The original Samsung Galaxy Note marked a major moment for the company and the industry. The device delivered a 5.3-inch display, which was a massive jump in size over competition like the iPhone 4S (released the same year), which only had a tiny 3.5-inch display.
With the addition of a resurrected stylus pen (the S-Pen), the Galaxy Note line was a phablet powerhouse that went unmatched for a long time. Sure, LG’s V-series came close, but it’s never really attained a similar level of success.
Samsung has continued to deliver with the Galaxy Note and main S series, offering features like curved displays, IP68 water resistance, and wireless charging. However, that momentum arguably slowed down this year with slow Galaxy S9 sales. This puts Samsung in a tough situation, as it seeks to continue launching innovative and polished phones.
In its quest for inspiration, it seems the company’s finally decided to take a peek at its closest competition, Huawei.
Don’t miss: Samsung Galaxy Note 9 review
A new contender for monster flagship phablet?
Huawei has been making inroads into the phablet space over the years, starting with the original Ascend Mate back in 2013. Featuring an underwhelming quad-core Cortex-A9 processor and 2GB of RAM, the phablet was far from powerful. However, the device stood out from Samsung’s Note series by upping the screen size to six inches (albeit at 720p) and delivering a massive 4,050mAh battery.
The Ascend Mate 2 delivered more of the same with a budget-focused Snapdragon 400 chipset and 2GB of RAM, retaining the same screen and battery size.
The Ascend Mate 7 arguably put the company on the map. Offering a big.LITTLE octa-core chipset, 3GB of RAM, a 4,100mAh battery, and a 6-inch Full HD screen, it was a flagship-level product in many ways. Its rear fingerprint scanner — a rarity then — also helped it stand out. Unlike that year’s Galaxy S5, it was a simple touch-based scanner instead of a swipe.
Huawei’s Mate series has been a phablet powerhouse ever since. Last year’s Mate 10 Pro carried the latest internals, a dedicated AI chip, top-flight cameras, and some intriguing AI-related features. It even took home the Android Authority Phone of the Year award. Based on the Note 9, it seems like Samsung finally thinks Huawei’s wares are worth a look.
Huawei-inspired features on Note 9?
Perhaps the most obvious example of Samsung taking cues from Huawei lies in the Galaxy Note 9’s AI-powered scene recognition. First seen on the Mate 10 Pro, Huawei’s solution quickly identified scenes (cats, sunsets, landscapes) and adjusted settings like exposure and saturation accordingly.
Samsung’s take on smarter scene recognition works pretty much identically, identifying roughly 20 scenes and tweaking settings to produce better results. Samsung’s collection of scenes is similar to Huawei’s identifiable scenes, too.
The Galaxy Note 9 can identify food, portraits, flowers, indoor scenes, animals, landscapes, greenery, trees, sky, mountains, beaches, sunrises and sunsets, watersides, street scenes, night scenes, waterfalls, snow, birds, backlit scenes, and text.
Huawei’s feature has settings for cat, food, group, natural colors, close-up, night shot, text, greenery, portrait, dog, fireworks, blue sky, flowers, stage, document, sunset, snow, waterfall, and beach.
The two phones share scenes like beaches, waterfalls, animals (although Huawei distinguishes between cat and dog), snow, text and documents, food, and flowers and greenery. Each phone also has an exclusive scene or two, like Huawei’s fireworks and Samsung’s mountains.
More evidence for Huawei’s influence
The other big example of Samsung looking to Huawei is in the performance department. Samsung adopted AI-powered system management for the Galaxy Note 9. First seen in EMUI 5 back in 2016, Huawei used on-device machine learning to improve system performance over time.
Samsung hasn’t made a huge song and dance about this feature, save for saying they’re using an “on-device, AI-based” algorithm for better performance in a press release. Time will tell whether this results in a smoother experience months and years down the line. Regardless, Huawei did it first, and now Samsung’s playing catch-up.
The Galaxy Note series has been overdue for a battery upgrade, especially compared to Huawei’s Mate range, which has always had a 4,000mAh to 4,100mAh battery (bar the Mate S). It’s nevertheless still interesting to see Samsung adopt a 4,000mAh battery in the Galaxy Note 9 too. Sure, 4,000mAh is a nice round number, and it makes sense for Samsung to target this figure. However, this could also be more evidence of the Korean firm taking a good look at its rival’s unique selling points and adopting them.
With the Galaxy Note 9’s release, it feels like Samsung engineers dissected a few Mate phones while developing the device. Who knows, with murmurings of a triple-camera setup for a Galaxy S10 variant, maybe the engineers bought a few P20 Pro devices as well.
Samsung’s adopted features first found in Huawei phones before. The Live Focus feature on Samsung phones is similar to Huawei’s wide aperture mode, allowing users to adjust the level of blur. The Huawei Mate S’s fingerprint gesture (slide down to activate the notification shade) has also been adopted by Samsung (and even by Google’s Pixel range). Then there’s the app twin feature in 2016’s EMUI 5.0 (popularized by Huawei and Xiaomi), which has since appeared in Samsung as the dual messenger function.
Despite all this, the Galaxy Note 9 feels a bit different. It seems like a more concerted effort to follow Huawei, rather than the Korean company traveling on its own path, picking up the odd idea here and there along the way.
What’s next for Huawei and Samsung?
The rivalry between the two brands is far from over, especially as Huawei gears up to reveal its Mate 20 series. Huawei undoubtedly hopes the new phablet range will help cement its position as the number two smartphone manufacturer in the world. It’s extremely likely the series will offer a new Kirin 980 chipset, which will probably be in one of Huawei’s 2019 flagships too.
The Mate 20 series also represents a chance for Huawei to assume the mantle of flagship phablet leader. Sure, it might not have the U.S. market, but between a surging European region and record growth in China, the ball seems to be in the manufacturer’s court.
If one thing is certain it’s that manufacturers crib ideas from everyone. But in this round of the smartphone war, it looks like Huawei is leading the way, and Samsung has finally decided to take notes (heh).