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Six ways the Galaxy Note 9 should beat the Galaxy S9

They aren't out yet, but Samsung's new phones already leave room for improvement.

Sarah Tew/CNET

From our time so far with the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9 Plus, it's clear they have strong all-around potential. And while we're still fully testing them, it's also clear there are inherent problems that Samsung's future Galaxy Note 9 can fix.

The Galaxy Note is Samsung's pinnacle flagship phone whose high-end features justify the vaulted cost. And with an annual August release, it goes head-to-head with the year's new iPhone. As such, it's the device Samsung often reserves to debut its most innovative features, including the digital S Pen stylus and Samsung's now-signature curved glass screens.

By saving some improvements for the Galaxy Note 9 -- or further refining the changes Samsung made with the S9 phones -- the company not only has an opportunity to course-correct, it can also unquestionably distinguish the pricey, large-screen Note 9 from the large-screen Galaxy S9 Plus, while also building excitement for the Galaxy Note as Samsung's "best" phone.

Here's how the Galaxy Note 9 can outdo the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus.

1. Full-face unlock that's actually secure

Intelligent Scan is a new way to unlock your phone on the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus, using the contours of your face. It works by combining face unlock and iris scanning, both found on the Galaxy S8.

The main problem here is that face unlock isn't secure enough for mobile payments (although iris scanning is), and integrating an insecure element renders all of Intelligent Scan fundamentally insecure.

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This makes me wonder why it even exists. Samsung cites ultimate convenience; in case face unlock fails the first time (like if your environment is too dark), iris scan can immediately take over. As far as I'm concerned, that's not good enough, and it just leaves Intelligent Scan feeling like a poor attempt to counter the iPhone X's Face ID, which is considered secure enough to validate mobile payments.

Samsung could change all this with the Galaxy Note 9. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chip inside is powerful enough to map a person's facial features with up to 50,000 dots of infrared light. For reference, the iPhone X uses 30,000 dots, and more dots should theoretically be more secure.

By the time the Galaxy Note 9 rolls around, we hope Samsung engineers will have had enough time to augment iris scanning with a similar 3D face-mapping option.

2. An in-screen fingerprint scanner

We've heard whispers of a Galaxy phone with a fingerprint reader built into the display since the Galaxy Note 8 rumors first began. 

Chinese phonemaker Vivo got there first, even improving the idea with a concept phone that can read your fingerprint from more than one angle and scan a pair of prints.

The technology is clearly in the works, and would give phone owners the convenience of unlocking the screen and paying for goods without having to lift the phone or worry if poor lighting would ruin a scan.

3. Bixby button: Let it do something more

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus

Once a Bixby button, always a Bixby button?

Sarah Tew/CNET

A customizable Bixby button is never going to happen, but we can dream. The physical key on the left spine opens Samsung's Bixby Voice app, and nothing else. 

If you never use Bixby, that's a wasted button just waiting to be accidentally pressed and then cursed at.

If Samsung were to change this and give phone owners choice over what the button opened, phone owners would have a really cool flexible feature that only a few other devices have. 

In fact, before Bixby arrived, Samsung's Galaxy S7 Active phones and earlier versions let you do just that with their hot key (the button opened a health and activity hub by default).

Unfortunately for us, Samsung made it clear that Bixby is the company's unifying ecosystem of the future, one that'll control all Samsung-made devices, TVs and appliances just like Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple's Siri.

4. Make AR Emojis less creepy

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus

We all feel a little like this about our AR Emoji on the Galaxy S9.

Sarah Tew/CNET

I'm not wild about the way that the Galaxy S9's 3D messaging avatars, called AR Emoji, work on the phones -- and I'm not the only CNET editor to think so. 

Creating what's basically an animated 3D model of your face and sending it to a friend feels like it's trying so, so hard to make a 3D Bitmoji, except faster. You can also record a video of yourself talking, which evolves the idea of the static messaging avatar.

But during our time with the device so far, AR Emoji are pretty bad. Over 15 CNET editors tried it out and all agreed that AR Emoji failed to capture our features, skin tone, hairstyle and outfits. 

But the worst is that AR Emoji don't track your facial expressions well -- they feel a little like synthetic bodysnatchers trying to mimic you, rather than represent you.

I see AR Emoji as very much of a first-generation experience. If the Galaxy Note 9 gets a 3D camera similar to the iPhone X's, AR Emojis could track your face better, just like Apple's animojis.

In the meantime, a future software update could improve tracking and rendering algorithms on the Galaxy Note 9.

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5. Dual aperture front-facing camera

Let's not underestimate the power of selfies, and how strides in selfie photography could give a phonemaker a distinct edge.

The Galaxy S9 phones introduce the industry's first dual aperture cameras, which means the apertures physically toggle between two settings to let in more or less light. More light is a must for improving the quality of low-light photos, and a physical aperture is better than digital solutions for preserving image detail and brightening pictures taken in low light.

Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus

The Note 9 could advance the Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus' new camera tricks.

Sarah Tew/CNET

While there are two apertures doing the work, there's only one lens, so it doesn't take up any more space on the phone surface. If Samsung converted its front-facing camera into a dual aperture lens on the Galaxy Note 9, it would give the phone an immediate advantage, especially over 2018's iPhone X successor.

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6. A second front-facing camera for even better portrait photos

samsung-galaxy-s9-plus-12

Selfie Focus synthetically blurs the background with software.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Samsung gave the Galaxy S9 phones software for creating portrait photos. The algorithms aren't perfect; they sometimes blur your hair along with your surroundings.

Dual camera lenses are a better way to create this depth-of-field effect, and with some phones out there already sporting a double-barrel front-facing setup, it's plausible for Samsung to step up next.

Right now, these suggestions are all part of the Galaxy Note 9 guessing game, but it'll only be a matter of time before rumors and leaks rear up to suggest what Samsung has planned for its follow-up phone.

Galaxy S9 review: It's two steps forward, one step back for Samsung's iPhone X fighter.

MWC 2018: All of CNET's coverage from the biggest phone show of the year.