Review: Samsung Galaxy Note 8 rises above expectations
By Chong Jinn Xiung October 11, 2017
The Galaxy Note 8 offers a bigger screen, dual cameras and a better S Pen stylus
Battery stamina has reduced due to the inclusion of a smaller battery
SAMSUNG has staged a successful comeback for the Galaxy Note 8 and it looks like the troubles it faced with the Note 7 last year are well behind it. With nothing to hold it back, the second flagship device from the South Korean phone maker is ready to take names and jot some notes.
The Note 8 builds upon the success of the Galaxy S8 earlier this year and has learned from the downfall of its predecessor.
The Note 8 is a monster of a smartphone, sporting a massive 6.3-inch Super AMOLED display that takes the crown from the Galaxy S8+ as the biggest phone we have handled to date.
For regular users, the added advantage of a bigger screen means that using it for surfing the web and watching videos is better overall.
The Note 8 naturally evolved from the S8 series’ design. It is an all-glass phone with curved sides that is IP68 water- and dust-resistant so it is ready for practically any situation.
This is Samsung’s biggest flagship device to date but the taller yet narrower body makes it easy to hold while it's massive 18.5:9 aspect ratio is terrific for browsing the web and all-round media consumption
The main difference between the Note 8 and the S8+ is that it comes with some significant upgrades that include dual rear cameras and improved S Pen features for those who prefer to write rather than type.
Around the device, you will find that the Note 8 still retains the same button layout as the S8+ with the power button on the right while the volume rocker and dedicated Bixby (Samsung’s own Artificial Intelligence solution) button sits on the left.
On the bottom, you will be pleased to find that it still retains a headphone jack. There is also a speaker and USB Type C port on the bottom, nothing too surprising here. The S Pen slot on the side is cool in a sense that even with the pen ejected, the phone is protected from water.
Much like the S8+, the placement of the fingerprint reader is awkward so you need to do some finger gymnastics and practice before being able to accurately place your finger on it.
Frustratingly, Samsung still has not improved its fingerprint reader technology when so many competing models have far more accurate readers. There are of course other methods to unlock the phone including face recognition, though it has proven to be less secure and is easily fooled by photos while the Iris scanning feature is inconvenient as you need to remove your glasses in order for it to recognise you.
The Note 8 checks all the right boxes when it comes to providing top-notch specs for the device. On the Malaysian variant, you get Exynos 8895 octa-core processor coupled with 6GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage (expandable up to 256GB via microSD card).
(Correction: The Antutu score should read 174,653)
Based on benchmark numbers, the Note 8 scores highly in most areas. Opening multiple apps and switching between them proved to be no problem for the Note 8. Gaming was also smooth on fast first person shooter games like Modern Combat Versus while epic battles between armies unfolded in Dawn of Titans without a hitch.
In terms of the software experience, Samsung’s TouchWiz interface over Android 7.1.1 remains unobtrusive and performs well in all areas while we browsed the web and multi-tasked between apps.
Speaking of multitasking, the Edge Screen function knows a new trick this time with the Dual App launcher that allows you to launch two apps in Split Screen mode at once. You can create any number of different pairings like Chrome and YouTube for browsing while watching videos or Spotify and Waze to listen to music as you navigate.
Let’s focus on one core feature of the Note 8, the S Pen stylus. There are some nice additions to the S Pen’s repertoire of features that include Live Message, which allows you to scribble a personal message and convert it to a GIF for sharing and the Translate function sure is a handy tool that allows you to hover over any line of text in another language and see its translation.
Sure, the S Pen is a great tool for note takers and creative types but in all honesty, we didn’t find ourselves using the stylus a great deal during our review.
It is slightly disappointing to find that despite being such a large-screen device the Note 8 actually sports a smaller than expected 3,300mAh battery compared to the 3,500mAh on the S8+. One can speculate that Samsung is playing it safe and opted for a smaller battery following the Note 7’s battery issues.
But the repercussions of this decision means that Note 8 users will need to be more mindful of their battery usage. In our experience, the Note 8 was just barely able to get us through the day on a single charge lasting between 12 to 14 hours on average. There was just over 20% left at the end of the day.
On the flip side, at least you still get fast charging and wireless charging so you have plenty of options to keep the phone charged.
Possibly the most exciting new feature of the Note 8 is the dual cameras. You get the same 12-Megapixel shooter from the S8+ on this but you also gain another 12-Megapixel shooter for shooting telephoto shots. They differ only in terms of how wide their aperture opens with the standard camera having a wider f/1.7 aperture while the telephoto has a f/2.4 aperture.
It is great to know that unlike most other phones out there, both cameras enjoy optical image stabilisation which is great especially for the 2x optical zoom lens.
Image quality is superb all around and even low-light photography proved no problem at all for the Note 8.
The one new addition is on the Note 8 is the Live Focus feature which is Samsung’s take on Portrait mode. Using the second camera, you can apply and even adjust the ‘bokeh’ (blurred background) effect as you take the shot though you need to stand at least 1.2m away from the subject in order for it to work.
For the most part, Live Focus does a convincing job of applying ‘bokeh’ to photos though it doesn’t get it right every time. If you didn’t like the Live Focus photo you took, Samsung has its Dual Shot mode that takes the same photo using both cameras giving you a close-up and wide angle shot.
The Note 8 also doubles up as a very capable video recorder. Videos look stunning and super sharp regardless if you are recording at UHD quality or at regular Full HD. Admittedly, there are not that many innovations made on the video front but it is nonetheless a versatile camera that records good looking videos in both daylight and lowlight.
There is no doubt that the Galaxy Note 8 shines as one of the best phones Samsung has made to date. The large screen is absolutely gorgeous while the top specs offer great performance for power users.
Though the Note 8’s dual cameras are late to the game, the 2x optical zoom with image stabilisation opens new possibilities in mobile photography. Live Focus is still a gimmick that sells well though at the end of the day is not necessary for taking great shots.
The S Pen stylus still feels great with great new features this time around but honestly feels like dressing on the side as the main enhancement seem to fall squarely on the camera this time around.
There are a few things Samsung could have improved on the Note 8, the placement of the fingerprint reader still feels odd on the back but the top of our wish list is to have a bigger battery. The stamina is not terrible per say but packing more power never hurts.
At US$943 (RM3,999), the Galaxy Note 8 is a very expensive phone. Samsung is definitely targeting the Note 8 more towards power users or those who love to take notes with a stylus but it is has a very high asking price.
Consider that the Galaxy S8+, which is almost the same phone as the Note 8 save for the fact that it has less RAM, lacks the dual camera setup and has no S Pen, but it is much cheaper and offers better value.
So should you get a Note 8? If you already have a Galaxy S8 series, you should skip it but if you have been holding out on the Note 5 and have the budget then the Note 8 is a worthy upgrade.