Samsung has been teasing, and accidentally leaking, its Galaxy Note 9 smartphone for weeks. On Thursday, the company finally took the wraps off the handset, and it’s — exactly what you were expecting. On the outside, at least. Also, it’s $1,000.
I spent some time with the Note 9 during a media briefing, and found the extra-large phone to be inventive in some ways, but a bit too familiar in others. Still, despite some flaws, the Note 9 looks like it could be Samsung’s next hit. And considering the company’s flagship S9 saw disappointing sales in the last quarter, the Note 9 can’t come soon enough.
A very slight facelift
The Note 9 packs an absolutely massive 6.4-inch display, which is a hair larger than the Note 8’s 6.3-inch panel. During my briefing, Samsung touted the handset’s 88% screen to body ratio, thanks to the phone’s wrap-around Infinity Display.
The Note has never been a phone you’d hold with one hand, and that’s especially true of the Note 9. But that’s the whole point of the Note line: a big, bold, beautiful display. It’s on that last point that the Note 9 delivers in spades. Samsung’s Super AMOLED screens are some of the best you can get on any device, so it follows that the Note 9 would get one that’s every bit as crisp and vibrant as we’ve come to expect from the brand.
The Note 9’s overall design is more or less a rehash of the Note 8’s. It features an array of sensors above its display and a small chin below it for symmetry. This style is starting to feel like a retread. How many times can you sell people an elongated rectangle before they get bored? It’s not unattractive, but I wish there were something new and exciting for those upgrading from the Note 8 to the Note 9.
One major difference between the phones, though, is that the fingerprint reader is no longer next to the camera. Instead, Samsung has moved it just below the shooter, ensuring you don’t accidentally get your greasy mitts all over the camera lens and ruin your next picture when you’re trying to unlock your phone. The company made a similar move when redesigning its S9.
It’s also refreshing to see that Samsung is offering the Note 9 in two colors: bright blue and lavender. So many handsets come in black or grey, so it’s nice to see a mainstream smartphone maker using more expressive colors for once.
Power and AI
The Note 9 is made for power. The phones are always Samsung’s biggest, brashest offerings and that holds true this time around, as well. Inside, the 9 gets Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 845 processor, your choice of 6GB and 128GB of storage or 8GB of RAM and 512GB of storage and a 512GB microSD card slot. The 8GB model is probably a little overkill for most people, but Samsung says gamers will fall in love with it.
Keeping all of those components running is Samsung’s largest smartphone battery to-date, a 4,000 mAh power plant that the company says will keep the Note 9 running all day and then some. Knowing that the infamous Note 7 battery fire debacle is still relatively fresh in consumers’ minds, Samsung says the Note 9’s batteries go through an 8-point internal battery check and are then examined by third parties like the Underwriters Laboratory to ensure their safety.
To help keep heat at a minimum, Samsung has also increased the size of the phone’s heat capacitor. By keeping the 9’s heat levels in check, Samsung says it’s able to provide more stable performance, especially when playing games like the hyper-popular “Fortnite.”
The Note 9’s camera has also received a few new features including Scene Optimizer, which uses artificial intelligence to be able to detect the kind of photo you’re taking, and automatically adjust the camera’s settings accordingly. Scenes include food, pets, waterfalls, landscapes, plants and more. When I pointed the Note 9 at a flower and took a picture, it displayed a small plant icon and the image instantly produced deeper, more dynamic colors.
Samsung says the 9 can do this without having to connect to the internet, so you won’t have to worry about your connectivity to use the feature. That’s because all of the AI processing takes place on the Note 9.
Scene Optimizer can be a bit finicky — I had to readjust the camera’s focus a few times to get the feature to recognize a scene a few times.
Then there’s Samsung’s Dex accessory that turns the Note 9 into a rudimentary desktop computer. The new Dex HDMI offering lets you connect your phone to a computer monitor. You can then either use your Note 9 as a keyboard and touchpad to navigate via the desktop display, or turn the Note 9 into a secondary display. It’s all pretty cool, but I can’t see myself using it too often.
The final major improvement to the Note 9 is Samsung’s updated S Pen Stylus. This time around, the S Pen uses Bluetooth Low Energy technology, which allows you to use it as a remote for the phone. You can customize the stylus to respond to specific apps, for instance long pressing the button on the pen can launch the phone’s camera app, so you can take photos and be in them at the same time.
Note 9 pre-orders start August 10, with the phone hitting store shelves August 24. Samsung is offering a pre-order bonus of an extra 15,000 V-bucks for “Fortnite” or a pair of AKG headphones. Will the Note 9 be worth picking up? I’ll let you know when I get my hands on one for a full review. Stay tuned.
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