The Galaxy Note 8. The phone Samsung made because they could. It’s got everything. A stylus. A dual camera. A huge, beautiful, curved-edge display. Water resistance. MmmmBixby personal assistant. Non-exploding batteries. Headphone Jack. Sad that we have to mention that as a feature, but we do. It’s pretty much one of, if not the highest end Android phone you can get right now, but is it worth your hard-earned cash? Hopefully, we can find out together. After the intro.
I mentioned cash, so I should clarify right off the bat – this is a very expensive phone. MSRP is 1300 Canadian, or 930 US. That’s about 100 dollars more than the S8+, which is very similar in form factor and internals, and about 300 more than the S8. So the Note 8 better have some pretty killer features to account for the price jump – and it does have extra features, for sure, but… anyways, let’s get to the bottom of this.
As always, let’s take a physical tour. Design-wise, the Note 8 is almost a ringer for the S8+ – it’s got slightly less rounded corners, and at 6.3 inches the screen is a whopping 0.1 inches bigger. Which makes you ask, do we even need the Note line anymore now that there are + models of Samsung’s flagship, but sorry, that’s for later – the screen is the same resolution, 1440×2960, with curved edges and covered by Gorilla Glass 5. No physical home button once again at the bottom, and selfie camera, light and proximity sensors, and iris scanner at the top.
The back looks much the same as the front, with the new dual camera setup, which we’ll get to later, next to the dual LED flash and fingerprint sensor, which really should be lower so so it’s not so hard to reach. On the very top, we’ve got the combo nanoSIM and microSD card tray, on the very bottom, the headphone jack, USB Type C port, speaker grille, and S pen slot. Power button is on the right side, volume rocker and dedicated mmmmBixby button is on the left.
For internals things are again much the same as the S8 and S8+ – Snapdragon 835, Adreno 540 GPU, 64GB storage expandable up to 256GB with a microSD card and IP68 water resistance, and yes – it retains that rating even with the stylus removed – But here’s where it differs – 6GB of RAM, up from 4 and a 3300mAh battery, bigger than the S8 but smaller than the s8+. And for the sake of showing all the differences in one place, it’s also got the dual-camera array and the S pen.
The Note 8 is the only current-gen Android phone on the market that comes with a stylus – LG released a few variants in 2016, but other than those, the stylus experience is pretty much exclusive to Samsung’s Note line. And stylus fans will be pleased to hear that it’s better than ever this time around. It supports 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity with the Wacom digitizer under the screen, the same amount found in a lot of graphic design tablets. I am pretty bad at drawing, and my handwriting has suffered from lack of practice, but even I found the S pen a joy to use on the Note 8’s gorgeous display. The live message feature, which lets you convert written messages to animated gifs to share wherever you want, is pretty fun. But particularly impressive is the ability to whip out the pen and jot notes without unlocking the phone – you can even pin your note to the always on-display, so you’ll see your to-do list every time you glance at the screen. I have a bad memory and ADD, so I used this constantly while testing the Note 8. Is the S pen worth the price jump though? Ruminate on that, and let’s move on.
The dual camera is the other major change on the Note 8, this being Samsung’s first flagship to include the feature. The wide angle camera is pretty much the same one found in the S8 and S8+, with 12MP and an F/1.7 aperture, while the telephoto lens gets bumped to F/2.4. Together, they enable the Note’s Live Focus feature, which, unlike the iPhone 7 Plus’s portrait mode, lets you adjust the level of background blur. It will also let you choose between the wide angle and close-up versions, which is nice to have. Live Focus did a pretty great job of isolating the subject from the background, but in a couple cases, the crop wasn’t perfect and I did see some artifacts. But when it works, it works really well – you’d be hard pressed to tell that some of these photos weren’t taken with a DSLR. But is Live Focus worth the price jump? Again, ruminate.
In true Samsung fashion, the TouchWiz UI on the Note 8 differs significantly from stock Android, but for responsiveness and utility, it’s fantastic. The Apps Edge feature is here again, but now with the ability to pair two apps so they automatically open simultaneously in split screen mode, which is awesome if you have combos you always use in certain situations – like opening maps and music for driving. Of course, you can still use splitscreen with other phones, but App Pair appears to be exclusive to the Note 8 for now. But is App Pair worth the price jump? I hope you’re seeing the pattern here now, because if not that’s worrisome.
So let me summarize: this phone is.. The same, as the S8+. Save for: a slightly bigger body and screen, the addition of the S pen, the dual camera, and some exclusive UI features. Is it the best Android phone out there right now? Quite possibly. It’s also one of the most expensive, not counting silly diamond-encrusted gold options for celebrities. If you’re a fan of the Note line, and you gotta have the stylus, then like I said, you don’t really have a choice, but for everyone else, I can’t recommend the Note 8 unless you for some reason neeed those few extras. The S8 and S8+ are significantly less expensive for much the same experience. Now – as I said, if I was given a Note 8, I would use the heck out that S pen, it’s awesome to use, and it may even be crucial for business types editing documents and spreadsheets on their phone. But for everyone else, I don’t think you can justify the price jump. The dual camera feature will probably re-appear in the S9, which is rumored to be coming in a matter of months.
Which kind of brings me to a question I asked earlier – do we even need the Note line anymore? Each generation’s Note model has been bigger than its contemporaries, but the Note 8’s screen is only 0.1 inches bigger than the S8+. I feel like Samsung should consider just bringing the S pen to the + variant of the S9, and spare us the complication the Note 8 brings to the lineup. What do you guys think? Let me know in the comments below.
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