The Galaxy Note 8 is an important product for Samsung. Not only because the Note 8 is the company’s newest, flagship, large-screen smartphone, but because it also carries the additional burden of righting all of the wrongs associated with the company's Note 7 snafu. For some people, there is a certain stigma attached to the Note series now that could be erased if the Note 8 is a success and resonates well with consumers. We can tell you this up front -- all of the right technology seems to be in place. And from a design standpoint, the Note 8 sure is a looker. But good looks and the right specs don’t automatically make for a killer product.
This time last year, I fell in love with a phone. The Galaxy Note7 was a near-perfect phone in my books. It was powerful and high-tech, but the design was smooth and ergonomic. Most importantly, it was the right size; a perfectly pocketable phablet. It also had a killer battery, which ultimately proved to be its downfall. The Note7 was capable of a solid two-days of battery life. I could go for entire weekends without charge the Note7. And then these batteries begun exploding, along with my heart. Which is to say, I've been looking forward to the chance to review the Galaxy Note8. It has big shoes to fill, which Samsung attempts to accomplish in typical Samsung style, but making the phone bigger all around. The screen is bigger, up from 5.7-inches to 6.3-inches; the camera is bigger, with two lenses rather than one. The handset in general is bigger, at nearly a centimeter taller and you can really feel it. The price tag, as you might expect, involves larger numbers. In fact, the only element of the Galaxy Note8 than is smaller than the Note7 is the battery, and while some may say that this is a prudent move, it may also be the Achilles’ Heel of this year's model.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 8’s specifications read like one of the most powerful smartphones currently on the market – because that’s exactly what it is. The U.S. version of the Note 8 is built around Qualcomm’s powerful octal-core Snapdragon 835 (clocked up to 2.45GHz) with Adreno 540 graphics, paired to 6GB of low-power DDR4 memory, and 64 – 256GB if internal storage (depending on the region). The Note 8's storage is also expandable as well with a micro-SD card.
Presenting the pixels is a gorgeous 6.3” Super AMOLED display with curved edges. The Note 8 also sports and array of cameras – two 12MP (one wide-angle) shooters on the back, with f/1.7 and f/2.4 apertures, optical image stabilization, and dual-pixel phase detection auto-focus, accompanied by an 8MP front camera, also with an f/1.7 aperture. The rear cameras can shoot 4K video at up to 30FPS, and the front camera can do 1440p at 30FPS. Powering the device is a 3,300mAh battery and the Note 8 runs the gamut in terms of wireless connectivity, which includes 4G LTE, 802.11ac WiFI, Bluetooth, NFC, and the like.
The Galaxy Note 8’s accessory bundle is as beefy as its specifications. Included with the phone, you’ll find a basic lit-pack, quick-charger and associated charge /sync cable, two adapters to convert the built-in USB-C port into a micro-USB port or a Type-A port, a really a nice set of ear buds with two additional sets of pads (of differing sizes), a sim / micro-SD tray ejection tool, and -- of course – an S-Pen, with a tip extraction tool and 5 replacement tips. The S-Pen integration is what helps set the Note 8 apart from the Galaxy S-series, so it's obviously a big part of the Note 8's identity.
From the moment you pick up the Note 8, the device exudes pristine quality. The materials and the overall finish feel very good in the hand. The metal around the edges and Gorilla glass that make up most of the Note 8's exterior mate together flawlessly. We should point out that Samsung also goes the extra mile with the Note 8 with IP68-certified dust and water resistance. The Note 8 looks every bit like a premium smartphone, and should offer good durability as well.
The Note 8’s design is reminiscent of the Galaxy S8, but with slightly more squared-off lines, in comparison. The front of the device is effectively all-screen, save for two slivers at the top bottom. There's nothing integrated below the display, but the top sliver is home to an array of sensors and camera. The Note 8 offers a host of security related features, like Iris, Face, and Fingerprint scanning (as well as traditional pins), and the emitters and camera for the Iris and Face scanning reside above the screen. Because of the curved display, only the smallest of bezels are visible on the sides, when viewing the device head-on. In our opinion, the Note 8 – especially in the Midnight Black version we evaluated – has an elegant and clean look overall, though the omnipresent glossy surface are absolute fingerprint magnets.
The Galaxy Note 8 features a 6.3-inch Super AMOLED Infinity Display with a WQHD+ resolution (2960×1440, 532ppi, 18.5:9 aspect ratio) protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 5. In practice, the screen on the Note 8 is superb. There is virtually no parrallaxing effect, so images appear to be right up on the surface of the glass, the resolution is super-crisp, images are bright and well saturated, and viewing angles on all-sides are exceptional. The bottom line is the Galaxy Note 8 has one of, if not, the best displays we have seen on a smartphone to date. The display is simply awesome. If the Note 8’s size is what you’re looking for, even the most discerning power users will find the display to be impressive.
