THIS TIME LAST YEAR, we were quick to declare the Galaxy Note 7 as a knock-out smartphone and branded it Samsung’s “most beautiful” plus-sized handset yet.
Just weeks later, Samsung was forced to recall the smartphone after it was revealed, somewhat dramatically, that a dangerous battery flaw saw handsets explode, burn arses and cause chaos on flights.
While at the time many had speculated that this was the end of the now-tarnished Galaxy Note lineup, the phablet is back and bigger than ever, with Samsung no doubt hoping that the Note 8’s souped-up specs and super-sized screen will see the smartphone burn past flaming charred remains of its now-defunct predecessor. Ahem.
The Galaxy Note 8 is not too dissimilar from its S8 sibling in the looks department. It sports a similar (albeit larger) aluminium and glass chassis, while the ‘bezel-less’ 6.3in Infinity display adorns the front of the handset.
At 6.3in, this is the biggest version of Samsung’s Infinity display that we’ve seen yet, and it’s a thing of beauty that got heads-turning on our morning commute. However, this large screen does mean those of you will dainty hands will struggle to comfortably operate the Note 8 one-handed, and at 163x75x 8.6mm you’re going to struggle to wedge the phone into your skinny jeans pocket.
The display, which offers steeper curves than the Galaxy S8+ and S8+, helps with handling, though. Although we (with our Donald Trump-sized mitts) struggled to refresh Twitter while using the Note 8 with one hand, the sloped sides make for a fairly comfortable in-hand experience and make the smartphone easy(ish) to grip.
Like the S8 before it – and as you’d expect for a phone that’s going to set you back more than 800 quid – the Galaxy Note 8 is IP68 certified, which makes it both dust and waterproof. We’re not (too) scared of Samsung’s PR team so we were quick to throw the smartphone in the sink, and it (thankfully) came away unscathed.
While we’re pleased to see Samsung retaining IP68 certification, we’re not so happy with the firm’s decision to maintain the awkward rear placement of the fingerprint sensor. We were unable to comfortably reach the sensor when using the smartphone with one hand, and although the sensor is slightly more pronounced than on previous Galaxy smartphones, we wish the rumours of a screen-embedded scanner had come to fruition.
Thankfully, Samsung has also added iris recognition to the Galaxy Note 8. This worked well during our time with the phone and saw the phone unlock super-quickly, even when we were sat in our dark basement flat.
Unlike the S8, the bottom of the Galaxy Note 8 houses a slot for Samsung’s new and improved S Pen, which sits alongside a USB-C port and 3.5mm headphone jack. There’s also a Bixby button on the left-hand side of the handset, which fires up Samsung’s not-so-good-at-English AI assistant. More on that later.
Display and S Pen
As we’ve previously mentioned, the Note 8s 6.3in Infinity display is a thing of beauty and made our iPhone 7 look frustratingly dated thanks to its chunky bezels and, by comparison, low-resolution screen.
Quality-wise, the QHD+ screen is unsurprisingly stunning, while the AMOLED display makes for eye-popping colours and deep blacks that make the Note 8 ideal for watching Netflix (or Masterchef on iPlayer, if that’s more your kind of thing). The slightly odd 18.5:9 aspect ratio is strange at first, but you can stretch videos and apps to fit it so it doesn’t detract from anything. Like the S8, the Note 8 is HDR certified, but the actual amount of HDR content around is still slim.
The inky-black OLED is also utilised for the Note 8’s always-on display (above), which showcases the time, data, battery percentage and notifications. We found that having this glanceable information meant that we were picking up, unlocking the handset and getting distracted by inane Twitter chatter less frequently, which can only be seen a good thing.
Unlike the Galaxy S8, the Note 8’s screen has been designed to take advantage of the bundled S Pen, and Samsung says that the edges of the smartphone are steeper in order to make the Note 8 more suited to, er, taking Notes.
When we first got our mitts on the Note 8, we were quick to whip out the S Pen, which now boasts 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity and a more flexible tip, at any opportunity. However, although fans of the Note 8’s added functionality, in particular, its support for note-taking while the screen is switched off, the S Pen has always felt like an antiquated accessory and we soon stopped reaching for it.
Internally, the Note 8 is very similar to the Galaxy S8. There’s Samsung’s own 10nm Exynos 8995 CPU (or Snapdragon 835 if you’re in the US), alongside a meaty 6GB RAM and 64GB of onboard storage, expandable by up to 256GB via microSD.
Performance wise, as you’d expect, the Note 8 is as powerful as smartphones come. Hardcore multitaskers won’t notice any signs of slowdown and nothing we threw at it appeared to make the Galaxy Note 8 sweat.
In the AnTuTu benchmark app, which tests everything from 3D performance to RAM speeds, the Galaxy Note 8 scored 176,219, putting it ahead of the likes of the iPhone 7 Plus and LG G6.
While many manufacturers, including OnePlus and Motorola, are edging closer to stock Android, Samsung continues to load its smartphones up with homegrown apps, be it the usual Calendar, Email and Health apps, along with ‘Secure Folder’ tool which let’s biz users set up a standalone, er, secure work environment.
