Samsung Galaxy Note 8 hands-on review – Samsung Galaxy Note owners have always been cut from a different cloth. It was the original Galaxy Note that popularized ‘phablets’ back in 2011, and Note owners love their devices so much they refused to return the recalled Note 7, which had a tendency to catch fire and explode.
In a global study with more than 4,000 Note users, Samsung told Digital Trends that 8 out of 10 Note owners used the word “love” to describe their device, with 85 percent saying they were proud to show it off and recommend it, and 74 percent describing it as the best phone they’ve ever owned. Samsung said Note owners are its most loyal and active customers. They use their phone more, take more pictures, watch more videos, and participate more on social media.
But with great “love” comes great responsibility, and Samsung knows it fell short with the critically acclaimed but ill-fated Note 7.
“Our view of it is we’ve learned from it, we’ve applied those learnings to our new products,” Tim Baxter, president and CEO of Samsung Electronics North America told Digital Trends. “We’re going to continue to deliver this: A high level of innovation and bring that to consumers and enterprise users in ways we’ve done it in the past.”
Samsung believes the well-received Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus have dramatically improved the company’s brand values in customer’s eyes, and that brings us to the Note 7’s successor. In our Galaxy Note 8 hands-on review, we’ve found Samsung has played it safe with its latest flagship. Is it worth a jump from the S8? Probably not, but for Note 5 owners, it’s quite the leap.
AN EDGE-TO-EDGE DISPLAY, FAMILIAR DESIGN
Put the Galaxy Note 8 next to the Galaxy S8 Plus, and you’ll notice the same edge-to-edge Infinity Display, also known as a bezel-less design. You get far more screen real-estate than ever before on all four sides, while still keeping a reasonably small frame. The S8 Plus has a 6.2-inch screen, and the Note 8 goes a little higher with a 6.3-inch display. It’s hard to call it a phablet when it’s just marginally bigger than 5.5-inch phones like the Google Pixel.
Three features distinguish the Note 8’s design from the S8 Plus: The S Pen stylus located on the bottom, the dual-camera setup on the rear, and the classic angular look the Note series have always had over the curvier Galaxy S series.
The edges of the Note 8 are sharper than the S8, making it look more rectangular. It’s the only noticeable difference on the front. On the rear, the dual-camera setup sticks out of the surface ever-so-slightly, and sadly, the fingerprint sensor is still in the same, awkward, hard-to-reach area up top.
The gorgeous edge-to-edge design makes watching movies and TV more immersive.
The headphone jack is still present on the bottom, next to a USB Type-C charging port and speaker grill. The power button is on the right, and the volume rocker is on the left, above a dedicated Bixby button. You can use the Bixby button to call up Samsung’s virtual assistant, which debuted on the Galaxy S8.
Being used to traditional 5.5-inch smartphones, the Note 8 doesn’t seem much larger or uncomfortable in the hand. In fact, since it’s slightly narrower than many, it’s easier to reach the other side of the phone with your thumb.
The Super AMOLED Infinity Display curves into the rear on the sides of the Note 8, and it has a resolution of 2,960 x 1,440 pixels (521 pixels-per-inch). It gets bright and, like most Samsung phones, the colors are a tad oversaturated. Still, it’s vibrant with deep blacks, and the gorgeous edge-to-edge design makes watching movies and TV more immersive.
TOP SPECS, SOME NEW SOFTWARE ADDITIONS
The Galaxy Note 8 packs many of the same specifications found in other 2017 flagship smartphones, namely Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 processor (or Samsung’s Exynos 8895 in international devices). Instead of the 4GB of RAM found on the Galaxy S8, though, the Note 8 comes with 6GB. Whether that much RAM is necessary is still up for debate.
In our brief time with the phone, performance seemed smooth and snappy. Apps opened quickly, scrolling through web pages items felt buttery smooth, and multitasking posed no issues, so far.
The Note 8 does have a MicroSD card slot, though the storage option in the U.S. will be 64GB. There are 128GB and 256GB versions for the international market.
There’s NFC (Near-field communication) on board, along with MST technology for Samsung Pay. This means you can pay at stores and restaurants using a bump-to-pay terminals or most traditional magnetic credit card readers. IP68 water- and dust-resistance rating means you can feel safe if you drop the phone in the pool.
Despite Android 8.0 Oreo’s release this week, the Galaxy Note 8 will ship with Google’s Android 7.1.1 operating system. Samsung said it is working on bringing the update to the phone, but it has not shared a timeline. Following the company’s timeline on getting Nougat to the Galaxy S7, don’t expect to see Oreo on the Note 8 until early 2018.
Samsung’s TouchWiz user interface is layered over Android on the Note 8 to pretty it up, and it has succeeded. The interface looks sleek and doesn’t feel sluggish. Multitasking is clearly a priority, as one of the major features Samsung has packed in is called App Pair. This is accessed through the Edge Panel, a slide-out tray on the edge of the home screen you can add apps, contacts, or other items to, for quick access. App Pair lets you set two apps you can launch at the same time in split-screen mode. For example, you can set the calendar to launch above the phone dialer app — all with just one tap.
