Friday, 17 August 2018 13:05

Samsung Galaxy Note9 and Tab S4 first looks: impressive!


As the war between iOS and Android rages on more fiercely than ever before, Samsung still reigns supreme as the most well known Android maker, with its new Note9 and Tab S4 ready to strike back against all comers.

With Samsung proud to take every opportunity to remind the world it launched the large screen phone category with its first Note model with 5.3-inch screen in October 2011, you might be surprised to know that Dell announced its 5-inch "Dell Streak" in 2009, and launched it in 2010.

Dell even announced a 7-inch Streak at CES in 2011, but then discontinued both models later in 2011 in what was clearly a dumb decision given how popular Samsung made the Note category, but where Dell dismilly failed, Samsung succeeded, with Samsung's other big differentiator not just the screen-size, but the advanced stylus that has made the Note so notable, and which no-one else has yet seen fit to properly implement in a smartphone.

Apple does have its buttonless Pencil, which rumourmongers are suggesting might work with this year's 2018 iPhone models at long last, but unless Apple includes a button or two in any future Pencil 2.0, and despite the fact Microsoft Surface devices have a button, Samsung's pencil with new remote control feature on a smartphone is arguably the most advanced portable device stylus available. 

But it's not just the enhanced S-Pen that Samsung has added to the Galaxy Note9, but built-in DeX support with just a USB-C to HDMI cable, up to 512GB storage with the ability to add up to 512GB more, dual-SIM support for the first time in official Australian Note models, 6GB or 8GB of RAM depending on whether you get the 128GB or 512GB model, improved camera software and more.

For existing Note users who have been waiting for this new model, as well as users of other Samsungs or Androids that want Samsung's best 2018 model, or even Apple users who, for whatever reasons, want to dabble on the Android side of the force, the Note9 is arguably the best Android out there, no matter what Google launches with the Pixel 3 series.

The major benefit of the Pixel 3 might simply be the fact it has Android OS 9 Pie, but Samsung generally releases Android OS updates around 6 months later, from memory, so the Note9 will get Android9 and its new gesture-based OS, too.

There's also the new Samsung Galaxy Tab S4, which likewise has a built-in DeX mode that, when connected to a keyboard, gives it DeX's Windows 10 desktop-like UI directly on the Tab S4's screen, not requiring display to an external monitor, with multiple resizable windows, full screen apps for those that support that mode, the ability to use a mouse, run multiple regular Android apps and more.

Indeed, Samsung has determinedly stuck to its guns with Android tablets, unlike Google itself that can't seem to make an Android tablet to save itself or keep on sale, Samsung has pressed on year after year with improved models that put Google to shame, and which do their best to fight back against the mighty iPad juggernaut replete with hundreds of thousands of iPad specific apps taking full advantage of the large iPad screen canvas, unlike the vast majority of Android apps.

That said, there are a range of DeX optimised apps too, a much smaller selection than with iPad apps, but now that DeX is so much widely available, many more will hopefully be going soon, as Android developers get the larger DeX canvas to play with.

I've only had a chance to have a first look at these devices at a Samsung event earlier this week, so this isn't yet a review, but a first look article.

I'm overseas at a conference and then visiting relatives, and will be back in town on Wednesday 22, whereupon I'll have the chance to play with a 6GB RAM, 128GB storage Note9 that arrived the day after I got on a plane for a much closer look.

However, I did have a play with the Note9 and Samsung Tab S4 at Samsung's preview event earlier this week, and on first impressions, both devices are impressive, with the Note9 looking very similar to the Note8 yet with differences, with the Tab S4 looking thoroughly modern and ready for action.

Compared to the Note8, the Note9 It is slightly narrower, which should make it nicer to hold in your hand, and the screen is slightly larger at 6.4-inches.

Performance was fast and smooth, and even when it ends up with gigabytes of data and apps installed, it should remain fast and smooth, as it has a Qualcomm 845 processor, but users will be sure to report on that in the months ahead.

The S-Pen remote control was fantastic. You can program the pen to open up whichever app you want, you do a click, double click and a long press. You can use the button to start and stop videos, activate the camera to take photos, move slides forward and back. It's such a simple yet useful thing, and you almost have to wonder why Samsung didn't think of doing it sooner.

Samsung is also encouraging developers to support the new remote control capabilities of the stylus, so hopefully, developers do just that.

The cameras offer an AI feature that lets you know, on the spot, whether the software thinks someone blinked, or the image is blurry, and you can definitely see this being a useful feature to have and use.

The issue of AI also being implemented to take better photos of situations it recognises is also included, something we've seen on other phones but is now in Samsung's camera software, too.

Along with the improved camera software comes some improvements with Samsung's animated AR Emoji software - you can now edit some elements of the animated emojis after you've created them, which you couldn't do before, and there are some new panoramic backgrounds you can apply, including one that represents a "galaxy".

I look forward to using the new DeX mode with single USC-C to HDMI cable, which is a great improvement and should see DeX usage explode massively, while also encouraging app developers to make their apps optimised for the DeX experience.

Regarding Note9 sales, the world also awaits to see what developments Apple offers with its 2018 iPhone models, which will have an impact on the sales of all competitors, but that hasn't stopped Australians from pre-ordering the Note9 in huge numbers, or at least, according to Samsung executives during the preview launch for local media.

Given Samsung's pre-launch offer of the 512GB model for the price of the 128GB model, it's no surprise to see people take advantage of the deal.

Samsung is also launching a 512GB microSD card to augment the Note9, and while there's no word yet on what this will cost, if will presumably be a few hundred dollars, although smaller card sizes are already widely available.

Then there's the Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 as described above.

When you connect a keyboard, or the keyboard cover from Samsung, the interface turns into a Windows 10-style desktop. This means full screen access to various apps, multiple windows for Android phone apps, re-sizeable windows for apps that support it, as well as mouse support, turning your S4 into a notebook environment.

It's an excellent addition that transforms the typical Android tablet into a much more traditional experience - and it's easy to switch between the two modes as required when the keyboard is connected via bluetooth or directly to the contacts.

The only thing is that there are only a few dozen apps with official optimised DeX support for full screen usage, but surely developers will get on board here to make their apps shine on what is the best Android tablet available.

As for mouse support, I wish Apple would allow mouse or trackpad usage with the iPad Pro, simply to make text selection easier in word processing apps, so a finger or Pencil did not need to be applied to the screen - sometimes keeping your hands on the keyboard when it text-based content creation mode is just plain easier, and at least with the Tab S4 you get the option of fingertip, stylus or mouse control, meaning it is up to you the way you best want to interact, even if you are effortless changing interaction modes as often as you want.

That then said, it is a shame there is no trackpad with the official Tab S4 keyboard cover, as is the case with the very nice Windows-powered Samsung Galaxy Book, but the limitations of keyboard cover size with the Tab S4 obviously get in the way.

I'll have more on both devices in future articles, but in short, they are Samsung's best devices yet, and augment the Samsung ecosystem into the best one available in the world of Android.

Whether any or all of that is enough for you to jump into Samsung side of the force, or continue with Samsung devices, is only something you can answer for yourself, but they are certainly impressive upon first impression.

If you want to know more, Engadget already has its Note9 review up, which you can read here

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.



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