I stopped using the iPhone as my primary phone earlier this year and the biggest reason I did that is the Samsung Galaxy S8. Samsung released a phone that was technically superior to any other phone with a design to match. The S8 has been my primary phone for the last few months. But that changes today as there is finally a new phone that beats it- say hello to the Galaxy Note8.
Like most Samsung phones of late, the Note8 is packaged with a charger along with a USB Type-C cable as well as a Micro-USB to Type-C converter so you can use older charging cables. Also present is a set of AKG earbuds with some extra buds for different ear sizes. These are the same as the ones included with the Galaxy S8 which I’ve used plenty of times and they sound pretty good. Last but not the least, some extra tips for the S Pen are also included along with a pin to remove the SIM tray and the usual set of Quickstart and warranty information.
For the past few years, the design of the Samsung Galaxy Note lineup has more-or-less, been a refined version of the Galaxy S handset that preceded it and the Galaxy Note8 follows that. The pebble like corners on the S8 have been replaced by sharper ones while the screen itself is less curved for a good reason- it’s easier to write on a flat surface. Both these factors make the Note8 look more professional and, in my opinion, better.
Button placement is similar to the Galaxy S8 which means the volume rocker and the Bixby button sit on the left with the power button is on the right. The Hybrid SIM tray which can take two SIM cards or one SIM card and one MicroSD card sits on top. And at the bottom, Samsung places the USB Type-C connector with the 3.5mm jack on its left and the speaker grill as well as the S Pen holster on the right.
The Galaxy Note8 is available in three colors at launch- Midnight Black, Maple Gold and Orchid Gray. A fourth variant, Deep Sea Blue, will follow later and is definitely my favourite. I received the Midnight Black version from Samsung which is very stealthy with a black frame that disappears between the front and back glass for an extremely seamless design. It does attract fingerprints easily though. Like the Galaxy S8, the Note8 is IP68 certified which means that it is water and dust resistant. The certification applies to the S Pen as well.
One complain that Samsung unfortunately didn’t address on the Note8 is the placement of the fingerprint sensor. It wasn’t easy to access on the Galaxy S8 and it remains hard to reach on the Note8. Thankfully, the fingerprint sensor is enclosed in a more pronounced shell on the Note8 and the flash now sits between the fingerprint sensor and the camera so you’re not constantly smudging the camera like the S8.
The Galaxy Note8 is quite similar to the Galaxy S8 in terms of hardware. In the Middle East, Samsung will be selling the Exynos 8995 version which I’ve been using on my Galaxy S8 and is very fast. The Note8 has 6GB RAM which is more than the 4GB found on the S8 and will come in handy with multi-tasking and using two apps on the screen at the same time. I do wish that Samsung had upped the default storage on the Note 8 from 64GB to 128GB. It is a phone meant for professionals and the new camera modes can make that storage disappear quickly- more on that in the camera section.
Like the Galaxy S8, what stands out on the Note8 is the Infiniti Display- there is no other phone on the market with such a jaw-dropping display. The 6.3-inch Super AMOLED screen is slightly larger than the 6.2-inch one found on the Galaxy S8+ and comes with the same resolution of 1440x2980. The display also supports HDR and Netflix has already added the Note8 to it's list of devices for HDR playback.
Everything else present on the Galaxy S8 is also there on the Note8 as well such as Wireless charging and biometric authentication which includes face unlock as well as iris scanning.
The Galaxy Note8 ships with Android 7.1 and Samsung Experience 8.5 both of which are higher versions than the one running on the Galaxy S8. There are some visual tweaks to the UI, the most notable of which is creating an app pair. Samsung has supported running two apps simultaneously on the screen long before Google added that functionality to Android. With the Note 8, Samsung now provides an option to pair two apps and then using just one tap, launch both these apps simultaneously on the screen. I’ve created a pair for Google Maps and Google Play Music which allows me to navigate and browse through my music library simultaneously while I'm driving.
Expectedly, most of the software changes are related to the S Pen, and there are plenty which will make S-Pen users smile. First of all, taking Notes on the lock screen was possible with previous versions of Galaxy Note, however, you can now edit these notes as well as add more pages to each note- up to a 100. This is great for maintaining quick to-do lists on your always-on screen and is the most used function for note taking according to Samsung.
Something that’s brand new is the ability to create “Live Messages” which allows you to choose a background (or not) and draw over it using the S Pen. Your writing/drawing process is saved as an animated GIF which can then be shared on apps such as WhatsApp or Snapchat. This feature is similar to what Apple has with iMessage but is open as the file that’s saved is an animated GIF and not a proprietary format that only Apple uses can see.
Last but not the least, Samsung has now added the ability to translate entire sentences and not just words using the S Pen. Along with translating languages, units and currencies are also converted automatically to your preferred region.
For the last couple of generations, the Galaxy S series has been the one to receive major camera upgrades but for this year, Samsung decided to save them for the New Note. The Note8 becomes the first high-end Samsung phone to come equipped with dual back cameras. Both the cameras have a 12MP sensor with AutoFocus feature and Optical Image Stabilization.
The primary camera is identical to the Galaxy S8 with an f/1.7 aperture and dual pixel technology that takes phenomenal shots, even in low light conditions. The second lens has an f/2.4 aperture and does not support dual pixel technology. The second camera is set at a 2X zoom level allowing you to take zoomed-in pictures without any loss in quality- see the sample above. It also allows you to create a background blur and make your subject stand out. If all of this sounds familiar, it’s because the iPhone 7 uses dual lenses for exactly the same purpose. The picture below compares Background Blu on the Note8 with iPhone 7 Plus. Colors are much truer to the original on the Note8.
Where the two differ, in terms of hardware is that Samsung allows OIS on both the lenses which allows for steady videos and better shots when switching from one lens to another. Also, when taking portrait shots from the Note 8, both the portrait and the wide-angle shots are saved and the amount of background blurring can be adjusted even after the photo is taken. This allows you to have much more creative control and freedom on your shots.
Not only is the Galaxy Note8 the best phone that Samsung has ever made, it is also the best large screen phone available today. I’ve been using the Galaxy S8 as my daily driver for a few months now but one week with the Note8 has convinced me to switch over- and I’m barely getting started with the S Pen.
As good of a phone the Note8 is, there are a couple of challenges it faces. First, the new and supposedly completely redesigned iPhone is expected to be announced on Sep 12, a few days before the Note8 goes on sale across retail stores. The new iPhone is expected to share a lot of similarities with the Note8 such as an edge-to-edge display, an Iris Scanner, Wireless Charging, a 10nm processor. I asked Samsung about this but they don't feel threatened.
Next is the price tag of AED 3,399 which makes the Note8 the most expensive phone that Samsung has released (not counting Special Editions.) I don’t think that will particularly be an issue as Note8 is being targeted as a premium product and I expect other phone manufacturers such as Apple to follow. Phones are becoming a status symbol and there are plenty of folks who will take pleasure in flaunting their expensive phones.
And finally, I’ve known a few Galaxy S series owners that buy the new Note to simply have the biggest/best Samsung device. Considering that the Galaxy S8+ is almost the same size as the Note8, this could also be a market not as interested in upgrading to a Note. That being said, if you’re a Note fan because of the stylus, there is nothing out there like the Galaxy Note8.