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First Look: Samsung Galaxy Note9 Features a Remote Control Stylus

Bree Fowler

Consumer Reports has no financial relationship with advertisers on this site.

Consumer Reports has no financial relationship with advertisers on this site.

Samsung unveiled the new Galaxy Note9 smartphone on Thursday, introducing a handful of small but useful features that include a stylus that can function as a remote control.

During the event, the manufacturer also introduced a new smart speaker and smartwatch (details on the Galaxy Home and Galaxy Watch below).

The Note9 is a big brother to the Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+ phones launched this past spring. As with previous models, it will likely appeal to fans who appreciate large screens and the latest in smartphone advances.

The Samsung phablet boasts a slightly bigger display—mainly thanks to slimmer bezels—increased storage space, and some fun upgrades to the camera. Samsung says it also has a more powerful battery.

Samsung ran into trouble two years ago when it put an extra large battery in the Note7, but the manufacturer says it has carefully vetted this one for safety.

We got a chance to take a look at press samples of the Note9 a few days ahead of its launch. (Consumer Reports pays companies a rental fee for press samples, which we do not put through our testing protocols. We always pay for products we rate, buying them at retail just like you do.) And, while the new stylus and the scene-recognition camera features were certainly interesting, the phone itself was not a whole lot different from the Note8.

We'll share full results on the Note9's battery life, display quality, water-resistance, and other attributes once the phone goes on sale on Aug. 24 and makes its way through our tests.

Available for pre-order on Friday, the 128GB model of the phone will be priced at $1,000 by Samsung and the 512GB version at $1,250. With a microSD card, you can expand the storage to 1TB.

U.S. retailers will offer the Note9 in two colors: blue and purple.

Upgraded S Pen

At first glance, the new stylus—or S Pen as Samsung calls it—looks like a slightly larger version of the one on the Note8. But, as they say, it’s what’s inside that counts.

This latest S Pen has been outfitted with Bluetooth functionality that allows it to pair with the phone and act as a remote control.

We found that this feature works pretty seamlessly. With one click of a button on the side of the stylus, you can, for example, snap selfies without having to contort your fingers to reach the control on the phone's screen. Tap the button twice and the Note9 shifts from the front- to the rear-facing camera.

The button can also be used to advance slide-show-like through the images in your photo library. It can even help you play DJ, aptly controlling the song selection from your favorite music app.

Samsung says it will open the S Pen’s remote control abilities to third-party development, which means more applications may be coming soon.

To function as a remote, the stylus must be charged, but that process takes less than 30 seconds and simply requires that you return the pen to the storage compartment inside the phone.

In our hands-on trials, the charge lasted for well over 250 clicks (bad news for anyone submitted to a long-winded, S Pen-controlled PowerPoint presentation). When not in use, the stylus remained charged for roughly 50 minutes.

The Note9 will notify you when the S Pen is running out of power and make a clicking noise when the charge is completely depleted.

You don't need power to jot down notes with the stylus, which is not only water resistant (just like the Note9), according to Samsung, but also color coordinated to match the model you choose. There's a yellow pen for the blue Note9 and, yes, it writes in yellow when you doodle on the black lock screen. The purple phone comes with a purple pen.

If you don't like the yellow or purple text, you can change the color to white in the settings on either model.

Improved Camera

All of the features Samsung introduced this spring on the highly rated-by-CR cameras of its S9 and S9+ phones have found a home on the Note9 as well. The list includes super slow-motion video and the ability to turn your image into a personalized emoji.

And just like with the S9 and S9+, Samsung has moved the fingerprint sensor below the rear camera, instead of placing it next to the camera, to make it easier to reach.

The thing that separates the Note9 from those earlier phones is the "scene optimizer," which Samsung says can auto identify the style of photo you're shooting based on 20 different scenarios—sunset, portrait, beach, for instance—and auto adjust the settings to give you the best image possible.

During our limited look, the setting provided only subtle changes to the phone's auto mode. It correctly identified flowers, faces, and food, but while the flowers had extra pop, the food was just a little more saturated and the portraits showed no discernible differences.

More Changes

Bigger is better? Smartphone screens just keep stretching, and the one on the Note9—the new entry in a product line long known for its size—is no exception. The 6.4-inch display surpasses the 6.3-inch mark heralded by its predecessor, but as you’d expect, you really need to look closely at the two phones side by side to see the difference.

The bezels that surround the Note9’s display are a touch smaller at the top and bottom of the phone.

Samsung adds that the touch screen is also more sensitive—so much so that you can use it while wearing gloves.

Bright display. Like the Note8 before it, the Note9 has an OLED screen. The technology, used in high-end TVs, is known for offering blacker blacks and nearly unlimited viewing angles.

The Note9 display has roughly the same resolution as that of the Note8, and also like its predecessor, it provides one of the brightest screens in the phone world. According to the company,  it can go as high as 700 nits (a relative measure of brightness also used in TVs and other displays) when showing a pure white picture. Additionally, a small white highlight on a dark background could hit 1,100 nits, according to Samsung, which is significant only if you're watching an HDR movie with shadowy scenes.  

More juice. A bigger, brighter display needs a bigger battery. In this case, 4,000 mAh, up from the Note8’s 3,300 mAh. While many consumers crave a battery that can get them through the day, and then some, Samsung stumbled into trouble two years ago by putting an extra large battery into the Note7.

The company was forced to pull the model from the market after a series of battery fires.

It subsequently scaled back on the size of the battery in the Note8.

Samsung emphasized that the Note9 battery has gone through the "8-Point Battery Safety Check" that the company put in place after the Note7 fires and that it's safe to use. 

Galaxy Home and Galaxy Watch

The Galaxy Home is a connected speaker with a striking design clearly poised to challenge similar offerings from Google, Amazon, and Apple. Samsung didn’t provide a lot of details on the device, but the company touted the Galaxy Home’s surround-sound-style audio, six built-in speakers, and subwoofer, not to mention its integration with the company’s smart assistant, Bixby.

The new Galaxy Watch line will include a model with LTE cellular connectivity, allowing users to answer calls or stream music without linking to a smartphone. According to Samsung, the device will also have an impressive battery life of up to 80 hours, depending on the size of watch you choose.

The list of features includes a “stress management tracker” that measures your heart rate and offers breathing exercises. The watch comes in two sizes: a 46mm model that will retail for $349 and a 42mm for $329. A bluetooth version will be available on August 24th, but the LTE option won’t be out until later this year. 

Editor's Note: Based on a pre-release briefing by Samsung, an earlier version of this article reported that a black model of the phone would be available in the United States and that the Note9 screen could be set to a sustained brightness of 1,100 nits. The company has since revised those statements.



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