Samsung QN90A Review – IGN

Samsung has made solid 4K TVs for years, and that tradition continues in the QN90A. It’s a sleek, pretty looking display that offers a lot that gamers will find impressive. There isn’t a lot to dislike here, but the television landscape is extremely competitive and this display feels awkwardly priced compared to much cheaper options from TCL and Hisense, while at the same time not beating out a similarly-priced OLED like the LG C1.

Still, the Samsung QN90A does have some upside compared to OLEDs if you’re willing to sacrifice color accuracy and some hardware shortcomings.

Samsung QN90A Photos

Samsung QN90A – Design and Build

I find myself always liking the single center-set stand over the dual-leg design that so many other televisions use, so Samsung’s QN90A hits a sweet spot for me in that department. Because it uses this particular design, it will fit on a lot smaller desks or media stands than the TCL, Hisense, or Sony competitors. If you aren’t going to wall mount it, it feels like one of the more versatile designs and is similar to what you see on the LG C1 or the Vizio OLED.

The QN90A also feels premium, as the stand and the edges of the display are all metal. While there is plenty of plastic on the back, the parts you see the most and the areas that you’ll touch when setting it into position feel sturdy and well made.

Once it’s in place, the QN90A looks really good, and it might be one of my favorite designs from this year’s crop of televisions, on par with the best from Sony and LG. The QN90A isn’t cheap, so it’s nice to feel like my dollar is getting me something even if how the display looks is eventually more important.

The set does have some cable management, but it’s fiddley. I guess I shouldn’t complain that it exists, but you’ll have to carefully guide cables through a few grooves on the back of the TV and down behind the stand in order to avoid seeing them from the front. It’s not the most elegant implementation of cable management and falls short of LG and Vizio’s OLEDs, but it’s certainly better than what we are seeing out of Hisense or Sony, for example.

The port selection on the QN90A is okay. It features four HDMI ports, one of which supports eARC and only one that supports HDMI 2.1, two USB type-A ports, an optical input, ethernet, coaxial, and it supports WiFi and Bluetooth. As gamers will see and expect, the HDMI 2.1 port supports up to 4K at 120Hz, variable refresh rate and G-SYNC compatibility, though disappointingly this is limited to just one port. I’ll keep bringing this up, because it’s a big let down for a TV in this premium price bracket.

Samsung QN90A – Remote

Unlike other remotes across the industry, Samsung’s remote can be charged via USB-C or solar and doesn’t take a traditional pair of AA or AAA batteries. This rocks, and I’d like to see other manufacturers consider this approach.

The look and feel of the remote is sleek and simple. If Sony is considered the most complicated remote with the most buttons you’ll never need, Samsung might be at the other end of the spectrum. It’s a plain black and white affair and only has three dedicated shortcut buttons: my review unit had Netflix, Prime Video, and Samsung TV Plus. There are no number buttons, instead the large directional pad, back, home, and play pause buttons do most of the heavy lifting.

Sometimes the remote feels a little too simple, but once you get used to it, you have everything you need to navigate Samsung’s Smart TV interface.

Samsung QN90A – Software and UI

I think Samsung’s smart TV interface, Tizen, is this display’s weakest point. When compared to Google TV and Vizio Smartcast, it’s not nearly as approachable to use and has some quirks that I really don’t like.

For example, by default the television will autoplay the Samsung TV Plus channel on the home screen. While there are ways to get rid of this, it’s not straightforward nor simple to do and all the while you’ll be forced to listen to whatever it decides to play. For me during setup, it was Fear Factor from over a decade ago. This smart TV interface doesn’t feel like it wants to deliver me content that matters to me, but more like it is interested in selling me on watching something I have no interest in. It’s the opposite feeling of using a competitor’s platform, and I find myself even liking LG’s dated WebOS smart TV interface over it.

Annoyances aside, Tizen just doesn’t feel that great to use. It’s not as fast or responsive as I’ve come to expect and often has a slightly delayed response to anything I ask it to do. This leaves it feeling clunky.

Where I do think the television succeeds is in its Game Bar, which is Samsung’s name for its game-specific menu. When a console or a PC is plugged into the single HDMI 2.1 port and game mode is activated, Samsung’s game specific menu can be accessed by pressing and holding the Play/Pause button.

From this menu, you can access input lag settings, show frames per second in real time, adjust HDR, turn variable refresh rate on and off, adjust screen ratio, and tweak a few other game-specific settings. While not all these options are available to a Playstation 5 console owner such as myself, it’s nice to see these are there and displayed in a unique (albeit aggressively “gamer”), easy-to-navigate menu.

Samsung’s overall settings menu is not the most user friendly experience, so it’s really good to see the gaming menu integrated here because it lets gamers get to all the settings they care about quickly without having to page through the slog of the general menu. It’s also nice to see that Samsung seems to recognize that a lot of gamers are using televisions as monitors these days, and some of these settings are specifically tailored to work when connected to a PC.

For the record, this Game Bar idea isn’t unique to Samsung as the LG C1 also has a similar menu, but it is certainly not a standard in the industry and is something I wish more companies did.

Samsung QN90A – Picture Quality

The Samsung QN90A seems positioned by the company to be an alternative to OLED, and while I think it ultimately comes up short of that, it does a few things well and a couple things better than OLED can. While it doesn’t match the pixel-precision of an OLED when it comes to halo control and deep blacks, it comes close enough that most won’t be able to tell the difference while gaming.

OLEDs are praised for their deep blacks and excellent color fidelity, and the QN90A comes close but doesn’t quite compete in either category. Blacks are good and well defined, but you’ll still notice some halo around bright objects, though I am happy to see a very wide viewing angle which means placement in a living room will give all viewers a pretty consistent experience. In movies and television, the balance of contrast is great, but HDR gaming has some issues (more on that later). Still, the contrast is very impressive and most will be super pleased with this display.

