Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Hands-on: Second chance

Note 8

My initial impression of Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8 is that the phone, both internally and externally, bears a striking resemblance to its fire-prone predecessor, the Note 7.

Given that Samsung’s last ill-fated entry in the Note line remains one of my favourite smartphones of all time, I don’t necessarily consider this a bad thing.

Those who were hoping for a substantial overhaul of the Note series, however, may be disappointed with the tech giant’s latest stylus-equipped phablet.

Note 8 vs the S8+

Samsung has a lot riding on the Note 8’s release. The company essentially defined the phablet category with the release of the original Note back in 2011, then perfected it with the Note 7 roughly five years later. The South Korean company’s bout of positive press surrounding the Note 7 was short-lived though, as two consecutive recalls embroiled the tech giant in a furor of controversy even the most clairvoyant of industry experts could not have predicted.

That said, Samsung is well aware that if any of its future devices, especially those from the Note brand, experience overheating issues again, the company’s reputation in the competitive Android smartphone industry will suffer irreparable damage.

Note 8 side view

To Samsung’s credit, it now has an eight-point battery check system in place to ensure each power source is of the utmost quality. In the case of the case of the Note 8 specifically, the manufacturing giant has enlisted the help of an outside a quality assurance agency.

So while there’s no way to predict if the Note 8 will catch fire like its predecessor, the possibility of that happening again is highly unlikely; Samsung knows what is at stake here.

The leaks are real

Note 8 table side view

In general, the Note 8 looks like a slightly larger and boxier Galaxy S8 or S8+, including the removal of the physical home button. The device features a 6.3-inch quad HD Super AMOLED display that is just as great looking as the Galaxy S8 and S8+’s stellar screen, if not more so given the greater glass real-estate. It’s also worth pointing out that the Note 8’s display is also substantially larger than the Note 7’s 5.7-inch display — make no mistake, this is a big phone.

While I didn’t spend a significant amount of time with the Note 8, I tested a few 4K YouTube videos and they looked stunning. It’s also worth noting that the Note 8 features what Samsung calls Mobile HDR Premium, a mobile-focused HDR standard that isn’t Dolby Vision or HDR10, but offers comparable high dynamic range quality.

Note 8 headphone jack

Given its 2960 x 1440 pixel resolution and unique 18:5:9 aspect ratio, the Note 8 doesn’t actually feel as large as it really is. The phone’s thin profile, just like the S8 and S8+, makes it easy to use with just one hand, though those with smaller hands may run into difficulty

“Samsung has a lot riding on the Note 8’s release”

Given the Note 8’s screen size surpasses the the S8+’s by 0.1 of an inch, it’s actually much easier to multi-task with the Note 8 when compared to Samsung’s other two flagship Galaxy devices. This benefit is compounded by a new split screen multi-tasking feature Samsung is calling ‘App Pair,’ which allows users to program two apps to launch simultaneously and then save the setting in the phone’s edge for easy access.

Note 8 multi-tasking App Pair

While far from revolutionary, for users that commonly open two apps simultaneously — email and a web browser, for example, or YouTube and a chat app — this feature could prove useful.

Other specs include 6GB of RAM, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor (yes, even in Canada) and 64GB of internal storage that’s expandable via a microSD card. Thankfully, the Note 8 still has an IP68 rating for water resistance as well, and features a 3.5mm headphone jack.

Note 8 corner

At this point, water resistance should be expected and standard on every high-end smartphone (I’m looking at you Essential Phone and the Pixel).

Lastly, the Note 8’s 3,300mAh battery comes in slightly smaller when compared to the Note 7’s 3,500mAh power source, likely in an effort to avoid the overheating issues the Note 7 suffered from (for reference, the Note 5’s battery is only 3,000mAh).

Same S Pen

Note 8 S Pen

While I’ve never been a huge fan of Samsung’s S Pen, I know that many users purchase Note device specifically to have access to a stylus.

While Samsung is touting the Note 8’s S Pen functionality as an upgrade over the Note 7, that isn’t really the case. The company’s latest Note device is capable of processing 4,967 pressure points, the same number as the Note 7. The pen’s tip also measures in at the same as the Note 7’s, 0.7mm in diameter, 108mm in height and 5.8mm wide, complete with IP68 water resistance.

Note 8 S Pen

What this means, however, is that instead of an upgrade, the company just brought back the surprisingly accurate S Pen from the Note 7. While a superb experience, some sort of minor improvement would have been nice.

