Samsung’s new smartphone illustrates the limits of innovation at a time when hardware advancements have slowed.
The new phone, the Galaxy Note 9, will be faster and last longer without charging. But while earth-shattering new features are rare, they will come with an earth-shattering price tag: $1,000 (about 68,800 rupees).
The minor improvements reflect a smartphone industry that has largely pushed the boundaries of hardware. Major changes tend to happen every few years rather than once a year, and this isn’t the year for anything groundbreaking in note.
The new phone will benefit from automatic photo editing and a stylus that can be used as a remote control. But the highlights will be a bigger battery, faster processor, and improved cellular speeds.
“You don’t see massive breakthroughs from a hardware perspective anymore,” said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Creative Strategies. “Everything is a little better, but nothing is revolutionary.”
A 21% increase in battery capacity over last year’s Note 8 should translate to more than a day of normal use without recharging. Samsung has been conservative on battery improvements ever since its Note 7 phone in 2016 developed a tendency to flare up, prompting a costly recall and damaging the company’s reputation.
Since then, Samsung has put its phones through multiple inspections, including X-rays and extreme temperature testing. The company also sends phones to outside labs, including UL, for independent safety testing.
“We’re now three generations away,” Samsung’s director of US product marketing, Suzanne De Silva, said of the company’s renewed confidence in the battery. “It’s the right innovation at the right time.”
Although Samsung’s Note phones are great niche products aimed at power users, they offer a preview of what’s to come in the mainstream Galaxy S lineup. A dual-lens camera, with better zoom, arrived on the Note 8 months before the S9 Plus got it, for example. The Note also has curved edges before it became standard on Samsung’s flagship phones.
The new phones will be released on August 24. Borrowing from the iPhone playbook, the Note 9 will be priced the same in the US regardless of carrier. The $1,000 starting price is a bump up from the Note 8, but on par with Apple’s high-end iPhone X. The Note 9 will get double the storage, at 128 gigabytes, of typical high-end phones, including the iPhone X. Samsung will also sell a 512 gigabyte version for power users for $1,250.
While the improvements over last year aren’t huge, Technalysis Research analyst Bob O’Donnell said they will appear major to those who haven’t upgraded in a few years.
Thursday’s announcement in New York comes about a month before Apple unveils its new iPhones. There has been speculation – unconfirmed by Apple – that all new iPhones will ditch the home button and fingerprint sensor and rely entirely on the facial recognition technology of the iPhone X. The Note 9 will still have a fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone. In a jab at Apple, Samsung executives also frequently point out that their phones have standard headphone jacks, which newer iPhones no longer do.
The Note 9’s camera will use artificial intelligence to detect what’s in a scene – whether it’s food, flowers or a sunset – to automatically adjust images for reveal. It’s kind of like applying filters with an app, except the phone will do it itself, like Google’s Pixel phones already do.
As with the Pixel, the Note will not save a version without the adjustments. Purists can disable the feature to get images that reflect what the eye sees – an option not available with Pixel.
The camera will also offer a warning if someone blinked in a shot or the image is blurry.
The Note’s stylus will now have Bluetooth, allowing people to control phones and apps from up to 30 feet away. This will allow people to control music or take selfies just by clicking the stylus.
Samsung also said popular shooter Fortnite is coming to Android and will be exclusive to Samsung phones until Sunday.
Samsung also previewed a new voice-assisted speaker, the Galaxy Home, using its local digital assistant, Bixby. It promises great sound, in a potential challenge for Apple’s Siri-based HomePod speaker. Samsung said more details will come later this year. Samsung’s current speaker, the Invoke, uses Microsoft’s Cortana assistant.
Samsung also announced a new smartwatch and a partnership with Spotify to make it easier to switch music playback between phones, TVs and the company’s new speaker.