Samsung Galaxy Note8
Think Galaxy S8+ with a clever pen and dual cameras. The Note8 is at once familiar, yet Samsung at its best.
Ahhh. I see what you did there, Samsung. By releasing a Galaxy Note8 that looks and feels remarkably like the Galaxy S8+ (a phone most Android enthusiasts would love to have in their pockets), you stand to dissolve all the bad mojo associated with the Galaxy Note 7 (a phone most Android enthusiasts would consign to a fireproof safe).
Seriously, with a 6.3in, curved-glass display and remarkably slim bezels, the Note8 is an S8+ doppelgänger. It’s got the same 2:1 aspect ratio – which delivers copious screen real estate, without all the bulk—and only a 0.1in increase in display size, a second rear camera, and the addition of an S Pen really differentiate the Note8 visually from its less productivity-focused stablemate.
The fingerprint sensor is even slapped on the back, just like on the S8 and S8+. It’s annoying as ever, right up against the camera housing, where you don’t want any fingerprints at all.
But, hey, a poorly positioned fingerprint sensor didn’t dissuade S8 buyers, so why not build upon success? As Samsung told journalists during our Note8 pre-brief, the S8 and S8+ helped restore confidence in the Galaxy brand following the Note 7 battery debacle.
In fact, one may reasonably conclude the Note8 has the safest smartphone design on the planet. Samsung now puts all of its phones through an 8-point safety check that specifically addresses failures with the Note 7 battery. Plus, c’mon. Can you imagine a third battery recall? Samsung knows another battery controversy would be an Extinction Level Event.
I spent just about an hour with the Note8, and my gut-level takeaway can be summed up in a single question: Why buy the S8+ when you can have the Note8? The new flagship phablet has all the benefits of the S8+, plus a bunch of features that compel you to do stuff with your phone, to get productive, and not just be a passive participant. Let’s get into the highlights.
App Pair launches two apps at once
Sometimes the smaller, more subtle features have the most impact. Case in point, I was really enamoured with the new App Pair feature that lives on the side of the display in Samsung’s Edge panel. In the Note8, you can define pairings of apps, and when you tap on one of them, the apps launch together into a multi-window arrangement. For example, you could pair the phone dialer and a calendar app (perfect for productivity scenarios), or Twitter and a streaming video app (so you can live-tweet some political debacle).
S Pen and Screen Off memos
It wouldn’t be a Note if not for Samsung’s S Pen, and in the Note8, the pen gets an even finer, more precise 0.7mm tip, along with some new functionality.
For starters, the new S Pen taps into all the same Air Commands that I enjoyed in the Galaxy Tab S3, including a tool that creates animated GIFs directly from YouTube videos. Given that today’s kids are spending more and more time alone with their phones, I applaud any feature that turns the phone into a creativity tool.
The new S Pen boasts 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity (just like earlier iterations), and it’s optimized for creativity apps like Recolor (a colouring book for adults) and Adobe Illustrator Draw. To think that Samsung, and not Apple, is owning fine-art content creation in the smartphone space.
S Pen also enables a new Live Message feature that’s available across multiple messaging apps. Just choose Live Message from an Air Command, jot out
a handwritten note with the pen, and then apply a special effect, including Glow and Sparkle options. The Live Message becomes an animated GIF, which makes it fully transportable to other phones.
Okay, it’s not a serious feature, but surprise and delight matters too.
If you’re looking for something less frivolous, you can dig into Screen Off memos, an S Pen feature that’s aimed squarely at productivity junkies. Note8 owners will be able to jot down no fewer than 100 pages of digital handwriting notes, all without ever unlocking the phone. Indeed, as soon as you remove the S Pen from its storage compartment, you can begin writing notes on the Note8’s always-on display.
The S Pen felt thin and wispy in my hand, but I still enjoyed the speed and zero-lag responsiveness of the note-taking experience. All of the notes are stored as digital ink and can be edited post facto, and you can even pin a note to the Always On Display. For many people (myself included), an always-in-your-face handwritten reminder is more effective than an audio notification.
Finally, the S Pen pairs up with an improved translation engine. You can now use the pen to translate not just words, but entire sentences in 71 languages. This has to be attractive to worldly wanderers, multinational business tycoons, and, who knows, random State Department employees.
Dual cameras and Live Focus
Samsung is late to the dual-camera party, as LG, Huawei and Apple have already released phones with
tandem rear cameras. Nonetheless, the Note8’s new Live Focus mode appears to one-up Apple’s similar approach to depth-of-field bokeh effects.
Let’s start with some raw specs discussion. Each of the Note8’s rear cameras clocks in at 12Mp, but the ‘wide’ lens has an f/1.7 aperture and 77-degree field of view (26mm equivalent), while the so-called ‘telephoto’ lens has a slower f/2.4 aperture and 45-degree field of view (52mm equivalent), giving you an effective 2X optical zoom. Both cameras offer optical image stabilization (OIS), and this should help ensure crisp, properly exposed, non-blurry images.
We haven’t yet put the Note8’s camera system to the test, but on paper Samsung’s specs and overall philosophy look great. Once we start using the phone and can view full-resolution images on a PC desktop, we’ll know a lot more. For now, I can only comment on Samsung’s Live Focus app experience, which offers a lot of useful flexibility.
App Pair on the Edge panel launches two apps into multiwindow mode
Air Commands are back on the Samsung Note8
Samsung Note8 Live Focus feature allows you to adjust the depth of field effect after the shot is taken