Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review: Worth $1000?

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Samsung is determined to erase last year’s explosive Note 7 fiasco from everyone’s memory with the release of the Note 8. Known for being one of the biggest and best phones money can buy, the Note 8 lives up to its namesake – and won’t explode on you. However, it’s going to cost $1000 to have the brightest phone in Samsung’s “galaxy”. So, how much bang can the Note 8 deliver for those bucks?

At first glance, the Note 8 looks a lot like the S8 Plus. It has a similar glass body and aluminum frame, with thin bezels and the home button embedded in the screen. The fingerprint sensor is in an ass-backwards place and underneath the volume rockers is a dedicated (and largely unused) button to activate Bixby, Samsung’s answer to Google Assistant.

The Note 8 is taller, wider, heavier and sports a more boxed look compared to the curvaceous S8s. These tweaks look subtle, but make the Note 8 feel less comfortable holding for long periods and the fingerprint sensor harder to reach.

A mesmerizing 6.3-inch AMOLED screen dominates the front of the Note 8. This is one of the biggest and brightest phone screens available. It’s easy to see in direct sunlight, supports HDR 10 and has an Always-On mode.

More importantly, the Note 8 has an S-Pen, which you can use to write and pin up to 100 notes on the screen without turning it on.

 

The Note 8 is Samsung’s first phone with dual cameras: a wide angle camera and telephoto camera. It’s powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 processor and is equipped with 6GB of RAM to breeze through the most demanding tasks. To top it off, the Note 8 starts off with 64GB of storage and includes a microSD card slot to hold all of the music, videos and photos from your last phone and then some. Oh, and it also has a headphone jack.

The Note 8 powers through a full day on a battery that’s slightly smaller than the S8 Plus. The smaller battery is one of many steps Samsung has taken to ensure they don’t repeat their mistakes with the Note 7. These change don’t stop the Note 8 from powering through a full day on one charge. However, it takes close to 2 hours to completely charge the battery via the included USB Type-C cable even with fast charging enabled.

NOTE 8 NEW SOFTWARE FEATURES

Note 8 UI

The Note 8 comes with last year’s Android Nougat (7.1.1) instead of this year’s Android Oreo (8.0) update. The S8s are already in testing for the Oreo update, but there hasn’t been any word on when Oreo will arrive on the Note.

Samsung has cleaned up its infamous Touchwiz skin and renamed it Samsung Experience. This is by far the best looking skin Samsung has ever slapped on a phone. It’s still packed with features, but feels cleaner and lighter than Touchwiz ever did.

App Pairs & Split-Screen Mode on the Note 8
Play video to see App Pairs and Split-Screen mode in action

The Note series is well known for being able to let you use two apps at the same time, a feature first introduced with the Note 2. Fast forward five years and now any phone running Android 7.0 (Nougat) and later can show two apps at once using split-screen mode.

However, the Note 8 offers more options when using apps in split-screen mode. Tapping the app divider brings up a menu of actions to switch app positions, turn apps into “pop-up” windows, or snap part of an app to the top of the screen. You can’t do any of this on other Android phones without a third party app.

Take things a step further, the Note 8 lets you create app pairs that launch two apps at the same time. Sadly, you can only create and access app pairs from the Edge Panel and they could be added to the home screen too.

NOTE 8 NEW S-PEN FEATURES

Note 8 Air Command Panel
Note 8 Air Command Panel

Love it or hate it, but the S-Pen is one of the defining features of the Note series. Removing it from its slot at the bottom of the phone brings up Air Command, a circular menu of actions. From here, you can create notes, take and markup screenshots, record GIFs and more with the S-Pen.

The Note 8 brings a new feature to Air Command: Live Messages.

Live Message on the Note 8 Live Messages is one of the most hyped S-Pen features of the Note 8. You can write a message or doodle with the S-Pen and apply different pen effects to your creations. When you’re done, your live message is saved as an animated GIF that replays every stroke as if you were watching yourself write. It’s simple, gimmicky, and begrudgingly catchy. I just wish the GIF quality was better.

