Galaxy Note 9 or iPhone XS Max? Compare before you upgrade

Samsung's Galaxy Note 9 is a business productivity powerhouse that the consumer electronics giant desperately wants to go mainstream. Whether you upgrade depends on whether you're more about work or play. Here's how it compares to the iPhone XS Max.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Samsung's Galaxy Note 9 is designed to be the company's flagship device, but whether you choose to upgrade or not solely depends on whether your device is more about work or play. And your budget, too. If you're a business pro hankering for more productivity and the ability to use your smartphone as a desktop and stylus as a remote control, Note 9 is worth a look. However, Samsung didn't add enough to the Note 9 to become the mainstream flagship that executives so sorely wanted ahead of Apple's iPhone event.

Yes, Fortnite as an exclusive on the Note 9 is an interesting promotion for mainstream buyers, but the device is really about specs and productivity.

And then there's the price. You'll pay for the high-end specs of the Galaxy Note 9. Preorders for the Galaxy Note 9 start Aug. 10 with availability Aug. 24. The 128GB Galaxy Note 9 will go for $999.99 at Amazon, Best Buy, Samsung, Target, Walmart and other retailers. The 512GB Galaxy Note9 will be available at AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint, and Samsung for $1,249.99. For comparison, 512GB SSD laptops can run as much as the Note 9 and Apple's 256GB iPhone XS Max goes for $1,249. The 512GB iPhone XS Max will run you $1,449.

The best deals we could find can save you as much as $450, but the savings are typically tied to bundles. In the end, whether you go all-in on the Galaxy Note 9 may come down to vanity and whether you think bigger (1TB even) is truly better.

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    DJ Koh, president of Samsung's mobile communications business, said at Unpacked 2018 in Brooklyn that the Note is designed to break through barriers. Koh said the Note 9 is designed to be the "most powerful mobile device."


    Viewing the "should I upgrade" question through the use case lens is especially important given the Android competition and a premium price Samsung would argue is reasonable. Simply put, you can get Android devices with more frequent Android updates for much less than the Note 9. To get value out of the Note 9 you have to be a fan of the S Pen, productivity and what it brings to the table. You also have to value those S Pen upgrades enough to swap out last year's Note 8.

    Samsung: Sign up to reserve the next Galaxy | The New, Super Powerful Galaxy Note 9

    The details

    Samsung's Galaxy Note 9 pops a wallop because it's designed to also power a DeX desktop experience too.

    The highlights:

      • The Note 9 has an all-day battery at 4,000mAh. That's Samsung's largest battery in its product portfolio. Galaxy Note 9: What does 'all-day battery' mean?
      • Samsung doubled storage to 128GB at the base level and available at 512GB. And there's a microSD card slot to add more than 1TB of storage to the device.
      • The Note 9 boasts a 33 percent bump in CPU performance and 23 percent gain in GPU performance relative to the Note 8.
      • Samsing's DeX platform can connect your phone to a monitor and keyboard via an USB-C to HDMI adapter.
      • The intelligent camera includes Flaw Detection and also has a neural network on the Note 9 to recognize context and settings and adjust for scenes. The front-facing camera is 8MP and the dual rear cameras are 12MP each. Samsung opted to improve the software and machine learning behind camera in the Note 9. The cameras in the Note 9 are an improvement on the Note 8, but are largely the same as the Galaxy S9 setup.
      • A wireless charging dock uses one outlet and can charge two devices (presumably a Samsung phone and smartwatch).
      • The S Pen gets Bluetooth low energy (BLE) so it can function as a remote control within 10 meters. The S Pen charges when you put it into your smartphone and the battery charges fully in less than 40 seconds. BLE enables the S Pen to control the camera by default and other applications based on your preference.
      • Available colors for the new phone include Ocean Blue, Lavender Purple, Metallic Copper and Midnight Black.

      However, the Galaxy Note 9 doesn't look all that different from the Galaxy Note 8. There are a few design changes, notably with the fingerprint scanner, and a slightly thinner frame.

      Samsung is keeping its fingerprint scanner and fingerprint sensor, but moving it below the camera. Samsung is also keeping its iris biometric system too.


      The Note 8 has the fingerprint scanner and sensor alongside the camera and that positioning can get awkward after repeated use.

