Sarah Tew/CNET

I was going to start by saying that the Galaxy Note 9 would be nothing without its pen. I was going to tell you that Samsung’s Note family has always been defined by its S Pen tool, and that this year the slim digital stylus matters more than ever.

Then I learned that the Galaxy Note 9 pricing would start at $1,000 in the US for the 128GB version and $1,250 for the 512GB version (hot damn, that’s a lot of storage), and it suddenly became a struggle to think about anything else.

Because now, the Note 9 is less about the new S Pen tricks that turn it into a remote control for the phone’s camera, your music player, your laptop and so on. It’s less about the large 4,000-mAh battery, dramatically leveled-up storage and a couple of new AI camera features.

Now, the first thing I think of is the Galaxy Note 9’s sky-high price.

Don’t worry, I have lots to say about all the Note 9’s new features, but first I’ve got to point out that the Note 9 is fulfilling its share of the prophecy that phones are getting more expensive, especially at the high end. Rising prices have partly to do with costlier parts and research expenses, but analysts believe there’s also perception at play. Phone manufacturers, they posit, may be padding prices to fall in line with the iPhone X ($1,000 at Cricket Wireless).

Read: Sorry, your iPhone or Android phone is getting more expensive

The Galaxy Note 9 certainly has its share of upgraded parts — we especially need to talk about that Bluetooth-connected S Pen, the phone’s standout feature. But when you hold the Note 9 in your hand, it doesn’t look all that different than the shiny, large-screen models that came before. We still need to review the device, of course — it could well be more than the sum of its parts. But that similarity is what makes the price a little unsettling at first, especially considering what the Note 9 represents.


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Galaxy Note 9’s S Pen stylus is a remote control


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The Galaxy Note 9 is a big deal for the world’s largest phone manufacturer. With its trademark stylus and large screen, the Note represents Samsung’s most powerful, innovative phone for the year, and its last flagship model until next March’s anticipated Galaxy S10. That makes the Note 9 Samsung’s best chance at taking on Apple’s 2018 iPhones, expected in September, and Google’s next Pixel phones, expected in October.

Samsung will also wield the Note 9 to stave off Huawei’s relentless approach, after this Chinese rival overthrew Apple to become the world’s second-largest phone maker. Huawei is nipping at Samsung’s heels.

Samsung must also continue to outrun the spectre of 2016’s Galaxy Note 7, which, in an unprecedented move, Samsung was forced to recall twice and then stop making altogether after units disastrously caught fire as a result of multiple flaws in the battery design. Since then, Samsung has insisted on tighter testing for all its phone batteries, including the Galaxy Note 9, but phone fans haven’t forgotten the Note 7 debacle.

The Galaxy Note 9’s S Pen isn’t just for writing anymore.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Two years later, the Note 9 still reminds me a lot of the erstwhile Note 7, at least when you look at its shell. 

When you take the remote control feature away, and the 512GB internal storage option (external storage is pretty cheap these days), the rest of the phone is shaping up to be an incremental update to both this year’s Galaxy S9 ($676 at Amazon.com) and last year’s Galaxy Note 8.

Luckily, we don’t have to rely on just a list of specs for long. I got a chance to go hands-on with the Note 9’s new Bluetooth-loving S Pen, new AI camera features, and a fun, colorful addition to the way the S Pen writes on the Note 9’s screen. I’ll fully review the phone in the coming days. By the way, you’ll be able to preorder it on Aug. 10 and the Note 9 hits store shelves on Aug. 24.

The Note 9 will come in ocean blue (with a bright yellow S Pen), lavender purple, midnight black and metallic copper. Colors will vary by region. For example, the US will get the Note 9 in blue and purple. (More preorder details toward the end.)

Samsung also introduced a new accessory, called Wireless Charging Duo, which can charge two Qi-compatible devices at once over 15 watts, one on a baked-in stand and the other lying flat. I was able to charge two phones this way, but you could also charge a phone and a watch.

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Samsung’s new Wireless Charging Duo can quick-charge two Qi-compatible devices at the same time.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Read on for my hands-on impressions of the Note 9 and how this new Galaxy phone compares to other devices, including the Galaxy S9, iPhone X and last year’s Note 8.

The Galaxy Note 9’s new S Pen picks up Bluetooth tricks

This new S Pen, which relies on Bluetooth Low Energy (there’s an antenna inside the pen body), is the Galaxy Note 9’s standout feature by far. It’s this S Pen’s new capabilities that have the power to expand the Galaxy Note 9’s influence into the rest of your life.

