Five months ago, I published my initial review of Samsung’s monstrous Galaxy Note 8. It succeeded the S8 from earlier in 2017 and packed in a ton more features that power users adore. I loved the smartphone then and thought it stood out well in a sea of flagships that come a dime a dozen nowadays, but now that we’ve entered 2018, I wanted to see how the device faired how that we have even faster processors, better screens, and upgraded software.
In short, the Note 8 could literally have been released in 2018 and stand as one of the phones to beat throughout the entire year.
Things start off with the design that remains just as gorgeous as it was in 2017. The Note 8 is a large, glass sandwich with a stainless steel frame surrounding the edges that adds a level of rigidness and premium hand feel. There are curves everywhere and squared off corners to give it an aesthetic that’s especially pleasing. It’s also IP68 water and dust resistant.
Holding the Note 8, you’ll immediately notice its heft and how large it truly is. And considering it’s glass, you may fear you’ll drop it simply due to chapped hands or an unsteady grip.
I was sent a case for the device from a manufacturer that protects the backside and edges. However, it isn’t the thinnest case in the world and, therefore, added even more girth that isn’t exactly necessary with such a large phone. In the end, I just used the Galaxy Note 8 naked. It was easier on both my hands and my pocket.
On the left sits volume and Bixby buttons; on the right, there’s a power button; and on the bottom, there’s a USB-C port, a headphone jack, and loudspeaker. You’ll also find the fingerprint scanner on the back of the Note 8, although it was shifted all the way up to where the cameras sit. I hated this placement during my initial time with the handset and that feeling extends to the present as well. Luckily, Samsung fixed this with the Galaxy S9, but I still will remain bitter about this design decision for the lifespan of the device.
Side note: iris scanning and face unlock are a thing with the Note 8, but they don’t work as well as the fingerprint scanner. So you really have to pick your battles when it comes to security on the Note 8.
When looking at the Note 8 straight on, you’ll immediately notice its large 6.3-inch AMOLED display. It features a Quad HD+ (2960×1440) resolution paired with vibrant colors and enough brightness that makes it easy to see the screen even in direct sunlight. I have to say, it’s one of my favorite phone screens of all time just because of how fake it looks. In other words, it looks like a sticker and not an emulated phone screen.
It’s also curvy like the rest of the body. Samsung’s been doing the Edge thing for a while now and it brought it back with the Note 8. Admittedly, it’s less curved than years past, but that’s to provide more room for the S Pen to operate.
Yes, the shining feature of any Galaxy Note device is the included stylus known as the S Pen. I won’t go too far into it (if you want more, go check out my original Note 8 review), but I will say it provides a convenience you won’t realize you need until you start using it. You can sign documents, sketch on top of photos, send fun GIFs to your friends across all messaging platforms, and even take more precise screenshots. Plus, it’s satisfyingly clicky which makes the pen a great fidget spinner replacement.
Sure, the S Pen plays a major role in why the Note 8 serves as both a great multimedia portal and productivity machine, but the software is also key to achieving these feats. Recently, Samsung pushed out Android 8.0 Oreo to the Galaxy Note 8 and, of course, I installed it. It’s a really solid upgrade that includes things like a refined UI experience, better battery management, App Shortcuts, picture-in-picture support, and more.
During my experience, I’ve noticed the Note 8 running Oreo is both faster and smoother than it was with Android Nougat. I can back up this claim considering I had the same experience with the S8 when I installed Oreo after being on Nougat for a while. Apps launch faster, slowdowns are near non-existent, boot-up times are quicker, and the entire device feels more fluid overall.
Part of this has to do with better optimizations in the background, but of course, the silicone that’s in place isn’t anything to sneeze at, either. The Note 8 packs a Snapdragon 835 processor paired with 6GB of RAM which, on paper, is already enough to guarantee a performance-driven experience out of the box. And now with Oreo as the internals’ software platform, things get even more speedy which is great for customers who may be looking to pick up the handset.
I’ve also noticed games run smoother as well. The phone includes Adreno 540 graphics which deliver a superb experience when playing titles like Asphalt 8 and Super Mario Run. Even lighter games like Dune! have seen a bump in performance and fluidity that’s definitely noticeable when compared to running them on top of Nougat. Therefore, if you’re looking to grab a Note 8, you’ll want to install Oreo right away.
I should also mention the phone comes with 64GB of storage which can be expanded via microSD card. I didn’t have any problems with the amount of space the Note 8 gives you to store things like apps, documents, games, and music, but if 64GB isn’t enough for you, consider picking up a microSD card and popping it into its available slot.
On the back of the Note 8 sit dual 12MP cameras. Whether this review were an initial impressions piece or a follow-up, I shouldn’t have to tell you how good a Samsung flagship’s cameras are. You’re getting some of the best of the best in this case and, thanks to the secondary shooter, some added features as well such as adjustable portrait mode and 2x lossless zoom.
Everything from photos to videos is crisp and clear. Colors are reproduced with a touch more saturation than what’s found in the real world, but that’s to make the output visually more appealing. Brightness is always on point, HDR works well, shadows aren’t murdered, and contrast always offers a nice blend to add a bit of sharpness. And while portrait mode tends to produce a good image, it’s still not up to par with what Google’s doing on the Pixel 2.
Still, the quality of the cameras on board the Galaxy Note 8 – including the 8MP selfie shooter which is among the best I’ve seen – are fantastic. And considering just how close in quality the Note 8 and Galaxy S9’s shooters are, it’s safe to say you can expect great results even if you pick up this handset in 2018.
On to battery life. This is an area of the Note 8 I’ve struggled the most with. Inside sits a 3300mAh battery which, in my initial review, found to not be sufficient enough to get you through a full day with the handset’s large display and powerful internals. I still feel that way, but less so. I think Android Oreo’s doing something in the background that, believe it or not, has extended my available usage time. Of course, I’m not talking about hours, but I am seeing my screen-on time increasing ever so slightly.
Let me put it into perspective: before I had Oreo, I experienced roughly 2 1/2 – 3 hours of screen-on time with the Note 8. Now, with Oreo, I get around 3 – 3 1/2 of screen-on time. Clearly, that’s not a major leap, but it does give me some extra endurance which is much needed with a phone as powerful as this one.
Also worth mentioning is Samsung’s fast charge that literally gets me from 0% to 50% battery power in just under thirty minutes. It’s absolutely crazy and I can’t imagine my life without it.
Shout out to Verizon for hooking us up with the Galaxy Note 8, by the way.
Okay, network time. Just like during our initial review, we tested the Note 8 on Verizon’s network and got great results. 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.
Also, Bixby is still a thing and hasn’t gotten any better.
In the end, I think the Galaxy Note 8 can hold up in 2018 like any other Android phone that’s released this year. It’s got the necessary software, the necessary horsepower, the necessary cameras, and the necessary added touches to make it a true contender this year. Of course, when the Note 9 comes out, this device won’t mean as much. But with heavy discounts from third-party retailers popping up more frequently as time progresses, it’ll be of your best interested to consider picking this device up, especially at a discounted price. I said the phone was worth it at $1,000, so it’ll definitely be worth it for anything less.