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Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review

Can the Note 8 erase the bad memories of last year's explosive Note 7? We take a look.

Pros

  • Stunning all-screen display
  • Incredible camera smarts
  • S-Pen stylus gives lots of extra functionality

Cons

  • It comes with a hefty price tag
  • Battery life could maybe be a bit better
  • Rear fingerprint scanner is a little awkward to use

First Impressions

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 hero size S-Pen

They say size isn’t everything. But as soon as you take the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 out of the box, it’s definitely the first thing you notice.

Longer and leaner than any other phone I’ve held, it takes a bit of adjusting to. But let’s face it: when it comes to gadgets, taller and slimmer almost always means sexier. And true to form, The Note 8 looks beautiful.

It’s slightly more streamlined than the S8 Plus and has more angular edges. This adds to the business-like feel to the phone and gives it more of a notepad shape. Which is pretty appropriate given the S-Pen stylus clipped into the base of the handset.

The Note 8 feels super glossy and high-end too, with not a hint of tacky plastic anywhere. And the subtle metallic finish proves that it is possible to go for gold without making the whole phone look too bling-tastic.

Design

  • Very tall and slim
  • Super-sized but super premium
  • Glossy and sleek

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 design in-hand hero image

As with the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus before it, the Note 8 has a stunning edge-to-edge screen.

There are no bezels/edges on the left and right edges of the display. Instead the screen appears to spill over the sides to give you even more room to view, browse and play.

Meanwhile, the bezels at the top and bottom of the screen are so slim they’re barely noticeable

The Note 8 has an 83% screen-to-body ratio, meaning that it can house a bigger screen without having to massively increase the overall size of the phone.

Having said that, the Note 8 is probably a bit too large for a lot of people. It’s definitely too long to fit in my pocket and it’s not easy to use one-handed.

But the size does feel justified when you’re using it with the S-Pen stylus. There’s certainly plenty of room for scribbling down notes and annotating documents.

Combined with its angular shape, this gives the Note 8 a distinctly business-like feel. And it won a lot of admiring stares when I was using it on my daily train commute.

Like the S8 and S8 Plus before it, the Note 8 has a dedicated Bixby button located on the lower left-hand side of the phone below the volume. So you can access your voice assistant quickly and easily.

Unfortunately, as with almost all phone designs, there are a few flaws, most notably, the fingerprint scanner on the back. As you might expect, it’s awkward to use, particularly given the size of the phone. I was constantly worried about dropping it as I tried to unlock the screen one-handed.

And considering the scanner is placed so close to the camera, you inevitably end up getting smudges on the lenses.

Clearly, the fingerprint scanner isn’t supposed to be used as the phone’s primary security feature. Which isn’t surprising, given the amount of money Samsung has spent on its facial recognition tech. More on this later.

And it’s not just the camera lens that’s in danger of smudges. You won’t be using the Note 8 for long before it’s covered in fingerprints. And even more concerning, after scribbling away with the S-pen, you can see the outline of some of your doodles on the screen long after you’ve left the app.

Presumably you’ll be able to negate this if you invest in a screen protector. Not an ideal solution though.

These minor issues aside, the Note 8’s design is attention-grabbing for all the right reasons.

Build Metal and glass
Weight 195g
Dimensions 162.5 x 74.8 x 8.6 mm

Screen

  • Amazing colours
  • Always-on screen makes it easy to check updates
  • Extra menus on the side

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 screen hero size garden image

With a resolution of 2,960x1,440 pixels, the Note 8 shines brighter than most other smartphones on the market at the moment.

The colours are beautifully sharp too, giving a lot more depth to the images without hurting your eyes when you use it.

This, plus the 18.5.9 aspect ratio that gives the handset its long, slender frame, makes the Note 8 is pretty much the perfect phone for watching videos and playing games.

In fact, the Super AMOLED infinity display feels more like a pocket-sized TV than a smartphone.

Happily, the infinity screen is practical as well as pretty. Thanks to the design of the phone, the ‘edge panels’ have been used to add in a couple of extra menus.

These will give you quick access to some of the handiest apps, such as the calculator, clock, contacts list and Samsung’s new Smart Select tool.

You can customise the menu too, so you can have your favourite apps, contacts and tools just a swipe away from the home screen.

