This year’s Samsung Unpacked has seen the announcement of two of the company’s most highly-anticipated gadgets for 2018: the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 and the Samsung Watch. The former looks set to be its most powerful, advanced smartphone to date, while the latter is designed to bring style and smarts to your wrist.
‘Unpacked’ is the Korean firm’s answer to Apple’s WWDC and Google I/O, and is an annual event dedicated to showcasing its most exciting new developments and upcoming releases. With the Galaxy S9 and S9+ released earlier in the year, it was no great surprise to see the Galaxy Note 9 as the star attraction. With the last Samsung smartwatch, the Gear Sport, launching nine months ago, a brand new wearable was always on the cards, too.
Read on to find out what’s actually ‘new’ in the two new devices, as when you can expect to see them hit shelves – and for how much.
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Samsung Galaxy Note 9
£899 (128GB) / £1,099 (512GB)
With a likely release date of the last week of August, you’ve got a couple of weeks to save up for what will likely be one of the most expensive Samsung handsets of all time. It’s not so much a matter of whether or not it’s worth the money, though, as it is whether or not you really need all it has to offer.
The tech specs are a predictably modest evolution of what we saw on last year’s Galaxy Note 8, but there are a few serious changes to sit up and pay attention to. Here’s our top four highlights:
Samsung’s biggest ever smartphone battery
The Galaxy Note 8 had a sizeable 3,300mAh battery, but with a handset this large, there’s no reason not to pack in the biggest brick possible.
It features a whopping 4,000mAh battery, which is the largest to ever feature on a Samsung handset. With the Galaxy Note 9’s massive power-thirsty display this isn’t as much of a luxury as it sounds, but it should still provide more than enough juice for a full day of use.
1TB of storage (sort of)
While some brands (not naming any names) are only just coming around to the notion of offering 256GB of internal storage, the Galaxy Note 9 will be one of the first on the market (and certainly the first to pass through our test lab) to offer an incredible 512GB of internal storage.
That may well sound excessive, but Samsung isn’t done yet: it will also be able to support a micro-SD card of up to 512GB, meaning it has a potential maximum storage of 1TB – a smartphone first. For perspective, that much storage is greater than the amount offered on 70% of laptops currently on test on which.co.uk. Take a look at the chart below to see just how much that will let you store:
There is one caveat to this generous bounty of potential memory, though, and it’s one that probably won’t surprise you: price.
There’s currently only one make and model of 512GB micro-SD card on the market right now, and it costs an eye-watering £300. Add that to the £1,099 asking price for the 512GB variant of the handset and you could spend the money on a half-decent second-hand car instead, if you felt so inclined. If future-proofing is something that you consider when buying a new smartphone, though, the Galaxy Note 9 has you covered.
Dolby Atmos sound
Yes, Dolby Atmos is the latest and greatest standard in cinematic surround sound. And yes, the Galaxy Note 9 offers this on a smartphone – not just when hooked up to speakers or through headphones, but actually through the built-in speakers, too. It sounds fantastical, but it’s actually the real deal. Unlike on its predecessor, the Galaxy Note 9 has stereo speakers – one on the underside next to the charging point, the other taking the place of the standard earpiece. It then uses some cutting-edge technical wizardry to simulate the effect of a full Dolby Atmos surround sound setup.
The difference between Atmos and past Dolby releases is that it doesn’t just project sound in a 360-degree radius around you, it also offers height to the sound. It’s hard to imagine, but it realistically simulates an entirely new plane of sound – aircraft seem as though they’re passing overhead and water sounds like it’s rushing by underfoot. Of course, it’s not as jaw-dropping coming from a smartphone as from an IMAX screening, but it’s a huge improvement on anything else out there right now.
A vastly improved S Pen stylus
While it may be the biggest handset in Samsung’s arsenal, what really sets it apart from its siblings is its stylus. Referred to as the S Pen, you may think that styluses went out of fashion along with the Palm Pilot and the PDA, but it’s a feature that has remained steadily popular in East Asia throughout the smartphone revolution. With the Galaxy Note series, Samsung is determined to make you like them, too.
