Samsung revealed a range of new products at its Unpacked event in New York on Thursday, including the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 smartphone and the re-designed (and renamed) Samsung Galaxy Watch. We’ve been hands on with the new releases, along with the new flagship Galaxy Tab S4, to bring you our first impressions.
The Korean firm also announced the Galaxy Home, Samsung’s new speaker and Bixby smart assistant, but this isn’t due to launch in the UK anytime soon.
Read on to find out more about the latest in the Galaxy range, including what’s actually ‘new’, release dates and prices, and what our experts thought when they got to test drive the new bits of kit.
If you missed it, head over to our news story on the full reveal of the Galaxy Note 9 smartphone and Samsung Galaxy Watch.
Hands on with the Samsung Galaxy Note 9
As with the Galaxy Note 8, there’s no getting away from the size of this phone. With a 6.4-inch screen (which is marginally bigger than the 6.3-inch Note 8), it’s the biggest phone in Samsung’s range. This is sure to appeal to those that prefer a large display for watching videos, gaming or browsing the web, but it won’t be for everyone.
The nearly bezel-less Infinity Display is vibrant and crystal clear, and the rounded edges look good. Small touches that Samsung has made, such as making the camera unit the same colour as the smartphone itself, add to the high-end style of the phone.
One of the big features designed to separate the Galaxy Note 9 from rivals is the storage, but is it all it’s cracked up to be? We’re not completely convinced – mainly because the price made us wince. To remind you of the big claims, the top-of-the-range handset has an incredible 512GB of onboard storage, plus the capacity to support a micro-SD card of up to 512GB, taking it up to a potential maximum storage of 1TB.
Now for the catch (you might want to sit down for this bit). The phone itself will set you back a lofty £1,099, while a 512GB micro-SD card will cost an extra £300 on top of that. Is the extra storage worth it? That’s for you to decide.
The Note 9’s S Pen stylus
What really sets this smartphone apart from its Note siblings is the S Pen stylus. I’m, personally, not usually a stylus fan (I’d be too worried about losing such a small piece of kit), but the features packed in to the S Pen are pretty impressive. It’s got Bluetooth for remote controlling your shortcuts (which can be customised), and it instantly and smoothly operates the camera on the Galaxy Note 9, too – gone are the days of unflattering group selfies with the S Pen at your side.
Creating hand-written notes and doodles using the stylus is simple – these will be the same colour as your pen, so yellow notes for the yellow S Pen and lilac for the lilac version. It had a great level of responsiveness when scrolling through menu screens, too, making it a helpful for people with small hands trying to navigate around this monster phone.
The Galaxy Note 9 has a whopping 4,000mAh battery, the largest to ever feature on a Samsung handset. We’ll put this to the test in our labs soon – look out for the full review.
Overall, we’re impressed – this is a gorgeous behemoth of a phone. But there’s no escaping the fact that relatively speaking, this is a fairly iterative upgrade. Samsung may have done justice to its Note range with the 9, but we can’t help but feel it’s saving something pretty special for the next generation of its flagship range next year.
Callum Tennent, Which? smartphones expert
Could our exclusive Best Buy mobile phones club soon have a new member?
Hands on with the Samsung Galaxy Watch
The biggest changes to the Galaxy Watch, aside from the name, are the design and battery life. These are both reactions to feedback on the design and battery life of previous iterations of Samsung smartwatches, the giant Gear S3 and the weird circular-but-also-square bezel of the Gear Sport (both of which claimed between three and four days of battery per charge).
There’s nothing groundbreaking, but a few noticeable improvements. As for the name, I asked Samsung the reason behind the change away from the Gear moniker, but no one seemed to know.
First, let’s talk design. Samsung claims that the Galaxy Watch is made to look like a traditional watch, but it’s still fairly obvious (even without the Super AMOLED display activated) that this has more under the surface than clockwork.
It’s available in 42mm and 46mm versions, and I’m glad to see a choice of sizes. Don’t get me wrong, the 42mm version is still larger than your average lady’s wristwatch and I found that it protruded more, too, but it’s surprisingly lightweight and didn’t feel bulky or heavy on my wrist. It’s a smartwatch that I could realistically see myself wearing, which I certainly wouldn’t have said about the sizable Gear S3. There’s the stylish rose gold option (the version I’d go for) and a sportier black option, too.
The 46mm watch is only available with a silver bezel for now. The larger size was comically big for my wrist, but it would be a stylish smartwatch for those who suit a bigger timepiece. The Super AMOLED display is clear and bright, and the touchscreen is as responsive as a high-end smartphone. For those that want to personalise their smartwatch, there’s a range of watch faces available on the watch itself and more can be installed via the app.