When you pop the S Pen out with the phone unlocked, a stylus icon will appear in the right-hand edge of the screen. Click on it and you’ll get a wheel of apps designed to help you get the most out of your stylus. We’ll cover these in more detail in the ‘Features’ section.

The Note 8 also comes with an always-on display as the default. So you can check the time, date, battery level and notifications without unlocking your phone.

Size 6.3 inches
Resolution 2,960 x 1,440 pixels
Technology Super AMOLED

Features

  • S-Pen stylus for writing notes and drawing pictures
  • Facial recognition tech for heightened security
  • Bixby voice assistant on-board

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 S-Pen Stylus wheel

The Note 8 is a thing of beauty. But, looks aren’t everything. And this phone has a lot going on under the bonnet to make it stand out from the crowd.

In fact, with sophisticated facial recognition security, a handy S-Pen stylus and Samsung’s trusty personal assistant, Bixby, it’s got plenty of features that help justify the Note’s high price point.

S-Pen stylus

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 S-Pen stylus memo pad hero

This was the first time I’d used an S-Pen stylus before. And to be honest, I was prepared to dismiss it as an expensive gimmick.

But I was pleasantly surprised by just how useful I found it.

Slotted securely in the bottom of the phone, it’s easy to access and almost impossible to lose.

Take it out while the screen is locked and a memo pad will open up. So you can start scribbling straight away, without having to unlock the phone.

And when the phone is unlocked, there is a whole range of features you can use it with. You can use Smart Select to create screenshots and GIFs, or the Translate tool to highlight text with the S-Pen and translate it into a different language.

There are also a few note-writing apps that let you draw, doodle and jot things down in as many different colours as you like.

You can even choose between various different finishes, from fountain pen to paint brush.

As a scrawling left-hander, it was quite a novelty to be able to use a calligraphy pen without getting my palm covered in ink.

And even more impressive, the screen supports over 4,000 pressure sensitivity points. Meaning that even the tiniest of adjustments in pressure will change how your writing looks.

This has the remarkable effect of making my chicken-scratches look not only legible but actually beautiful. Again, a first for this left-handed scribbler.

And you can draw on your photos too. Which is really handy if you want to graffiti your grandmother’s face or doodle Minnie Mouse ears on your dad.

Facial recognition tech and iris scanner

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 facial recognition tech hero size

Both the facial recognition security and the iris scanner are surprisingly quick and easy to set up. And watching the 3D facial mapping software learn the unique contours of your face in a matter of seconds feels pretty futuristic.

But, like the S8 before it, the Note 8’s facial recognition tech can be fooled by photos. Which means that someone could potentially hack it by holding up a photograph of your face.

And you can forget about discreetly checking your phone during a meeting. After several attempts of trying to unlock the phone using my face without my boss noticing, I gave up.

For now, I would recommend sticking to the traditional fingerprint scanner. Even though it’s placed on the back, which is pretty inconvenient, particularly on such a large phone.

Bixby voice assistant

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 bixby 2

Just like on the S8 and S8 Plus, Samsung’s much-hyped voice assistant, Bixby, is a very attention-grabbing feature on the Note 8.

From the dedicated Bixby button on the lower left-hand side of the phone to the Bixby Vision option in the S-Pen toolbar, it’s obvious that Bixby wants you to talk to her.

The Bixby button works even when the handset is locked, so she often pipes up unbidden when you inevitably press it by accident.

Bixby also feels obliged to interrupt your conversations and TV shows because she thinks you’re talking to her.

Still she is pretty clever and only too happy to help with your every request. But, as she can still only comprehend US English, there is a bit of a language barrier and she often mishears the things you ask her.

To be honest though, she’s a bit needy. I mean, bless her, she means well. But she talks too much, butts in to almost all your conversations and struggles to hear you. Basically, she’s a bit like a virtual grandmother.

Bixby Vision is genuinely innovative though. This handy feature combines the camera with augmented reality tech to recognise the things you’re looking at and will search the internet for more information about them.

So, if you’re out shopping, for example, Bixby can give you product reviews and recommendations as well as tell you where you can buy the same item cheaper.

Or if you’re out sightseeing, hold Bixby Vision up to a local landmark to get more information about it.