The immediate benefits are obvious: you can sketch and create hand-written notes on the fly, and it can be used to put your signature to digital documents. It’s also handy for those with clumsy fingers who would like a more precise way to navigate the handset’s massive display. The benefits don’t stop there, though, as it also packs in some neat extra features.
There’s a small button on the side of the S Pen that serves a variety of uses. You can use it to flip slides when presenting on the main handset, it can act as a shutter button when taking selfies, and it can even be used as a TV remote control. Connecting to its parent smartphone via Bluetooth it has a range of up to 10ft and has a battery life of 30 minutes. It recharges whenever you slide it back into its slot on the underside of the Galaxy Note 9, filling up to 100% in an incredible 40 seconds.
The rest of the specs
Display size: 6.4 inches
Display resolution: 1440 x 2960 pixels
Rear camera: Dual-12Mp
Processor: 10nm 64-bit Octa-core
Storage: 128GB or 512GB
Ram: 6GB (128GB storage variant) or 8GB (512GB storage variant)
Headphone jack: Yes
Samsung Galaxy smartwatch
The new Samsung Galaxy smartwatch was given a very short slot at the Unpacked event, and that’s probably because it doesn’t have a huge number of new features to shout about. We were surprisingly underwhelmed – there was no explanation of the change from the Gear to the Galaxy moniker, suggesting it was simply to bring the wearable range in line with the smartphone line up.
The Galaxy Watch will be available to buy imminently, with a 4G version launched later this year. At the time of writing, we had no information on prices, but we’ll update this story once we do. In the meantime, read on for our first impression of the features and how the Galaxy Watch compares with it’s Gear S3 and Gear Sport siblings.
Samsung Galaxy Watch design
It’s designed to look like a traditional watch, but with 360×360 pixel AMOLED display and the rotating bezel that’s now a familiar feature of the Samsung smartwatch range. It’s still a large smartwatch, but it’s lost the controversial rounded square bezel of the Gear Sport. It will be available in two sizes – 42mm and 46mm – and three colours; rose gold and midnight black for the 42mm version, and silver for the 46mm watch.
It’s good to see a choice of screen sizes, and it could make these Samsung smartwatches more accessible to those with smaller wrists that would’ve found the size of the Gear S3 prohibitive. Having said that, it’s still pretty large. Let’s just hope it’s lightweight enough to stay comfortable – we look forward to trying one on.
After much hype, there was no big Samsung Wear OS smartwatch announcement. In fact, the operating system wasn’t even mentioned. It will run on Samsung’s own Tizen Based Wearable OS 4.0. We’re glad – there are plenty of Wear OS smartwatches to choose from, and the Tizen platform has been well integrated on previous Samsung smartwatches. Hopefully this will mean increased commitment to developing the number of compatible apps for the Tizen platform, too.
The features announced at the Unpacked event seem pretty familiar, mainly because we’ve seen most of them on previous Samsung products.
There’s a range of health tracking features, including a heart-rate monitor and GPS, but nothing remarkable at first glance. The Galaxy Watch can monitor your stress levels, based on the variability of your heart rate, which is a feature we’ve seen on activity trackers by Fitbit and Garmin. It’s waterproof to 5ATM so you’ll be able to swim with it. We’ll put the fitness tracking capabilities to the test in our lab soon.
There will be a 4G version launched later this year, with EE the first UK network to support it, meaning you can use your smartwatch to make and receive calls without your smartphone nearby. We’ve already seen this on the Gear S3 and Apple Watch Series 3 GPS+4G, though. It has Samsung’s voice assistant Bixby and Samsung Pay, too.
Samsung was very vague on the battery-life claims of the Galaxy Watch on stage, stating that the battery was designed specifically for smartwatches and that it would last ‘several days’ per charge. In a press release, Samsung revealed that exact battery-life claims differ depending on the size you opt for and that these are based on ‘light usage’ – 168 hours (seven days) for the 46mm version and 120 hours (around five days) for the 42mm one. We’ll put this to the test in our lab soon.
It’s fairly similar to the Gear Sport and Gear S3, which were both claimed to last between three and four days per charge. It’s longer than smartwatch rivals, such as the Apple Watch Series 3, but it’s still not particularly impressive.
To find out how previous smartwatches have performed in our tough tests, head over to our Samsung smartwatch reviews.