Samsung’s Galaxy Note is back, better, bigger, stronger, faster, and yes, they have rebuilt it. This latest version of the note – the Note 8 – could well be the best yet. They’ve taken lessons from last year’s troublesome model. Better still, they’ve rethought all processes around battery manufacture and design. This, according to Samsung, is now part and parcel with all Samsung smartphones.
The temptation may have been to drop The Note down a deep well after last year’s Note 7 recall, but I’m glad they pushed ahead with a Note 8. In a nutshell, it’s very much like a Galaxy S8+ with oodles of extras. Some even say that the Note 8 is the hardware they’d wished for with the S8+. As well as the usual Note functions, there’s a decent serving of clever bits. Here are my first impressions
With the S8/S8+, Samsung added a new twist to their design DNA. This hasn’t changed a lot with the Note 8. This probably just shows how they well Samsung nailed the design of the Galaxy S8 and S8+. The Note 8 feels like a zillion bucks in the hand. This is thanks to its alloy and glass build – there’s not a sniff of Tupperware anywhere. Looks-wise, it is a tall, barely-bezelled device that feels very pocketable indeed.
Its chassis feels solid and its glossy finish seamlessly merges with its glass screen. The effect is especially pronounced with the black version which looks more like a miniature monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey (albeit with rounded curved edges). The Note 8 is available in Maple Gold and Orchid Grey (which from what I could tell is bluer than grey/purple).
Where the Note 7 felt compact, the Note 8 is more well-proportioned. This said, it feels more comfy to hold. This is more likely to do with the move to the same 18.5:9 aspect ratio screen used in the S8/S8+. The upshot of this is that you get more screen. With the Note, this equals more scribble space, which is of course extremely desirable.
The screen is gorgeous. It is an AMOLED QHD beastie which offers punchy colours, ample contrast and brightness levels that’d be at home in a tanning clinic. (It can go over 1000 Nits, so direct sunlight isn’t a problem).
As you’d expect with a flagship Samsung phone, the Note 8 has more loads of grunt. Its processor (a Samsung-developed Exynos 8895 rocket-ship) has power to burn. It still delivers a day’s battery life with typical use. There’s also 64GB of storage (which is expandable via microSD card). Anyone who has dozens of apps open will also appreciate the extra 2GB of RAM Samsung added. It takes the Note 8’s RAM up to a whopping 6GB. In short, the Note 8’s base spec is nothing to sneeze at.
Samsung have taken what worked with previous Galaxy hardware and grafted these onto the Note 8. In use, this translates into IP68 water resistance, wireless and fast charging. Samsung are also bundling the same stunning AKG earbuds as sold with the S8+.
The Note 8 is also Samsung’s first flagship smartphone to ship with dual rear cameras. In practice, this translates into twin 12MP shooters. One has a standard lens while the other comes with a telephoto lens to offer better zoom levels.
Apple fans may roll their eyes, but Samsung have also added optical image stabilisation. In practice, this lets users shoot decent photos in low light conditions. Two cameras also allow for depth detection. Samsung have taken advantage of this to add a clever depth of field feature they’ve branded as ‘live focus’. With it, photos can get refocused after they’re shot, which adds a nifty bokeh effect.
Samsung’s ‘Dual Pixel’ auto focus tech is also there. When combined with optical image stabilisation, blurred photos become much less likely. This will appeal to parents or pet owners.
In short, Samsung’s already great shooter is now even better.
Like the S8/S8+, the Note 8 also ships with the latest version of what used to be called Touchwiz and is now known as the ‘Samsung Experience’. There might not be a covers band included in the box, but the Note 8’s user interface feels slick and uncluttered. It is also a lot like that used on the S8/S8+. The only real differences revolve around S Pen software and what Samsung call ‘App Pair’, which lets the user choose two apps to launch together in Multi Window mode. This may sound gimmicky, but it’s also likely to be popular. Take driving for example: being able to launch Google Maps and Spotify with a single tap in the car is likely to be insanely useful.
The other star of the Galaxy Note 8 show is the S Pen. It comes with a whopping 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity. Unlike Apple’s efforts, it doesn’t need a battery, instead relying on electromagnetic inductance to power up. It’s also able to work to a high degree of detail thanks to its 0.7 mm tip. The usual note software is there, and a built-in stylus slots means it is less likely to be lost. A clever added wrinkle is that you can now whip out the S Pen to scribble notes on the Note 8’s screen without unlocking or powering it up. 100 pages of notes are storable. For shopping lists and other notes, it’s a killer feature.
The S Pen also has some other tricks up its stylus sleeve. On screen, text can get translated by highlighting it with the S Pen. This supports 30 languages, making it ideal for travellers. Then there’s also what Samsung calls ‘Live Message’. This allows users to scribble out a message that can be sent via social media as an animated .gif. The twist is that the animated GIF shows the note as its written. This should in theory work with any social media platform that supports GIFs.
All told, The Note 8 might not be the only phone with a stylus, but its implementation is one of the better to date. About the only gotcha of note (pun intended) is price. At $1599, the Note 8 is one of the priciest flagship smartphones Samsung have crafted so far. That said, you get one hell of a lot of phone for your money.
While media pundits could write something like “note 8 has arisen out of the note 7’s ashes”, there’s a measure of truth to this. Samsung’s decision to take what worked well with the S8/S8+ and use it on the Note 8 makes a lot of sense. It also poses a quandary for buyers.
Which to buy? A Galaxy S8+ or the Note 8? The similarities between the two are not insignificant. They’re similar in size, shape and design. They also have very similar specs. The only differences come down to the Galaxy S8+’s larger battery and the Note 8’s superior cameras and S Pen. Either way it’s a win for Sammy as buyers are in effect choosing between two Samsung phones.
The Note 8 takes what I loved with the Samsung S8+ and adds the features I wished it had. Dual depth sensing cameras and OIS takes Sammy’s well-regarded cameras to the next level. Like the S8+, the Note 8 has an eye popping QHD AMOLED display. Its Exynos CPU also delivers ample processing power without killing battery life. Then there’s the S Pen, water resistance and wireless charging. Price aside, what’s not to like?