The stakes are high for Samsung's rollout of the Note 8, after the previous model’s exploding battery fiasco last year.
“None of us will ever forget what happened last year,” Samsung Mobile chief executive DJ Koh told a New York audience today at the phone’s unveiling.
Like the Note 7, which was scrapped and cost the South Korean company an estimated US$6 billion, the new smartphone sports a big screen and advanced features to make it a more versatile device compared with Samsung’s main Galaxy S8 flagship product. Like its predecessors, it includes a stylus.
By keeping the same brand name, Samsung is making clear that the Note 8 is an iterative (and better) device, and signals that it thinks it’s fixed the problems with the previous version.
While the Note doesn’t command as wide an appeal as the Galaxy S line, both are premium devices in Samsung’s efforts against Apple in the battle for global smartphone supremacy, ahead of the release of three new iPhone models in September.
The most significant change in the Note 8 – which will be released in Australia on September 22 at A$1,499 in either Midnight Black or Maple Gold – is a larger display that curves at the edges like the S8.
The 6.3-inch AMOLED screen, a variant of the organic light-emitting diode display used on many recent high-end smartphones, is noticeably bigger than the Note 7’s 5.7-inch touchscreen and slightly larger than the Galaxy S8+’s 6.2-inch display.
Although many phone makers are working on ways to get a fingerprint scanner built into the display, the Note 8 – like many other models – will have one in the back.
The longer screen on the new phone lets users view more content, such as text messages and emails, without having to scroll, Samsung said in a demonstration.
The Note 8 also has new features for the stylus: users can write notes without unlocking the device, draw animated pictures that can be shared with contacts and words can be highlighted to be translated into different languages.
The bigger screen also lets users swipe from the display’s edge to launch two paired apps at a time in a split view.
The new smartphone from Samsung will also feature an upgraded camera system that sports two lenses on the back for the first time. Like the iPhone 7 Plus, the advanced optics let users take pictures that can determine depth so that the background behind a person’s profile can appear blurred.
The Note 8 will also support Gigabit LTE, a faster networking technology for browsing the web and downloading content, which the next iPhone won’t have, Bloomberg News has reported.
In an effort to reassure customers who may have lost trust in Samsung devices because of the Note 7 fiasco, Samsung said it worked with Underwriters Laboratories, a safety certification firm, to validate the Note 8’s reliability.
The new smartphone will sport a battery of 3300 mAh, slightly smaller than the Note 7’s power pack. Samsung also released a re-purposed version of the Note 7 called the Note FE last month with a smaller battery.
“I know lots of loyal Note series customers, they were so disappointed,” Koh said in an interview in June. “Disappointment is deeper, the expectation is higher, so I must meet their demand and their expectation through the Note 8.”
The company also posted information about a new smartwatch online. Called the Gear Fit 2 Pro, it will be water-resistant and capable of tracking swimmers, two features that became available on the Apple Watch in 2016.
Apple plans to debut a new version of its watch later this year that adds support for LTE wireless networks, Bloomberg News has reported. In an interview with CNBC, Koh confirmed the company is also working on a smart speaker to take on Amazon’s Echo and Apple’s upcoming HomePod, but he didn’t disclose details or timing.