $600 and the Note 9 goes for about $1,000. You can ask about whether the extra features are worth $400 until the cows come home and you could get a different answer from literally everybody you ask. Again worth and value are intensely personal opinions. You can’t measure them or use them as an objective source of information when asking a question like what phone is the best phone. There are two answers to that question.
You can get the best phone for you, but that requires weighing your options against your needs and preferences. Personal opinion doesn’t have much to do with finding the best phone overall. Phones are tools, and the Note 9 is like a Swiss Army Knife. It simply does a lot more stuff, which makes it a better tool.
People like car comparisons, so let’s do one of those. The OnePlus 6 is like a Honda Civic. The base model goes for $19,000, it gets you to and from the office, and it has enough space for your briefcase, your dry cleaning, and some bags. The Note 9 is like a Dodge Ram. Its base price $27,000 and it’ll tow your boat, help you move a couch, and provide a place to store your toolbox on the move. You don’t pit the two against each other and say the Civic is better because it drives forward, takes corners better, and is cheaper. Those two vehicles were designed to do entirely different things.
The Note 9 and the OnePlus 6 are exactly the same way. The Note 9 is built for more intense smartphone users who want to do more things. The OnePlus 6 was built for people who just want to do the basic stuff really well. Bringing worth into it just pushes the line in the direction of someone’s personal choices.
At the end of the day, you’re going to buy what you’re going to buy — I’m not here to sell you anything. However, every now and then, it’s fun to sit down and just talk about what phones are better from the standpoint of just being better, instead of always trying to get super specific about things like wallet tolerance and use cases. The Note 9’s list of features is damn impressive and it should be celebrated.
Find a phone with a battery that big, 2018 flagship specs, and a stylus that competes favorably with the best in consumer tech without resorting to a notch or removing a headphone jack. I’ll wait.
What do you think? Sound off in the comments. No doubt we’ll get some good discussions going — I can’t wait to read them!