AYEAR after the Galaxy Note 7 burst onto the scene – literally in some cases as it turned out – Samsung has unveiled its successor, a device it says will be the premium large-screened smartphone to beat in terms of specs and safety.
From what I saw of the Note 8 at the launch in New York on Wednesday and live streamed globally, it might be right. Instead of downplaying the fiery fate of the Note 7, the South Korean tech giant wisely chose to acknowledge the elephant in the auditorium.
Samsung mobile president DJ Koh thanked fans of the Note brand for their “relentless passion”, adding, “They’ve been a constant inspiration to us and we designed the new Note for them”.
The Note 8’s battery – the Achilles heel of its predecessor – is smaller this time round (3 300mAh versus 3 500mAh) and has been independently vetted by safety certification company, UL.
That’s in addition to being subjected the same eightpoint battery safety check the S8 and S8+ went through. As none of those have gone up in flames, Samsung will be hoping it’s finally laid the Note 7’s fiery ghost to rest.
Among the phone’s many other attractions are its stunning good looks and “infinity” display.
Even better, the good looks serve a practical purpose, allowing you to comfortably fit in your hand a screen that would just a couple of years ago have required a near-tablet-sized device. Make no mistake, this is a big display – 6.3 inches of retina caressing, Quad HD+ Super AMOLED goodness.
Under the eye-candy exterior purrs a powerhouse combo of an Exynos octa-core core processor and 6GB RAM, the most memory Samsung has crammed into one of its globally released smartphones. It runs version 7.1.1 of the Android operating system and packs 64GB of onboard storage, expandable with an aftermarket microSD card.
The Note 8 wouldn’t be worthy of the name if it didn’t have Samsung’s trademark S Pen, whose functionality has been refined over the years from a bit of a gimmick into a multitasking workhorse. New features include the ability to take notes without powering up the screen as well creating nifty animated notes.
As befits a device aimed at on-the-go professionals, the new Note supports Samsung’s DeX hub, introduced with the S8 line earlier this year, that turns the smartphone into a desktop computer when paired with a monitor, keyboard and mouse.
There are also some nice enhancements to the Note’s split-screen capabilities, my favourite being the ability to launch at a single tap your choice of app pairings – for example email and calendar.
As we’ve come to expect from recent generations of Samsung’s flagship handsets, the Note 8 boasts IP68 water and dust resistance, so you won’t have to worry about dropping it in the drink when lining up that perfect poolside snap when summer returns.
Speaking of photos, that brings me to what is arguably the Note 8’s most exciting new feature is its first dual-camera system, positioning it to take on the likes of LG, Huawei and, more recently, Apple in this department.
There was disappointment among the faithful when the S8 and S8+ didn’t come out with dual cameras. Samsung said at the time it was holding back on this feature until it had something special to release. It seems it has delivered on the promise.
Of the two 12MP camera sensors, the main sensor has a 2x optical zoom, dual pixel sensor and an f/1.7 aperture, while the second sensor has a telephoto lens and an f/2.4 aperture with 10x digital zoom.
This will let users capture images with a Bokeh effect, selecting which elements of the image they want in focus and which to blur, as well as tweaking the intensity of the blur.
This is also the first dualcamera set-up to use optical image stabilisation for both rear cameras, a feature designed to remove unwanted blur and camera shake. These and other DSLR-like abilities put Samsung back on top of the camera phone pile, at least until the new iPhone is announced within the next few weeks.
Pre-orders are open on Samsung’s website, with the company offering six months of Samsung Mobile Care Service free for early birds.
The Galaxy Note 8 will land in South Africa on September 22, but pre-orders will start to be fulfilled from September 15.
If you want one, Be prepared to pay around R18 500 or budget for a suitably hefty monthly contract.
Follow Alan Cooper on Twitter @ alanqcooper.