Samsung’s latest flagship device is meant to blow you away.
Well, now that we’ve addressed the elephant in the room, we can get back to reviewing Samsung Galaxy Note 8, the Korean company’s second flagship for the year, and, arguably, its most important one.
While the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ earlier this year marked the chaebol’s first major device since last year’s Galaxy Note 7 fiasco, the Galaxy Note 8 is the true sequel to a failed icon. This is why the company has packed its collective technological knowledge, including lessons learned, into the Note 8, not only in an effort to reclaim its birthright in the phablet category it has dominated in the last 7 years, but also to focus on the future and not dwell on its past.
Packed with Samsung’s own Exynos 8895 Octa-core processor, the Note 8 performs admirably, allowing me to switch between apps on the move, whether it’s viewing Netflix, to surfing the web or playing music.
As of right now, a Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen with 16M colors is a given with any leading Samsung flagship and that’s not to say that it hasn’t been increasing screen resolution pixel density – it’s already so good, there’s no point in padding the 1440 x 2960 pixels or 521 ppi pixel density without being superfluous.
Both the rear and front sport the same curved body, wrapped by Corning Gorilla Glass 5. My advice, especially with a phone this big, is to get a protective case. You may not think you need it, but all it took is one nick to damage the glass shell on my Samsung Galaxy S8+.
Size wise, the dimensions of the Note 8 are 162.5 x 74.8 x 8.6 mm. Why does it matter to highlight that comparatively, the Galaxy Note 7 measured 153.5 x 73.9 x 7.9 mm? Because in that slightly bigger shell lies the significantly larger display on the Note 8 – a 6.3-inch display versus the 5.7-inch on the Note 7.
Now, some phones might tout an edge-to-edge display, but Samsung proves it can only be done its way masterfully. Aside from the slightly thin border on the left and right edge, and a slightly thicker one on the top and bottom, Note 8 users get to enjoy a massive display that has no true equal.
Web pages practically float on the smooth glass, as the edges curve downwards, and bleed into the tips of the fingers holding onto the device.
Speaking of curves, Samsung has been offering curved screens since the Galaxy S6 and while it might seem perfunctory to highlight that the Note 8 sports yet another curved display, the company has actually crafted a deeper, steeper curve with each iteration, such that the ones on the Note 8 stand out as being totally in sync with one another.
Even on the S8+, the curves on the front display and rear glass were not as deep, projecting a sort of blend of two halves made into a whole. Here, the curve is more intense, such that when the front and rear meet, it offers a single solid grip for your fingertips to rest on. This smooth yet solid grip compensates for the lack of heft on a large phone, which is necessary to produce a good grip. Instead, the curve now subtly enhances the grip, providing a more natural fit for any palm.
Basically, you only think that the Note 8 is too large for your palm, but in reality, the curved body makes the larger body feel physically absent in your hands.
On paper though, it can be argued that the Note 8 reads like an incremental upgrade against the Note 7. The jump from a 12MP to a dual 12MP camera might not seem like much, since many companies are on the dual camera bandwagon, but the use of an OIS is notable. If you thought that the photo quality of the S8+ is well, noteworthy, here are the same shots taken with the Note 8.
Move the slider to see the difference. Photos on the left are taken with the S8+ while photos on the right are taken with the Note 8.
Notice the details in the shadows, from the branches of the trees in the background to the sharper, more defined colours of the vehicles and greenery. The difference is subtle until you bring the camera indoors. The low-light capabilities of the Note 8 over the S8+ is more pronounced and while the S8+ is good enough, the Note 8 is the device you want to have by your side.
The screen itself is impressive, but finally, Samsung has launched a phone with a partner who actually makes use of the phone. The Note 8 is HDR10 compliant, which means that it can display HDR content. It is not the first phone to do so, but one of the world’s biggest supplier of HDR content, Netflix, has not made its HDR content compatible with phones, until now.
On the Note 8, HDR Netflix titles, such as Daredevil, are denoted by an HDR icon. This means that the content displayed takes advantage of better screen technology, to highlight colours, shadows and details. I fired up Daredevil on the non HDR-ready S8+ and the show looked incredible. Colours popped up, and shadow aided the miscenscene of the series.
On the Note 8, however, the use of colours was more subtle. The screen on the Note 8 was able to deliver more details in overblown scenes, such as the church sequence in the opening scene of Season 2. The lighted candles were not shown as a sea of red, but with careful red tones, highlighted by the supporting colours of the stain glass. The effect was subtle, but once you see it, the more natural looking lights and shadows stand out.
And after 6 tries, the use of the S Pen is finally at a stage where it feels natural. Previous versions were nothing more than a fancy stylus with an even fancier name, but the writing was never quite natural. For artists who love sketching or folks who scribble their notes, the S Pen was nothing more than an unsharpened pencil – a tool you used because there was nothing better.
The new S Pen is much more precise, offering more finesse when writing, doodling or scribbling. I ended up taking notes more on the device because finally, the paper and pen replacement rang true. Signing and sending over PDF documents also felt more natural, as the S Pen offered more pinpoint accuracy while trying to fill forms on the display.
Naturally, Samsung being who they are could never avoid tossing in some party tricks, such as Live Message. This is where users can take an image, and write something on-screen. Everything is recorded and saved as a GIF file, so that the recipient can see the scribblings as it was being created on your phone. Flashy, not entirely devoid of use, but not really necessary either.
In fact, someone once pointed out that Samsung had a tendency to introduce new features because they could, only to have them removed in the next device launch. Actually, the one way to know what Samsung themselves think of older features is to look for them on the company’s Galaxy Apps store. Previously touted options such as Sports Shot or Rear Cam Selfie are now not pre-installed, but offered as optional downloads for those who want them, which indicates that the company has opted to fill the phone’s storage with other better software.
As with previous Note devices, the option to have a split screen is also available, but there is now the much simpler Multi-Window and App Pair feature. By enabling the contextual menu bar, three options come into play, and the one on the left, the Recent button, brings up a carousel of recently used apps. On the top right corner of each app, besides the X that closes the apps is an icon with two boxes. The presence of this icon indicates that the app is capable of Multi-Window.
Tapping the first icon on an app will open the app on the upper half of the screen. Hitting the icon on a second app will open it on the lower half. And there you have it. Simple multi-tasking, but you might wonder who needs it. For one, you could be browsing the web and highlighting pieces to send to someone over Whatsapp.
Or be using Google Maps on one-half, and playing music via the music app on the other half. OR how about checking Facebook and email at the same time? And if you fire two apps often enough, you might want to pair them together and launch them each time.
Simply slide the Apps Edge up, to reveal a menu of commonly used apps. By clicking on a free icon, you can opt to create app pairs that can be opened simultaneously, skipping the need for individual actions.
Now, you might wonder if this is all worth it. The camera is great, and so is the S Pen and split screen mode, but is it worth the $400 premium? The Note 8 now comes with 64GB of internal memory, and is priced at SGD$1,398. The slightly smaller Galaxy S8+ launched at a price of SGD$1,298 earlier in the year, but prices have now fallen to under SGD$1,000.
You can choose to buy the latest flagship, or opt for something just as good, with a massive discount.
The bigger challenge it faces though, is what Apple is coming up with. If having a better curved screen, a stylus and dual camera with OIS matters, then the Note 8 is the phone to get. As it stands, Apple has made a few slip ups with the iPhone 7 Plus, and there are more expectations riding on the new model for 2017, which is also the tenth anniversary of the iPhone.