Galaxy Note 9 is now Samsung’s most important phone. It matters because lacklustre Galaxy S9 sales mean falling revenues. A successful Note launch could help reverse that.
Two days before the launch I wrote that the Galaxy Note 9 had better be good.
How did Samsung do?
The Galaxy Note 9 is impressive by any standard. It is, for now, the best Android phone money can buy.
That’s the first problem: You need a lot of money to buy it.
Samsung faces intense competition
Rival Android phone makers challenge Samsung. The best deliver almost all the functionality of a Samsung phone for a fraction of the price.
Sure the Note 9 takes buyers to places less expensive Androids won’t. Its stylus puts it into a different class to other phones. There is no direct equivalent at any price.
That difference means the Note has notorious loyal fans. Many potential Note 9 buyers will be existing owners looking to upgrade.
You only have to look at the Galaxy Note 9 to understand why that might be a hard sell.
The new phone looks like last year’s Galaxy Note 8. Never mind its new innards. Over the years phone makers have trained buyers to be wowed by showy, cosmetic changes more than a new processor.
Is the Galaxy Note 9 good enough?
On Friday’s showing, the Note 9 may be good enough for Samsung to keep the phone market pole position until tenth-anniversary models arrive next year.
If the S10 and Note 10 ranges can deliver signature phones in the same way Apple managed with the iPhone X, then all will be well.
From what was on show in Auckland it still looks like a great phone. If the two models were a few hundred dollars cheaper they would be world beaters. If Samsung decides to sharpen its pencil and drop prices later, it could have a winner this Christmas.
On the other hand, phone innovation has slowed to the point where customers are holding on to old models for longer. So all bets are off.
It’s not clear to me what those notoriously loyal Note users will do. They may upgrade or they may sit this one out and wait for the 10.
There’s little to tempt a Note 8 owner to upgrade. The Note 7 was the disastrous exploding phone so there will be few upgrades from that model. If there’s a large backlog of Note 6 owners waiting to move then Samsung could strike gold.
About the phone
Samsung uses glass for the front and back. There are smooth, comfortable feeling curved edges and pressing the bottom right of the phone still ejects the slide-out S Pen. This is all just like the Note 8.
It’s fractionally bigger and a tad heavier than the Note 8. That’s to accommodate a slightly larger than last year’s 6.4-inch Amoled screen and a hefty 4,000 mAh battery. Samsung says that’s enough to keep even heavy phone users going all day.
Bigger seems to be a theme throughout. There are two versions of the phone: a NZ$1700 model with 128 GB of built-in storage and a NZ$2000 version with 512 GB.
Samsung uses different processors to power the Galaxy Note 9 in different markets. It didn’t say which chip New Zealanders get but it will be an eight core processor.
Phones with 512 GB of storage get 8 GB of Ram, the other phones get 6 GB. To my knowledge the Note 9 is the first phone to get water cooling to stop the processor from over heating.
It will also be the first phone to get the Fortnite game. I suspect the target market for Fortnite is not going to drop a couple of grand on a handset.
At the launch Samsung made a big deal of the improved S Pen stylus. After all it is what sets the Note aside from every other phone.
The stylus now connects via Bluetooth and can be used as a remote to click the camera shutter or do one or two other remote tasks. The model I saw was a bright yellow that contrasted with the navy blue phone. This looks much better than it sounds.
Samsung has gone for much the same camera arrangement as the Galaxy S9. That’s two 12-megapixel cameras with a variable aperture lens and a 2x optical zoom camera on the back.
Like everyone else’s camera, the Note 9’s is sprinkled with AI fairy dust so the camera automatically detects what’s being shot and adjusts to compensate.
One nice touch is that the Note 9 can work as a desktop computer in much the same way as an S8 and Dex Pad. The difference is that the Note 9 can plug directly into a monitor without the docking station.
Samsung says the phone will come with Android 8.1, not the more recent Android 9. It is due to go on sale later this month. In normal times this would give Samsung up to six weeks of sales before the next Apple iPhone appears.
The slightly bigger screen is a plus. For me, squeezing 4,000 mAh of battery capacity into a hand-sized device is more of an achievement. The update S-pen will entrance Galaxy Note fans.
More storage seems like a good thing. You can bump it up to a Terabyte if you use the microSD slot. Though why you would want to pay extra to do that in an era of low-cost cloud storage is beyond me unless you want to travel with a movie library.
While it doesn’t look like a sure-fire hit, it is possible the Galaxy Note 9 will strike a chord with Note loyalists and give Samsung a much-needed 2018 winner. It could just as easily have S9-like disappointing sales. Your guess is as good as mine. But, so long as no rival makes a breakthrough, it is good enough to keep Samsung out in front until next year’s releases.