Samsung’s first major flagships of 2017 were a major hit. The company sold large volumes of the devices and we even gave the smaller option a really high score. Now that the Galaxy S8 has had time to simmer and settle down, it’s time to talk about Samsung’s other major product line: the Galaxy Note.
If you recall, last year, Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 literally blew up in its face when people were reporting their phones were catching fire. This resulted in the phone being taken completely off the market and leaving some customers without a phone until they switched to something else. But there was still the loyal fanbase who would use nothing more than a Galaxy Note smartphone, and Samsung realized this. In fact, according to the company, it’s the sole reason the new Galaxy Note 8 even exists. Whether Samsung would’ve made it regardless of a fanbase is questionable, but one thing’s for certain: thank God it exists, because it’s a terrific smartphone with very few flaws.
When assessing the Note 8, I find it most important to address the screen first and foremost. It’s the shining feature of the handset, and it’s absolutely beautiful. It measures in at 6.3-inches and fits into a body around the same height as an iPhone 8 Plus. This is thanks to it being formatted into an 18.5:9 aspect ratio which makes it taller than most screens. While the display is massive, it’s stupid gorgeous since it uses Samsung’s Super AMOLED technology with super vibrant colors, excellent viewing angles, and great contrast with deep, dark blacks. It also curves around the left and right sides of the handset slightly but not as much as the S8. This simply adds to the aesthetic and makes the phone look super high-end.
Rounding things off, it’s also the brightest smartphone display ever. Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8 has a screen that can increase to 1200 nits of brightness when in direct sunlight, therefore making it super easy to see outdoors in any condition. If your current smartphone’s screen is too dim, the Note 8 will fix that and then some.
The design which surrounds this big, beautiful display is also great. The Note 8 is made of glass on the front and rear and is surrounded by a stainless steel frame which screams premium. The entire device is even IP68 rated for water resistance up to thirty minutes under a meter and a half of water. Admittedly, the phone is pretty hefty at 195 grams and is much boxier than the S8, but these factors certainly aren’t deal breakers. Rather, what might turn people off is simply how tall this guy is. It measures in at 162.5mm (6.4 inches) tall which makes reaching the top of the screen pretty difficult. You’ll be using this handset with two hands from the moment you pick it up, believe me.
Another problem with the Note 8 being as tall as it is surrounds the fingerprint sensor which, much like the S8, is placed directly next to the camera array. The camera array is at the top of the phone on the back. This makes using the fingerprint scanner very awkward and requires you to shimmy your hand up the handset just to place your pointer finger in the right location. It’s a bit more recessed this time around so you know where to reach, but it’s still a pain to use. Luckily, your muscle memory will kick in so you automatically know where to reach, but you shouldn’t have to retrain your brain over one stupid design decision.
If you don’t wanna use the fingerprint sensor, you can also use Samsung’s iris scanning feature which works relatively well. Most of the time, it can see my eyes through my glasses, but other times it has a hard time, especially when there’s a bunch of light surrounding my face. You could also use Samsung’ facial scanning feature, but it can be tricked with a picture so maybe no?
Other than these slight quirks, the rest of the Galaxy Note 8 is great. On the left sits a volume rocker and a Bixby button (yeah, we’ll get to that later); on the right is a power button; on the bottom is a headphone jack, USB-C port, loud speaker, and S Pen slot; and on the top is where you’ll find your SIM/microSD card slot. To the top of the display on the front of the phone is the iris scanner, selfie camera, and notification LED, while the back houses the rear cameras, fingerprint sensor, and some branding. It’s the complete package in terms of hardware, and the goodness seeps through into the insides of the phone as well.
I shouldn’t have to tell you a Galaxy Note’s speed because you can already assume it’s fast, but for those wondering, it’s one of the fastest phones on the market. Samsung is packing a Snapdragon 835 processor paired with an Adreno 540 GPU and 6GB of RAM. That alone gets you plenty of speed, and it does. Multitasking with multiple apps open at once is a breeze, while day-to-day operations like Facebook scrolling and email sending are a pleasure. There’s also 64GB of storage on board which I find to be just enough for you to store your apps, music, games, and a movie or two.
For software, Samsung includes Android 7.1.1 Nougat with Samsung Experience 8.5 on top. Surprisingly, this phone didn’t launch with Oreo out of the box, but I suspect this update will ship sooner than later. Overall, what Samsung’s done with the software for this new generation of phones is great. Everything’s much more elegantly layed out and icons have been stripped of their cartoonish accents from years past. Heck, even the weird water droplet sounds of Galaxies past are gone. But that’s not all.
A main element of the software experience on the Galaxy Note 8 is by far interacting with the S Pen. Exclusive to the Note series, the S Pen has always been the defining feature of this lineup of smartphones and has been there since the beginning. This generation, the pen gets full-on waterproofing much like the rest of the phone, has a finer tip, and more precision.
When ejecting the S Pen from your Note 8, you’ll be presented with a variety of tools that require you use the S Pen with. Some of them include creating a note, writing on the screen, translating a word, or even sending something new called a Live Message.
Live Message lets you write out a short message and send it as a GIF so when it appears on someone else’s phone, it looks like you’re writing it in front of them. There’s a variety of effects that go along with the feature, but the best part is how it gets shared: it doesn’t use a proprietary method. Rather, it’s a simple GIF. So any messaging service that supports GIFs will be able to play your Live Message back on the recipient’s device which is stupid useful.
