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Samung Galaxy Note 9: Hands-on!

The Galaxy Note 9 was unveiled yesterday at Samsung’s Unpacked event in New York. Today, I was able to get hands-on with the company’s latest flagship at an exclusive press event in London. While we can’t offer firm buying advice just yet, here are my initial impressions of the device –  and, spoiler alert, it is nothing short of a monster!

Design and Display

Let’s start with the things you’ll notice first – the design and display. In all honesty, these are the areas which have changed least since the Note 8. Sure, the phone is now a little bit bigger with the 6.4in display (versus the 6.3in of last year’s flagship) and the fingerprint scanner has predictably been moved under the camera module – as we saw with the S9 and S9+.

Other than that, though, things are looking pretty familiar – but that is no bad thing. The curved edges, metal frame and glass back all feel premium and that Super AMOLED 2960×1440 screen is jaw-dropping – both in terms of colour reproduction and sharpness. Despite the slightly larger screen, too, the Note 9 is actually 0.6mm shorter than the Note 8 thanks to the even slimmer bezels. So while you may struggle to tell the Note 8 and Note 9 apart (at a distance, at least) we can’t complain about that.

S Pen

One area that has been noticeably improved is the S Pen – Samsung’s stylus that is a signature feature of its Note series. You can still use it to write, click and draw on the Note 9 if you wish – though that sort of thing has never really appealed to me. What makes the new S Pen special is its new remote functionality – it now uses Bluetooth Low Energy to control certain functions of the phone from a distance. By default, for instance, a long press of the button on the S Pen will launch the camera app, a double press will switch to the selfie camera, and a single press will take a picture.

While that would certainly be great for taking group photos, the S Pen’s remote functionality is fully user-programmable via the settings app, and app developers will be available to build this remote functionality into their apps thanks to an SDK that is launching in September. This further cements the Note’s position as a business device, as we saw a hands-on demo of the S Pen being used to flick through a PowerPoint presentation.

The remote feature does mean the S Pen needs a battery now, and Samsung has included a supercapacitor in the S Pen that can charge fully in a single minute, giving up to 30 minutes of functionality – although we have not yet been able to test this for ourselves. It will also be interesting to see if charging the S Pen from the Note 9’s own internal battery has a negative affect on the daily battery life of the phone – but more on that below.

Cameras

The Note series has always had a good camera, and it looks like the Note 9 will be no exception to that rule. That’s because we already know what to expect from the phone, given it uses identical camera hardware to the S9+. That means a dual-camera setup, with one lens sporting a variable aperture which can switch between f/1.5 and f/2.4 depending on light levels, while the other lens is a f/2.4 telephoto unit. Both cameras have 12MP sensors and have OIS.

It is perhaps a little disappointing that the camera hardware is the same as the S9+ – though this is again no bad thing – but the Note 9 camera now has updated software, with integrated AI scene recognition. This means the camera detects various objects and scenarios and adjusts its parameters accordingly – much like the Huawei P20 Pro. It seems very fast, too, as I pointed the phone at a plant and it took about a second for the small leaf icon to appear on-screen – letting me know that the plant has been detected.

We will have to see just how this works on a day-to-day basis, as I must admit I am not usually too keen on these AI software adjustments. It could be that Samsung has found a way to introduce this feature without over-doing it, so that will be something to look at in our full review.

Dex

Also new is the updated Dex functionality. We have previously seen Samsung phones launch with a Dex dock, which allows the phone to be used as a traditional PC – plugged into a monitor. With the Note 9, you no longer need the dock – just a USB-C to HDMI cable to connect to your external monitor. The Note 9 can even be used as a keyboard and mouse to navigate the Samsung interface.

There is no doubt this is another feature aimed at business and productivity users – you can imagine offices all over the place using their Note phones to make presentations, with the S Pen used to move to the next slide. That being said, we have seen this functionality on both the Huawei Mate 10 Pro and the P20 Pro, so it is not a new idea from Samsung. Useful? Absolutely – but not groundbreaking.

Internal hardware

The Note 9 has received another predictable spec bump over its predecessor, with the phone available with the Snapdragon 845 in the USA and China, while the rest of us will get the phone with Samsung’s own chip, the Exynos 9810.

The phone is also available in two configurations – 6GB RAM and 128GB of internal storage, or 8GB RAM and a massive 512GB of internal storage. You can also add another 512GB of storage thanks to microSD card support, allowing users to top out their storage at 1TB. For a phone, that is just crazy.

More exciting is the increased battery, with the new phone sporting a 4000mAh cell. This is a 21% capacity increase over the Note 8, and it should comfortably last a day and then some. There is also support for fast wireless charging, as well as regular USB-C fast charging.

Pricing

With UK pricing now announced, the 6GB/128GB model will cost £899 in the UK, while the 8GB/512GB model will set you back £1099. It’s a lot of money for a phone. Is it worth it? Well, we can’t say just yet – but the Note 9 is clearly a behemoth of phone, aimed at the most demanding power users out there.

KitGuru says: Some may be disappointed by the lack of major upgrades, but taken on its own, the Note 9 is still nothing short of a modern-day monster. Stay tuned for our full review.

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