The NZ Herald had the opportunity to try out a pre-production sample of the new Samsung Galaxy Note9 "phablet" (phone + tablet) and it's an impressive device for power users with deep pockets who want the latest and greatest tech.
It inhabits the "super-premium" market segment Apple introduced with the iPhone X, which at $2099 (256 gigabyte storage) is still dearer than the top-spec 512GB Note9 which costs $1999 including GST, and $1699 for 128GB (iPhone X with 64GB is $1799).
Speaking of pricing, the $300 premium for the 512GB Note9 model also buys another 2GB of RAM for a total of 8GB; the 128GB storage Note9 has "only" 6GB of RAM.
Both the 128GB and 512GB Note9 have expandable storage using memory cards.
You can slot in a 512GB memory card for 1 terabyte smartphone storage bragging rights although microSDXC cards with that much space are expensive.
Also, it won't be as fast as the built-in storage.
Samsung seems to bet that the 128GB Note9 will be the volume seller, as only that model will come in three case colours (black, blue and copper, with different colour S Pens). You can have the 512GB Note9 in any colour you like, as long as it's black.
As you'd expect from a super-premium device, the Note9 is beautifully built with a curved 6.4-inch (measured diagonally) AMOLED screen with 1440 x 2960 pixel resolution.
This gives it a 18.5:9 ratio and a high 516 pixels per inch density. With high dynamic range (HDR10) capability, the Note9 screen is amazingly sharp with stunning colours and detail.
Get a case for the Note9 though. There is a one-year screen replacement guarantee which tells you that the big display is fragile, even though it's made out of Corning Gorilla Glass 5.
The dual 12 megapixel camera system is almost the same as on the Galaxy S9 Plus, with two physical apertures (f/1.5 and f/2.4) which means it's top notch with lots of features like super slo-mo mode, live focus, and 4K video at 60 frames per second (although setting it to that turns off tracking autofocus, video effects and stabilisation).
What's new on the Note9 is scene recognition, powered by an artificial intelligence chip that processes information on the device — no data leaves the phone over a network — and adjusts the photo settings accordingly.
So if you take a picture of food or people for instance, the Note9's AI will recognise that quite quickly and tweak the shot for you.
Samsung also oriented the rear camera system horizontally which puts the fingerprint sensor underneath and away from the lens, a much better position than on the Galaxy S9 Plus.
The new hardware is faster, better and smarter than the earlier Note 8 smartphone which is still very good. There are incremental improvements in the Note9 like the S Pen being able to do more thanks to a Bluetooth low-power connection.
On the Note9, the S Pen can act like a remote control for the camera (shutter and front/rear imager switching), flick Powerpoint slides and, of course, draw on the screen with not much lag.
It has 10 metres reach, 30 minutes battery life and recharges in 30 seconds — note (sorry) the battery is only needed for the Bluetooth feature and the S Pen can draw and write on the screen discharged.
There will be a development kit later this year for the S Pen, so that programmers can make use of the two buttons for their apps.
One big improvement is the 4000mAh battery, which is 700mAh more than the Note 8.
The battery seems to last a long time, more than a day, but as I'm using the Note9 with a lot to try it out, and it's a pre-production model, passing judgment on the stamina of the device is premature.
Samsung has beaten Big A and launched a dual charging pad for the Note9 and the Galaxy Watch. There's more to the Note9 than the device itself.
Samsung's finally catching up with Apple for device integration — the new Galaxy Watch works in tandem with the Note9.
Samsung's also building on the DeX extension capability that lets you hook up a monitor directly to the USB-C port on the Note9 (there's a new DeX dock with more ports) and wireless keyboards and mouse support.
With a bit of patience and planning you could replace a notebook and/or tablet with a Note9 — the hardware in the device is powerful enough.
Building up an integrated ecosystem of slick software and hardware that work together seamlessly is a must if Samsung wants to dethrone Apple in the premium device market, and keep Huawei at bay.
For now, if you want the best current Android smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy Note9 is that device, pricey as it is.