Sam­sung can fix the Galaxy Note 9’s big­gest prob­lem

IT RE­ALLY NEEDS A PIECE OF PIE.

PCWorld (USA) - - Contents - BY MICHAEL SI­MON

Sam­sung passed up a golden op­por­tu­nity with the Galaxy Note 9 ( go. pc­world.com/gn9). Just days be­fore the Note 9 shipped, Google of­fi­cially launched An­droid 9 Pie ( go.pc­world.com/a9p), bring­ing a brand­new way to nav­i­gate, smarter no­ti­fi­ca­tions, and in­door map­ping with Wi-fi RTT. The world’s most dom­i­nant mo­bile plat­form rein­vented it­self to stay ahead of the ever-chang­ing smart­phone land­scape.

But you wouldn’t know it by look­ing at the Note 9. Sam­sung launched its new $1,000 phone with An­droid Oreo 8.1, an OS that’s tech­ni­cally newer but nearly in­dis­tin­guish­able from the one that’s run­ning on the Galaxy S9 ( go.pc­world.com/gs9). And in­stead of mak­ing a state­ment to the An­droid com­mu­nity that it will not only make the best hard­ware but pair it with the best soft­ware, Sam­sung con­tin­ued to treat An­droid as a nec­es­sary bur­den stand­ing in the way of its vi­sion.

In­stead of giv­ing would-be Note 9 buy­ers the best of both worlds—the high­est-end hard­ware with the fresh­est soft­ware—sam­sung’s lat­est hand­set runs the same ver­sion of An­droid that Pixel users down­loaded more than eight months ago. Mind you, this is noth­ing new for any­one who’s used a Sam­sung phone, but it could have been dif­fer­ent with the Note 9. And cus­tomers might fi­nally be start­ing to no­tice.

SPECS AND PER­FOR­MANCE AREN’T THE SAME

I’ve been us­ing the Galaxy Note 9 for a few days now and there’s a lot to like about it, es­pe­cially if you’re a power user. But while the Snap­dragon 845 pro­ces­sor,

4,000mah bat­tery, and 128GB of stor­age are all best in class, the OS feels like a step be­hind. It’s not just that it’s miss­ing smart lit­tle fea­tures like man­ual ori­en­ta­tion lock and proper vol­ume con­trols, it’s that the

Note 9 feels like a phone that could have re­leased a year ago.

That’s be­cause Pie is the most sig­nif­i­cant An­droid up­date in years. Users might not have no­ticed or cared if the Note 8 shipped with the Nougat-based Sam­sung Ex­pe­ri­ence, but Pie’s ges­ture nav­i­ga­tion is some­thing of a game-changer for An­droid. Ges­tures on Pie don’t just change the way we nav­i­gate—they’re a fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent way to in­ter­act with our phones that’s both fresh and fa­mil­iar. It’s why Es­sen­tial worked to push out its own Pie up­date just hours af­ter Google did, and why sev­eral other be­tas are al­ready in the wild.

And there’s no ex­cuse for the Galaxy Note 9 to not be among them. If Sam­sung ex­pects its cus­tomers to spend $1,250 to get the top-of-the-line Note, it should at least make a vow to sup­port An­droid 9 by the end of the year. Based on the fact that Sam­sung hadn’t re­leased any be­tas yet, and hasn’t com­mit­ted to even a vague time­line, Pie likely won’t land on the Note 9 un­til next spring, at which time its thou­sand-dol­lar specs are al­most sure to be out­dated. So even if you buy one right now ( go.pc­world.com/orn), you’re still not guar­an­teed to get the best pos­si­ble An­droid ex­pe­ri­ence.

HOW LONG WILL PIE TAKE TO BAKE?

With Project Treble, the Pixel phones, and a re­newed fo­cus on re­ward­ing man­u­fac­tur­ers who keep pace with Google’s up­grade sched­ule, there are signs that An­droid’s frag­mented land­scape is be­gin­ning to co­a­lesce into some­thing akin to uni­for­mity. Es­sen­tial ac­tu­ally beat some Pixel phones with its day-one Pie up­date, and sev­eral phones will likely have the fi­nal ver­sion of An­droid 9 be­fore the Pixel 3 ships in the fall.