While testing out the phablet’s new ‘screen off’ memo feature, which allows users to write messages on the Note 8’s always-on display, the experience felt accurate and reminiscent of my time with the Note 7’s S Pen last year. Like many features I’ll be discussing in this hands-on, more testing is definitely necessary, however.

“Samsung says the Note 8’s “powerful camera” is an extension of the Galaxy S8’s low-light dual-pixel technology”

One new S Pen feature that stood out to me — I also expect it will be prominently featured in the inevitable Galaxy S9 — is something Samsung is calling ‘Live Message.’ The manufacturer says the feature allows users to write quick messages that can then be sent to friends through a variety of apps due to the fact that it utilizes the animated .agif file format, though I wasn’t able to test the feature myself.

Dual camera action

Note 8

 

The aforementioned dual-lens camera in some ways signals a change in how Samsung intends to market the Note 8. As it stands right now, rather than position the phone as a productivity-focused smartphone, the South Korean manufacturer aims to go head-to-head with Apple in the somewhat plateaued high-end smartphone camera contest.

Samsung says the Note 8’s “powerful camera” is an extension of the Galaxy S8’s low-light dual-pixel technology. The phone features two shooters on its rear; a telephoto 12-megapixel f/2.4 lens and a wide-angle 12-megapixel f/1.7 camera, both with optical image stabilization, a move Samsung says is a first for the smartphone industry.

As it stands right now though, it’s unclear how far the Note 8’s camera is capable of zooming optically and whether it surpasses the iPhone 7 Plus and G6, the current reigning dual-camera champions.

While I didn’t test out the dual-camera’s image stabilization feature extensively, it certainly seemed to work well. A new feature called dual-capture, which utilizes both of the rear camera’s lenses, takes two photos at once. Samsung also showed off an iPhone-like bokeh mode dubbed ‘Live Focus,’ allowing users to dial up and down the amount of depth of field in a photograph, both like while taking the photo, as well as in post-production.

Take two

Note 8 side-by-side

In many respects, the Note 8 is a second take on the dearly departed Note 7. That said, the device also shares one of the Galaxy S8 and S8+’s most significant issues.

While Samsung offers a variety of security methods for unlocking the Note 8, including iris scanning (first added to the Galaxy series with the Note 7), facial recognition and an awkwardly placed fingerprint sensor that sits beside the Note 8’s most exciting feature, the phone’s dual camera.

Note 8 in hand

Clawing my finger across the S8 to reach the rear-facing fingerprint scanner was a difficult task that got even harder when I attempted it with the S8+. It comes as no surprise that despite how tall the Note 8’s 6.3-inch display is, it’s still exceedingly difficult to reach its fingerprint scanner. It seems that similar to the rumours surrounding Apple’s iPhone 8, Samsung also hasn’t been able to adequately embed the fingerprint scanner in the Note 8.

All in, the Note 8 is an impressive smartphone, though beyond its new dual-camera, a first for a Samsung smartphone, the phone’s resemblance to the Note 7 is striking and to some extent, a little disappointing.

Note 8 on table

Samsung says the Note 8 is compatible with its DeX desktop dock, the Gear VR and it’s Bixby voice activated assistant platform.

Samsung Canada says the Note 8 will be available in ‘Midnight Black’ and ‘Deep Sea Blue’ in Canada, while the phone’s worldwide release includes ‘Maple Gold’ (this seems like a missed opportunity in the Canadian market) and the great looking ‘Orchid Grey.’

Note 8 S Pen writing

Pre-orders for the Note 8 are set to go live on August 23rd, with a full retail rollout on September 15th. Customers that pre-order between August 23rd and September 14th will receive a free 128GB Micro SD card and wireless charger, depending on what carrier they purchase the device from.

Carriers set to sell the Note 8 in Canada include Bell, Eastlink, Freedom, BellMTS, SaskTel, Telus, Rogers and Videotron. The phone will sell for $1,299 outright in Canada.

Comments

  • jorvay

    So just to be clear, unless you are after the S-Pen specifically, there is virtually no reason to look at this over the S8+? Or am I missing something?

    • Note entirely. The Note 8 has dual-camera functionality and is significantly larger (beyond this though, the differences are pretty minor).

    • Stephen_81

      Worth $200 more than the S8+ that is the question of the day.

    • John Lofwire

      200$ more for a second camera a smaller battery and a spen?

