Samsung is the world’s largest smartphone manufacturer, and the Samsung Galaxy S series is the most successful Android smartphone brand.
The Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus are poised to be the best-selling Android smartphones of the year, and critics (including here at Android Authority) love the devices. However, even with these amazing statistics behind Samsung, there’s no question that 2018 has been a weaker year for the company.
Even with the popularity of the Samsung Galaxy S9, sales so far are lower than for the Samsung Galaxy S8 – and the sales for that device were lower than sales for the Samsung Galaxy S7. Samsung even admitted in its recent earnings report that it purposely pushed up the release date of the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 to compensate for this issue.
With all that in mind, one thing becomes perfectly clear: Samsung is betting big on the Galaxy Note 9, and its success (or lack thereof) will have a profound effect on Samsung’s future smartphone strategy.
Now that we know all there is to know about the Samsung Galaxy Note 9, I’m going to go ahead and make a prediction: the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 isn’t going to be sales hit that Samsung is banking on.
More of the same
The chief criticism in the otherwise-stellar reviews of the Samsung Galaxy S9 is that it is a virtual clone of the Galaxy S8. Samsung upgraded the processor to the latest-and-greatest Snapdragon 845, beefed up the cameras, and added some useless-but-fun AR Emoji. But these updates were hardly enough reasons for users to upgrade, which is reflected by the weak sales.
The Galaxy S9’s most notable change over the S8 is that Samsung moved the rear fingerprint sensor to be below the camera rather than to the side, which is a welcome change. But honestly, that’s just Samsung fixing a mistake it previously made, not adding a new feature.
Look, I’m not trying to knock the Galaxy S9 down – it’s a phenomenal phone. But it’s much more like a Samsung Galaxy S8.1 than it is a full jump to a new model number.
Now, with the launch of the Samsung Galaxy Note 9, we have the same problem: the Note 9 is really a Note 8.1. It has incredibly similar specs with a few unsexy upgrades, the fingerprint sensor has been moved, and the S Pen got some new functionality. Overall though, there’s no X factor.
Follow along with me here: Samsung is having a poor 2018 and a major part of that is the relatively low sales of the S9, which was just an S8.1. Now Samsung is going to repeat the same strategy for the Note line – and what does it expect? Different results?
The Note 9 vs the Note 8
Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 specs and the Note 8 specs from last year:
|Samsung Galaxy Note 9||Samsung Galaxy Note 8|
|Display||6.4-inch Super AMOLED display|
2,960 x 1,440
18.5:9 screen ratio
|6.3-inch Quad HD+ Super AMOLED Infinity|
2960 x 1440 resolution
18.5:9 aspect ratio
|SoC||Global: 10 nm, 64-bit, octa-core Samsung Exynos 9810 (2.8GHz quad + 1.7GHz quad)|
U.S.: 10nm, 64-bit, octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 845
|Global: 64-bit octa-core (2.3 GHz Quad + 1.7 GHz Quad) Samsung Exynos 8895, 10 nm processor|
US: 64-bit octa-core (2.35 GHz Quad + 1.9 GHz Quad) Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, 10 nm processor
|RAM||6GB RAM (128GB model)|
8GB RAM (512GB model)
microSD expansion up to 512GB
microSD expansion up to 256 GB
|Cameras||Rear: Dual camera with dual OIS|
Wide-angle: Super Speed Dual Pixel 12 MP AF sensor with OIS, f/1.5 and f/2.4 apertures
Telephoto: 12 MP AF sensor, f/2.4 aperture
Front: 8 MP AF sensor, f/1.7 aperture
|Rear: Dual camera with dual OIS|
Wide-angle: 12 MP wide-angle AF Dual Pixel sensor with ƒ/1.7 aperture
Telephoto: 12 MP AF sensor with ƒ/2.4 aperture
Front: 8 MP AF sensor with ƒ/1.7 aperture
|IP rating||IP68 dust and water resistance||IP68 dust and water resistance|
|Dimensions||161.9 x76.4 x 8.8mm|
|162.5 x 74.8 x 8.6mm|
|Software||Android 8.1 Oreo with Samsung Experience||Android 7.1.1 Nougat (Updated to Android 8.1 Oreo) with Samsung Experience|
I don’t know about you, but I don’t see a whole lot of differences there. The battery, chipset, and storage upgrades are certainly nice but if you were to just look at the devices you’d think they were identical.
