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Samsung announces Galaxy Note 9 with bigger screen, huge battery, and more powerful S Pen

A refinement of last year’s model with incredibly powerful hardware

Photography by Amelia Holowaty Krales

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Samsung is coming off of a disappointing launch for its Galaxy S9, but that doesn’t mean the company is shaking things up for its next major smartphone. The Galaxy Note 9 is officially being announced today, and Samsung is doubling down on everything that the Note series represents: productivity and performance. It has the best specs you’ll find in any flagship Android phone, the screen is bigger, its S Pen has more tricks than ever before, and the battery is huge. Oh, and Samsung’s DeX software is now built right into the phone — no dock required — so you can plug it into any external display for a desktop-like experience.

The Note 9 will be sold in two configurations: there’s a 128GB / 6GB RAM model for $999 and a top-tier 512GB / 8GB RAM version for $1,250. Preorders begin on August 10th, and the phone will be available on August 24th at all major carriers or direct (and unlocked) from Samsung.

By looks alone, the Note 9 is nearly identical to its predecessor, save for the rear fingerprint sensor that has been moved to a more sensible spot below the camera. All of Samsung’s other hardware signatures like water resistance, fast wireless charging, expandable microSD storage, and the headphone jack are still here. (So is the Bixby button, for that matter.) Toss a 512GB microSD card into the 512GB Note 9, and you’ll have a phone with 1TB of storage. That’s nuts.

The Note 9 ships with Android 8.1 Oreo and the same user experience as Samsung’s last several phones. Samsung Pay is still present, and having the ability to mimic a credit card’s magnetic stripe at stores where NFC payments don’t always work is a nice fallback.

The new Note will be available in blue and pink / purple in the US; the blue model includes that bright yellow S Pen seen in all the leaked images. There’s no black option (at least in the US), which is pretty surprising. The Note’s width and thickness measurements have increased a bit due to an ever-so-slightly larger screen — 6.4 inches versus last year’s 6.3-inch display — and a bigger battery. The 9 is actually a hair shorter than the 8, thanks to continued downsizing of the top and bottom bezels.

The Note 9 still feels like a giant phone in your hand

Last year’s Note felt like a truly monstrous phone, and this one is no different. It’s bigger than what you picture “big” phones to be. If you’re looking for one-handed efficiency, you’re looking in the wrong place. But in exchange for giving that up, you’ll enjoy the giant Super AMOLED Quad HD+ screen. It’s phenomenal to look at, as always. The Note 9 also has a really nice matte aluminum frame with chamfered edges reminiscent of the old Galaxy Note 5.

The battery is 4,000mAh, which is the largest that’s ever been in a Note. It also eclipses many of today’s other Android flagships. While the Note 7 recall disaster is in Samsung’s rearview mirror, it certainly hasn’t been forgotten. In addition to running the Note 9 battery through its own multipoint safety check, Samsung has had it validated and certified by outside companies UL and Exponent. So yes, the company came ready for your exploding phone jokes.

Like the Galaxy S9, the Note 9 is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 processor. But this time around, Samsung says it has made optimizations to the GPU. And get this: there’s a new water cooling system inside the phone. That might be the most overboard Galaxy Note thing I’ve ever heard of, but why not, right? It’s too early to know whether this is ultimately just a marketing gimmick, but the company says its “Water Carbon Cooling system” is designed to ensure smooth, consistent performance during long gaming sessions when you’re playing Fortnite. Yes, the unbelievably popular battle royale game is coming to Samsung devices first, and yes, you can get in-game bonus items if you opt for the Fortnite preorder package. (The other choice is noise-canceling AKG headphones.)

See the plant icon at the bottom of the viewfinder? That’s the Note 9’s new AI-powered Scene Recognition feature at work.
See the plant icon at the bottom of the viewfinder? That’s the Note 9’s new AI-powered Scene Recognition feature at work.

Samsung pulled the Note 9’s camera system straight out of the Galaxy S9 Plus. You get the same two 12-megapixel cameras and the same dual-aperture (f/1.5 or f/2.4) trick with the primary, wide-angle camera. Both lenses have optical image stabilization. For the Note, Samsung is focusing its camera improvements on software and artificial intelligence.

Of course Samsung would make a phone with a water cooling system and a supercapacitor

A new Scene Optimizer mode can analyze the subject you’re pointing the camera at and identify up to 20 different scenarios (food, pets, sunsets, plants, urban / street, etc.). It then automatically applies changes to brightness, contrast, saturation, and white balance before you snap the shot to ensure the best possible end result. A lot of Android phone makers are trying these AI optimizations, but the results have been very mixed. There’s always regular auto mode or manual mode if you prefer. More useful — assuming that it works — is the new Flaw Detection feature that will let you know if a shot was blurry, if someone blinked, or if an image was too backlit and blown out.

The Note 9’s S Pen comes with all the same drawing prowess and levels of pressure sensitivity as last year, but now Samsung has added Bluetooth to the stylus (Bluetooth Low Energy, more specifically). This lets you use the S Pen as a remote shutter for the camera, which might come in handy if you’re taking a big group photo or some other posed shot. It can be your slide clicker during presentations, or you can play / pause your music apps with presses of the button. Obviously, all of this stuff is optional. By default, pressing and holding the S Pen’s button will open the camera, but you can customize that shortcut to open any app you want. Sure would be nice if the Bixby button could do that.

To alleviate any battery life concerns with its stylus, Samsung built a supercapacitor into it for extremely rapid charging whenever it’s seated in the phone. Despite its more flexible capabilities, the company insists that the S Pen will be ready to go whenever you pull it out of the slot.

Last on the list of notable upgrades to the Note 9 is its DeX software, which can now be accessed simply by plugging an external display into the phone with an HDMI adapter. Once you’ve done that, you get a traditional PC-like experience on the bigger screen that works very well with a keyboard and mouse. The Note behaves as normal when DeX is running, but you can swipe down to use its screen as a trackpad or enter text with the virtual keyboard if you need to.

I don’t know if this simplified DeX mode will end up being a major selling point, but it seems like a convenient option to have. With these kinds of specs, the Note 9 can definitely be a very capable, portable computer with minimal fuss — probably better than the new Tab S4 in some circumstances.

With the Note 9, Samsung is pushing back into the jack-of-all-trades echelon that helped prior Notes find a loyal audience. It has the big, beautiful screen, the long-lasting battery, a stylus, a very good camera, a top-of-the-line spec sheet, and it’s striving to be more than just a bigger Galaxy S9 with a stylus. There’s also both a water cooling system and supercapacitor in this phone.

So I’d say it looks like a solid refinement and evolution upon last year’s Note 8. I think people who like Note phones will be very happy with it. But they’re sure going to pay a lot of money to own it. And after Samsung faltered with the Galaxy S9, there’s more riding on this monstrous productivity machine than usual.