The iris scanning technology from the Note 7, which is used to unlock your phone, is available alongside facial recognition and the fingerprint sensor, giving you more biometric ways to unlock your phone.
S PEN FEATURES
Coming from a Galaxy Note 5, the S Pen stylus has been greatly improved, but keep in mind it’s almost the same stylus as the one on the Galaxy Note 7. That means it has a pen tip that’s close to ballpoint size at 0.7mm, and it supports 4,096 points of pressure. This means the S Pen understands when you want to make a line bold or thin line based on how hard you press (thanks to a pressure sensor in the screen).
The S Pen is tucked away on the bottom edge of the Note 8, and it’s thin and fun to use. It’s the iconic feature of the Note series, and as such it comes with a fun new “Live Messages” feature. This lets you sketch a message or drawing and send it as an animated GIF to your friends or on social media.
You can pin notes to the always-on display, edit them there, and even add up to 100 scrollable pages. The S Pen can also translate text it’s hovering over, magnify the screen text size up to 300 percent, and more. It’s IP68-rated as well, meaning you can use it underwater (not that you would).
A DUAL-CAMERA SETUP
Samsung finally has jumped on board the dual-camera bandwagon. The Note 8 features two 12-megapixel cameras — both with optical image stabilization (OIS). The primary lens is a wide-angle, with an f/1.7 aperture, and the telephoto lens has an f/2.4 aperture.
Many dual-camera phones launched this year, and this one doesn’t break much new ground. There’s a Live Focus mode, which is similar to Portrait Mode on the iPhone 7 Plus. It lets you take a photo of a subject with a lot of blur around it, mimicking a DSLR camera. But Live Focus goes a step above Apple’s implementation because you can control how much blur you want, before and after you take the photo. A Dual Capture mode lets you take a close-up photo and a wide-angle photo at the same time, so you don’t have to choose between capturing one or the other in the moment.
One of the more impressive additions is OIS on both lenses. This means that when you jump to the 2x optical zoom or higher, your images are less prone to being blurry due to shaky hands.
The front-facing selfie camera is packed with 8 megapixels, and there are Snapchat-like face masks you can add to your face via the camera app.
A SAFE BATTERY
The battery capacity is smaller than the S8 Plus, from 3,500mAh to 3,300mAh on the Note 8. It’s likely Samsung didn’t want to push it any higher, especially since the battery was the root cause of the Note 7’s failure. Regardless, battery safety is understandably a concern. Samsung provided us with a quote from UL Consumer, an independent third-party organization that inspected the battery on the Note 8.
The Note 8 has gone through the same 8-point battery safety check process as the Galaxy S8.
“We have been closely working with Samsung to make meaningful advancements in the science of smartphone quality and safety evaluation,” said Sajeev Jesudas, president of Consumer at UL. “As a result, the Note 8 has successfully completed a rigorous series of device and battery safety compatibility test protocols.”
The Note 8 has gone through the same 8-point battery safety check process as the Galaxy S8, and you can read more about the process here.
Expect the battery to last a day, if not slightly less. The S8 Plus has a bigger battery and we saw just about a full day’s use out of it. We’ll have to test the Note 8 battery, but we’re not expecting it to go past a full day. Like most Samsung flagship smartphones, the Note 8 supports wireless and fast-charging technologies.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 will come in four colors: Black, orchid gray, blue, and gold. Sadly, the blue and gold will only be available internationally. The black and orchid gray variants are being sold via a wide range of carriers and retailers, and they will be available alongside an unlocked model beginning September 15. Pre-orders will kick off on August 24.
Depending on where you buy it, the price will differ slightly. But wherever you go, it won’t be cheap. Verizon is offering the Note 8 for $960 total, or $40 per month for 24 months. Sprint is also charging $960, while AT&T and T-Mobile are $950 and $930, respectively.
If you pre-order the smartphone from August 24 to September 24, you get the choice of a free Samsung Gear 360 camera, or a Samsung 128GB EVO+ memory card and fast wireless chargerbundle. The Note 8 is the second Samsung phone to be compatible with the Dex Station, which lets you turn the smartphone into a desktop interface.
You should note that in its marketing, Samsung will be comparing many of the Note 8’s “improvements” to the Galaxy Note 5, a 2015 smartphone. It’s fair because many Note owners are upgrading from a Note 5 (thanks to the recall), but it’s also ignoring the fact that many of these new features and improvements arrived on the Note 7.
There’s no groundbreaking feature on the Galaxy Note 8. It’s a small improvement over the Galaxy Note 7 sans the explosive battery, and it’s similar to the Galaxy S8 Plus. But it is a good phone, and for people coming from a Note 5, it’s most certainly a worthwhile upgrade.
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