Samsung Galaxy Note 8, the follow-up to the Note 7 — or as it’s more commonly called, one of the worst public relations disasters in the history of consumer electronics — is finally here. And it’s quite the encore.
Not only has the handset been completely redesigned from Galaxy Note 7, but it’s also got a larger display and, more importantly, a new dual-lens rear camera designed specifically to take on Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus.
But the Galaxy Note 8 looks to have some stiff competition in Apple’s upcoming iPhone 8. Samsung’s handset, however, offers plenty of appealing features including a gorgeous display, impressive performance and, best of all, a battery Samsung says won’t explode. It’s certainly a fantastic smartphone, but might not be for everyone, especially if you don’t want to spend nearly $1,000.
Starting with the core specifications, fans of the Note series will be pleased to know that Samsung has not skimped on the chips or hardware inside the phablet. The battery capacity may be slightly down, but part of the internal volume will have been sacrificed for the S-Pen storage compartment.
Internally, the Note 8 also has very similar specs compared to the S8 Plus. There’s Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 processor, 64GB of storage (in the US; other markets will see 128GB and even 256GB options), and a microSD card slot.
The Note does have 6GB of RAM versus the S8’s 4, but I haven’t seen an appreciable difference in performance because of it. Both of these phones are fast and fluid, and performance was not a concern in my day-to-day use.
What is the impact of that smaller battery? Not a huge amount, there have been some efficiency gains in the software and hardware that ensures the Note 8 retains a ‘full day’ capability with careful use.
3300mAh and a 6.3″ display sound like a recipe for range anxiety, but I’ve found the Note’s battery life to be as good or even possibly better than the S8+ I tested earlier this year.
For me, six hours of screen time was readily achievable in a single day of heavy use with Wi-Fi. Off Wi-Fi, that number is going to decrease, especially if you’re spending a lot of time with the phone at high brightness levels, but that’s true of any device.
The Snapdragon 835 really does seem to be quite an efficient chipset… The Note8’s battery has not left me at all wanting during my test period, and I’m genuinely pleased with its staying power.
The obvious stand-out feature is the screen. At 6.3 inches it’s larger than the Galaxy S8+, and the design of the curved edges makes for a better user experience.
On the Galaxy Note 8’s 6.3-inch screen, the benefits of OLED are pronounced. Photos looked amazing. They popped out with vivid colors and nice shadow detail. For reading, web articles looked great, with crisp, clear text that was easy on the eyes — a boon for anyone with less-than-perfect vision.
The roomy screen, which has roughly the same dimensions as a pocket notepad, is a nice size for taking notes with the digital pen; I used it to outline this review in a coffee shop.
The other feature is the S-Pen. Samsung’s stylus is an integral part of the Note package. It is carried inside the body of the handset (unlike the iPad Pro’s Apple Pencil) and is tightly integrated with the TouchWiz software – including the ability to write notes on the standby screen.
When you add the S Pen into the mix with the Galaxy Note 8, which ships with the phone and is spring-loaded in the bottom left corner, and so always easy to access, what the Note 8 becomes is the ultimate productivity smartphone.
It’s the easy choice for anyone who wants to get their work done on the go, but who generally sticks to a phone above all else, which these days includes a lot of execs and busy business travellers.
Dual Lens cameras are becoming more widely available in the Android market, with recent high-end devices like the OnePlus 5 and the Nokia 8 (not to mention Apple’s upcoming iPhone update) ensuring the technology is seen as a ‘must have’. The Note 8 is the first Samsung device in this generation to come with two lenses on the rear.
Two 12-megapixel sensors work together or separately, one about where you’d expect and another zoomed in. They both take beautiful pictures! I just wish there were more to do in the camera app. You can use Bixby Vision to identify objects in the frame, or put some stickers on the pictures… and that’s about it. Next to the LG V30’s inexhaustible library of tools, Samsung’s setup feels lacking.
That said, I’m blown away by how good the Note 8’s camera can be.
Security wise Samsung has retained the fingerprint sensor, but with no physical home button (it is replicated in software on the screen) the sensor sits next to the dual lens camera assembly on the rear of the device. That, coupled with weak facial recognition, is one of the low points of the Note 8.
With the S8, I didn’t have much issue with its placement due to the size of the phone and not having to stretch my finger up to the sensor to use it. With the Note 8, my view of the placement has changed. The Note 8 is much taller, and it’s far more awkward to reach the sensor when holding the phone with one hand.
Often times I found myself using my left hand just to touch the fingerprint sensor while holding the phone in my right hand. The point of a fingerprint sensor for unlocking the phone is to streamline the process, not complicate them.
And as for facial recognition, it’s rather generous in its recognition capabilities:
Face recognition and iris scanning are available, however, due to wearing glasses the experience with either feature is less than ideal. Actually, I don’t suggest using face unlock due to the fact it can be tricked with a photo of your face.
Then there’s the price. The Galaxy Note 8 is a solid offering with the expected features standing out. But with prices starting at $929 for a SIM free model, potential buyers will have to think carefully about the whole package when making a purchasing decision.
There’s no doubting that the Note 8 ($929) is a great smartphone — it packs all the usual flagship amenities, not to mention a dual camera that works very, very well. The problem is, the Note 8 feels a little… by-the-book. Samsung, frankly, got so much right with its other huge phone, the Galaxy S8 Plus, that the Note 8 doesn’t feel as triumphant an improvement as the Note 7 did in comparison with the S7 line.
The Note 8 is still Samsung’s best smartphone, and one could even argue it’s the best big phone out there. Just know that it’s a pretty conservative update, and that it’s going to cost you.
As expected, the Galaxy Note 8 is a solid entry in Samsung’s phablet portfolio. It delivers the unique Note features that fans have come to love on top of a stable and well-developed Android platform. It’s not quite an all-round device (there’s a certain focus on creativity and editing on the large screen) so it’s not going to replace the Galaxy S8 in a hurry.
But it’s competent enough to do so, and if you do need that extra flourish of a larger screen for the enterprise or the S-Pen for artistic endeavours, the Note 8 ticks all the boxes.