Because the front of the device is all-screen throughout, there are no physical buttons. Soft buttons are available on-screen, but the fingerprint sensor has been moved to the back. Unfortunately, this sensor not centered on the rear, so its use may be especially awkward for leftys. Adjacent to the fingerprint sensor is the Note 8’s dual, rear-camera assembly with flash and heart-rate monitor, all grouped together in a single cut-out, but other than that that rear of the device is smooth and clean.
The left-side of the Note 8 is home to the Bixby button and volume rocker, while the right-side houses only the power / lock / wake button. If you’re unfamiliar with Bixby, it is Samsung’s voice controlled digital assistant that just recently made its global debut. During our brief time with the Note 8, Samsung has already pushed out two updates for Bixby, so take any early reports about its usefulness with a grain of salt because Samsung is continually improving the technology.
At the top of the device, there is a microphone pin-hole and a combo sim / micro-SD card tray, but there’s lots more happening on the bottom. Along the bottom edge you’ll find a 3.5mm audio jack, a USB-C port, another mic pin-hole, a speaker grill, and the S-Pen. We're glad Samsung chose to include the 3.5mm audio jack and IP68 dust and water resistance. Some manufacturers have claimed the removal of the 3.5mm jack was necessary to achieve dust and water resistance, but that is obviously not the case.
You should be storing lots of images taken from the phone as well. The dual-lens camera here is a first for Samsung, coming after rivals Apple, LG and Huawei have rolled out theirs in the past year or so.
Samsung’s system works closer to what Apple and LG offer. It has a wide-angle 12-megapixel lens offering a handy f1.7 for close-ups as well as a 12-megapixel telephoto lens that does f2.4, for zooming in to items further away.
Both come with optical image stabilization, so you can expect images to be less blurry, especially with snapshots that are common on the smartphone. The dual lenses provide more options when you’re on the road, or holidaying, for example. In both low-light and bright conditions, there’s really not much to fault for the average casual photographer looking to share food or holiday photos on Facebook or Instagram
What I also like is the stylus that you can pop from the bottom of the phone. A mainstay since the first Galaxy Note in 2011, it now lets you scribble on a blank screen without unlocking the phone. That’s great for quick notes you want to jot down. Plus, it lets you translate an unfamiliar language you see on screen by simply hovering the stylus over the text. Want to know what a Japanese restaurant website is saying? Pop out the S Pen.
It can even “translate”, or convert, foreign currencies to your own, which makes the Galaxy Note 8 a handy companion when travelling overseas.
Indeed, there are lots of nice little touches on Samsung’s new phone. One is support for animated GIFs, which are so easy to create you might not want to send boring static images to friends any more.
I’m happy to say that these features aren’t like the junk that Samsung used to pack into its phones. Since the introduction of a neater interface on last year’s ill-fated Galaxy Note 7, the company has come up with less clutter. It even allows users to avoid installing some of the software it wants to offer. Okay, the glaring exception is Bixby. Samsung’s attempt at a smart assistant is more annoying than smart in many instances, butting in to ask if you want to do something else when you just want to complete a simple task like discretely take a photo of a ramen bowl.
To be fair, I’ve not been a fan of many smart assistants. Even Google gets irritating when it keeps asking if I want to review a restaurant after I’ve finished eating there. Bixby remains very much a work in progress. Fortunately, after much pressure, Samsung now allows users to disable the dedicated Bixby button. Unfortunately, you still can’t reassign it yet.
Who is it for?
If you were in love with the Note7, like I was, and you'd like a new Samsung phone, I'd say you have a tough decision on your hands. The Note8 is Samsung's most advanced phone yet, but most of the good stuff is in the smaller, cheaper Galaxy S8. In fact, the S8 is almost exactly the same size as the Note7, which is a big plus in my books.
But then you'd miss out of the excellent new dual-cameras and the always impressive S Pen stylus, and these are great additions. You pay a pretty premium for these extras, but for some it will be worth it.
Still, there’s no denying the appeal of the Galaxy Note 8. With it, Samsung has taken the disappointment of last year’s phablet and pushed on. Expanding on the success of the smaller Galaxy S8 and S8+, it has once again got back to winning ways. Sleek and powerful, the Galaxy Note 8 is a step ahead of other rivals in the ring. Now if only it is a bit cheaper.