You can still write, draw, navigate around and create live messages. But now, the S Pen’s button has Bluetooth actions that you trigger for different apps. An entire settings menu lets you customize the actions, but here’s an example that I found really useful. I’d use this one a lot:

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Purple Galaxy Note 9, purple “ink.”


Sarah Tew/CNET

Long-press the S Pen button to open the camera app, double press it to toggle between selfie and rear camera modes. Click once more to take a photo. Now you have a long-range shutter. With the S Pen’s Bluetooth skills, the context of the clicks changes depending which app you’re in, and where you are in that app.

You can control up to seven devices this way, from a distance of 30 feet. Standby time is either 200 clicks or 30 minutes, and the S Pen recharges in under a minute, starting when you reinsert the stylus into its holster on the phone.

Some things you can do with a Bluetooth S Pen:

  • Control PowerPoint to advance slides
  • Play or advance songs in a music player
  • Switch camera modes and set a remote shutter
  • Use apps like Spotify, which have universal controls.
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The Galaxy Note 9’s S Pen is smarter than your pen.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Samsung says it will open up its SDK to developers later this year (probably at its annual developer conference this fall), so other apps will be able to take advantage of the S Pen’s clickety-clicking.

As usual, the Note 9 will flag you if you walk off without your S Pen in tow, but there’s no “find my S Pen” feature or GSP transponder on board.

Here’s another fun perk: The Note 9 will now write in the color of its S Pen when you’re jotting notes on the black lock screen (the feature’s called off-screen memo). So, that’s yellow, purple, copper and white (for the black version). You can also switch to white “ink” if you’d prefer. In that case, why not any color?

Note 9’s new AI camera features

The Galaxy Note 9 keeps the same hardware setup as the Galaxy S9 Plus ($800 at Amazon.com). That is, dual 12-megapixel cameras on the back, one of them that automatically changes aperture when it detects the need for a low-light shot. (Samsung calls this dual aperture, and it’s also on both S9 phones.) There’s also an 8-megapixel front-facing camera for your selfies.

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Plate of macarons = food. Good job, Note 9.


Sarah Tew/CNET

What’s different is AI software that analyzes the scene and quickly detects if you’re shooting a flower, food, a dog, a person. There are 20 options the Note 9’s been trained on, including snowflakes, cityscapes, fire, you get it. Then, the camera optimizes white balance, saturation and contrast to make photos pop.

I tested a prefinal Note 9 on a CNET video producer, a houseplant and a plate of orange and yellow macarons. The camera was able to correctly identify each one. More testing to follow on the final Note 9.

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Two rear 12-megapixel cameras, one that adjusts low-light shots for you.


Sarah Tew/CNET

The AI scene optimizer setting is on by default. You can turn it off, but you can’t swipe it away as you can with the Huawei P20 and P20 Pro’s similar AI settings.

Another tidbit of an addition, called flaw detection in the camera settings, will prompt you to retake the picture if your subject’s eyes blink or move, if the lens is smudged or if there’s too much backlight getting in the way of a clean shot. A dialog box pops up right after you take the picture politely suggests taking another look.

More Galaxy Note 9 highlights

  • Fortnite for Android: The wildly popular game comes first to Galaxy phones (S7 and newer) and the Note 9 gets a special skin. You’ll be able to download it through Samsung’s gaming app.
  • Screen: 6.4-inch Super AMOLED; 2,960×1,440-pixel resolution.
  • Processor: Octacore Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor.
  • Bixby button: It’s still there on the phone’s left side.

Preorder the Note 9 starting Aug. 10 and get a gift

In the US, preorders begin Aug. 10 at 12:01 a.m. ET. You can buy the Note 9 in stores and online on Aug. 24. Preorder the Note 9 before Aug. 23 and you can choose between:

  • A pair of AKG N60 over-ear, noise-canceling headphones (worth $299)
  • The Fortnite Galaxy skin with 15,000 V bucks (worth $150)
  • Or both for $99 (worth $449 total)
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Fortnite heads to Samsung Galaxy phones, including the Note 9.


Samsung

The $1,000, 128GB version of the Note 9 will be available from Amazon, AT&T, Best Buy, Costco, Sam’s Club, Samsung.com, ShopSamsung app, Sprint, Straight Talk, Target, T-Mobile, US Cellular, Verizon, Walmart and Xfinity.

