Samsung is sticking to its tested formula for the Note9, its newest high-end smartphone. The company unveiled the latest addition to its Galaxy smartphone lineup at a New York event Thursday, slightly increasing the screen size of its largest smartphone but keeping most of its core features the same.
The company’s product event follows a quarter of disappointing sales of Samsung’s Galaxy S9. Samsung is facing increased pressure from Chinese smartphone makers overseas and a continued battle with Apple for market share in the United States. The Note line, which set the trend for large-screen phones and includes a stylus, has traditionally been one of Samsung’s most distinctive and has acted as a testing ground for new features. And despite a disastrous spate of battery fires that prompted the recall of the Note7, the Note line has proved to be the Samsung product with the most loyal following.
The company catered to that devoted fan base throughout the event. “You inspire us to push through barriers and make the Note better every year,” said DJ Koh, president of Samsung’s mobile communications business.
The Note9, which has a 6.4-inch screen, comes in two colors: blue and lavender. The blue phone has a yellow pen, which can be stored in a slot in the bottom of the phone. It starts at $999.99 and will be available Aug. 24. A 512-gigabyte model, for $1,259, will be available on AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, U.S. Cellular and Samsung.com.
The S Pen, the Note stylus, has received the most technological upgrades since the last model. It now has a Bluetooth connector, meaning it can function as a remote control for giving presentations or listening to music. Samsung said the pen’s battery will last for 200 clicks, or half an hour. It will charge in less than a minute.
The Note9 itself looks fairly similar to the Note8, with a few key differences. One is the battery, which has gotten a size bump to 4,000 milliampere hours — up from 3,300 mAh — which the company says should extend the battery life beyond a day of use.
In a nod to the battery fires that forced the company to recall and discontinue the Note7, Samsung reiterated that its eight-point battery check instituted after that debacle remains in place.
New chips in the smartphone give it a faster data connection, and Samsung is using that connection and improved processors to frame the Note9 as an ideal mobile-gaming device. Jumping on the Fortnite trend, Samsung has struck a deal with Fortnite developer Epic Games to give all Note9 users access to the game. Those who preorder may also opt for a special Fortnite skin and a voucher for the app’s in-game currency. Non-gamers can choose to get headphones from AKG instead.
The Note9 retains its dual-camera setup but has new software that uses artificial intelligence to identify what you’re shooting before you snap the shutter.
Apart from unveiling the phone, Samsung announced a new smartwatch, called the Galaxy Watch, that can connect to cellular networks without a phone, similar to the latest Apple Watch. The company also teased the Galaxy Home, a voice-controlled speaker that houses its Bixby assistant.
Still, smartphones remain the company’s most important consumer electronics products and the linchpin to its reputation for innovation. In that way, the Note9 may fall short of some competitors. Many of the features announced for the Note9 are already par for the course for Chinese firms. Huawei has used artificial intelligence to set photo modes for more than a year. Vivo, OPPO and Huawei are all experimenting with different camera placement, packing in more cameras or positioning them to give users a bigger screen on the front. Some also have licensed technology to put the fingerprint reader in the phone’s screen.
And several smartphones — including some Samsung sells in China — already have a battery as large as the Note9′s or even larger.
When it comes to competing with phones in the United States, the Note9 may also look a bit dated. While the new model has the “infinity screen,” which eliminates bezels on the sides, it still has bezels at the top and bottom — as Apple and other phonemakers continue to pursue a nearly all-screen front. That could limit its chance at gaining broader appeal, even with an expected month’s head start on Apple’s annual crop of iPhones.
“The Note 9 remains the Samsung flagship product, and for its hardcore and fiercely loyal base, these new features and the upgrade incentives will be seen as exciting,” Laura Simeonova, mobile phone analyst for CCS Insight, wrote in a note. “It remains to be seen whether these will be enough to impress those outside the fiercely loyal Note user base.”