This time last year we were singing the praises of the fantastic, larger-than-life Galaxy Note 7. We awarded it top honours, and were it not for the small matter of a worldwide recall – following the emergence of a potentially dangerous battery flaw – we’d probably still be recommending it now. The good news for phablet fans is that, at last, its successor is here. You can bet that Samsung has fixed the battery problem, but that’s not the only thing that’s been upgraded.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review: Design
The first change is obvious as soon as you look at it: the Note 8 introduces a bezel-less design cribbed from the Galaxy S8, so the huge 6.3in screen dominates the entire front of the handset. As usual, it uses Samsung’s Super AMOLED technology for incredibly deep blacks and vibrant colours, and at this scale it looks amazing, with a 1,440 x 2,960 resolution that equates to an impeccably sharp 522ppi.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review: Features
Turn the Note 8 over and another new feature is revealed: dual 12-megapixel cameras. This is hardly an original idea, but it’s a first for Samsung, and the company has really gone to town with it, combining an f/1.7 wide-angle lens with an f/2.4 telephoto lens with up to 10x optical zoom. That’s an incredible achievement for a smartphone, and it makes the 2x zoom on the iPhone 7 Plus look pretty silly.
As well as giving you a huge range of composition options, the two cameras can work together for cleaner, more detailed shots, or to create a simulated bokeh effect for lovely soft-focus backgrounds. We haven’t had a chance yet to properly put it through its paces, but it looks like a hell of an upgrade to what was already one of the best smartphone cameras in the business. For good measure, the front-facing camera has been upgraded too, from 5 megapixels to 7 megapixels.
The third big improvement is less conspicuous, but still potentially useful. Samsung’s S Pen stylus – the handy pointing device which inspires the Note’s name – can now be used to jot things down even with the screen off, for the ultimate in quick-and-dirty note-taking. Handwriting and doodles can also now be automatically converted into text and emoji, and you can hover the S Pen over online text for translation and currency conversions.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review: Specifications
There are changes inside the case as well, although nothing particularly surprising. The CPU has been bumped up to the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor for US customers, while we Europeans get Samsung’s own Exynos 8895; fingers crossed, it should be slightly faster than the Qualcomm, and we look forward to benchmarking it. RAM is up from 4GB to 6GB, and while storage remains at 64GB, the microSD slot hasn’t gone anywhere, so you can upgrade it to a total of 320GB.
If you found previous Note devices a little on the large side, be warned that the Note 8 is larger still, measuring 162.5 x 74.8mm versus the Note 7’s 153.5 x 73.9mm. It’s a bit thicker too, having swollen from 7.9mm to 8.6mm, and heavier at 195g. Despite its generous dimensions, though, it feels remarkably comfortable in the hand, with a design that tapers off at the sides and perfect rounded edges. Meanwhile, the battery has actually shrunk slightly, from 3,500mAh to 3,300mAh – but hopefully, the newer CPU will make up for that with better power efficiency.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review: Early verdict
We’ll need to spend some time testing the Note 8 before we can deliver a definitive verdict, but first impressions are simply excellent. Samsung has taken arguably the best plus-sized smartphone ever and made it even better with a gorgeous, enormous screen, a camera that sets a new standard for smartphones and sundry other improvements. The Note name may have been tarnished by last year’s battery debacle, but the Note 8 looks like the device to redeem it.
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