You can buy the $1,250, 512GB version from AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, US Cellular and Samsung.com.

In the UK, the 128GB version will cost £899, and the 512GB model £1,099. We’ll update when we have Australian details.

Galaxy Note 9 and Note 8: What’s the difference?

The Note 9’s hardware and software bring a small, but notable upgrade over the Note 8. From the outside, the two phones are nearly twins.

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GO ahead and give the Galaxy Note 9 a bath. The S Pens are water-resistant, too.


Sarah Tew/CNET

  • Screen size: The Note 9’s 6.4-inch screen just a tiny bit larger than the Note 8’s 6.3-inch display.
  • Fingerprint reader, speakers: The Note 9’s fingerprint reader moves below the cameras, rather than off to the side like on the Note 8, and the Note 9 adds a second speaker for stereo sound, just like on the Galaxy S9 phones.
  • Bigger battery: The Note 9 has a 4,000-mAh battery, compared to the Note 8’s 3,300-mAh ticker.
  • Monster storage: You get two built-in storage options with the Note 9: 128GB with 6GB of RAM or 512GB with 8GB of RAM. Both versions are set to sell through carriers and retailers (see above).
  • Faster processor: Qualcomm’s newer Snapdragon 845 chipset replaces the Note 8’s Snapdragon 835 processor.
  • Android 8.1: The Note 8 launched with Android 7.1.1 Nougat. Samsung’s custom software layer for the Note 9 is called Samsung Experience 9.5.

Galaxy Note 9 versus iPhone X, Google Pixel 2 XL, LG V35

Galaxy Note 9 specs versus the competition

Samsung Galaxy Note 9 Apple iPhone X Google Pixel 2 XL LG V35 ThinQ
Display size, resolution 6.4-inch Super AMOLED; 2,960×1,440 pixels 5.8-inch OLED; 2,436×1,125 pixels 6-inch OLED; 2,880×1,440 pixels 6-inch OLED; 2,880 x 1,440 pixels
Pixel density 516 ppi 458 ppi 538 ppi 538 ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 6.4×3.0x0.35 in 5.7×2.79×0.30 in 6.2×3.0x0.3 in 5.97×2.97×0.29 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 161.9×76.4×8.8 mm 143.6×70.9×7.7 mm 157.9×76.7×7.9 mm 151.64×75.44×7.37 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 7.09 oz.; 201g 6.14 oz,; 174g 6.17 oz.; 175g 5.57 oz, 157.9g
Mobile software Android 8.1 Oreo iOS 11 Android 8.0 Oreo Android 8.0 Oreo
Camera Dual 12-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (telephoto) Dual 12-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (telephoto) 12-megapixel 16-megapixel (standard), 16-megapixel (wide)
Front-facing camera 8-megapixel 7-megapixel 8-megapixel 8-megapixel
Video capture 4K 4K 4K 4K
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 Apple A11 Bionic Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 2.8GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 845
Storage 128GB, 512GB 64GB, 256GB 64GB, 128GB 64GB
RAM 6GB, 8GB 3GB 4GB 6GB
Expandable storage 512GB None None 2TB (theoretically; 512GB cards on their way)
Battery 4,000mAh 2,716mAh (unconfirmed by Apple) 3,520mAh 3,300mAh
Fingerprint sensor Back of phone None; Face ID instead Back of phone Back of phone
Connector USB-C Lightning USB-C USB-C
Headphone jack Yes No No Yes
Special features S-Pen with Bluetooth connectivity; water resistant (IP68); wireless charging; Iris and facial scanning; dual-aperture camera Water resistant (IP67); wireless charging; Face ID 3D unlock, Animoji Unlimited cloud storage; Daydream VR-ready Water resistant (IP68); wireless charging; DTS:X 3D Surround, Quad DAC
Price off-contract (USD) $1,000 (128GB), $1,250 (512GB) $999 (64GB), $1,149 (256GB) $849 (64GB), $949 (128GB) $900 (AT&T and Project Fi)
Price (GBP) £899 (128GB), £1,099 (512GB) £999 (64GB), £1,149 (256GB) £799 (64GB), £899 (128GB) N/A
Price (AUD) Converts to AU$1,345 (128GB), $1,680 (512GB) AU$1,579 (64GB), AU$1,829 (256GB) AU$1,399 (64GB), AU$1,549 (128GB) N/A

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