The Galaxy Note range has long been Samsung’s go-to smartphone for people seeking productivity on the move. Last year, well do we really need to go into it? Anyway, having to skip a year has not hurt the Note series at all. In fact it, Samsung have put that year to good use by going back to the drawing board and completely re-imagining the Note series. What they have come up with is a smartphone that stands out from the competition and is easily the best “phablet” on the market.
When it comes to the design the first thing that catches the eye is the shape of the phone. The Galaxy Note 8 is loooong. The dimensions are 162.5×74.8×8.6mm which somehow manages to squeeze in a screen size of 6.3 inches. It’s a striking design but one that does take a moment to get used to because the shape isn’t as wide as you would traditionally expect from a phone of this size. While on the design side of things, Samsung gone for a glass design which means, you guessed it, support for wireless charging which is a godsend. It’s one of those things that you don’t realise how liberating it is until you actually start using it.
The Galaxy Note 8 uses the same Infinity Display as the Samsung S8 range and with the extra screen real estate and near bezel-less design the screen is the star of the show as it bloody well should be! The Note 8 Infinity Display is a Super AMOLED QuadHD Screen which means the resolution on the screen is 2960×1440 with HDR and wide colour gamut. In a world where 4K screens are starting to come to smartphones, Samsung are still the gold standard, producing a display that is vibrant with excellent colour reproduction. Yes it’s a fantastic screen and they pack that 6.3 inches into a tiny frame but there is no escaping it, the phone is big. I mean REALLY big and whilst that is absolutely fine for someone like me who likes big phones, for some it will be too much and if that’s the case then the smaller Galaxy S8 is probably more your thing.
Going for that near bezel-less design means that the physical home button is gone and has been replaced by on-screen soft keys. The move also means that the fingerprint scanner is on the back of the phone which is necessary but the off-centre design means I was often hitting the dual camera with my finger rather than the fingerprint scanner. Samsung have attempted to offer an alternative with the Iris scanner but it can be more miss than hit.
Sitting behind that screen the Note 8 is hiding running an Octa-core processor at 2.3Ghz,1.7GHz coupled with a massive 6GB RAM and 64GB of storage but it can be expanded up to 256GB thanks to Samsung’s continued inclusion of MicroSD support. That tech runs on Android 7.0 (Android 8.0 update is coming) with Samsung’s overlay sitting over the top. Samsung have worked hard over the last year or two to really refine their interface and remove the bloatware heavy Touchwiz of old. What you get now is a much more refined interface that aims to provide all the customisation you’ve come to expect from Samsung (and Android) whilst streamlining the process and creating menus that are more intuitive and natural to use. There is also a great new feature there called App Pairing which will allow you to jump straight into multitasking by launching two apps at once. It’s a nifty feature that shows off the multitasking capabilities of the Note 8, something that people who use the device for its productivity gains will love.
Bixby is included again but as much as I want to really appreciate it, it still needs work and there isn’t much support for it in New Zealand. Yes it is handy for using the camera to take a picture of a landmark and suggest things like restaurants or tourist spots nearby but outside of that the virtual assistant needs some work. Its speech recognition is patchy so prepare yourself for some interesting interpretations of what you said to Bixby. If you need a personal assistant then Google Assistant is on the Note 8 and is a lot more functional so stick to that instead.
In general use the Note 8 is a monster! This thing is blisteringly fast. Even when multitasking I just couldn’t slow it down no matter how hard I tried. Whether just launching an app, using the camera, playing a game, watching a movie or making use of the S-Pen (more on that in a sec), the Note 8 handles everything without hesitation and does so in absolute beauty on that gorgeous, vibrant Infinity Display. I don’t do benchmarks, I prefer real life usage rather than a bunch of tests. Sure it’s not scientific and many reviewers will scoff at me for not formally bench-marking the phone but to them I say go back to your Geeklab! Real people aren’t sitting at a desk running benchmarks to judge performance, they are out there using their phone everyday and judging it on real-world usage hence that’s what I do, go figure! At the end of the day the Note 8 is quick no matter what you throw at it so whether you need the Note 8 for business/productivity purposes or you are just wanting a phone that will handle your Facebook status updates and some occasional candy crush, the Note 8 dominates in the Android space.
Now to the S Pen, that little accessory that pops out from the Note 8 and adds to the capabilities of the Note 8. No matter what anyone says there are always types of S Pen users, the people who use it all the time and the people who thought they would use it and end up forgetting it was there. I fall into the latter category. I’m so used to using large phones that I’m accustomed to using my finger for everything on my phone. That’s not to say the S Pen is useless, far from it! When I did remember it was there it is very nifty indeed, there are some excellent uses for the S Pen such as signing documents without the need to print and then scan them back. It’s also a great way to edit or make changes to documents or photos. One of my favourite features was actually being able to jot down a note straight from the look screen without even turning the screen on. Jot down your note on the blank screen and the next time you do actually turn the screen on your note is right there, it’s a very handy way of jotting down reminders to yourself. Of course the Note 8 can translate your handwriting with the S Pen into text and you can also send little GIF messages to people created using the S Pen.
Now for the part of the review that I’m sure most are keen to know about, the on-board camera, or should I say Cameras. I won’t really spend time on the front facing camera, it’s 8MP and it takes decent shots but I’m not much of a selfie guy so I try to avoid front facing cameras. It’s the rear Dual Cameras coming in at 12MP each with apertures of f/1.7 & f/2.4 respectively where the Note 8 really sets the world alight. I’m gonna make this as plain as I can, the Note 8 has the best camera of any Android phone I’ve ever used fullstop! Now compared to iPhone it’s bloody close! The iPhone 8 Plus has an excellent camera and no doubt the iPhone X is going to better that still, but the Note 8 has a slight edge in general point and shoot images. When in comes to Portrait Mode (bokeh effects) the iPhone 8 Plus is slightly better although Samsung’s Live Focus mode lets you adjust the depth effect. Ultimately this camera coupled with the Infinity Display delivers crisp, precise, super colourful pictures that are incredibly detailed. There are a good bunch of photo modes on the camera such as Auto, Pro (for those that want complete control over exposure and the like), Panorama and the one I hate the most because I hate people who post these pics, Food mode. For more modes you can download them from the Galaxy Store.
For video recording the Note 8 can do 4K recording and with Optical Image Stabilisation on board you’ll get nice smooth detailed video. It is a good point and shoot video recorder but its strength is the quality of stills.
Perhaps the biggest let down of all from the Note 8 is from the battery which comes in at 3,300mAh. With the gorgeous Infinity Display at work here, the Note 8 will get you into the evening with moderate usage. Heavy users are going to need a top up sooner than that but if you have a wireless charger at work juice won’t be much of a problem. Look it’s understandable that Samsung took the safe road with the battery in the Note 8 but I certainly hope that when the Note 9 rolls around they go a bit larger with their battery.
The Galaxy Note 8 signals a complete change in philosophy for the Note series. The design is striking and the performance is almost other-worldly. The large price tag is justified for the performance that the phone delivers but the size of the Note 8 will put some people off so whilst it is Samsung’s best phone to-date it is not the best Samsung phone for everyone. Irrespective though the Note 8 is a triumphant return for the Note Series.