However, while software used to be one of Samsung’s weaknesses, improvements are clear to see, and we found ourselves using most of the additional features, rather than dumping them straight in the bin.
For example, the Note 8 adds a nifty dual app shortcuts feature called App Pair. These can be created in the home screens or nestled in the Edge panels for easy access, and they open up the two specified applications right away in a split-screen format. For example, you can set up a shortcut to open both the calendar and Gmail, or to fire up Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp if you have a lot of GIFs to share.
There’s a bunch of added S Pen tools on the Note 8, too. These include ‘Live Message’, which records a doodle or short message and turns it into an animated GIF with er, glitter and sparkles.
Screen-off Memo, which was briefly introduced on last year’s Note 7, also returns on the Galaxy Note 8. This lets you you scribble on the screen without having to unlock the phone, and allows you to pin a note up to 100 pages long to the Always-on display.
Of course, though, Samsung’s most notable software addition is Bixby, its long-awaited rival to Apple’s Siri. While this was available on the Galaxy S8, the Galaxy Note 8 is the first smartphone to ship with Bixby Voice functionality out of the box.
Activated with a long-press of the dedicated Bixby button, Samsung’s Siri rival can tell you weather information, facts and upcoming appointments, for example, much like Google Assistant, which also comes loaded onto the Note 8. However, unlike Assistant, Bixby can open apps and perform actions on your device, such as adjusting your screen’s brightness or sending a picture from your Gallary app.
This worked well, some of the time. Not only does it take Bixby Voice longer to launch than it would take to perform the action manually, but we found ourselves having to repeat ourselves quite often, and it quickly became clear that the digital assistant still needs a fair bit of work.
Elsewhere, you’ll find Bixby Home (above), a Google Now-esque page that’ll show you personalised news, reminders and cat videos, apparently, on the left-most homescreen. There’s also Bixby Vision, an AI-fuelled is a camera feature that lets you scan an object to receive more information about it, or to be offered up a link to buy it online.
Like the Samsung Galaxy S8, the Note 8 supports Samsung’s DeX station, which lets you hook up the device to a monitor, keyboard and mouse for a desktop experience powered by your phone. We’re yet to test this with the Note 8, but you can read our full DeX review here.
The Note 8 is the first Samsung phone to feature two 12MP cameras on the back. The main sensor is a wide-angle lens with an f/1.7 aperture, while the second is a telephoto lens with 2x optical zoom. Unlike the similar setup iPhone 7 Plus, this secondary lens boasts optical image stablisation, which makes for blur-free snaps even when you’ve got shaky hands.
These two 12MP sensors can be used together to create a background blur, or ‘bokeh’ effect, thanks to Samsung’s Live Focus feature, either when taking an image or applying it after. This, albeit fun to play around with, needs some work, as we found that the Galaxy Note 8 struggled to work out which elements to blur, which often resulted in fuzzy-looking images.
However, you won’t find an issue with picture quality, as the Note 8 put our iPhone 7 to shame when it came both low-light performance and speed of image capturing. Focusing is just as quick, and we found that almost all images we took on the Galaxy Note 8 were sharp and detailed.
Naturally, Samsung has added a tonne of different settings and features to the camera app, including Instagram-style filters, stickers, and a bunch of tools for making yourself look like an alien, including Huawei-esque skin tone filters (ugh). You can also switch between pro mode, panorama, slow motion, hyperlapse and food (?) mode, and files can be saved as RAW for editing later.
For a phone of this size, a 3,330mAh battery seems lacking, especially when compared to the Galaxy S8’s 3,500mAh offering. According to Samsung, this is because the Note 8 has to fit an S Pen into its chassis, and it’s likely the overheating issues that plagued last year’s Note 7 also had a part to play in the firm’s decision to scale back on the battery.
That said, we have no qualms when it comes to battery life. While we found the Always-on display could prove a bit of a drain (when left untouched for 8 hours with this feature enabled, the Note 8 quickly ran out of juice), general use saw us breeze through a day and a half before having to re-juice.
What’s more, if you get low, the built-in Battery Saver mode proved a lifesaver. We switched this on with 30 per cent battery remaining and were told we have 15 hours of life left in our Note 8.
Samsung had its work cut out with the Galaxy Note 8. Not only did it have to convince buyers that, er, it’s not going to explode, it also arrives on shelves just days after the launch of Apple’s iPhone 8.
The firm’s hard work has paid off, though, as the Galaxy Note 8 is one hell of a smartphone. While it’s large size means its audience is limited, those after a phablet-sized smartphone won’t find a better device than this. The handset’s 6.3in AMOLED Infinity display is stunning, its performance is unmatched and Samsung’s improved S Pen – along with its nifty software tweaks and security features – make the Note 8 an unrivalled choice for hardcore multitaskers and business folk.
And, hey, it didn’t explode. µ
Gorgeous design, striking display, incredibly powerful, S-Pen support, great camera(s), didn’t explode.
Bixby needs work, difficult to operate one-handed.
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