By now, we’ve all gotten a look at the Galaxy Note 8. The latest and greatest from Samsung has some of the best specs out there, cool new software features, and an improved S Pen. Samsung added 50% more RAM to help apps launch faster, while the dual camera setup adds a 2x zoom that seems to be all the rage on today’s devices.

We knew it would be expensive, but $929 for an unlocked unit is a lot. When you look at Samsung’s current lineup, you have to ask yourself if the Galaxy Note 8 is a big enough upgrade over the already-excellent Galaxy S8 Plus to justify the price. Are the dual cameras and the S Pen worth a $255 premium? Is the Galaxy Note 8 even a better phone?

What does that $255 get you?

Galaxy Note 8 side by side with 'standard' Galaxy S8

Galaxy Note 8 side by side with ‘standard’ Galaxy S8

First, let’s take an objective look at the phones. They share a lot of the same key features like processor, storage capacity, build quality, software experience, headphone jack, front-facing camera, fast charging and fast wireless charging standards, bottom firing speaker, and IP rating.

While the display technology and resolution are the same, there is a 1/10th of an inch display size bump for the Note 8. The design language is also roughly the same, with the Note 8 having a slightly refined look and feel that makes it a bit easier to handle. While it’s not a huge win for the Note 8, there is a case to be made that if you had issues with the Galaxy S8 Plus, the Note 8 might be a bit easier for you to hold.

NameSamsung Galaxy S8 PlusSamsung Galaxy Note 8
Display6.2-inch, 2960 x 1440 SUPER Amoled6.3-inch, 2960 x 1440 SUPER Amoled
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 835, clocked at 2.35GHzQualcomm Snapdragon 835, clocked at 2.35GHz
Storage64GB, supports microSD cards up to 256GB64GB, supports microSD cards up to 256GB
Battery3500mAh embedded3300mAh embedded
Camera12MP f/1.7 rear, 8MP f/1.7 front-facingDual 12MP f/1.7 + 12MP f/2.4 rear, 8MP f/1.7 front-facing
RadiosWi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 5.0Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 5.0
Ingress ProtectionIP68IP68
Dimensions159.5 x 73.4 x 8.1 mm162.5 x 74.8 x 8.6 mm
Weight173 g195 g

So, what’s actually different beyond that? Not a ton. The most noticeable addition to the Note 8 over the S8 Plus is the S Pen. Sure, it’s great for productivity and it has some innovative features like real time language translation, but it comes at a cost. The space to hold it has to come from somewhere and Samsung found it by reducing the battery size from 3500mAh to 3300mAh. While that doesn’t look like a big decrease on its face, you have to remember that you’re paying more for a 5% smaller battery. The battery life on the Galaxy S8 Plus is good, but it’s not stellar. To reduce battery size while increasing screen size worries us about getting through the day on a single charge. This is something we’ll delve into deeper in our full review.

One of the other obvious upgrades is the new dual-camera system. Samsung took the 12MP sensor from the Galaxy S8 Plus and added another 12MP telephoto lens next to it. The new secondary shooter gives you a 2x zoom and both have Optical Image Stabilization. Samsung is quick to point out that the Note 8 is the first phone on the market to have two rear cameras with OIS. That sounds wonderful and I’m sure in certain situations the Note 8’s camera will come out on top, but the S8 Plus already has one of the best cameras on the market.

The last true win for the Galaxy Note 8 is the addition of an extra 2GB of RAM. The Note 8 has 50% more RAM than the Galaxy S8 Plus, but will you see a noticeable difference in real world usability? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I don’t want as much RAM as possible in my phone. I want ALL the RAM. But, will you ever see a true day to day change in how you use your phone based on that extra RAM? I’ve owned the Galaxy S8 Plus since launch day and I’ve never once had an issue with memory management.

So, do you feel like those features are enough of an upgrade to pay $255 more for the Galaxy Note 8, a phone that is larger and heavier, but has a smaller battery?

In 2017, what does the Note lineup stand for?

The S8 Plus offers similar size and specs to the Note 8, but at a much lower asking price.

The S8 Plus offers similar size and specs to the Note 8, but at a much lower asking price.

Let’s take a step back to try and gain some perspective. I remember when the first Galaxy Note came out. The absolutely massive 5.3-inch display was almost two inches larger than my iPhone’s and it gave me severe display envy. The Note was huge and powerful with an amazing stylus that actually looked modern instead of the old Windows Mobile PDAs that made styli seem boring and old.

I had to have one.

