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Hands on with the Samsung Galaxy Note 9, Galaxy Watch and Tab S4

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[1].

Hands on with the Samsung Galaxy Note 9

As with the Galaxy Note 8[2], 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 watch 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? I’m not completely convinced – mainly because the price made me 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 GBP1,099, while a 512GB micro-SD card will cost an extra GBP300 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 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[3] 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[4] and the weird circular-but-also-square bezel of the Gear Sport[5] (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. Firstly, 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 watch has more under the surface than clockwork. It’s available in 46mm and 42mm 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 too big for my wrist, but it would be a stylish smartwatch for those that 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[6].

Hands on with the Galaxy Tab S4

It’s hard for any company to usurp the dominance of Apple but, in the last 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.

Samsung Dex

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 (GBP119 extra). The keyboard itself is excellent, with a responsive button press and most of the buttons in the right place.

I hate 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 onto 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 onto the screen.

At GBP599 for the tablet and S-Pen alone and GBP719 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 GBP200 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[7].

References

  1. ^ Galaxy Note 9 smartphone and Samsung Galaxy Watch (www.which.co.uk)
  2. ^ Galaxy Note 8 (www.which.co.uk)
  3. ^ Best Buy mobile phones (www.which.co.uk)
  4. ^ Gear S3 (www.which.co.uk)
  5. ^ Gear Sport (www.which.co.uk)
  6. ^ Best Buy smartwatches (www.which.co.uk)
  7. ^ Best Buy tablets (www.which.co.uk)

Samsung Galaxy Note 9 smartphone and Samsung Watch revealed

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[1] and S9+[2] 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[3], 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.

Mobile phone Best Buys[4] – browse all our highest scoring models

Samsung Galaxy Note 9GBP899 (128GB) / GBP1,099 (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[5], 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[6]) 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 GBP300[7]. Add that to the GBP1,099 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 speakers built into it, 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 like 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 10 feet 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 inchesDisplay resolution: 1440 x 2960 pixelsRear camera: Dual-12MpProcessor: 10nm 64-bit Octa-coreStorage: 128GB or 512GBRam: 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 Smartwatch 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 to it’s Gear S3[8] and Gear Sport[9] siblings.

Samsung Galaxy smartwatch 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.

Operating system

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.

Features

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 Smartwatch 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.

Battery life claims

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’ – 80 hours for the 46mm version, and 120 hours for the 42mm one. It’s difficult to see how four millimetres can have a day and half impact on battery life, but 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[10].

References

  1. ^ Galaxy S9 (www.which.co.uk)
  2. ^ S9+ (www.which.co.uk)
  3. ^ Gear Sport (www.which.co.uk)
  4. ^ Mobile phone Best Buys (www.which.co.uk)
  5. ^ Galaxy Note 8 (www.which.co.uk)
  6. ^ not naming any names (www.which.co.uk)
  7. ^ GBP300 (www.mymemory.co.uk)
  8. ^ Gear S3 (www.which.co.uk)
  9. ^ Gear Sport (www.which.co.uk)
  10. ^ Samsung smartwatch reviews (www.which.co.uk)

Samsung is partnering with Spotify across its devices

Samsung has announced that it’s entering a long-term partnership with Spotify, including support for the just-announced Galaxy Home smart speaker.

The partnership is described as one that will span all of Samsung’s devices from phones to TVs to speakers.

It seems like a deeper, more integrated version of the existing Spotify Connect feature that the company already offers for Samsung’s hardware.

Spotify is now part of the setup experience on Samsung devices, and Spotify and Samsung accounts will eventually be able to be linked for smart home integration with Samsung’s SmartThings app.

Spotify will also become the default music option for Bixby — when users ask Bixby for a song, Bixby look to Spotify, even if that person hasn’t actually used Spotify before.

Samsung and Spotify are also pointing out that this is merely the start of the partnership, with more functionality presumably planned for the future, too.

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