I think the review of the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 can’t begin without mentioning the tragic fate of its predecessor, the Note 7. It was undoubtedly one of the best phones to hit the shelves last year, but only with the flaw of the occasional self-combustion. A misfortune many thought Samsung would not recover from.
But we can tip our hats to Samsung for making that water under the bridge and introducing the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ earlier this year, which is now a contender for the best smartphone of the year. But they took their gamble a step further and launched the Note 8 despite the bad PR on the Note series.
And after using the phone for almost two weeks after the launch in India, I must admit that Samsung just threw out their best bet at winning the phone of the year contest (if anyone is seriously holding one).
The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is the costliest commercially produced smartphone in Samsung’s manifest and cost a whopping Rs 67,900 in India. Only the Google Pixel 2 XL, Apple iPhone 8 Plus and the iPhone X are priced higher.
When you first hold the phone you realize just how big it is. As for me a Samsung Galaxy S7 and iPhone 7 user, it almost felt huge. The phone’s 6.3-inch Super Amoled ‘Infinity Display’ gets real close to the edges leaving some really small bezels, giving the device an 83% screen to body ratio.
The 1200nit display is brilliant, to say the least, and incidentally the brightest smartphone screen in the world (for now). The impeccable and crisp details on the HDR screen is bright enough even in the brightest daylight. Not to mention it has an Auto-brightness technology that actually works, by which I mean it is immediate and adapts to the lighting perfectly.
The colour reproduction and the viewing angles of the screen are just as remarkable, though the curves mean that you might be missing out on a bit on the other side when looking from one angle. But one has to admit that the sheer size of the 18.5:9 aspect ratio display almost melds into your hands and capturing your whole vision.
But being a Note series phone that uses the S-pen, the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 uses the same essential design from the S8 and the S8+ but in a more boxy form factor that makes it easier to use the S-pen.
But not everything is merry with the Galaxy Note 8’s form factor. The first and most noticeable issue is that the fingerprint scanner is rather difficult to reach. My hands are not small but I still found myself stretching my fingers to reach the fingerprint scanner.
Another hindrance that one is likely to face is that the device doesn’t fit into pockets easily (yes even man-sized pockets). And the phone becomes difficult to manoeuvre with one hand when taking selfies. What adds to that is the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 weighs about 195gms which makes it quite bulky.
When it comes to other methods of unlocking the smartphone, the Galaxy Note 8 provides the Iris scanner and Facial recognition. The Iris scanner is fast and reliable like it was on the Note 7, and yes it works perfectly in the dark. However, it does require me to bring the phone slightly close to the face. The Facial recognition is slower, less reliable and Samsung warns users of it when setting it up.
These options can be accessed from the locked phone by either pressing the power button on the side or the pressure sensitive home button at the bottom of the screen. It is rather important that we mention the fact that the Note 8 retains the 3.5mm headphone socket at the bottom of the device, at a time when all the flagships are getting rid of it.
Despite all the openings on the phone, it has an IP68 water and dust resistant rating which means it can technically handle water pressures of up to 3 meters. So no second thoughts about getting wet in the rain or a visit to the pool or beach with this baby.
What came to me as a cumbersome feature was the Samsung Bixby button below the volume rocker. Samsung somehow seems to have become fixated with it. Bixby has just launched in India after the arrival of the Galaxy Note 8 and from what I have gathered, the voice assistant seems far from a finished product. My go-to assistant on the phone was (and is currently) Google Assistant and I have a feeling it’s going to stay that way for a while now. But Samsung soon realized the bad PR with the assistant and recently introduced the option to disable the Bixby button, if not remap it.
Bixby, for now, is hardly of any use in India and faces a tough time recognizing even the most known items in Bixby vision.
One of the features that accounted for the extra thousands of rupees that people would have to shell out over the price of the S8+ was the S-pen. It is the trademark difference between the two phones. This time the S-pen is waterproof, idiot-proof (by which I mean it does not go inside from the other way) and has sleeker tips for a more precise result.
Samsung’s flagship Galaxy Note 8 is the only one in its segment that offers a stylus. The accessory has consistently been one of the reasons why the Note series has a huge fan base. Users can access every single function along with writing, drawing, painting, doodling, all with an added dose of swag. The S-pen can also be used to take screenshots and make GIFs.
Apart from the regular features the S-pen this time supports Live Message, which is a quick sharable written message on a background of your liking and with coloured ink or glittery one. As for the comfort of using a pen, I had no issues reproducing my handwriting comfortably. The new eraser button makes things even more convenient.
Once you take a dive under the skin of the phone you get a Samsung Exynos 8895 octa-core processor. The Galaxy Note 8 has 6GB LPDDR4 RAM for internal memory, 64GB storage and a Mali-G71 MP20 GPU. It runs Android Nougat 7.1.1 out of the box with Samsung’s own custom UI. The specs perform impressively and in the 2 weeks that I have used the phone, I am yet to encounter a situation where the phone could not keep up with my needs.
Talking about Samsung smartphone batteries has been a sensitive issue. The South Korean tech firm has played it very safe with the battery this time and I feel they consciously reduced the capacity of the Galaxy Note 8 to 3,300 mAh which is 200mAh less than last year’s Galaxy Note 7 and this year’s Galaxy S8+. People might wonder that the Galaxy Note 8 has a bigger body than the Galaxy S8+, so how come the smaller battery? To them I say, you’re forgetting where the S-pen is housed.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 supports wireless and wired Fast Charging. As for the concerns about reduced battery life, I am a regular user who charges the phone at night before I go to sleep, wake up, go to work and come back home to charge it again in the late evening. The battery indicator usually showed that the device had somewhere between 20 to 25 percent of charge still left at the end of the day. Hence we can safely assume that the battery will last a whole day for medium users and maybe need a Fast charge in the middle of the day for heavy users.
S-pen however, is not the only special feature in the handset. It’s time to talk about the cameras on the device.
The Galaxy Note 8 is the first from Samsung to debut with a dual camera module at the back. Two 12MP rear cameras with 26mm, f/1.7 lens, PDAF and 52mm, f/2.4 wide-angle lens respectively. Both the lenses have Optical Image Stabilisation and a 2x optical zoom.
Photos from the dual rear cameras are detailed, crisp, bright and reproduce excellent colours with impressive low light capabilities. I am yet to test the iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X and the Google Pixel 2 XL cameras but I have to admit that the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 would give stiff competition.
What was not as impressive about the camera was the quality of the image from the wide-angle lens, which at plain sight seemed to capture noisier and lower resolution photos.
Samsung Note 8’s dual cameras have given it the capability to take Live Photos which are essentially similar to iPhone’s Portrait Mode. This captures two images with the option of blurring out the subject background. This produces some great portrait shots but the results don’t seem consistent with lower light conditions.
Here are some camera samples: Click to open the original image.
I believe Samsung’s Live Photo gets the last laugh for now as it offers the option to control the blur effect both while taking the photo and after you’ve captured it. The feature works on inanimate objects as well and does not need a person’s face like Apple does. Samsung saves face in the eve of the quality debate by taking two different photos with Live photos, one with the telephoto camera and the other with the wide-angled one. This gives the option to fall back on the wider photo if the zoomed in one feels of lower quality. The front camera has an 8 MP sensor with a f/1.7 lens that produces great photos and can even add the selective focus effect digitally.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 like the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ are one of the few phones in the world that come with Bluetooth 5.0. It gives them the capability to pair and play music from 2 bluetooth devices at the same time. I tried it out and the devices were out of sync by just a slight margin.
When it comes down the worthiness of the Samsung Galaxy Note 8, one needs to consider whether they want certain features or not. The specs of the phone are top notch, something expected from a flagship device, and the performance is unparalleled. But that can be said the same for other flagship devices as well, like the Apple iPhone 8 Plus and the LG V30.
In terms of the camera, the Note 8 is among the best, if not the best. But the same is true for the HTC U11 and the new Pixels as well. The second camera is a hit and miss for me. It depends on whether you would really want to use the Live Photos feature or not.
The design is where it beats everything out there and that is a big checkbox for many people. To put an icing on the cake if you are a fan of the S-pen and are looking for a productive device, then you should definitely go for it.
As for the statement that Samsung was trying to make, the Note series is definitely back (not with a ‘bang’) and it is better than ever.