Sam­sung Gal­axy Note8

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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.

De­sign

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.

Dis­play

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.

Dura­bil­ity

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.)

Au­dio

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.

Per­for­mance

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.

The OP5 also out­paced the Note8 in the JetStream JavaScript bench­mark. You can check its per­for­mance against all key 2017 flag­ships in the chart op­po­site.

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