    • mike m

      discount for note 7 users?

    • RidgeBoyGenius

      Nice pun

    • fred

      The display is only 0.1″ larger…
      The main differences are the RAM, S pen and dual camera. Not worth the wait time and $200

    • Sledge

      You also get to avoid the curved edge screen.

    • John Lofwire

      The screen look clearly to have curve on both edge…

  • Will Maitner

    That’s sad considering the rumors said a 256gb msd card..

  • Stephen_81

    My S8+ arrived today, and reading about the Note 8, It looks like the Note 8 takes a battery hit, and all it has to show for it is the S-pen?

    I am on the fence if I keep this S8+ or wait for the Note 8

    • If the S-Pen & dual-lens setup is important to you, then I would suggest getting the Note8 (but you’ll have to wait a few more weeks before you’ll get a Note8, it comes out on September 15th) if you could care less about the S-Pen and the dual-lens, then keep your S8+ (also the S8+ has a 6.2-inch curved display & 3,500 mAh battery while the Note8 has a 6.3-inch display & 3,300 mAh batter)

    • Stephen_81

      I loved the Spen on my Note 4, but have been S Pen less for about 2 years so it isn’t an end all be all for me.

      I’ve taken less than 100 pictures on my Nexus 6P so camera isn’t important, but some of the S pen features like the screenshot editing, excite me since I do many screen shots a week. arrggg haha first world problems.

  • Roni

    I’ve had the note series since the Note 3 and debated whether or not if I wanted to wait for the Note 8, but ended up getting the S8 when it launched. Kinda glad I did because I don’t think I’d be handle a phone that big due to my small hands. I miss the S Pen but not to a huge extent. Excited for the dual cameras to launch on future S series phones though.

  • K_p0w3r

    2nd last paragraph , you’ve got September 23rd instead of what I assume should be august 23rd.

  • Jas Kamoh

    Had the Note 5 and 7, both very good smartphones. Note 8 is looking good but waiting until the end of the month to see what the LG V30 brings.

    • thereasoner

      If you don’t need the SPen then the V30 is looking like a winner. Need to see in depth reviews and my own hands on for both though.

    • Jas Kamoh

      Agreed, have been using S7 Edge since I returned my Note 7, can’t say I have missed the S-pen.

  • John Lofwire

    bigger screen and more ram and less battery than S8+? lol

  • empathyvirus

    well, doesn’t this reviewer sound bitter? haha. from the first line, you know he wasn’t gonna say nice things about Note 8. oh well, gizmodo said the placement of the fingerprint sensor wasn’t a big deal. but all these very, very personal reviews are starting to get confusing and less objectively. i do find some of the fellow gadget fans’ comments here useful on the other hand. so thanks, fellas!

    • I think if you look past the first paragraph of my review, you’ll see that I generally have positive things to say about the device. The fingerprint sensors is the same as the S8, so if you didn’t find that an issue, you likely won’t find a problem with the Note 8.

      Also, review are inherently a form of opinion writing. There is quite literally no such thing as an “objective review.”

  • Mike Simpson

    I’ve been looking forward to the Note8 since I finally gave up my pursuit for a stylus-equipped alternative to the Note7 last December, especially since the used Note4 I’ve stuck it out with for most of that time has started glitching like mad. Now that the new Note is here, though, I find myself underwhelmed by the specs. Samsung can put gloss on the features it announced today but many of them are ported from the Note7 or the S8/S8+. There’s nothing really new here to justify the steep price tag. I’d expect at least 128GB of internal storage for $1300. The pre-order incentives don’t do it for me either: I already have two wireless chargers and bought a 128GB SD card for my Note7. I was really hoping they’d offer the DeX like they have in the UK. The only reason I will pre-order one of these is if Telus can offer a $400 discount for switching or trade-in.

    Does anyone know if Samsung Canada is offering an equivalent discount for Note7 buyers that will apparently be available in the US?

  • jay

    Not sure who buys a note 8? Sure the s-pen is again the best thing. Maybe camera but other than that buy a S8 plus and you are alright

  • NoWayHosEH

    More of the SAMESUNG.

  • Andrew Holt

    Interesting to see that Samsung is selling the device for $1299.99 meanwhile Bell and Telus are selling it for $1349.99. Is it a coincidence that the extra $50 from Bell/Telus was the exact same price as it used to cost to unlock a device? I think not.

    • That’s an interesting point!

    • Tanya Egeland

      EXACTLY… you hit the nail on the head my friend! 😉

    • How dare you insinuate that Bell and Telus would hide the cost of unlocking the phone that they now have to provide for free into the cost of the phone?? These carriers are 100% for providing their customers with top quality service at the most fair prices they can provide.

      And no, I couldn’t keep a straight face typing that. How coincidental that a banner ad for Telus keeps getting in the way of the text box I’m typing this in. As noted: always taking care of their customers. ????????????

      Edit: a word

  • Brandon James Starcevic

    Very nice. Good read

  • smallmj

    They must be nuts.

    I’m sorry, but the price of these things has gone out of control. Why on earth would anybody shell out $1300 for one of these when they can get a Oneplus 5 for $650. Or an Axon 7 for $520. Or a 64 GB Moto G5 plus for US$300. Or countless other mid-middle high range phones that are more than capable

    Yes, the screens on the phones that I mentioned are not quite as big, and they don’t have a stylus to use three times before ignoring it forever. But they cost 1/3 to 1/2 as much and will do everything that 99% of users ask of it.

    I just don’t get the pricing on popular flagships anymore.

    • Can’t Fix Stupid

      Lotta people are going with the Taiwan version of the G6 64gb dual sim H870DS with the higher end DAC. It’s like a Swiss Army knife and goes for US $439 shipped or a little lower with codes.

      The prices of some of these “name brand” phone is ridiculous. And it’s not like LG is no name or of inferior quality. They are brutal at updating the phone though but perhaps the Taiwan version will get updated quicker.

  • _17chan

    Hey! Just a heads up: I think it’s “Exynos”, not “Exnos” for the processor. I could be wrong, but I did a quick search to confirm and everything points to “Exynos”! No interest in Samsung devices, but this is a good article. 🙂

  • meister

    1300$ and it still can’t wash the dishes.. meh..!
    Don’t know how they intend to win back Note users with his kind of price tag. I enjoyed my Note 4 and still use it sometimes as a backup. I’m more interested in trying out those LG phones with supposedly amazing DACs now.. good bye Sam!

  • h2oflyer

    Smaller 3300 mAh battery due to heat concerns…not likely. The Huawei P10+ has a 3750 mAh battery with no heat problems.

    It’s all about volumetric space available for the battery. The P10+ is a smaller overall phone yet has more space available for a larger battery. Good hardware design and placement seems to be the answer.

    Just imagine if Samsung put the fingerprint sensor back under a small bottom bezel and rearranged the hardware…they might actually have room for a bigger battery. Moving the cameras to the top would also help.

    Samsung doesn’t care and have aggressively clawed their way to a market position where they can sell design and play catch-up on hardware features.

    • fred

      the S pen uses some of that volume

    • h2oflyer

      The S8+ is almost 20% larger in volume than the P10+ and has a smaller 3500 mAh battery. Same scenario if you subtract the Same pen.

  • Kven

    Glad to see the trademark Samsung Stutter is still present….

  • TheCuddlyKoala

    Those icons though….

  • Rimtu Kahn

    Samsung getting worse at innovation than Apple and at a much faster rate.
    These specs are disappointing and for the price ridiculous.
    Horrible battery life to be expected, if not now (initial software optimizations), I guarantee in a year (after a few firmware updates start rolling out).
    People getting this device will be compelled to upgrade to note 9 due to reduced battery life after a few firmware updates.

  • XeviousDeathStar ✓ ˢᵐᵃʳᵗ ᵍᵘʸ

    Wow, just wow! – Maybe 5 features that surpass most others.

    DEFINITELY 5 hundred more than I’m going to pay.

    I will look to Sony for a Camera Phone, and to Google for a ‘quite good all around’ inexpensive phone.

    A phone you can’t afford to go anywhere with, instead of a phone you can’t afford to go anywhere without. Did we clarify it’s $1300, $1300, s!

    That’s one thing missing from this Article, why do we want to pay so much; last time I bought the best phone available (maybe 2nd best) it was half that much.

    Are we paying their Lawyer Bill too, 1300 bucks, …

    Rant, rant, rant, …

  • OmniWrench

    The exclusion of a maple colour model from Canada annoys me more than it reasonably should.

  • gassiny

    Brand new Samsung s8 and s8 plus & 1year warranty Card cost $500usd

    Samsung note 8 600usd

    Serious buyer should contact

    Whatsapp CHAT or Call : +19842085304 or 0019842085304