Samsung has unveiled the much awaited Galaxy Note 9, and it has the weight of the world on it’s shoulders. Maybe we are getting carried away, but there are a lot of expectations from Samsung’s latest flagship Android phone. The Note 9 will be sold in two configurations initially—the entry spec includes 6GB RAM and 128GB storage, while the higher spec option has 8GB RAM and 512GB storage. The prices are around $999 and $1,250 respectively. Contrary to rumors which were floating around off late, there is no 1TB storage variant. At least not yet. That won’t be an issue though, we feel.
The Korean company’s previous flagship products before the Note 9 turned up, the Galaxy S9 and the Galaxy S9+ have had a disappointing time recently, something that the quarterly earnings report for the June quarter indicated. Samsung admitted as much, and suggested that going ahead full steam with the rollout of the Galaxy Note 9 should provide the necessary excitement and course correction for it’s smartphone line-up. The situation that Samsung finds itself in now is rather unique, and perhaps even challenging. Samsung remains a top supplier of components and memory hardware to many phone makers globally, including Apple. While Samsung also retains the top spot in the global smartphone market share rankings, there seems to a slump in the innovation aspect. The sluggish Galaxy S9 sales so far this year were perhaps because the familiarity with last year’s Galaxy S8 was a tad too overbearing? Did consumers think it is old wine in a new bottle?
In many ways, the Galaxy Note 9 is simply an improved version of last year’s Galaxy Note 8. Does it run the risk of being perceived with the same benchmark as wine and bottles? But then again, it didn’t need to be much else either, if utility and usability are the only criteria to consider. Samsung has given the Galaxy Note 9 a 6.4-inch display, which is 0.1-inch larger than before. Hence, this is the largest display ever in a Samsung flagship phone. It remains a Super AMOLED display, retains the same 2,960 x 1,440 resolution and supports the HDR10 standard. There is no notch on this screen, which should be good news for those who don’t like notched displays in smartphones.
In fact, the Galaxy Note 9 looks very similar to the predecessor, except one big difference. The fingerprint sensor is now placed beneath the camera—where it should be—instead of in line with the dual cameras on the back. That aside, the two phones look very similar, and you’ll find it hard to ignore the family resemblance. This isn’t the first time Samsung has followed this strategy. The Samsung Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ also bore significant resemblance to its last year’s predecessors.
The dual camera setup on the back now has a slightly different optical package. While both remain 12-megapixel sensors, the primary sensor now has a dual aperture of f/1.5-2.4, both are optically stabilised and takes advantage of Samsung's new Intelligent Camera package. This will detect scenes, manage the colours in the photo, alter contrast and identify flaws such as a smudgy lens or when the subject may have closed their eyes. Basically, the cameras for the Galaxy S9+.
Samsung has retained the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 and their own Exynos 9810 processor options, straight out of the Samsung Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ playbook. India should get the variants powered by the latter processor.
As things stand, the Galaxy Note 9 faces an even bigger challenge than the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ did—simply because the Note phones are more expensive too. This is now in the $1000 territory and beyond, and perhaps that is the reason why Samsung played it a tad safe and leaned in the direction of consistency rather than outright risky aggression with innovation. Should we consider this is the year when Samsung’s phones made do with incremental updates? Perhaps, and that necessarily won’t be a bad thing. This gives Samsung the time to push the innovation boundaries again next year, with the Galaxy S and the Galaxy Note phones. And the hope to wean back some of its fickle user base—the lack of loyalty of that demographic became quite apparent in the previous quarter’s numbers reported by Samsung. Could this be the lull before the foldable screen smartphone storm, something that has been rumoured significantly for a while now?