Samsung Resets The Business Phone Bar Again With The Note9, Three Weeks In Review

By Patrick Moorhead - September 20, 2018
The Samsung Galaxy Note9.   PATRICK MOORHEAD

The Samsung Galaxy Note9 is the next in a series of business and creativity-focused smartphone devices that Samsung has been releasing for many years. Because the Note line has traditionally been a second half of the year release, it comes out with a more refined feel than its “S” and "S+" brother. This year’s model is no exception with the New Samsung Galaxy Note9 shipping with the latest and greatest features and, of course, with a new stylus. This year’s Note9 is by no means a ground-breaking change from the Note8, but it makes many improvements across the board in ways that are meaningful and help to progress the Note story in a way that continues to validate its existence.  I had the chance to review the Note9 for over three weeks and wanted to share my experiences.

Sharp design Regarding design, the Note9 is noticeably different from the most current device, the Samsung Galaxy S9+ with its more drastic corners and edges as well as size. Button placement is nearly identical, except for the fact that the Note9 has a different camera orientation than the S9+ which I suspect is because of the design constraints that occur due to having a 4000 mAh battery inside. While there were rumors that the Galaxy Note9 might ship with an in-display fingerprint sensor, it appears the technology was not ready yet, and as a result, there’s still a fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone. While it does look like a bit of an afterthought regarding the cleanliness of design, it is still an improvement over the Note8’s fingerprint sensor placement which was unreachable for some users. Compared to the Note8, the overall design of the Galaxy Note9 is nearly identical save for the fingerprint sensor location and slightly beveled edges on the top and bottom of the phone. And yes, it still has a headphone jack. I believe the headphone jack is a must-have for business professionals as you can’t always rely on wireless headphones for that important business call. I always carry a set of wired headphones for a backup to my wireless. I am also quite pleased that Samsung has designed and built a solid duo charger that charges both my Galaxy Note9 and my Galaxy Watch. This charging solution is something that every manufacturer should offer, and Samsung does it especially well with their long history in wireless charging.  Apple announced its charger months ago but has not shipped its solution yet. Having a wireless quick charger that is PMA and WPC compatible and that charges both my devices quickly is important because trying to manage cables and plugging things in is just another unnecessary added level of complexity. The duo charger is also capable of charging two phones if you, like many businesspeople do, carry two phones and don’t have a smartwatch that’s compatible with WPC (Qi) or PMA.  I am still amazed at so-called “premium” smartphones that don’t support wireless charging. I don’t cable charge any phone anymore at home and Samsung just nails it. All of the Note9’s design sits within a sealed body that carries a now-standard IP68 water resistance rating among all Samsung flagship phones. This should be standard on all phones, but surprisingly, are not, if nothing more than protecting from toilet drops. I have had to fix at least 10 iPhones from my kids dropping theirs into toilets and am glad Apple adopted the feature, too. Wireless S Pen A big part of the Galaxy Note story is the S Pen and how that informs so many of the design decisions of the Note series of devices. With the new S Pen Samsung has opted to completely change the capabilities of the pen starting with a 30-foot range on the new pen. The pen also charges in 40 seconds and lasts 200 button clicks on a full charge. With the new S Pen, you can start and stop YouTube videos, music, advance PowerPoint presentation slides and even take selfies. I think a client would be impressed if, for one, you made a presentation from the Note9 connected to an HDMI cable to a projector, then advanced slides with the new S Pen. According to Samsung, the company did the Bronx, NY, event using the S Pen. Gutsy! In my usage, I found that the best use case for this was taking group selfies where I could set the phone down and hide the S Pen in my hand. I also like that the new S Pen inside the Blue version of the phone is a sharp looking bright yellow, it pops. Best display The Samsung Galaxy Note9 is once again a perfect showcase of Samsung’s display prowess and their crowning glory. The display on the Samsung Galaxy Note9 is a 6.4” 2960x14440 Super AMOLED which translates to a pixel density of 516 PPI. The display of a smartphone is critical to how users experience their smartphones, so having the best smartphone display in the world according to Displaymate is an important factor. This new display brings improvements like 27% increased brightness over the Note8 as well as better color accuracy, peak luminance, and viewing angles. With such a large display, the Note9 becomes a major content consumption device, and I can attest to it feeling like a high-end portable TV. Great camera The camera in the Note9 is essentially a copy of the already great S9+ dual camera (a plus) with some handy, intelligent scene detection (using AI) and ‘flaw detection’ which I have seen in action myself. This capability is similar to what many other manufacturers like LG and Huawei have already been doing with their cameras, but Samsung took it a step farther. Samsung added notifications to let you know when the camera’s AI thinks you didn’t get the shot and will recommend you retake it. The flaw detection and identify eye blinks, image blur, lens smudge and lighting issues. I found this incredibly useful, but every once in a while would experience a short pause as the camera was doing its calculations. Samsung’s Note9 camera has the best low light capability.    PATRICK MOORHEAD The camera in the Note9 has the best low-light capability I have ever experienced thanks to the f/1.5 aperture lens in the new camera. I also believe that with Samsung’s intelligent scene detection Samsung’s camera has become better at producing more balanced photos than it has in the past where seemingly every shot was oversaturated. Qualcomm processors and fastest LTE The Galaxy Note9 has the latest Snapdragon 845 processor from Qualcomm inside of it for the US model and in other geographies it ships with Samsung’s Exynos 9810 which is the same as the Galaxy S9 and S9+. The Note9 features a new cooling implementation that Samsung is calling ‘water carbon cooling.’ iFixit did a teardown to show us exactly what this looks like, including all the internal components and the noted ‘heat pipe’ with ‘significantly more surface area’ than prior generations. Having more surface area generally means that the thermal solution inside the phone is designed to dissipate more heat from the processor if correctly designed which I would assume is the case with the Note9.  I didn’t do any advanced comparison tests to intelligently weigh in on the new thermal solution, but know Qualcomm typically wins in most of these gaming benchmarks. The Note9 with a Snapdragon 845 inside also includes a 1.2 Gbps LTE modem powered by the 4x4 MIMO antenna configuration, including the Exynos versions as well.  Ookla data recently shows that Qualcomm-based smartphones like the S9 significantly outperformed Apple iPhones between 192% and 11% on a variety of carrier network tests. You can see more details in my analysis here. Other chips inside of the Note9 include a 6GB RAM chip for system memory which is quickly becoming the standard for flagship phones today. Samsung also decided to up the ante on storage with 128GB of standard storage in the Note9 which doesn’t include the optional 512GB module or the removable memory which can go as high as 512GB today and will likely be 1TB very soon. Samsung is leveraging their advantage with being one of the world’s largest manufacturers of solid state storage in the world while also taking advantage of their expandability which many others have abandoned. I still value Samsung’s expandable storage capabilities because it helps me quickly switch phones without losing my photos or having to upload them all to the cloud. Having local backups is always a nice thing, and the cloud isn’t perfect, after all. Businesspeople could literally keep an entire local, encrypted copy of their Microsoft OneDrive, inside the Secure Folder on their smartphone and have it security stacked and biometrically secured. All these improved processors come with added performance and efficiency while also having a significantly larger battery. Nearly all reviews noted the Note9’s extremely long battery life with it even having the longest battery life in some tests and getting near the longest in others. Considering that the Note9 is a business-focused device, all-day battery life is critical, and it looks like Samsung nailed that with the Note9. Most security features of any Android phone Security is an absolute bedrock of the Samsung Galaxy series of phones, especially the Note series. Samsung’s Knox platform paired with its multitude of authentication methods makes it among the most robust security platforms in the world. The Note9’s Knox has a hardware root of trust, secure and trusted boot, TIMA (TrustZone Integrity Measurement Architecture) and supports SE for Android (secure enhancements). These capabilities are powered by a multitude of authentication methods including password, pin, pattern, iris, face, and iris + face authentication. Samsung is also one of the few that implements a secure folder that layers security within the phone allowing the user to set a pin password for the device itself and then requiring biometric authentication to access the secure folder. Samsung’s security is an increasingly important factor for enterprises when considering what devices to approve inside their enterprise and validated by the DISA approval of the Galaxy S9 tactical edition. DeX without the dock Ever since Samsung released the Samsung DeX with the Galaxy S8, the company has been working to make the extensibility of the Galaxy line better and simpler. That started with the DeX dock station where a physical dock was required to be able to gain DeX desktop capability. Today, the Galaxy Note9 brings all the capabilities of the DeX station dock with a simple single cable connection that connects to the phone via USB Type-C. This solution does away with the DeX pad requirement that previously existed which still required the phone to dock into a base of some sort to be able to gain DeX desktop functionality. With this new Note9 DeX functionality, you can continue to have the functionality of the DeX pad but without needing to dock the phone. The single cable connection allows you to use the touchscreen of the phone as a touchpad, so you don’t need a keyboard or mouse if you don’t want one. However, if you do, there are USB ports on some dongles that allow for more accessories, or you can get a dock if you wish. The new Note9 dual mode allows you to use the Note9 display while also projecting a desktop onto the connected monitor, allowing for more functionality and flexibility. I tried out DeX on a few business trips and found it incredibly useful with a foldable, Bluetooth keyboard and small, Bluetooth mouse. A mouse and keyboard aren’t required, but I found it most useful for office productivity apps. Samsung with DeX and the Note9 are bringing us ever so close to a world where businesspeople could travel with a few accessories and leave their PC at home. For certain verticals like healthcare, banking, retail and law enforcement, DeX makes an incredible amount of sense, give the dual requirement for big and smaller screens running the same enterprise apps. Note9 resets the bar for business phones.. again The new Samsung Galaxy Note9 once again sets a new bar for what users expect from a Galaxy Note device and more importantly, what they expect from a business-class smartphone. Samsung’s focus on longevity, storage, pen, connectivity, and security continue to propel the Note series forward even when the similarities between the old version and new version seem minute. There’s no doubt that the Note9 is an incremental change from the Note8, but it makes lots of meaningful incremental changes across the board that make the Note9 a worthy update to the Note8.  Also, while some Note die-hards would look upgrading, I believe the vast majority of potential buyers have much older phones. I’m not sure I would recommend you switch from a Note8 to a Note9, but I could see people who wanted a Note7 and instead opted for an S8 looking at this phone. Additionally, if you care at all about having a stylus, want the best display, or the highest levels of connectivity, the Note9 is the phone you want. It will be interesting to see where Samsung goes with the Note line from here, I suspect the Note line might be where Samsung experiments with flexible displays first. Perhaps we’ll get an in-display fingerprint sensor or a completely bezel-free design before that. Note: Moor Insights & Strategy analyst Anshel Sag contributed to this article.
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Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.