Samsung Galaxy Note 9 first impressions: bigger screen, S-Pen goes Bluetooth, huge battery and AI cameras the highlights

New handset is an evolution of Last year’s Samsung flagship, and comes with a 6.4-inch screen, new chips that give it a faster data connection, and improved processors. The S-Pen stylus can function as a remote control for presentations

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 August, 2018, 11:47am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 August, 2018, 11:51am

Samsung is sticking to its tested formula for the Note 9, its newest high-end smartphone. The company unveiled the latest addition to its Galaxy smartphone line-up at a New York event on Thursday, where it increased the screen size of its largest smartphone but kept most of its core features the same.

The new release follows a quarter of disappointing sales of Samsung’s Galaxy S9. Samsung is facing increased pressure from Chinese smartphone makers overseas and a continued battle with Apple for market share in the United States.

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The Note line, which set the trend for large-screen phones and includes a stylus, has traditionally been one of Samsung’s most distinctive and has acted as a testing ground for new features. And despite a disastrous spate of battery fires that prompted the recall of the Note 7, the Note line has proved to be the Samsung product with the most loyal following.

The Note 9, which has a 6.4-inch screen, comes in two colours: blue and lavender. The blue phone has a yellow pen, which slots in to the bottom of the phone. The release date for Hong Kong is to be announced.

The S-Pen, the Note stylus, has got the most technological upgrades since the last model. It now has a Bluetooth connector, meaning it can function as a remote control for giving presentations or listening to music. Samsung said the pen’s battery will last for 200 clicks, or a half-hour. It will charge in less than a minute.

The Note 9 itself looks fairly similar to the Note 8, but it has a few key differences. One is the battery, which has got a size bump to 4,000 mAh – up from 3,300 mAh – which the company says should extend the battery life beyond a day of use.

In a nod to the battery fires that forced the company to recall and discontinue the Note 7, Samsung reiterated that its eight-point battery check that was instituted after that debacle remains in place.

New chips in the smartphone give it a faster data connection, and Samsung is using that connection and improved processors to frame the Note 9 as an ideal mobile gaming device.

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Jumping on the Fortnite trend, Samsung has struck a deal with Fortnite developer Epic Games to give all Note 9 users in the US access to the game. Those who pre-order may also opt for a special Fortnite skin and voucher for the app’s in-game currency.

The Note 9 retains its dual-camera set-up but has new software that uses artificial intelligence to identify what you’re shooting before you snap the shutter.

Apart from unveiling the phone, Samsung announced a new smartwatch, called the Galaxy Watch, that can connect to cellular networks without a phone, similar to the latest Apple Watch. The company also teased the Galaxy Home, a voice-controlled speaker that houses its Bixby assistant.

Still, smartphones remain the company’s most important consumer electronics products and the linchpin to its reputation for innovation. In that way, the Note 9 may fall short of some competitors. Many of the features announced for the Note 9 are already par for the course for Chinese firms. Huawei has used artificial intelligence to set photo modes for more than a year.

Vivo, Oppo and Huawei are all experimenting with different camera placement, packing in more cameras or positioning them to give users a bigger screen on the front. Some also have licensed technology to put the fingerprint reader in the phone’s screen.

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And several smartphones – including some Samsung sells in China – already have a battery as large as the Note 9′s, or even larger.