      The company largely stuck with the same design as the Note 8, which was a big launch that put the Note 7 battery debacle in the rear view mirror. The Galaxy Note 8 was well received and even created some flagship device confusion when the Galaxy S9 launched.

        The business pro decision

        Samsung's Note 9 is primarily designed as a business tool, but is trying to extend its reach. With a memory card, the Note 9 can get more than a terabyte of storage. The device also has 8GB of memory at the high end. The base Note 9 has 128GB of storage and 6GB of memory. Those specs make the Note 9 a mini-laptop.

        Also: Samsung marries new Galaxy Tab S4 with DeX for productivity boost | Samsung DeX 101: Turn a Galaxy phone into your primary computer

        However, those specs only matter if you require the compute used for DeX, which can now serve up a presentation on the big screen while allowing you to read your notes on the smartphone. Those specs also matter for storing images and PowerPoints. Note 9's storage capability means it can also serve as a portable hard drive in many cases.

        Also: Nine reasons the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is best for business

        The real win for Note 9 is the S Pen. You can now use it as a remote for the camera, gallery, Office and other apps that come with the phone. A software developer kit for the S Pen will enable enterprises to customize the stylus for other applications -- say that Salesforce, SAP or Oracle app.

        Galaxy Note 9 event: First look at Samsung's new phone, Galaxy Watch, and Galaxy Home

        Samsung's S Pen SDK lands in September and can lead to more work use cases. Should you upgrade? I'm wrestling with that decision now. I'm a Note customer and have theNote 8. Here's what looks enticing on the Note 9.

        • The Bluetooth S Pen that enables the stylus to be more than a writing tool.
        • Intelligent camera improvements that automatically refine pictures based on context and scenes.
        • DeX is advanced a good bit, but the applications with it aren't mature enough for me to replace the desktop or laptop. DeX is getting there though.

        Add it up and the Note 9 is worth a look if you didn't get on the Note 8 cycle, deliver a bevy of presentations and like a remote for photography. As a productivity device, Samsung's Note 9 is enticing.

        The prosumer/consumer choice

        While Samsung's Note 9 offers a lot of enhancements -- you can even talk about Knox 3.2 for the IT department if you'd like -- the mainstream tech buyer has a much harder call to make.

        First, let's dispense with the idea that tech buyers as a mass are going to switch platforms. There is a reason platforms scale -- you're locked into an ecosystem. Despite the witty commercials from Samsung, most folks aren't going to jump from Apple's iOS or iPhone to Android and Samsung.

        With that reality out of the way, Samsung's Note 9 is a premium device competing with Android rivals that offer strong hardware, pure Android and low prices.

        And that's the catch. Samsung executives on the company's recent earnings call acknowledged that the Note 9 launch was moved up to stoke demand from Galaxy S9 sales that were waning. Unless you're in love with the S Pen, it's hard to envision the average person buying the Note over the S9 Plus, which will be discounted.

        Also: 10 ways to extend your Android phone battery life

        Generally speaking, the S9 franchise and the Note 9 are running the same software, experience, and hardware. One upgrade is Samsung's intelligent camera, but it's not clear that consumers make smartphone buying decisions based on images alone.

        Samsung boasts blue and lavender devices in the US, and maybe that appeals to consumers, but the value equation matters.

        Simply put, innovations with DeX and S Pen aren't going to sway non-business buyers. Upgrades to Bixby may entice a bit, but Samsung's assistant competes with Google Assistant and Alexa on its own phone.

        Perhaps a short promotion with Fortnite stokes Note 9 consumer interest, but Samsung needs to convince folks to use its app store over Google Play. Samsung executives also noted that they were trying to gain momentum in their services efforts.

        Fortunately for Samsung, Apple, Microsoft, and PC makers have popularized the use of pen/pencil/stylus for computing. Samsung helped create the space and could benefit from the S Pen innovations, but the stylus isn't exactly mainstream. There's value in the Note 9, but not enough to land mainstream tech buyers.

        Here's a look at the specs in full.

        • Display: 6.4-inch Quad HD+ Super AMOLED, 2960x1440 (516ppi)
        • Camera Rear: Dual Camera with OIS (Optical Image Stabilization)-Wide-angle: Super Speed Dual Pixel 12MP AF, F1.5/F2.4, OIS Telephoto: 12MP AF, F2.4, OIS-2X optical zoom, up to 10X digital zoom X
        • Camera Front: F1.7 8MP AF
        • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 845; 10nm 64-bit Octa-core processor (Max. 2.8 GHz + 1.7)
        • Memory: 6GB RAM, 128GB + MicroSD up to 512GB
        • 8GB RAM, 512GB + MicroSD up to 512GB
        • Battery: 4000mAH with wireless charging and fast wireless charging
        • OS: Android 8.1 Oreo. Upgrade to Android 9 Pie at future date to be determined.
        • Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4/5GHz), VHT80 MU-MIMO, 1024QAM, Bluetooth 5.0 BLE, ANT+, GPS, NFC
        • Network: Enhanced 4x4 MIMO, 5CA, LAA, LTE Cat.18

        Comparing the Note 9 to Apple's iPhone XS Max

        Since the Galaxy Note 9 launched, Apple rolled out three new iPhone models: XS, XS Max, and XR. The iPhone XS Max is the most direct comparison for the Galaxy Note 9 and Samsung offers better value.

        For instance, the 512GB Galaxy Note 9 will run you $1249.99 excluding promotions. Apple's 512GB iPhone XS Max, with a 6.5-inch screen, will run you $1,449. Apple's 256GB iPhone XS Max matches the Galaxy Note 9 in price and rest assured there won't be any discounts or bundles to alleviate the hit.

        iPhone XS/iPhone XS Max/iPhone XR: Here's everything you need to know (in pictures)

        Apple, unlike Samsung, rolls out its smartphone portfolio in one big event in September. Samsung has a Galaxy event and then a separate one for the Note franchise. Apple's iPhone XR, which has an LCD screen, gives the company an iPhone for every price point.

        Should a power user get the Note 9 or the iPhone XS Max? The answer is harder than you think, and much of the decision depends on whether you value a stylus and expansion slot for storage. Otherwise, the devices rhyme a lot.

        Some points to ponder:

        • The camera bake off between the Note 9 and iPhone XS Max can make your eyes glaze over. Apple talked Bokeh effects, computational improvements and using AI to improve photos. Samsung said the same thing a month earlier. What device you choose is largely based on personal preference.
        • Expandable storage matters and Apple won't go there. Samsung will get you to 1TB with an SD card. Fun fact: Buying an SD card for your Note 9 will basically cost the same as the iPhone XS Max at 512GB. Either way, Samsung gets you twice the storage for less.
        • Apple was rumored to have Apple Pencil support, but those guesstimates were off. Note 9's big selling point is its S Pen. If you want the S Pen you really didn't have to read this far.
        • Add it up and both the iPhone XS Max and Note 9 are fine devices. Ultimately, the decision may come down to what you're used to: Android folks tend to stay with that platform, and Apple iOS fans typically stay in the ecosystem.

        iPhone 2018 first look: Apple's launch event scene by scene (pictures)


        Samsung Note 9 needs to go more mainstream, leverage S Pen to win vs. Apple, Android rivals

        Samsung moved up the Galaxy Note 9 launch to bolster sales and get a jump on Apple's iPhone update. More worrisome for Samsung is low-cost Android rivals and maintaining premium prices in the smartphone market.

        Samsung: We will offer Galaxy Note 9 at 'reasonable prices'

        Samsung's challenge will be threading the smartphone pricing needle between being premium and fending off low-end Android competitors.

        New and upcomng phones: Galaxy Note 9 and others we're expecting in 2018

        Most major flagship smartphones are now on a fairly regular release schedule and leaks are a part of this cycle. It is rare for a phone to be released today with any surprises so let's take a look at what is coming soon.

        Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus vs Galaxy Note 8: Flagship confusion galore

        Samsung's launch of the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus at Mobile World Congress just five months after the Galaxy Note 8's release sets up a nice debate over how the company should approach its innovation cadence.

        Samsung teases Galaxy Note 9's big battery, memory

        Samsung Electronics has released three 30-second videos with the moniker 'a lot can change in a day' to tease the long-lasting battery, processing power, and high memory of the upcoming Galaxy Note 9.

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