But Sam­sung is still play­ing the same old game. For ev­ery­thing I love about the Note 9, a lot of its great­ness—the screen, the speed, the bat­tery—fades away while I’m us­ing it. I can’t help but imag­ine how in­cred­i­ble An­droid Pie’s ges­tures and no­ti­fi­ca­tion up­grades would have been on a phone this size, giv­ing the up­com­ing Pixel 3 a real run for its money. In­stead, Sam­sung is be­ing its old stub­born self and the Note 9 suf­fers as a re­sult. The vir­tual home but­ton, flipped nav­i­ga­tion bar, and ver­ti­cal Over­view screen are no­tice­ably stale and con­found­ing in a post-pie world, and it’s hard for Sam­sung to se­ri­ously com­pare the Note 9 to the iphone X ( go.pc­world.com/px) when it’s still run­ning last year’s OS.

The bot­tom line is Sam­sung cares far more about its own ecosys­tem than any­thing Google is do­ing, and An­droid up­dates are only re­leased when Sam­sung can prop­erly in­cor­po­rate them into their own skin. The Sam­sung Ex­pe­ri­ence (as it’s called now) may use Google’s code as a start­ing point, but com­pared to the Pixel

If Sam­sung ex­pects its cus­tomers to spend $1,250 to get the top-ofthe-line Note, it should at least make a vow to sup­port An­droid 9 by the end of the year.

or the One­plus 6, the Galaxy Note 9 is ba­si­cally an An­droid phone in name only. And as more and more phone mak­ers start to lever­age timely up­dates as an ad­van­tage in a crowded, com­pet­i­tive field, Sam­sung may need to start re­con­sid­er­ing its phi­los­o­phy.

A TASTE OF PIE

Sam­sung has made no se­cret that it sees Ap­ple as its big­gest com­peti­tor, as it works to build out a sim­i­lar ecosys­tem with phones, wear­ables ( go.pc­world.com/wea), apps, and, com­ing soon, a home speaker ( go. pc­world.com/hsp). But while the Note 9’s chips and mem­ory will no doubt hold its own against the ru­mored 6.5-inch OLED iphone re­leas­ing in the fall, it will fall spec­tac­u­larly short when it comes to the OS.

If Sam­sung wants to truly com­pete with Ap­ple, it needs to care more about its soft­ware. We al­ready know the new iphone will ship with IOS 12 and Sam­sung could have made the same prom­ise with the

Note 9. Oreo stands out like a sore thumb on such a high-end phone, and in all like­li­hood, the Note 9 won’t get Pie un­til af­ter the Galaxy S10, more than six months from now. Even with­out a full ver­sion of

Pie, Sam­sung could have made ges­ture nav­i­ga­tion one of the Note 9’s premier fea­tures, but it showed that it cares more about the ho­mo­gene­ity of its own Ex­pe­ri­ence than its users.

With skinny bezels and a notch, it’s a per­fect fit for Pie, and the bat­tery, nav­i­ga­tion, and no­ti­fi­ca­tion im­prove­ments all make it seem like more mod­ern and cut­ting-edge than it did run­ning Nougat and Oreo.

On specs alone, the Galaxy Note 9 is ev­ery bit wor­thy of its $1,000 price tag, with a com­bi­na­tion of power and per­for­mance the likes of which you won’t find on another An­droid phone. But I’m still torn on a buy­ing rec­om­men­da­tion. For one, the Pixel 3 is right around the cor­ner, and while ru­mors sug­gest it won’t be nearly as good-look­ing as the Note 9, Google’s new phone will still likely be the best An­droid phone you can buy. And that’s be­cause of Pie.

When I in­stalled An­droid 9 on my Es­sen­tial Phone, the dif­fer­ence was huge. With skinny bezels and a notch, it’s a per­fect fit for Pie, and the bat­tery, nav­i­ga­tion, and no­ti­fi­ca­tion im­prove­ments all make it seem like more mod­ern and cut­ting-edge than it did run­ning Nougat and Oreo. The Es­sen­tial Phone has al­ways been a stun­ning hand­set to look at, but with Pie it’s no­tice­ably bet­ter to use now too.

Sam­sung could have done the same thing with the Note 9. In­stead what should have been a great phone is just re­ally good.

The Galaxy Note 9 has great specs, but its OS falls short.

The Note 9 is one of the best-look­ing An­droid phones, but its soft­ware isn’t pretty.

The new Over­view screen is en­hanced by the Es­sen­tial Phone’s thin-bezel de­sign.

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