The translate feature in Air Command also receives a small, but much needed update in the Note 8. You can now hover the S-Pen over words, sentences, units, and foreign currencies to translate information in real-time.

NOTE 8 DUAL CAMERAS


The Note 8 is the first Samsung phone to have dual 12MP cameras: a wide-angle 26mm lens and a 52mm telephoto lens. Though the main camera is listed as having a wide angle lens, it’s actually closer to the same angle as most smartphone cameras. It won’t produce those wide-angle shots the LG V30 or G6 are famous for.

Nevertheless, the main camera focuses quickly and takes incredibly detailed pictures with strong colors. It handles high contrasting scenes nicely, but overexposes bright areas even with HDR turned on.

Note 8 Day (Wide Angle Lens)
Note 8 Day Shot (Wide Angle Camera)

Note 8 Low Light Shot
Note 8 Low Light Shot (Wide Angle Camera)

In low light, pictures retain a surprising amount of clarity and noise levels are low for a clean look. Occasionally, I noticed blurred patches in the the corners and edges of pictures, but they never impacted the overall look and quality of pictures.

Tapping the 2x button in the Note 8’s camera app jumps right into the telephoto lens. However, when taking 2x pictures in low lighting the Note 8 uses the primary “wide-angle” lens. The telephoto lens has a smaller aperture resulting in lower quality pictures in low lighting. Defaulting to the primary lens ensures you always get the best shot when zooming in low light settings.

The 2x zoom feature is nice, but the telephoto lens really shines in Live Focus mode.

Note 8 - Dual Capture
Dual Capture (Wide-Angle)
Note 8 - Live Focus
Live Focus

Live focus is a new feature that uses the telephoto lens to give pictures a nice blurred background effect, which can be adjusted before and after taking pictures. When it works it looks damn good. When it goes wrong, it leaves strange artifacts, which I experienced most while taking pictures of foliage.

If you struggle with choosing a camera to shoot with, the Note 8’s Dual Capture feature can take pictures from both cameras when using Live Focus. Instead of choosing a camera, you simply choose a picture. Just keep in mind this will take up more storage space since you’re saving two shots instead of one.

Note 8 Camera app

The Note 8’s camera app is largely the same as the S8 Plus with the addition of features that take advantage of the Note 8’s dual cameras and a full view mode that fills the entire screen with the camera’s viewfinder. If you care about getting the best image quality, use this full view mode sparingly because it takes photos at a lower resolution.

Double pressing the power button opens the Note 8’s camera app and there’s at least six ways to take a picture. Swiping up or down around the shutter button switches between the front and back cameras. Swiping left or right brings up over half a dozen camera modes and photo filters. Dragging the shutter button left or right zooms in and out.

Under the Stickers button, you’ll find over a dozen virtual stickers for selfies. The new Bixby Vision button can look up products, translations and more using the Note 8’s cameras. There’s also a Motion Photo feature tucked away in the settings menu that records a short video clip before taking a shot, similar to Live Photos on the iPhone.

NOTE 8 CONCLUSION: Big, Powerful & Pricey

Note 8

As Samsung’s most powerful phone yet, the Note 8 will appeal to power users and fans of big phones. This is the kind of phone you use for high-end gaming, creating content and working with large files. It holds on to features like headphone jacks and microSD card slots without sacrificing newer trends like wireless charging and biometric security options. I also appreciate how the Note 8’s packaging includes a number of adapters to make it easy to use the USB Type-C cord with your existing devices.

Unfortunately, having the best comes at a high cost. We’re talking rent money high. The Note 8’s starting price is $950 plus tax, shipping and handling. If you have a flagship phone from last year, you can trade it in for up to $300 in credit to bring the costs down.

Without credits, the exorbitant price tag is the biggest reason to pass on the Note 8. That, and the fact that the Pixel 2 XL has a better camera and costs less. However, if you enjoyed the pictures in this review – and you got credits or money to blow – you won’t regret a single penny spent on the Note 8.

**A special thanks to Verizon and AT&T for providing the review units featured in this review.
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Corvida Raven

A natural pioneer at grasping the rapidly changing landscape of technology, Corvida Raven talks tech in plain English on SheGeeks.net.