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Samsung's Galaxy Note 9 scores few points for novelty

Smartphone leader tries to hold high end as Chinese rivals gain in emerging markets

Samsung employees celebrate the launch of the new Galaxy Note 9.   © Reuters

SEOUL/NEW YORK -- The latest high-end phone unveiled by Samsung Electronics on Thursday drew a muted reaction from watchers who had been expecting a slew of new features to counter the impression that the world's top smartphone maker is in decline.

The Galaxy Note 9 does contain a number of hardware upgrades, notably a battery that holds 20% more power than its predecessor, allowing users to go an entire day without recharging, according to Samsung. The device also has a high-resolution 6.4-inch organic LED screen.

These improvements failed to make the phone stand out for some. One Frenchman who attended the launch event in Brooklyn, New York, saw a lack of wholly new features. The Wall Street Journal called the Note 9 "strikingly like its predecessor," although it did favorably mention the Bluetooth-enabled stylus.

The new model goes on sale Aug 24, but Samsung's flagship Galaxy 9 phone, released in March, has languished. Samsung's global shipments fell 10% on the year in the April-June quarter, data from IDC shows. Revenue in the IT and mobile communications segment dropped by twice as much during the three-month period, showing a loss of sales in high-end phones.

Meanwhile, Chinese rivals continue to cut into Samsung's lead, helped by their success in Indian and Southeast Asian markets that are experiencing double-digit growth. China's Xiaomi, the world's fourth-largest smartphone maker, pulled ahead of Samsung in India in the first quarter of this year.

In the second quarter, Huawei Technologies surpassed Apple to become the world's No. 2 smartphone company. If the Galaxy Note 9 ends up underperforming, Samsung stands a real risk of losing the crown to Huawei.

In contrast, prospects for Apple's high-end smartphones are looking up. Customers shelled out an average $724 per iPhone during the April-June quarter, besting analyst forecasts of $693.

Of the three new iPhone models expected out later this year, two will feature OLED screens, Apple watchers predict. The liquid-crystal-display model is expected to be priced below average for iPhones, suggesting that the company is targeting both the high and low ends of the mobile phone market.

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