Samsung’s Galaxy Note line has had a rough few years. The Galaxy Note 5 was largely panned for its lack of a microSD card expansion and waterproofing. There was no Galaxy Note 6 but the Galaxy Note 7 that launched in its stead was the worst disaster in Samsung’s mobile history. And while the Galaxy Note 8 successfully redeemed the line’s image and regained consumer trust, it also raised the question of whether Samsung still has what it takes to get through the next few years. With low sales numbers for the Galaxy S9 and S9+, the Galaxy Note 9 already has a lot on its shoulders even before it debuts. We take a quick tour of the new phablet to see if it is indeed able to meet such large expectations.

Design

Design-wise, it will be hard to quickly pick the Galaxy Note 9 from a lineup composed of the Galaxy S8+, the Galaxy Note 8, and the Galaxy S9+. At least not until you turn it over or give those mighty thin bezels a closer look. In almost the exact same size as its predecessor, Samsung has managed to squeeze in a 6.4-inch screen, versus the Galaxy Note 8’s 6.3 inches, albeit with the exact same resolution.

The most noticeable changes, ironically, are on the side that the user will rarely see but others will always see. While the dual cameras are still horizontal, the fingerprint scanner is thankfully now below it. More eye-catching, however, will be the colors that Samsung is finally making available in the US: Lavander Purple and Ocean Blue. No Black or Silver this time. Apparently, you can’t have it all.

Specs

Inside, however, the Galaxy Note 9 widens the gap not only with last year’s flagships but even with its closest cousin, the Galaxy S9+ from earlier this year. Sure, they have the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 or equivalent Exynos processor and even the same dual 12 megapixel cameras, with one of them sporting dual apertures of f/1.5 and f/2.4. That’s where the similarities end, though.

When it comes to memory, the Galaxy Note 9 starts big, with 6 GB of RAM paired with 128 GB of internal storage. But, for the first time, Samsung has also made the jump to 8 GB of RAM, with not 256 but 512 GB of storage. With a 512 microSD card, you can practically have 1 TB of storage inside. Another big jump is something Galaxy users have been dying to have: more battery. But given the smartphone line’s history, the 4,000 mAh battery might be looked on with some suspicion and fear.

Samsung promises none of that hot stuff from 2016, however. To that end, Samsung is advertising a “water carbon cooling system” that improves the Galaxy Note 8’s non-carbon water cooling system. It also has a thermal spreader thrice as big. The goal isn’t just to keep things cool for gaming, though, but even for more productive tasks, like photo and video editing or, as we’ll see later, Samsung DeX.

S Pen

Galaxy Note 8 owners probably won’t be so jealous with those upgrades. If they will be jealous of this year’s model, it might be for the very two reasons that set the Galaxy Note apart: the S Pen and DeX. And no, we don’t mean the color-matched S Pens, though that may be a plus for some would-be users. Curiously, Samsung decided to pair the Ocean Blue with a contrasting yellow stylus. Even more curiously, the stylus color will determine the color of the ink on the Screen Off Memo.

No, the real feature here will be that much-rumored Bluetooth connection. You can press and hold the S Pen button (the one on the body, not the clicker on the top) to launch an app of your choosing. Once inside an app, that button can be set to different actions. On the camera, a double press switches between main and selfie cameras while a single press takes the shot. On the default Samsung Music player, it can control playback. Samsung will provide an SDK to let app developers add the feature on their own, which probably guarantees very few will.

And don’t worry about looking strange while charging the S Pen. Just put it inside and let the supercapacitor do its job. For just 40 seconds of charge, you’ll be good for 200 clicks or 30 minutes, whichever comes first. And even if the pen’s battery is completely drained, it will still function normally as an S Pen. Unlike some other digital stylus out there.

Samsung DeX

The other feature that could make Galaxy Note 8 and even Galaxy S9 users potentially jealous is the new DeX mode. That is, presuming you actually use DeX mode regularly. No need for bulky docks, just use a USB-C to HDMI cable to connect it to a monitor and you’re good to go. The secret sauce here isn’t some new connection or plug, any USB-C to HDMI cable or dongle will do. The magic is in the new cooling system that removes the need for a fan, which is really the only thing that’s special about the DeX docks (other than the extra slots they give you, of course).

DeX also offers a new mode that may or may not come to existing supported devices. Once plugged in, you can get a dual-screen display, allowing you to interact with the Galaxy Note 9 and its Android apps normally. Now we know why the Galaxy Tab S4’s DeX behaves that way with an external monitor.

Wrap-up

All these new features and hardware doesn’t come cheap, of course. But by now you may have probably heard the rumors and should no longer be surprised. At full price, the Galaxy Note 9 with 128 GB of storage starts at a whopping $999.99 while the 512 GB configuration will make you $1,249.99 poorer. That 512 GB model will have limited availability through AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, US Cellular, and Samsung. You will be able to find the 128 GB Galaxy Note 9 more easily from carriers, including Sprint and Comcast Xfinity, as well as retailers like Amazon, Best Buy, Costco, Sam’s Club, Target, and Walmart, just to name a few.

All things considered, the Galaxy Note 9 looks like it will be a difficult sell. The upgrades are indeed significant but, unless you’re coming from a 2016 or earlier Samsung Galaxy phone, parting with $1,000 isn’t going to be an easy decision. Even hardcore DeX users will find it hard to justify an upgrade unless they find a good trade-in deal or promo. The Galaxy Note 9 definitely checks all the right boxes, except for the price perhaps, but it still remains to be seen if Samsung’s strategy of small but important refinements will succeed this time around.

Pre-orders start August 10, alongside the Fast Wireless Duo Charger, and sales start on August 24. Early birds can grab a free AKG noise-canceling headphones ($299 value) or a Fortnite Galaxy Skin with 15,000 V-bucks ($150 value). Want both? It won’t be free but you can pay $99 more for that deal.