When the Samsung Galaxy S8 was announced, Samsung desperately needed a win. The flagship handset turned out to be a home run for the tech giant, and it’s looking to continue that momentum with its newest smartphone, the Galaxy Note 8. This powerhouse of a portable incorporates the same infinity edge design in a larger form factor with even beefier specs. The Note series has long been the handsets for Samsung power users, and the Note 8 is shaping up to be no different, with an improved stylus, added DeX support, and a long lasting battery.
It seems like Samsung has taken everything that we loved about the Samsung Galaxy S8 and doubled down.
Display Done Right
The first thing that catches your eye when you look at the Note 8 is the infinity edge display. It’s gorgeous. Just like with the Galaxy S8, the Note 8 has done away with any physical buttons on the front surface, letting the 6.3-inch Quad HD+ (2960 x 1440) resolution screen take center stage. The AMOLED display is breathtaking with crystal clear images and rich detailed color contrast. The screen wraps around the edges of the device providing a cool futuristic design, but more importantly, it maximizes the screen real estate on the phone’s 6.4 x 2.9 x 0.3-inch frame. For its size, the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 actually is comfortable to hold and use with a single hand. Sometimes phablets can be a bit unwieldy but the slim profile and lightweight design of the Galaxy Note 8 let it fit comfortably in your hand.
The Note 8 sports a similar button layout to the Galaxy S8 with independent volume controls and a Bixby home button along the left side a device, and a power button on the right-hand side. The power connector, headphone jack, and removable S Pen stylus sit along the bottom portion of the phone, while the expandable memory and SIM card can be accessed from the top. The front facing camera sits along the top right bezel while the two rear facing cameras the top center of the back of the phone. The fingerprint scanner sits just to the right of the camera. Again Samsung seems to have opted for the awkward fingerprint scanner placement. With the scanner so close to the rear facing cameras it’s all too easy to accidentally smudge the lens when trying to simply swipe the scanner.
Stylus Samsung Style
If there’s one thing that the note is known for it’s the S Pen Stylus. For many users, it’s the reason that they keep coming back. The built in peripheral is clearly a key component of the smartphone and it has only gotten better this time around. The pen is a bit slimmer this time around making it even easier to hold and offers 4,098 levels of pressure. Having tried the pen, we can attest to how smooth the tracking is.
Perhaps our favorite built-in feature for the S Pen is a tracker that will notify you once the phone travels far enough away from the pen. It’s fairly simple, but it helps ensure that you don’t leave the Stylus behind when you’re in a rush.
Another cool feature that has caught our eye is Live Messages, which allows the Note to create animated handwritten messages. It may not have the biggest impact in the boardroom, but the ability to add some flare to your texts or memos with a quick animated Gif is fun and unique.
On the other end of the spectrum, there’s Screen Off Memo which allows users to take advantage of the always on display to write notes with the S Pen. The Note 8 can store up to 100 pages of notes, which can then be later edited, imported to other apps, or sent to others via email and text with a simple click of a button. This may not sound like such a big deal, but the expediency of the whole process is what makes it so appealing. Without even having to unlock your phone you can quickly jot down notes that you can access and review later. It’s perfect when popping into that quick meeting, or jotting up a quick grocery list before heading out.
Built for Productivity
Samsung has been trying to blur the lines between our tablets, phones, and laptops for awhile now and with the Samsung Galaxy Note 8, that vision is finally beginning to take shape. That’s in large part due to the impressive array of specs sitting under the hood. The phablet is packing some serious heat running on Android 7.1.1 with up to a 2.35GHz Octa core 10mn CPU (varying depending on mobile operator), with 6GB of RAM, up to 256GB of onboard storage, and a 3,300 mAh fast charging battery.
Simply put the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is a powerhouse. This is one of the first handsets truly capable of real multitasking without skipping a beat. Though our time was short with the Note 8, we were blown away by the phone’s ability to juggle multiple tasks at the same time. However, what really unlocks the Note 8’s full potential as a productivity device is Samsung DeX.
