The Note line has a stature where each release is sure to be of the best smartphones of the year. The excellent reception of the Galaxy S8 and S8+ earlier in the year was effective in getting us to forget about Samsung’s colossal failure with the Note 7, and the Note 8 was set to seal the deal. That said, the gap between the Galaxy S and Note series has never been so small. With another price hike compared to the very similar Galaxy S8+, we can’t help but wonder if Samsung is trying to pull a fast one on us. This synopsis sums up where the Note 8 stands.
Like the successful Galaxy S8 series, the Note 8 continues to cut away its list of downsides. This phone isn’t perfect, but Samsung gets closer every year. That is, if a humongous phone is your style.
- Super-AMOLED screen capable of 1,200 nits of brightness
- IRIS retina scanning security option
- Fast wireless charging
- OIS on secondary, telephoto camera sensor
- Speedy Dual Pixel auto-focus
- Well-implemented stylus
- IP68-rated waterproofing
- Bluetooth v5.0
- Awful fingerprint scanner location
- Nearly $1K price tag
- Telephoto camera not good in low-light
- Huge size
What it’s like to use
- You may think that the Note 8‘s significant 195g weight and 162.5mm tallness makes it unwieldy in the hand, but its ideal width, thickness, and curved body actually helps grip. However, it is naturally top-heavy.
- The curved display does not have as good incidental touch rejection as the Galaxy S8 in our experience (maybe because of the steeper curve to the display).
- Fingerprint scanner usage is worse than the Galaxy S8+. Because the Note 8 is even taller, you have to reach higher up towards the top, left corner.
- Samsung now lets us disable the physical Bixby button if we choose. However, the button still wakes the phone. Also, holding it down still toggles the Bixby Voice function.
- S-Pen usage is equivalent to the Note 7, which isn’t a bad thing. It is extremely responsive and there is great palm rejection on the screen. But you have to get used to avoiding the curved edges.
- Live Focus (Samsung’s Portrait-like camera feature that utilizes the dual camera system) is sensitive to distance. It’s often that you’re too close to the subject and you’ll be told to be 4 feet away for it to work. But when it does work, it’s easy to get some spectacular-looking photos.
- It’s nifty that you can adjust the background blur after the fact. What’s even more nifty is that when you snap a Live Focus pic, it simultaneously takes a capture with the primary sensor, so you get two different angles for the price of one.
- The secondary telephoto lens is not always used when you press the “2x” zoom button. Samsung has an algorithm in place to choose between digitally zooming with the primary sensor or optically with the telephoto sensor. This is because the f/2.4 aperture of the zoom lens isn’t as good in low-light. Samsung is essentially saying that because of this, its digital zoom yields better results than optical zoom in poor lighting.
- Samsung latest software is stellar. It’s eye-pleasingly modern and is well optimized. This is the quickest and smoothest custom UI we’ve used, and we didn’t personally feel the need to use a third-party launcher even after a lengthy period of time.
- Bixby has great potential, because it can execute functions even within third-party apps with your vocal commands. Unfortunately, it’s not fully developed yet. You’ll run into speed bumps often. For example, we told it to open the Play Music app and play an artist. It did, and it’s super neat to watch the screen as it goes through the motions by itself. But then when we told it to set the volume to medium or halfway, it keep cranking it to max volume.
- This latest S-AMOLED is glorious – no exaggeration. Elements on the screen look like physical sticker rather than an image, assisted by the fact that the quality doesn’t budge at all at even the most extreme viewing angle. It is also super bright. 50% brightness does it for us in most cases, and outdoor visibility in direct sunlight is no problem.
- Although the Note 8 has a 200mAh battery decrease from the Galaxy S8+ (3,300mAh vs 3,500mAh) and a slightly larger screen, the impact to battery life is minimal. This phone has no problem getting through the day, and onto the next day with moderate usage.
- Samsung lets you toggle the bottom navigation buttons to auto-hide, giving your content access to the entire screen. You can bring up the buttons at any time with a swipe up from the bottom. This turns out to make the pressure-sensitive Home button invaluably useful, taking you Home at any point without having to bring up the navigation bar.
The Camera Samples
2x Telephoto Camera
Samsung doesn’t appear to bring a whole lot to the table from the successful Galaxy S8 duo, but actually using the Note 8 tells a different story. The bigger and brighter S-AMOLED screen is a pleasurable eyeful, and the dual camera system changed from just a nice-to-have to a key feature upon seeing the stunning images the Live Focus mode could crank out. We also can’t help but give Samsung kudos for its useful software features and robust optimization. The immaculately functioning S-Pen is of course a plus too, that no other phone has, as well as fast wireless charging.
Samsung is closing in on perfection, but it’s not there yet. The fingerprint scanner is still in about the worst spot it could be, and while the secondary camera matches the primary sensor for optical stabilization, it doesn’t come close in low-light performance. We also can’t ignore the exorbitant price tag, which is awfully close to $1k. Lastly, the Note 8‘s towering size wouldn’t unreasonably be too much for many users.
All things considered (including the competition), we have to deem the Note 8 the best smartphone on the market right now. Its accumulation of quality is unrivaled in the Android space. Apple iPhone X release is looming, but the Note 8 has a footing on it in a couple ways.
Also See: Best Smartphones (October 2017)