Samsung Galaxy Note8
Both beauty and the beast, the gorgeous Note8 has an extraordinary feature set and magnificent performance. It’s expensive, but can you really afford not to consider it? Find out what we made of Samsung’s brand-new flagship in our in-depth Note8 review.
Samsung’s Note 7 was a gorgeous handset, but the Note8 is in a different league with its Infinity Display. It’s not entirely bezel-less, but it’s close enough, with a screen-to-body ratio of 83 percent and an 18.5:9 aspect ratio.
In real terms, there’s about a centimetre of frame visible above and below the display, but the rest is all immaculately polished and largely fingerprint-free glass, with a load more space for enjoying media and games, and for working with multiple apps at once.
On either side the panel curves right round to the frame edge, leaving only a minimal bezel top and bottom in which to house the selfie camera, speaker and various sensors. It’s a different – and much preferred – design to the first ‘bezel-less’ phone we
saw, the Xiaomi Mi Mix, which has only a bottom bezel and requires you to turn it upside down to use the bizarrely placed selfie camera.
To achieve these slim bezels Samsung has removed the physical home button, moving the fingerprint scanner round to the rear beside the camera, and incorporating a pressure-sensitive home button within the display itself.
The latter takes a little getting used to, but you can always wake up the phone using the power button (don’t get it confused with the dedicated Bixby button, as we often did) or popping out the S Pen stylus.
Samsung has come a very long way from the days of dimpled plastic covers, and it does not compromise on design.
You’ll have heard all about the ‘awkward’ positioning of the fingerprint scanner on the Galaxy S8, and people will no doubt be concerned by the fact this has not changed for the Note8. But while we’d one day like to see this functionality embedded into the Note’s panel itself, for now it’s not at all as bad as you may have heard.
The main concern with the Galaxy S8 was that those reaching for the scanner would accidentally smudge the camera, but the heart-rate scanner and flash now separate the two and make it unlikely that this will be the case.
We found reaching for the scanner is not too much of a stretch for the finger, and we’ve quickly got used to it on the Galaxy S8. Of course there’s also an iris scanner, should you want to bypass the fingerprint scanner altogether.
Despite having so much going on at the rear – two cameras, a flash, a heart-rate scanner and a fingerprint sensor – it all lies completely flush with the phone’s chassis, and that is evidence of the company’s meticulous design. Even with the addition of the Samsung logo – pleasingly low-key in grey text – it doesn’t look at all overcrowded here.
Our only real criticism from this angle is the legal info slapped on the bottom, which is virtually invisible on the Midnight Black option unless you catch it in the right light, but more obvious on the Maple Gold version we saw ahead of the launch.
By increasing the room available for the panel Samsung has been able to increase its size. Previously 5.7in, which is no longer considered huge for a smartphone, the Note8 now has a 6.3in panel. That’s only 0.1in larger than that on the Galaxy S8+, but there are other differences such as the stylus and dual-camera, too.
It has also added the best part of a centimetre to the phone’s height, and the most obvious difference when viewing the Note8 next to the Galaxy S8 is how much taller is this handset. Both phones are narrower than you would expect, given the curved edges, which makes them surprisingly comfortable to use in a single hand. But the Note8 towers over the Galaxy S8.
The screen has the same technology as Samsung’s Galaxy S series, with a super-high resolution QuadHD+ Super AMOLED display (though in common with the Galaxy S8 it’s set to full-HD by default to preserve
battery life). Some people prefer the more realistic colours of IPS, but we love the saturated, vibrant colours and deep, rich blacks of AMOLED.
It is impossible to fault this display, which is crazy bright at a maximum 1200 nits (the iPhone 7, for example, is ‘just’ 705 nits), guaranteeing outdoor visibility in all conditions. According to DisplayMate it’s 22 percent brighter than the 1000-nit panel on the Galaxy S8.
The Always-On Display has been enhanced since its original implementation in the Note series, and not only can you now create, edit and pin notes on it using the S Pen, but you can configure it to be active only during certain time periods. This feature is great for letting you see the time, date and whether you
have any notifications at a glance, potentially saving battery life as you won’t need to wake the display. It also means the pressure-sensitive home button is always on.
The software has some features that take advantage of the curved edge. A thin white tab is always visible on the far right of this display, and you simply tap this to pull in various quick access options. By default you’ll be able to see your most frequently used apps and contacts, but you can also switch on Edge panels for tasks, clipboard, reminders, device maintenance, weather, quick tools, Samsung internet, sports, finance, smart select and calendar.
Samsung’s two flagship phone families look incredibly similar, and it’s only the extra height, squarer edges and the dual-camera on the rear that differentiate the Note8 from the Galaxy S8. The buttons, ports and sensors are all in the same places, though of course on the bottom right corner of the Note8 there’s also the S Pen stylus, which given a little tap pops out just enough to make it accessible but not enough you might easily lose it. (An alarm is activated if you try to walk away without the stylus in any case.)