The possibilities of DeX — an optional phone dock that turns your phone into a desktop-like experience — first intrigued us when we saw the Galaxy S8, but since then Samsung has improved the experience adding in full keyboard support and the ability to pop in and out of the dock seamlessly. The full mouse and keyboard support along with the suite of desktop apps really make this accessory way more attractive. Before only a handful of apps would run in desktop mode, with most apps simply being ported mirrored onto the display. Now even demanding tasks like video editing and games are fully customizable experience with adjustable windows and settings, allowing you to easily run multiple programs at the same time.
Of course, this isn’t going to replace your PC anytime soon, but this is the first handset where we could really see ourselves getting some serious work done on it if needed.
Another area where Samsung is really upping the ante is the camera… or should I say cameras. The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 will ship with three cameras, an 8MP front facing camera, a 12MP wide angle camera, and a 12MP telephoto camera. The two rear-facing cameras offer Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) to make sure you get the smoothest picture possible. We got a chance to try this feature out first hand, it really does make a big difference, especially when taking high detail close shots.
Both cameras can be used simultaneously in a dual camera mode allowing users to take a telephoto shot, while also capturing a more ambient wide angle view with a single click. The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 can also toggle between the two cameras. The wide angle lens features a Dual Pixel sensor with rapid focus, helping to take images in low light.
The Note 8 also offers a Live Focus feature which allows you to control the depth of field via the bokeh effect in preview mode and after you’ve already taken the picture. Essentially this allows you to play with ambient blur to help heighten the clarity of the image in the foreground.
What we love about all of this is that it’s just simple. Even if you don’t have experience with photography, the Note 8 makes it easy to take a great picture, providing you with different perspectives, and it even allows you to edit them after that fact.
Bixby Voice is something that had us very excited about when we first looked at the Galaxy S8. The voice assisted software could be incredibly promising, but Samsung has hit some roadblocks along the way. The feature was supposed to debut with the launch of the S8 but had delays prolonging the release until August 22nd of this year. Now that the voice assistant is finally out live on smartphones we will echo what we said so many months ago: Bixby has tremendous potential, but it still needs a lot of fleshing out.
The one thing that Bixby does have going for it, is it’s incredibly robust. Bixby allows you to bypass touch commands completely with thousands of voice activated options. In fact, it’s probably the most versatile voice assistant on the market. It’s able to pull up emails, give you reminders based on your geolocation and post things to applications outside of Samsung’s ecosystem. It’s incredibly impressive, but also a bit overwhelming. With thousands of options come thousands of corresponding commands. That means to get the most out of Bixby you’re going to need to learn how to speak its language. Luckily there’s an adaptive feature that will probe you for more information if can’t quite understand what you’re asking it to do. Unfortunately with so many things going it’s also possible to get wires crossed. For example, say you’re trying to send a message through WhatsApp if you give the wrong command Bixby could easily send that message through Samsung Messages instead. This is something that we expect to continue to be smoothed out throughout the launch of Bixby.
Best of all Samsung is really playing with house money here. Bixby isn’t a direct replacement for Google Voice Assistant. Both are running on the device at the same time, so if you find Bixby a bit overwhelming, you can always opt for Google’s voice assisted AI instead.
Final Thoughts & Availability
We don’t want to jump the gun, but it’s hard not to get excited about the Samsung Galaxy Note 8. Samsung has taken the best aspects of the Galaxy S8 and improved on them. The Note 8 provides more robust specs, with an even larger display, loads of fun and interesting features, and perhaps the most user-friendly camera that we’ve seen. The only gripe that we really have so far is the fingerprint scanner placement. We were not a fan of it on the S8 and we’re sad to see the Note 8 repeat the same mistake, but considering everything else this handset is offering, it seems like a really small issue to have.
If the Samsung Galaxy S8 was the company’s best smartphone, it just got better with the Galaxy Note 8.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 will be available in Midnight Black and Orchid Gray. AT&T, C Spire, Cricket Wireless, Sprint, Straight Talk Wireless, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, Verizon Wireless and Xfinity Mobile will carry the Galaxy Note8 in stores beginning September 15, 2017. Pre-orders will begin on August 24, 2017, and online orders will be made available from Samsung, Best Buy, Target, and Walmart. Unfortunately, Samsung has yet to release a price point for the device, but we will be sure to update as soon as they release one.