I will say that in addition to those pretty solid black levels, the overall dynamic range of this display is great. You’ll see deep shadows but also still get detail in those dark areas as well as the highlights. If there is something to show you in a shot, the QN90A will display it.

That said, the QN90A felt a bit slow when it came to adjusting its impressive dynamic range. While gaming, when looking at a bright spot on screen and then quickly looking down into the shadows, you can feel the television taking a bit of time to bring those shadows up and the highlights back down so that nothing feels over or under exposed. This isn’t an issue unique to this television, but it doesn’t happen to this degree on any OLED I’ve tested, which isn’t great when this TV is designed to compete against them. It is noticeable and can take you out of the immersion of a game as it feels like your eyes aren’t adjusting fast enough when it’s actually the television. The issue is mostly visible in HDR, but can still be seen even with HDR off.

Samsung really seemed to jack the vibrancy up on this display and even after fine-tuning it (and staying away from the standard and vivid profiles), I still came away feeling as though some colors were just not quite right. The display likes to lean a bit green, which can make almost any scene feel off. I managed to get it mostly in check by adjusting the settings manually and I’m sure a professional colorist could get it dialed in really well, but most people won’t be spending a lot of time in the menu and certainly won’t be paying the additional cash to bring in a color adjuster, so it’s a shame the QN90A doesn’t look as stellar as it could right out of the box.

I noticed that in slow panning shots the display can stutter a bit. This was a problem I only noticed in HDR video content and it wasn’t an issue in gaming.

The QN90A beats OLED in one very important category: brightness. This television can get extremely bright, and I had no issue playing even dark games like A Plague Tale: Innocence in a brightly lit, sunny room with open windows just a couple of feet away. I think the QN90A might be as bright or even brighter than the Hisense U7G, which I lauded for its incredible brightness. That amount of brightness not only means it does well in all lighting environments, but also that HDR content looks exceptionally good. Games and movies in HDR look fantastic, and aside from the aforementioned color accuracy issue, I was super impressed.

That said, a big glaring omission is a lack of Dolby Vision support. When HDR has the capability of looking this great, not having Dolby Vision and paying the price premium Samsung asks doesn’t feel great.

Samsung QN90A – Gaming Performance

I tested a few different games that run a range of dark and bright to ultra fast paced and found that gaming on the QN90A overall feels pretty good. A Plague Tale: Innocence, which has a lot of deeply dark environments dotted with very bright spots of light, looked particularly good. Risk of Rain 2, Destiny 2, and Apex Legends all also felt great namely thanks to the extremely low input lag of this display.

The QN90A is very responsive when a gaming device is plugged in, and it immediately recognizes it and optimizes the display for that experience. Specifically those last three games I listed, which have a fast pace and lots of on-screen action that needs rapid response, I felt the display gave me a smooth and excellent experience. With Destiny 2, which supports 4K at up to 120 frames per second in player versus player activities, the television felt buttery smooth.

I mentioned earlier that this television is very bright, and by default, the HDR can feel almost too bright. I had to tone down the highlights in the settings in order to not feel like the extra-shiny objects in Destiny 2 were going to blind me. I’m actually not complaining though, this is a good problem to have. If I want that brightness back, I can certainly get it.

I mentioned in the previous section that the QN90A seems a bit slow to transition between brights and darks, and that is very noticeable on a game like Apex Legends. Even moderately shadowed outdoor locations can cause the sky to completely blow out, and then those shadows disappear into darkness when you look up at the sky. If the transition happened faster it probably wouldn’t be a big deal, but it’s really quite slow here. This slow speed means that the excellent blacks can often feel washed out as the television tries to meter highlights against them. I never saw this happen in HDR video content, but it was a consistent issue in gaming where there is a lot of contrast.

Only one of the inputs on this television is HDMI 2.1, which you might not notice if you are looking at the most popular store listings for the display. Samsung’s website doesn’t even mention it and Best Buy and Amazon just note the number of inputs but not the 2.1 support. For a television this expensive, I’d expect at least two HDMI 2.1 ports and having only one is really disappointing – especially if you want to use this television as both a PC monitor and a gaming display, or even if you have both an Xbox and a PlayStation.

Samsung QN90A – Audio Quality

As you might expect, despite some nifty audio quality technology, overall sound quality is not great. Lows are especially hollow and weak, which means that while it certainly can get loud, audio quality is poor. Music especially feels empty as this display just can’t create those deep low-ends that make for an immersive audio experience.

Samsung does have a nifty 3D audio system that, when activated, does make a noticeable difference. The standard audio is pretty poor, but once the Object Tracking Sound+ (OTS+) is on, it sounds a heck of a lot better. It’s actually uncanny how much wider and fuller the audio quality gets, which is definitely saying something for a television this thin.

A lot of people might be satisfied with this level of audio quality, but I still believe that just as is the case with every television these days, buyers should pick up a soundbar or some kind of external audio system if they plan to use this display without headphones.

Samsung QN90A – The Competition

Samsung positions the QN90A as an alternative to OLED, and while it does offer a lot more brightness than OLED can muster without the fear of burn-in, it can’t compete on the same level when it comes to color accuracy and blacks in HDR gaming. I want to be clear, it’s not a bad performer in any of these categories, but when a 65-inch costs $1,700 on sale, it feels like a lot to ask when the LG C1 costs $1,800 and the Hisense U7G is $900. While I think the QN90A’s overall quality is better than what U7G offers, it’s not better to the degree that it should command nearly double the price. On the other end, I would find myself recommending the C1 over the QN90A since they are only separated by $100 and OLED still has so many more advantages. As a result, this Samsung display feels like it is sitting in no man’s land.


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