Yes, Samsung gave us some upgrades that aren’t just specs. The S Pen’s new Bluetooth functionality is really cool, and the new tricks it can do makes the Note 9 a powerhouse, especially for business people who give lots of presentations and take a lot of notes.
But for the average smartphone consumer, the Note 9 isn’t anything they haven’t seen before. In fact, the last time they saw it was this year in March when Samsung launched the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus, which is pretty much a Note 9 that’s a little smaller and without a stylus. And the average consumer also saw a similar device with the Galaxy Note 8, which is officially a year old.
I guess there was one other notable change: the price. The Galaxy Note 9 base model — with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage — costs $1,000. The upgraded version with 8GB of RAM and 512GB of storage is a whopping $1,250. That is hundreds of dollars more than the Note 8, which launched with one version at $930.
So not only is Samsung offering little in the way of upgrades to the device, it’s asking for more money. The average consumer will balk.
The average consumer isn’t me
The Galaxy Note 9 doesn’t thrill me at all, but I’m a technology journalist writing for a website that exclusively focuses on Android. For the bulk of my waking hours each day, I am reading about Android, viewing videos about Android, writing about Android, and using my Android phone.
With that in mind, it makes sense that there’s nothing that truly thrills me about the Galaxy Note 9, as I am not the target audience for the device. The target audience — at least as far as I can tell — is wealthy business people who want an ultra-premium smartphone experience for their day-to-day business lives. That’s not me.
I might now be a part of the target audience for this phone, but part of my job is knowing a bit about the target audience.
But just because I’m not the target audience doesn’t mean I can’t predict how consumers will react to a given feature of a smartphone. And the truth is that I don’t see anything in the Galaxy Note 9 that would make the average smartphone consumer perk up with interest and say, “Now that’s cool, and I’ve gotta have that,” and then spend over $1,000 on it.
Even Samsung’s marketing material leading up to the launch of the Note 9 focused on generic things like long battery life, extra storage, fast speeds, etc. It’s a bad sign when even Samsung’s marketing team can’t think of a way to truly differentiate the Note 9 from any other phone on the market (even its own).
2019 is going to be Samsung’s year
Writing this article out makes me worry that people are going to come away thinking I hate Samsung. I don’t. If someone handed me a Galaxy Note 9, I’d be so happy and would probably use it as my daily driver. It’s a gorgeous phone with killer specs and its flagship status means Sammy will support it for a long while.
Regardless, 2018 is shaping up to be a weak year for Samsung due to its lack of innovation and its stale releases that all lack that “wow” factor. The Galaxy Note 9 — I’m predicting — will fail to sell as much as the Note 8 and won’t be the boon Samsung hopes for.
But I’m going to also make another prediction: 2019 is going to be the year that Samsung gets its groove back.
This year is going to be a hiccup in Samsung's history, and 2019 is going to be a return-to-form for the brand.
This year, smaller companies like Oppo and Vivo released innovative, genuinely exciting products with in-display fingerprint sensors, pop-up selfie cams, and truly all-screen displays. But the products all feel half-baked and the devices each lack that certain je ne sais crois that only a company like Samsung can truly develop.
Now that Oppo and Vivo (and others) have paved the way, Samsung can adopt those technologies and create some truly amazing smartphones. That means the Galaxy S10 and/or the Galaxy Note 10 are going to be game-changers for the industry, and Samsung will be back on top.
Some of you might say, “Well why will anyone care next year if this technology is already out there right now?” Once again, you have to remember the average consumer. The average smartphone buyer isn’t visiting sites like Android Authority and drooling over the Vivo Nex and wondering when they can get their hands on it. The average consumer in America doesn’t even know Vivo (let alone the Vivo Nex) exists!
Next year, the features we’re seeing on innovative products right now will still be all-new to the average person when Samsung starts incorporating them into its devices. That’s when people will once again look at a new Samsung device and say, “Now that’s cool, and I’ve gotta have that.”
I’ll check back with this article next year and see if my predictions hold up.
More Samsung Galaxy Note 9 coverage
We have more Note 9 stories for you to check out: