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Note 8 hands-on: Bigger and better where it truly counts

How does one of the most feature-packed smartphone lines ever redeem mistakes of the past? We seek to find out in this Samsung Galaxy Note 8 hands-on impressions post.

Published onAugust 23, 2017

Samsung has bounced back since the problems with its last explosive device (sorry, had to say it), and after reintroducing a nearly bezel-less display as the Infinity Display, version 8 has now arrived for the Note line.

How does one of the most feature-packed smartphone lines ever redeem mistakes of the past? We seek to find out in this Samsung Galaxy Note 8 hands-on impressions post.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review

It’s easy to think that the Galaxy Note 8 will basically be a Galaxy S8 Plus with an S Pen. And while that isn’t too far from the truth, it’s also a bit too simplistic.

a return to prominence for Samsung

Indeed, what we’re looking at here is not only a return to prominence for Samsung, but a great example of how the company continues to pack just about everything you would want into one smartphone for the masses.

To start, the phone currently comes in four colors: black, grey, gold, and blue. For the US market, however, only the grey and black will be on sale. This is why I went straight for the blue edition in this hands-on, because it is my personal favorite of the bunch and I might not get a chance to use it later.

Let’s get the obvious part out of the way – the phone looks, and feels, a bit big. The screen is very similar to the Galaxy S8 Plus at 6.3 inches. Think about that for a second – the Note line used to be known for its 5.7-inch displays and now they are finding ways of extending it by three quarters of an inch.

The Galaxy Note 8.

The curved Infinity Display definitely helps with handling, though, like the Galaxy S8 Plus, it is still a bit difficult to use in one hand. Overall, the slopes on the sides help to mitigate what we once considered a tablet-sized screen.

the curves have been dialed back a tad

As a result, the display continues the trend of taller and narrower displays, at 18.5:9. The difference here is that the curves have been dialed back a tad, making for a phone that is a bit squarer compared to its Galaxy S8 brethren. It still retains symmetry, but the slopes are significantly steeper and more aggressive. Compared to the Note 7 or the Note Fan Edition (seen below), the phone is slightly taller and slightly thicker, but keeps a familiar profile.

Viewed straight-on, the Note 8 almost looks like a straight slab of black until the screen powers on and your eyes adjust to just how much damn screen there is on the phone.

By far, the most enjoyable part of the Note line for many has been the large screen size, and users are getting more than ever here. As with the S8, the physical home button has been replaced with an equivalent tucked beneath the screen and soft keys. A hard press where the home button should be gives a quick vibration feedback and still performs much like a regular home button. Speaking of buttons, the rest are all where you’d expect, and the Bixby button now finds its way to the Note line.

The Note series has always delivered a significantly more premium experience. Even when compared to the Galaxy S devices, the Note generally tried to have better specifications, and that philosophy definitely returns in the Note 8.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8
6.3-inch Quad HD+ Super AMOLED Infinity
2960 x 1440 resolution
521 ppi
18.5:9 aspect ratio
US: 64-bit octa-core (2.35 GHz Quad + 1.9 GHz Quad) Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, 10 nm processor

Global: 64-bit octa-core (2.3 GHz Quad + 1.7 GHz Quad) Samsung Exynos 8895, 10 nm processor
6 GB
64/128/256 GB
MicroSD expansion up to 256 GB
Rear camera
- Main: 12 MP wide-angle AF Dual Pixel sensor with ƒ/1.7 aperture, OIS
- 12 MP telephoto AF sensor with ƒ/2.4 aperture, OIS

Front camera
- 8 MP AF sensor with ƒ/1.7 aperture
3,300 mAh
Fast charging on wired and wireless
WPC and PMA wireless charging
Water resistance
IP68 dust and water resistance
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4/5 GHz)
Bluetooth v5.0 (LE up to 2 Mbps)
USB Type-C
Location: GPS, Galileo, Glonass, BeiDou
Fingerprint Sensor
Gyro Sensor
Geomagnetic Sensor
Hall Sensor
Heart Rate Sensor
Proximity Sensor
RGB Light Sensor
Iris Sensor
Pressure Sensor
Nano SIM
Android 7.1.1 Nougat
Dimensions and weight
162.5 x 74.8 x 8.6 mm
195 g

There is one obvious spot of discrepancy in the spec sheet, however – the 3,300 mAh battery that is smaller than the one from last year. While we always prefer to see bigger batteries for better longevity, we can also kind of understand the motivation behind this move. And power shouldn’t be far from reach, with fast wired and wireless charging solutions.

6 GB of RAM is the real story here

The Snapdragon 835 keeps the phone as on par as it should be, but 6 GB of RAM is the real story here. This marks the first time that Samsung has gone past 4 GB as a standard feature across all phones, and we’re happy to hear it. More RAM should really help with the daily grind under features like the Edge UX and everything the S Pen can do.

The Edge UX gets one useful update for multitaskers out there – users have told Samsung that due to the large screen, split screen is being utilized a ton. For those users, the Note 8 adds dual app shortcuts called App Pair. These can be created in the home screens or nestled in the Edge panels for easy access, and they open up the two specified applications right away in a split format. Imagine a shortcut to open up the calendar and Gmail to really bolster productivity, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp for ultimate chattiness, or YouTube and pretty much anything else, like I probably would do.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8

Which brings us to the S Pen – the main “extra” for any Note device. Over the years, the S Pen has seen so many new features that it’s hard to list them all. Open up Pen Command and you can see screen capture and edit, note creation, and smart selection. For a bit of fun and passing time, you can use the pen and all of its brushes and pressure sensitivity to do some coloring. Maybe share some of your doodles in the artsy PEN UP social media network, or just use the S Pen much like a mouse for precision pointing, clicking, selecting, and dragging.

Some features have been updated, like text translation that can process whole phrases and sentences now instead of just singular words. And for the real note-taker, the Screen Off Memo that activates from standby can now record a hundred pages of editable notes without the need to unlock the device first.

The main new feature in the S Pen is Live Message, which records the user’s path to writing a short message into an animated GIF. Added effects like sparkles and neon lighting give it more flair, helping to make pleasing GIFs you can send to friends, significant others, or anyone that deserves that little bit of attention. It might not be the most productive addition, but it’s fun and practical, adding to the already large list of S Pen features.

Samsung UI continues to look about as streamlined as ever, finding ways of looking simple despite all that it is capable of

And to the point of software, the Samsung UI continues to look about as streamlined as ever, finding ways of looking simple despite all that it is capable of. The software on the Note 8 looks very similar to the one from the S8, with very few changes in appearance. The updates are happening mainly in Bixby, it seems, where voice commands were finally made available not too long ago. The Note 8, we’re told, will be getting more updates to the assistant and Bixby will continue to evolve. We’ll test Bixby and see how every aspect gets better, from Home to Vision to Voice to Reminders.

Which leads us to the biggest story of the Galaxy Note 8 – the camera. As expected, a dual camera has made it to the Samsung ecosystem, adding that second lens on the back within an obvious black area. This black color is a little jarring, as it’s not blending in with the grey, gold, and blue editions of the phone. It might not be the best look to everyone, but these cameras really pack a punch – 12 MP dual pixel sensors with OIS in both, and one lens is a 2x optical zoom at f/2.4 aperture.

10x digital zoom is possible throughout with some losses in quality, but having OIS as part of the zoom lens is a big deal. Getting far into a shot always makes the jitters and movements more obvious and image stabilization will hopefully mitigate that issue. Zooming simply requires a quick tap on the button in the viewfinder, but another nice touch is a slide added to the shutter button that acts like the zoom on a camcorder – hold it up slightly and it will zoom slowly, or crank it in either direction to make it move faster.

the biggest story of the Galaxy Note 8 – the camera

The interface for the camera has changed to reflect this shift in optical packages – live focus is now a prominently displayed feature. Much like the portrait modes from the iPhone and the OnePlus 5, the Note 8 will use a combination of the zoom lens and software-enabled depth of field to make subjects stand out from the background, resulting in very pleasing portraitures. And yet another nice touch has been added in, as users are able to take these portrait photos and a regular wide photo at the same time, just in case.

We applaud the move to a dual-camera setup, and so far, it seems that Samsung is putting some real thought into its version of the feature. It already benefits from fast focusing dual pixels, the dual OIS, and every other mode that we’ve seen on previous Samsung phones. And this is all alongside the front-facing 8 MP camera that has autofocus and 2K video recording to boast. We’ll be putting all these lenses to the test when we get our hands on our review unit.

And so, there you have it – the Samsung Galaxy Note 8. Samsung continues to pack in all of the bells and whistles they possibly can in a smartphone. Normally, that would mean a big device overall. But the Note 8 manages to be just slightly larger than its predecessor, but much bigger – and badder – in every other area that truly counts.The screen is a sight to behold, adding a zoom lens gives people more possibilities, and the S Pen remains one of the most useful tools to anyone that bothers to use it, especially for productivity.

Preorders start on August 24, with the phone going out on September 15. We’re excited to get our hands on the Note 8, as always, and we will be bringing you our full  Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review in the near future, so stay tuned!