There are things you expect from the Samsung Galaxy Note series. And the Galaxy Note 9, unveiled in New York on Thursday, offers all of them: best processing power, latest camera, and enormous storage. With these features alone the Note 9 would have been considered Samsung's last LTE phone, packed with all of its legacy features. But the introduction of the new Bluetooth S Pen, as simple as it is, brings a glimpse of hope for more smartphone improvements in a matured market.
A Bluetooth S Pen
Samsung seems to have given more than a passing thought to how Note users use their styluses with the introduction of the new S Pen on the Note 9.
The new version doubles as a remote control. Users can select which app to launch by pressing and holding the button, and can also trigger the camera, take selfies from a distance, and activate apps through a pre-setting. With an exhibition model, I tried to take a couple of selfies from a distance by placing the phone a couple of feet away. It's mighty fun, and I feel a couple of jokes could be had by asking a friend to take your photo and hijacking it with your S Pen.
I own a Galaxy Note 8, and I love the S Pen. The memo features are intuitive and I jot down on things on the screen. I also sometimes flick my S Pen around or hold it in my hand while I am resting my chin on my arm while thinking. Heavily wired people will click on the button intuitively and unconsciously while they concentrate on the task at hand. It can also be used to control slides in PowerPoint and gives its user options: use it to flip through slides or click on text. The pen is just as light and precise as mine on the Note 8.
The yellow S Pen for the blue version wasn't as gaudy or weird as I thought it would be when I saw the leaked pictures. Sometimes I can't find my black S Pen for my black Note 8, and this bright new version may allow other such Note users to find theirs better.
There is still untapped potential though. My big dream is for the S Pen to have a microphone, and while I am not a fan of the Bixby button, for the Note series at least, I feel like the button on the S Pen could double as a Bixby activation button (for example, triple click to activate). It won't be easy to pack more hardware into the stylus though. For now, giving the S-Pen a capacitor and keeping it safe and charged when docked in the Note 9 is a smart move.
The distance limit of a couple of metres I feel can improve though. Who knows, with 5G and the continuing miniaturisation of hardware, maybe the pen can evolve into an all-in-one remote that can connect with other Samsung Internet of Things devices. It will be up to consumers and Samsung to decide on what compromises would have to be made in such an evolution of the stylus. Samsung opening up a SDK for the S Pen in September hints at that.
Design and hardware
The design is basically the same as the Galaxy Note 8. It is wider and longer, but slightly thinner. I feel like this will be the last iteration of this design -- introduced with the Note 7 and shared in the S series with slight modifications -- and I predict a revamp next year for its 10th edition. But then again, with a screen that big -- 6.4-inches, slightly larger than Note 8's 6.3 -- I wonder if there is anyway leeway to do so.
The Note 9 is powered by Snapdragon 845 and a Super AMOLED display and comes in 6GB and 8GB RAM. The screen is a beauty, same as any of Samsung's previous flagship phones. Nothing surprising here. The standout though is the incredible internal storage: it comes in 128GB and 512GB versions. Attaching a 512GB memory stick gives users 1TB. That's a lot. While I never found my 256GB storage for the Note 8 lacking in any way, I am sure there are heavy users who would say otherwise. Regardless, no one ever complains about having too much storage.
The Note 9 packs a 4,000 mAh battery over Note 8's 3,300 mAh; it's definitely bigger, but a new power-sucking S Pen could mean there is not that much difference between the two.
Samsung DeX, meanwhile, now works just with a cable and there is no need for a dock. Coupled with the powered-up S Pen that can control PowerPoint slides, it seems Samsung is offering the best mobile work setting for professionals in the Android space.
Fortnite for mainstream boost
The irony of killing the Galaxy Note 7 is that it drew more fans to the Note 8 in anticipation. Will there be enough people waiting to buy this new model? The partnership with Fortnite as an added incentive seems to show that Samsung may be conscious of this.
Mobile gaming will only become bigger with powerful smartphones and faster network connections. The exhibition model that I tried out didn't have the game installed, but Note 9's powerful hardware seems a guarantee that it will play just fine. I rarely have trouble playing games with by Note 8 with a LTE connection.
Samsung has already succeeded in forming a strong fan base with its S Pen, and the Bluetooth addition will likely continue to harden loyalty amongst die-hards. The company highlighted the work and play aspect of the Note, but I feel the biggest boost is in work. Harman's AKG will certainly make watching movies more exciting, but perhaps in the next iteration third-party developers will make game-specific features that utilise the S Pen. Samsung may even introduce new gaming accessories in games as a counterpart to Samsung DeX.
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