Galaxy Watch battery life
Now to the, slightly convoluted, battery life claims. The Galaxy Watch has an all-new battery, designed specifically for smartwatches, and it claims that this will last for up to seven days – around double its predecessors. But this differs for the two sizes – the 46mm watch has a larger 472mAh battery, which should last up to seven days based on low usage.
The smaller watch, with its 270mAH battery, is claimed to last five days based on low usage. I’m interested to see how these perform in our battery life tests, which are based on an average usage scenario, as I’m not convinced there will be a particularly significant improvement in battery life for those that plan to wear and use their watch all day, everyday.
As we’ve come to expect from a lot of the big wearable launches, there’s a strong health and lifestyle focus for the Galaxy Watch, although nothing that’s ‘new’. Fitness features include built-in GPS, a heart-rate monitor, stress tracking and detailed sleep analysis.
I didn’t get to try out the daily briefing feature, which will give you a personalised watch face with your schedule for the day on, but it sounds like it could be useful. For the verdict on the fitness sensors, keep an eye out for our full first look review of the Samsung Galaxy Watch.
Connectivity wise, there aren’t any suprises. There’s Bluetooth and NFC for Samsung Pay. A 4G version, which can be used to make and receive phone calls, will launch in the UK later this year and this will be supported by EE. This is no longer the jaw-dropping feature it once was, and I’m still not entirely convinced I’d walk along talking to my watch. It’s also sure to have an impact on battery life, and we’ll put the 4G battery life to the test soon.
Hannah Walsh, Which? wearables expert
The Galaxy Watch has its work cut out if it’s going to make our list of Best Buy smartwatches.
Hands on with the Galaxy Tab S4
It’s hard for any company to usurp the dominance of Apple but, in the past few years at least, Samsung has proven that it has the mettle to take on Cupertino’s finest with desirable and genuinely innovative smartphone tech. With the Tab S4, it’s clear that Samsung is now serious about beating Apple at the tablet game.
It’ll be tough challenge – the term iPad is practically synonymous with the entire tablet market (some unnamed relatives claim to own a ‘Samsung iPad’, for example). But the Tab S4 has some unique features – and a competitive price – that should make anybody considering buying an iPad Pro at least think twice.
At its launch event, the feature Samsung was most keen to show off was its DeX software. DeX turns Android into a Windows-like experience with drag-and-drop functionality and multiple windows you can drag around, letting you switch between programs more quickly and get things done faster.
In theory, this is a winner, but having used DeX a year ago and again today, I don’t feel like an awful lot has changed. Samsung’s own branded apps, such as the web browser, file explorer and email, work just fine. But others, such as games, feel buggy and sometimes jump around the screen. You’ll have to be selective about which apps you use while you’re in DeX mode. Ignoring the bugs, everything feels snappy and fast on this tablet and it can even run the smash-hit game Fortnite without a hitch and without getting hot, which is no mean feat.
DeX automatically starts as soon as you connect the tablet to the keyboard cover (£119 extra). The keyboard itself is excellent, with a responsive button press and most of the buttons in the right place. I didn’t like the tiny backspace key as it’s very hard to hit, but this is something you’ll get used to. The keyboard cover doubles as a stand, too, and it’s pitched perfectly for desk use, but a bit steep for on-lap use. It’s usable when it’s resting on your knees and it feels stable, but there is a temptation to lean it back a bit, which then makes it feel more likely to tip over on to the floor.
I expected this tablet to be unwieldy when using it handheld, but it actually feels far smaller and far lighter than I would have expected from a 10.5-inch tablet. The screen, too, is fantastic, with extraordinarily bright whites and vibrant colours that feel about as close to an iPad as you can get.
The speakers, too, seem loud enough to enjoy a bit of Netflix at home on the couch without having to resort to headphones.
Taking notes on the S Pen stylus is a pleasure; Samsung has had the stylus concept nailed for a few years and it feels natural – and comfortable – to write and sketch on to the screen.
At £599 for the tablet and S Pen alone and £719 with the keyboard, we’re well into laptop pricing territory for an experience that, in many ways, is inferior to a laptop. But those who know they need a small tablet for taking notes and getting work done already know they don’t want a laptop, and as a result, this feels like a very tempting piece of kit. And it certainly isn’t unhelpful that altogether this is £200 less than a kitted-out 10.5-inch iPad Pro.
Michael Passingham, Which? tablets expert
To see what the Tab 4 is up against, browse all our Best Buy tablets.