maligned Note 7 that came to a fiery end. But with a massive screen, tiny bezels, battery life to go the distance and an excellent stylus, is the Note 8 finally what phablet fans have been asking for?
The Samsung Note series created the phablet category in 2011, defined as a smartphone with a 5in or larger screen. As smartphone screens grew in size to the monsters we have today, a big screen wasn’t enough to differentiate the Note against the competition.
But while large screens are now common, a stylus is certainly not. So it is the unique blend of large screen, a stylus, the as-small-as-possible form factor and large collection of productivity tools that have made the Note so popular. The Note 8 doesn’t break with that tradition.
The Note 8’s screen is ginormous. At 6.3in on the diagonal, with a tall and thin design taken straight from the Infinity Display of Samsung’s Galaxy S8 devices, the Note 8 dwarfs almost every other device, including the previous Note 7, in sheer screen real estate.
At the same time, that 6.3in screen is squeezed into a body that’s pretty much the same size as an iPhone 7 Plus and only a smidgen bigger than the Note 7 and then Galaxy S8+. The front is all screen with thin bezels top and bottom and curved edges that bend towards metal sides.
The curvature of the screen on the Note 8 and its corners is much reduced compared to the Note 8. The result is harder corners and less screen on the rounded edges, which makes using the stylus easier. The 74.8mm width of Note 8 is also easier to keep a hold of with a metal ridge down the side aiding grip.
The Note 8 is in no way an easy to handle smartphone with one hand, but it’s less slippery and is narrower than the majority of competition including the 77.9mm wide iPhone 7 Plus and the 75.7mm wide Google Pixel XL.
The screen is simply brilliant. Big, bright and bold, with rich colours, deep blacks and great viewing angles. It’s the best on the market, and has there’s plenty of customisation options from colour to screen resolution.
The Note 8 has the same virtual home button and pressure-sensitive screen as the Galaxy S8, and you get a choice of orientation of the navigation buttons, which is welcome.
The glass back of the device is monolithic, with a simple Samsung logo about two-thirds of the way up and the cluster of cameras, flash, heart rate sensor and fingerprint sensor near the top that all sit flush marked out by a small raised bezel.
The Note 8 is water resistant to depths of 1.5 metres for 30 minutes with an IP68 rating, and Corning’s Gorilla Glass 5, which should hopefully make both front and back more scratch and shatter resistant than other glass-backed devices, although most will probably want a case to protect the large device.
- Screen: 6.3in quad HD+ AMOLED (521ppi)
- Processor: octa-core Samsung Exynos 8895 or octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
- RAM: 6GB of RAM
- Storage: 64GB + microSD card
- Operating system: Android 7.0 with TouchWiz
- Camera: dual 12MP rear cameras with OIS, 8MP front-facing camera
- Connectivity: LTE, Wi-Fi, NFC, wireless charging, Bluetooth 5, GPS and Iris sensor
- Dimensions: 162.5 x 74.8 x 8.6 mm
- Weight: 195g
Long battery life
The Note 8 has the same processor, graphics and storage as the Galaxy S8 line of devices, but has more memory with 6GB of RAM. It performs similarly to the S8 and better in multitasking.
The Note 8 isn’t quite the fastest-feeling Android device – that would be the OnePlus 5 – but its snappy performance is maintained even with two complex apps on screen at the same time. Gaming performance is also excellent, while the Note 8 ran cool with relatively good battery longevity even when playing games or watching movies with the screen brightness cranked up and video enhancing options turned on.
Used as my primary device the Note 8 lasted well over 31 hours between charges, meaning that it will last around a day and a half of heavy use, primarily on mobile data, before you’ll need to reach for a plug socket. That was with hundreds of emails, notifications, five hours of Spotify over Bluetooth headphones, 2 hours of watching downloaded Netflix TV shows, the odd photo and lots of web browsing.
Most people will probably see two days of use between charges.
The Note 8 also supports Bluetooth 5, the latest in 4G and wifi connectivity, plus NFC, wireless charging, USB-C and a headphone jack, meaning it supports standards new and old, making it one of the most future-proofed devices available.
Android 7.0 with TouchWiz
Samsung devices run a modified version of Android called TouchWiz. The Note 8 runs Android 7.0 Nougat, not the latest version 8 Oreo, and with a series of customisations to both the look and operation of Android, supporting the S-Pen stylus among other features.
The Note 8 has a similar feature set to the Galaxy S8, including some handy additions to Android such as the ability to swap the order of the navigation buttons at the bottom of the screen, and Samsung’s Snap window, which creates an overlay of any video on the screen so you can watch something and message people at the same time.
But Samsung goes further with the Note 8 supporting more advanced multitasking, such as not only using two apps side-by-side on the screen, but also saving that configuration as a new app icon that’ll always launch the pair of apps together.
While multitasking on a smartphone screen, even one as big as 6.3in, is still a prospect with limited appeal for most users, there are some genuinely useful combinations, such as calendar and messaging apps, file manager and email (for drag and drop attachments), and IMDB and Google Play movies to see if that rental offer you’re looking at really is worth watching.