Want to find out more about Samsung’s new voice assistant? Here’s five things you need to know about Bixby.

Camera

  • Dual-lens camera for even more depth and detail
  • Lots of flattering filters and live-focus mode
  • Quick to open

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 camera in action hero size

The dual-lens main camera on the Note 8 is quite possibly the best we’ve tried.

Given the hype, our expectations were high. But when we started snapping, we were taken aback by just how crystal-clear the colours were and how detailed each shot was. Despite my very limited photography skills, I found that it’s pretty much impossible to take a bad photo with the Note 8.

The Live Focus mode is similar to the Portrait mode on the iPhone 7 and 8 in that it blurs the background and brings the object or person you’re photographing into razor-sharp focus. This is referred to as a ‘bokeh’ effect and it is very flattering, even when you’re having a bad hair day.

In addition to Live Focus, you can still access all your favourite camera modes, including Auto, Pro, Panorama and Food. And if there are any you’re missing, you can simply download them from the Galaxy app store.

Meanwhile Instagrammers will no doubt appreciate the impressive selfie camera filled with Snapchat-esque filters to suit your mood. Whether you want to look like a cowboy, a clown or wide-eyed woodland animal, the Note 8 will help you fill your social media feeds with flawless selfies.

You can flip between the front and rear cameras with a simple swipe. Which is handy once you get the hang of it, but a bit annoying when you knock it by accident and find yourself staring at your own face rather than the thing you’re trying to photograph.

The Note 8 gives you great results every time, even in poor lighting conditions.

Camera Dual 12-megapixel rear-facing, 8-megapixel front-facing
Optical image stabilisation Yes
Unique features 4K video

Performance and battery life

  • Very fast
  • Surprisingly good battery life
  • MicroSD slot for extra memory

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 screen S-Pen stylus Sonic hero size

As you might expect, the Note 8 is lightning-fast, with Samsung’s own excellent Exynos processor and a plentiful 6GB of RAM.

So, if you’re scrolling through social media, watching an HD film or doing both at the same time, the Note 8 can handle it all without even the slightest delay.

And even more importantly, you can do all this without worrying about your battery failing.

The Note 8 is powered by a big 3,300mAh battery. But with a screen this size, it’s hardly surprising.

What is surprising is that we got through a full day of taking snaps, making calls and using power-hungry apps without running out of juice.

Admittedly, if you boost the screen brightness or watch a lot of videos with the Video Enhancer on, you might not make it through the day without needing to recharge. But this is to be expected and overall we found the battery pretty good considering the size of the phone.

Should you need to squeeze a bit more life out of your Note 8 though, there’s a number of battery-saving options. You can activate the low-power mode, adjust the screen’s brightness or watch videos in 1080p HD rather than quad HD+ to conserve more power.

After last year’s debacle with the explosive Note 7s, you can rest assured that the Note 8’s battery has been put through rigorous safety tests by Samsung experts.

RAM 6GB
Battery capacity 3,300mAh
OS and version Android 7.1.1 Nougat with Samsung Experience

Value for money

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 screen woodland hero size

At £869 SIM-free, the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 certainly isn’t a cheap phone.

But if you do have that kind of cash to spend on a phone, you can’t do better than the Note 8.

It looks, feels and performs a lot better than any other phone we’ve tested. And with all the additional bells and whistles, you certainly get a lot for your money.

You can buy the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 SIM-free from giffgaff.

If you can’t afford the full £869 in one go, you can get it on a monthly contract. At the time of writing, you can get it from around £50 a month with no upfront costs. For this, you’ll also get a monthly allowance of calls, texts and data.

Verdict

Samsung Galazy Note 8 S-Pen Stylus app tray hero size

  • Best camera we’ve used
  • Stunning design
  • Very big but beautiful
  • Fantastic screen
  • Reasonable battery life
  • Awkward rear fingerprint scanner
  • Water-resistant and dust-proof
  • Virtual assistant can’t understand British accents
  • Fast performance
  • Very expensive
  • Latest version of Android operating system

The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is definitely the biggest and best phone we’ve tried out this year, but it does come with the price tag to match.

If you’ve got pockets that are big enough to fit the phone in and deep enough to afford it, then you won’t be able to find a better phone.

Category: Reviews

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