Sam­sung Galaxy Note8

THE NOTE RANGE HAD A ROUGH 2016, BUT IT’S BACK (WITH­OUT A BANG), AND SAM­SUNG’S SU­PER-SIZED SMART­PHONE IS BET­TER THAN EVER

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RIGHT The S8 de­sign ain’t broke, so Sam­sung didn’t fix it in the Note8

Okay, look, as much as we want to just dive into the stuff we love about the Note8, we need to talk about the slightly singed ele­phant in the room: the Note 7 de­ba­cle.

Last year’s bat­tery prob­lem is the rea­son this year’s Note con­tains a rel­a­tively mea­gre 3,300mAh bat­tery, which is smaller than the Galaxy

S8. Room needs to be made for the (su­per) S Pen sty­lus too, we guess, but Sam­sung knows it has to go for a bat­tery that’s su­per-re­li­able here, even if that makes it po­ten­tially weaker on pa­per. The good news, as we’ll come to – is that the lack of bat­tery ca­pac­ity ac­tu­ally doesn’t make much dif­fer­ence, com­pared to the bat­tery life of its sis­ter hand­sets.

And with that one con­cern out of the way, we can say that the Note 8 joins the Galaxy S8+ as one of this year’s very best phones. If you’re a fan of the Note se­ries, you def­i­nitely won’t be dis­ap­pointed.

Since there’s pretty much no dif­fer­ence be­tween the size of this 6.3inch screen and the 6.2-inch dis­play of the S8+, a big part of choos­ing the Note 8 is whether you’ll make good use of the S Pen sty­lus.

As with the S8+, the Quad HD+ 1440x2960 Su­per AMOLED dis­play is an ab­so­lute stun­ner – it’s only ever so slightly less pixel dense than the S8+. And, as you’d ex­pect, it’s HDR-com­pat­i­ble (Net­flix has al­ready up­dated its app to sup­port it here). As with the S8 se­ries, the screen fills al­most all of the front of the phone and the trio of An­droid con­trols at the bot­tom of the dis­play are part of the dis­play (the but­tons are in the tra­di­tional Sam­sung ar­range­ment of App Switcher on the left, Home in the cen­tre and Back on the right).

TOUCHWIZ AND GO

Be­ing a Sam­sung Galaxy hand­set, the Note8 uses a TouchWiz over­lay atop An­droid 7.1.1. The in­ter­face has im­proved a lot over the last cou­ple of years and we’re now fans.

How­ever, one ir­ri­ta­tion re­mains, and that’s the con­flict be­tween Sam­sung’s own soft­ware and Google’s, (which is a prob­lem with An­droid hand­sets from other man­u­fac­tur­ers too, to be fair).

Nowhere is this more pro­nounced than in the con­flict be­tween Google As­sis­tant and Sam­sung’s own as­sis­tant, called Bixby. The Note8 fea­tures a ded­i­cated Bixby but­ton on its left side, so you can call it up eas­ily. You can also swipe in from the left on the home screen.

But dur­ing the phone’s startup process, you’re of­fered the op­tion to en­able Google As­sis­tant. After that, hold­ing down the vir­tual home but­ton gets you to Google’s app while swip­ing left takes you to Bixby. Sam­sung says it wants to pro­vide choice, but this is more con­fus­ing than help­ful a lot of the time.

As for Bixby voice con­trol it­self, it’s still too early to judge whether it can be a con­tender ver­sus Siri, Alexa and the rest in the long term. It is now avail­able in In­dia (US English and Korean only for now).

The big prob­lem is the lack of unique func­tion­al­ity with Bixby.

The Bixby screen is a bit like a less in­tu­tive Google Now at the mo­ment, while Bixby Vi­sion en­ables you to do a shop­ping search for things you take pic­tures of, or find im­ages of the item on­line. Matches are still re­ally hit-and­miss for this.

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