Other software additions are associated with the S-Pen, which now has a noticeably thinner tip and supports up to 4,098 levels of pressure. You can still write on the screen when it’s off, which is incredibly handy for making shopping lists. The best feature of the Note 7, instant gif-making from a video, returns, as does Samsung’s other sketching, screen-writing, selection and other productivity tools that use the S-Pen.
A new feature that’s quite cute is the live message feature, which allows you to draw or write out something to create an animated gif to send via pretty much any messaging app or email via Android’s built-in share system. It’s fun, fast and cross compatible. I can’t see myself using it every day, but I have enjoyed using it on the odd occasion and will use it again.
The S-Pen itself is great. There’s no perceptible lag, it’s comfortable to use and is the best combination of performance, size and convenience, slotting into the bottom of the phone and safely out of sight when you’re not using it. It’s water resistant too, just like the Note 8. It’s easy to see why Samsung has some die-hard Note and S-Pen fans.
The Note 8 comes with a variety of options for unlocking the phone. On the front you have an IR-based iris scanner, which works well if the phone is in the right orientation. It has face recognition, which has been a mainstay of Android for years and isn’t fantastic, plus the usual pin, pattern and smart lock features for keeping it unlocked when at home, connected to a car or other device.
Then there’s the fingerprint scanner, which like the Galaxy S8 is positioned right up next to the camera on the back. It’s an awkward position that is less than ideal, and requires some stretching to reach. It’s clearly a stopgap for a fingerprint mounted under the screen, which Samsung and others haven’t gotten to work properly just yet.
I got used to reaching it eventually, but it required quite a lot of hand movement, which for a device this size increases your chances of dropping it.
The Note 8 has Samsung’s first dual camera setup on the back. Both cameras have 12-megapixel sensors and optical image stabilisation but with different focal lengths and apertures. One is a traditional smartphone camera with a f/1.7 lens, the other is a “telephoto” lens with a f/2.4 aperture, which together allow a 1x and 2x optical zoom.
The normal camera behaves like any of Samsung’s other top-end cameras, including the Galaxy S8, which is to say it’s an excellent all-rounder, good in low light, with fast focus, good colour reproduction and detail. It’s not quite the best camera on the market but it’s very close.
The telephoto camera is a bit of a mixed bag. It gets you slightly closer and that can be useful in some scenarios, but it’s also noticeably worse performing, producing much darker and grainier photos in less-than-optimal lighting situations where the normal camera produces can still produce good results.
With the right light the telephoto camera is capable of producing some great portrait or object shots, but invariably I found I could get better results by using the camera with the f/1.7 lens and moving physically closer.
The dual camera set up allows for some now fairly standard features such as depth perception for artificially blurring the background of a portrait. It works pretty well and uniquely allows the user to adjust the level of effect both during shoots and after the fact in the gallery app. But just like every other system out there, including Apple’s portrait mode on the iPhone 7 Plus, it struggles with fine detail causing issues around hair and making people look a little like cardboard cutouts pasted onto the image rather than embedded within it.
- The fingerprint scanner on the back is marked out more clearly on the Note 8 than the Galaxy S8 making it easier to find with your finger
- Samsung’s virtual assistant Bixby is pre-loaded on the Note 8 with a dedicated button
- Bixby voice commands now work in the UK, and have deep ties into Samsung’s apps on the Note 8, but I found it less useful for questions and information gathering than Google Assistant (which is also on the phone)
- The stylus clicks into place quite satisfyingly and quickly became a object to fiddle with
- The stylus doesn’t fit in the slot the wrong way up and doesn’t get stuck
- You need big pockets
The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 costs £869 and comes in black or gold in the UK, with different colours available in different regions.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 feels like a greatest hits for the Note series. It has every feature that made previous Notes worth buying and slams them into the new Samsung smartphone design ushered in by the Galaxy S8, but as a consequence doesn’t feel particularly new or innovative compared to Samsung’s other smartphones.
That doesn’t diminish the Note 8’s capabilities. It has a massive, beautiful screen with tiny bezels, an excellent stylus, it’s waterproof and lasts a good day and a half between charges. The dual camera system on the back is pretty good and the phone is powerful enough to do pretty much anything I can think of to do with a pocket computer.
It isn’t perfect though. The biggest irritations for the Note 8 is the placement of the fingerprint scanner, which is awkward at best, and that the phone is really big and really expensive. The Note 8’s biggest rival is the Galaxy S8+, which is 80% the same device with a very similar screen size. But if you’re after a master of productivity, with that excellent stylus, the Note 8 is the very best you’re going to get for this generation. Providing it doesn’t explode, of course, the Note 8 should confine the troubled Note 7 to the past.
Pros: great battery, impressive screen, water resistant, great camera, great stylus, microSD card slot, wireless charging
Cons: only Android 7.0, no USB-PD, fingerprint scanner placement awkward, expensive, very big for pockets