As for the other functions, they’re your standard S Pen array of features which, of course, all work great. The writing app offers plenty of flexibility to fully customize how you take notes, and tools for creating screenshots and GIFs are all convenient to have at a moment’s notice. One my favorite S Pen features has been note taking while the screen is off which lets you jot down thoughts without unlocking your phone. Samsung says you can save up to 100 pages of this type of note, and I haven’t even saved ten yet.
The S Pen isn’t the only important software utility of the Note 8. Samsung’s Edge Panel has returned and with it brings a new feature called App Pairing. Exclusive to the Note 8, the feature allows users to create a shortcut consisting of two applications and, by tapping it, lets them jump into split screen mode with either app on the top and bottom of the display. It works well, but I have to admit I didn’t use it very much due to my lack of general split screen use. However, if split screen’s your thing, you’ll love this feature.
Overall, the software on the Note 8 is chalk full of features and functions that will improve your everyday flow. It’s one of the most productive-feeling phones I’ve ever used as it packs so much potential that you’ll be tempted to use it all. I wanna draw, I wanna sign stuff with the S Pen, I wanna use App Pair for writing articles – heck, I wanna stick this thing in a suite and enter a meeting room. To me, the software enables these motives, and now every time I switch to a different phone, I don’t feel all that inspired anymore.
A phone nowadays isn’t complete without decent cameras, and Samsung doesn’t disappoint in this area. The Note 8 is the first flagship Galaxy to sport dual rear cameras, and they’re excellent. Samsung implements the two 12MP sensors the same way Apple does with the iPhone X and 8 Plus in which one is a standard wide-angle view while the other is a telephoto depth-sensing shooter.
The standard camera is the same as on the Galaxy S8 and delivers superb images with excellent vibrancy from colors, great sharpness, plenty of detail, and even very little noise and plenty of light in darker environments. Meanwhile, the secondary camera lets users zoom into subjects and not lose detail you normally would with a typical software crop. And since the telephoto camera is depth sensing, it allows for natural bokeh photographs which, admittedly, come out pretty nice.
I haven’t really played around with the iPhone X or 8 Plus so I can’t say how well the two camera arrays stack up in this regard, but I can say the Note 8 tends to blur out certain parts of a subject like strands of hair or uneven edges that I wish stayed in focus. Regardless, if you wanna take a portrait of someone or something, you’ll likely be pleased with the results.
If you aren’t pleased, Samsung lets you adjust things by giving you the ability to choose how much blur you want around your subject. You can use this function while taking a photo or after the fact. If you hate the portrait photo you took altogether, you can even switch it back to a standard wide-angle picture which I’ve had to do on a number of occasions. All in all, Samsung’s telephoto implementation is the most flexible we’ve seen so far from smartphones, and I’m glad it works as well as it does.
For reference, the Note 8 also comes with a variety of shooting modes from a pro mode for adjusting an image to exactly how you want it to a dedicated mode for taking pictures with goofy Snapchat-like stickers over a person’s face. All in all, using the Note 8’s camera is quick, easy, fun, and useful. I wish every smartphone had such a setup, and I mean that from my heart.
What was the Galaxy Note 7’s biggest fault last year is, unfortunately, one of the Note 8’s. I say that because last year, the Note 7’s 3,500mAh battery exploded, while the Note 8’s 3,000mAh cell simply doesn’t last that long. On a full charge, I can barely squeak out a full day of use which is typically around 16 hours of surfing the web, checking email, scrolling Facebook, and playing a game or two. Therefore, I’ve found myself reaching for the charger a bit more than I’d prefer.
Of course, there’s not much Samsung could’ve done in this case. Making the battery as big as last year’s was probably a bad idea since the Note 7 got a reputation for being the phone that explodes thanks to its bigger battery, while such a cell wouldn’t even fit inside the Note 8 due to more complex components being under the hood. In other words, Samsung ran out of room, and the largest they could make the battery was 3,000mAh. While it’s a shame, they did what they had to do, and if you purchase this phone, you’ll need to deal with plugging this phone in every now and then or plopping it on a wireless charger for a couple of hours.
We tested the Galaxy Note 8 on Verizon’s network in parts of South Jersey and were impressed with the speeds we got. We routinely received upload speeds of 6-10Mbps and download speeds of 46Mbps at peak network performance. We also saw the device had access to three to four bars of cellular connection on average. Overall, Verizon’s network treats the Note 8 pretty fairly so expect these results in areas where Big Red covers you.
Before I wrap this review up, let me tell you about Bixby real quick. It hasn’t really gotten any better than it was on the Galaxy S8, the button is very annoying and I keep accidentally hitting it, and the Google Assistant is still a lot better. Thank you.
In the end, what you’re getting with the Galaxy Note 8 is a complete package. You’ve got arguably the best display on any smartphone to date, plenty of speed to power you through at least two years of use, excellent software, power user features thanks to the S Pen, a great set of cameras, and Menza-Menz battery performance. Of course, the fingerprint sensor needs to be reworked into another location on the phone and the battery life could be better, but other than this, the Note 8 is just great. Whether it’s worth upwards of $900 to you is your decision to make, but at least to me, the Galaxy Note 8 and the experience it provides justifies the money you put down on it.