Samsung did an excellent job of defining exactly what the Note lineup was supposed to be all about. It was made for power users that wanted a bigger screen to be more productive, a bigger battery to last through the day, and a faster processor to crush any tasks you threw at it. But, can you say that about the Galaxy Note 8? When you really sit down and look at the Galaxy Note 8 against the Galaxy S8 Plus, is it bigger, faster, and stronger?

I don’t think it is because the Galaxy S8 Plus already sets a really high bar. While the Note lineup used to be for power users, it now seems like it’s just for people who like styli. That doesn’t seem like a good enough reason to pay an extra $255, at least in my humble opinion. 

Where do we go from here?

Note 8, next to the Galaxy Note Fan Edition (aka refurbed Note 7)

Note 8, next to the Galaxy Note Fan Edition (aka refurbed Note 7)

We’re not just here to bash on Samsung. We have some ideas on how it can get back on track too.

The first is for Samsung to use its own Exynos processors. There are some politics to take into consideration here, but Samsung’s chips offer some compelling features like the ability to record in 4K at up to 120FPS. The chips can also support up to 1Gbps download speeds and 150Mbps in upload speeds which would be great for everyone except Verizon Wireless customers. Exynos chips are pretty close in both performance and battery life so the extra features that come along with them might convince some customers to pick the Note lineup over the Galaxy S lineup despite the price difference.

When your biggest competition does something incredibly stupid like drop the headphone jack, you should pounce on that. For that reason, Samsung should include a high-quality DAC in its Note lineup. This isn’t a novel idea — the LG V lineup has been doing it for a few years now — but Samsung’s biggest rival is Apple, not LG. It should take the DAC idea and run with it. Every Samsung commercial should be about plugging your headphones in and experiencing high-quality audio while your friends with iPhones are messing with dongles or sitting around charging their Bluetooth headphones. We already expect the Note to be a larger phone, make it bigger and put a better DAC in there, Sammy.

In addition to a better DAC, add a true dual speaker system. The bottom firing speaker on the S8 Plus is fine, but as HTC and Motorola have shown us, it could be so much better. Adding a great dual speaker system to its already best-in-class displays would make the Galaxy Note lineup a true media consumption powerhouse that no one could touch.

If Samsung truly wants the Note to be known as a workhorse, then find some real synergy with Dex. Dex is a fantastic idea in theory but hasn’t reached its full potential. Samsung should be shouting to every business professional in the world that the Note 8 is the most powerful phone on the market and you can throw it on a Dex and be working in a desktop environment almost immediately. To entice people to buy into that environment, give them deep discounts on Dex and Samsung branded keyboards and mice. Give it to them for half off and wrap them up in your ecosystem, not because it’ll make you more money, but because it’s better than the other guys and makes it easier to get work done.

Final Thoughts

While this article might come off a bit anti-Note, that couldn’t be further from the truth. We’re big fans of the Note lineup! For those who really value the S Pen, we think the Note makes a lot of sense. One of our big issues is, in the past, there has been a clear difference between the Galaxy S and Galaxy Note line-ups. Those lines are now blurred beyond recognition due to Samsung muddying the water with too many phones that overlap in features and price.

Now, if we’re being completely honest, we can’t blame Samsung for being a little conservative with the Note 8 this year. No-one has forgotten the catastrophic Note 7 launch and subsequent recall last year. For that reason, Samsung had to make sure that nothing went wrong this year. This could explain not pushing the limit of the battery capacity and the small, but very real, upgrades that Samsung could hang its hat on. Perhaps with the Note 9 next year we’ll see some true innovation again.

For those who really value the S Pen, we think the Note makes a lot of sense. For those who don't, the S8 Plus may be a better value.

Of course, regardless of my own personal thoughts, Samsung is going to sell a ton of Galaxy Note 8s. And honestly, that’s fine. We’re not here to tell you how to spend your money, especially when the Note 8 does have a few compelling features.  As it stands, however, it’s hard for us to justify this kind of price delta between the Note 8 and Galaxy S8 Plus. The small upgrades that the Note 8 has in its favor don’t scream out as must haves, especially when the Galaxy S8 Plus is still one of the best phones on the market today.

If you really favor the Note 8 over the S8 Plus, you could also consider simply waiting another couple of months. Historically speaking, Samsung tends to cut the price of its phones around the holidays, shortly after the iPhone release. If you wait, you could end getting the Note 8 close to the price of the Galaxy S8 Plus.

So, what are you going to do? Will you pick up a new Note 8 or opt for the Galaxy S8 Plus and have enough left over for a nice smart watch? Let us know down in the comments.

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