S Pen stylus
You really won’t appreciate how useful is this stylus until you’ve tried it. Tap the button on its side to open the S Pen menu, which can optionally appear on screen at all times via a floating icon. You can pin up to 10 features or apps to this menu, giving you quick access to the tools you are most likely to want to use with the stylus.
There are some features people might argue are gimmicky, such as the new Live Message feature that lets you create and share animated GIFs, but actually we love that feature and were we able to keep the handset a little longer our friends would be well and truly fed up with all the GIFs we’d sent them over WhatsApp.
The stylus can also be used to draw notes, even when the screen is in standby, which can then be pinned to the Always-on Display. With the screen active popping out the stylus will launch Screen Memo, which can now support up to 100 pages.
The S Pen can also be used to specify just a section of the screen before taking a screenshot, rather than you cropping it later, and you can add notes right on top of those screenshots.
Hover over the screen and it can magnify text, which will be useful if
you’ve purposely chosen the Note8 for its larger screen to make text easier to read.
You can also now select entire passages either to copy and paste elsewhere or translate from another language. The S Pen stylus can convert units and currency, too.
We like the ability to handwrite a URL in a web browser and scrawl over other text fields, while the Air View feature is useful for scrolling down long web pages and previewing links.
Air View can also expand a thumbnail in the gallery, or show you Calendar events in greater detail.
Bixby Vision is directly integrated with the S Pen, allowing you to draw over an area of an image you want to search online for.
Samsung says it has enhanced the pressure sensitivity of the S Pen for the Note8, and refined the nib - it’s just 0.7mm and can recognize 4,096 levels of pressure. It’s impossible for us to compare it to the Note 7’s S Pen without one to hand, but in use we can say it feels smooth and accurate, with no lag, friction or other annoyances.
The Note8 is possibly the classiest-looking phone we’ve ever clapped eyes on, and our Midnight Black review sample is stunning. But the majority of its surface is glass, and that is a worry.
Though it features Gorilla Glass 5 protection front and back, which is Corning’s toughest yet, it is not infallible. This is one smartphone you will want to do your best to look after and keep it safe.
The Galaxy Note8 is also waterproof, rated IP68. That means it can survive in up to 1.5m of water for up to 30 minutes, and is also dustproof. Should you want to take it swimming you can, but more than anything it serves as peace of mind – a phone of this size could easily slip out of your pocket and into somewhere you’d rather it hadn’t.
The other concern you might have regards the battery, following the misfortune of the explosive Note 7. But the battery used here has gone through significant testing to ensure it’s up to scratch, and Samsung has also adjusted the Note8’s design to help ensure things don’t get too hot.
The frame is 0.7mm thicker than it was on the Note 7 – which in smartphone terms is rather a
lot – and the battery’s capacity has been reduced from 3,500mAh to 3,300mAh. That means it is lower in capacity than the 3,500mAh Galaxy S8+, but it’s unlikely the 200mAh loss will make a huge difference to battery life, especially when you also factor in the savings afforded by the new 10nm processor.
We’ve not spent enough time with the Note8 yet to accurately assess its battery life, though it should get you through a full day with moderate- to heavy use.
As previously the battery supports fast wired- and wireless charging, though a wireless charging pad is not supplied. There are some nice touches in the box, though, including a Micro-USB to USB-C adaptor, an OTG adaptor, some spare S Pen nibs, and some AKG-branded earbuds. (You’ll be pleased to know the Note8 retains the 3.5mm headphone jack.)
We were impressed with not only how loud the Note8’s speaker could go, but also how little it was distorted at maximum volume. It handled lows, mids and highs admirably in our testing, with clear vocals and promising bass.
The speaker pumps out audio from the bottom edge of the handset, but given the Note8’s height it’s unlikely that this will be in any way obscured by the palm of your hand.
Samsung’s new Note flagship traditionally arrives with enough power to blow all other contenders out the water. But in 2017 phones are already insanely fast,
and the market is no longer the drag race it once was. While the Note8 is a very strong addition to a competitive playing field, it outpaces all onlookers in only one of our benchmarks: Geekbench 4 multi-core.
This is likely down to its inclusion of 6GB of LPDDR4 RAM, because in other respects performance is very much on par with the 4GB RAM Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+. These phones use the same processor as the Note8 – in the UK you’ll get the octa-core Exynos 8895 with integrated ARM Mali-G71 GPU but in other areas Samsung specifies the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, the same chip that has featured in multiple 2017 flagships.
Both are 10nm chips, which promise large performance and efficiency gains over last year’s 14nm chips – as much as a 30 percent increase in efficiency, 27 percent increase in performance, and 40 percent decrease in power consumption. These figures suggest you needn’t be overly concerned by the decrease in battery capacity from 3,500to 3,300mAh.
In specification it’s perhaps closest to the 6GB OnePlus 5, which uses the Snapdragon 835 chip. In our tests it outperformed the OP5 in Geekbench 4, which looks at sheer processing power, but in the benchmarks that include graphics components the OP5 took the lead. This is likely because of the Note8’s larger screen – and the fact we use the onscreen variants of GFXBench tests.