FROM BERLIN TO BARCELONA WE GAVE THE NEW NOTE 8 A SERIOUS WORKOUT
I have a new best friend, who has been with me from Berlin to Barcelona for the past week, the Samsung Note 8 is the ultimate travel companion, but is it the best ever smartphone?
On the road, this is a device that not only allows one to easily stay in touch but is ideal for quick flight information, maps answering questions such as “where the hell am I” while also being able to shoot an array of stunning images and video.
While the 6.3” screen is big and bright it's also a device that fits comfortably in the hand. As for capability, the Note 8 has more features built in than any other smartphone we have tested recently.
It's super-fast, waterproof, has a great camera, wireless charging, mobile payments which actually worked in both Berlin and Barcelona, pen input, fingerprint reader, VR support and the choice of two voice command systems Bixby and Google Assistant. Most phones lack a few things the Note 8 has them all and a whole lot more.
And when you are in a foreign city and constantly looking for information this device is seriously in its element. Using location tracker and voice commands I was able to quickly find my way around at IFA in Berlin and later Barcelona.
This is not just a smartphone that looks good, it's a toolbox that delivers a plethora of capabilities which is why it's well worthwhile having to fork out $1,400 + to buy the Samsung Note 8.
It's also a device that is made by a Company that manufactures the screen, processors and memory along with their own hardware such as the integrated S Pen which is extremely useful when travelling,
I used the S Pen often to scribble numbers and room access codes on the screen which I later added to my S Notes.
The curvature of the 74.8mm wide screen and its harder corners delivers a really unique experience, it's big but it doesn't feel big especially as one can still use the device one handed.
In comparison, the 77.9mm wide iPhone 7 Plus and the 75.7mm wide Google Pixel XL are big clunky and nowhere near having the style or flair that the Note 8 delivers.
As for the Samsung AMOLED screen, they don't get any better though the new OLED V30 from LG
is a close contender. Big, bright and bold, with rich colours, deep blacks and great viewing angles. It's the best there is out there even in bright light conditions.
On the back is a cluster of cameras, flash, heart rate sensor and fingerprint sensor that sits near the top of the device. This is a terrible position for the fingerprint sensor due to the height of the phone the fact that most people like me don't have fingers long enough to grip the bottom of the device and reach the fingerprint sensor.
An alternative is the iris scanner but this is a hit and miss affair.
One thing I can vouch for is that the Note S 8 can withstands submersion in a fountain pool as I found out in Barcelona when I sat down on the edge of a fountain and the device fell out of my pocket.
As for grouches, I am still not won over by Bixby Voice, Google Voice works and works well, then there is the issue of Samsung Internet. Chrome is excellent and it's just one more piece of software that could easily be removed. Despite its size, the Note 8 has a smaller battery than the Note 7 or the Galaxy S8 Plus (3000mAh rather than 3500).
I was easily getting a 15-hour day out of this device and that included using it at the IFA trade show in Berlin to constantly search for stands and meeting locations.
The screen alone usually accounts for upwards of 50 percent of battery life so short burst use can extend the life of a battery Vs using it constantly for Maps and watching movies.
A real big standout feature is the tiny S Pen stylus, it's a nice, simple tool though I do wish that Samsung had designed it to fit in the top of the Note 8 Vs the bottom right.
Samsung has created lots of software for the S Pen: write a note, turn it into a GIF, send it to your friends; select some text to translate; take a screenshot just by drawing a rectangle. Pop the pen out of its hiding spot in the bottom right corner of the phone and it'll open a note, so you can jot down your thoughts without turning on the screen.
The S-Pen is the best combination of power, portability, utility and comfort. It also has a noticeably thinner tip and supports up to 4,098 levels of pressure.
You can still write on the screen when it's off, which is incredibly handy for taking notes when you are travelling. There is also no lag when using the pen, it's comfortable to use and is the best combination of performance, size and convenience.
As I said earlier I would still like to see the pen at the top of the device not the bottom.
Samsung devices run a modified version of Android called Touch Wiz.
The Note 8 runs Android 7.0 Nougat. The Note 8 has a similar feature set to the Galaxy S8, including some handy additions to Android such as the ability to swap the order of the navigation buttons at the bottom of the screen, and Samsung's Snap window, which creates an overlay of any video
on the screen so you can watch something and message people at the same time.
A new feature is the live message feature, which allows you to draw or write out something to create an animated gif to send via pretty much any messaging app or email via Android's builtin share system.
There is nothing better out there in a large phone and even Apple is going to have a hard job getting close to the quality that this camera delivers.
The only other device that comes close is the LG V30 and in comparison, shots the Samsung Note 8 came out on top, but then the V30 is $600 cheaper.
What Samsung have done is designed the device so that two 12-megapixel sensors work together or separately. In both Belin and Barcelona Bixby Vision kicked in to identify objects in the frame.
Virtually all of my photos came out clear, sharp, and well-focused. As you can see from the samples below.
The app is fast, the image stabilization works wonders on videos or at super-high zoom levels, even the burst mode is fast. Another big advantage is the way that functions are set out on the screen. A simple click and an image enlarges.
A Live Focus mode, uses both cameras to approximate a soft-background portrait similar to the iPhone.
From the images above I challenge whether a digital SLR would deliver pictures as quick and as good.
The Note 8 is a great phone with potential to be an exceptional one, what their designers have to do is get a tad closer to reality especially with their fingerprint sensor. Then there is the issue of Bixby, while it works, does one really need it. Tizen was supposed to be the next big smartphone OS, it failed and I suspect Bixby will go the same way.
What was interesting at CES was that Harman which is owned by Samsung chose to deliver Amazon Alexa, Microsoft's Cortana and a Google Home voice activation speaker, there was no Bixby. With the right light, the telephoto camera is capable of producing some great portrait or object shots.
The dual camera set up allows for some now fairly standard features such as depth perception for artificially blurring the background of a portrait. It works pretty well and uniquely allows the user to adjust the level of effect both during shoots and after the fact in the gallery app.
Is this a really great smartphone? Yes, does it have flaws? Yes, the fingerprint sensor and Bixby are just two. But then so do some of the world's great luxury cars and people stick flock to them.
As a premium product, this device is well worth the investment it's like the ultimate Swiss knife, it has everything you need, computer, smartphone, camera, navigation system, note taker all built into one slick smart looking device that last for hours before needing a little bit of juice. While the apple iPhone is everyone else's parts including a lot from Samsung the bulk of this device is pure Samsung technology that harmoniously works together.
Fruit stall in barcelona, taken using the Note 8 Camera