Galaxy Note fans can celebrate! After a dry 2016, the Galaxy Note 8 has finally launched in all its glory and Samsung did not disappoint. The 6.3” Super-AMOLED display is a huge step up from the previous 5.7” one, and this latest design maximizes the potential of Samsung’s infinity display.
Equipped with the latest mobile computing tech, the Note 8 is also the company’s first high-end dual-camera phone which promises excellent portrait photos. Finally, the S-Pen is back with more accuracy, speed and features. The Galaxy Note 8 is here, and this is our first look at it.
[this early review is based on time spent with the early device. We will update it as we spend more time with a retail unit. Benchmarks and photo tests will be part of the next round of updates]
- 6.3″ Super-AMOLED Display (2960×1440, 521 PPI)
- 6GB of RAM, Snapdragon 835 SoC (USA)
- Dual 12 MP Cameras OIS (f1.7 + f2.4)
- 8MP AF(F1.7) Selfie Camera
- 3,300 mAh battery, integrated wireless charging
- 162.5 x 74.8 x 8.6 mm, 195g
The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 builds up on the language design of the Galaxy S8 but has distinct differences to accommodate the S-Pen experience, which is the first reason of being for the Galaxy Note Series. The second reason is to be Samsung’s leading large-display and productivity phone.
Like the Samsung Galaxy S8/S8+ phones, the Note 8 has a curved “infinity display,” however, the flat area has been expanded as much as possible to maximize the pen-friendly surface. It still retains a curvy “edge display” which makes the screen fade away at the edge and is still smooth to hold. To achieve this, the curve angle is noticeably steeper.
"THE GALAXY NOTE 8 INDUSTRIAL DESIGN IS WAY AHEAD"The overall construction is very similar to the Galaxy S8/S8+. It is a proven industrial design and process that remains unmatched when you look at all the details. The materials, the curvy shape, the ultra-compact volume and the tight tolerances of the manufacturing: this is the best phone manufacturing that you can get today. This is what people commonly say in the Industrial Design industry.
The internal volume optimization is also impressive: with an approximated size of ~6.36 cubic inches, the Note 8 packs more compute power, RAM, and battery capacity (per cubic inch) as 6.3-6.4 inches competitors such as the LeEco Max Le Pro (2016, 6.33”, ~7.58 ci) or the Xiaomi Mi Max 2 (2017, 6.44”, ~7.16 ci).
Only the Xiaomi Mi Mix (6.4”, ~6.27 ci) and Samsung’s own Galaxy S8 can compete on volume. But the Mi Mix is significantly wider and doesn’t pull nearly as much performance/volume. To be fair, the Mi Mix does have a formidable 4400 mAh battery.
And keep in mind that the Note 8 has to dedicate ~0.7 cubic inches of internal space for the pen! If you take that into account, the Galaxy Note 8 Industrial design is way ahead.
MaterialsThe Note 8 has an ultra-premium feel with a thin metallic layer covered by glass on most of the surface, along with a smooth metallic edge that is either chrome or shiny black. The metal quality is high, and it blends very well with the glass surface.
Samsung introduced this kind of material with the Galaxy S6, and most of the industry has followed since (Huawei probably produces the second best material like that). Although the colors and final shapes are somewhat different, the treatment itself is very similar to the one used for the Galaxy S7/S8. In the USA, the Galaxy Note 7 will be available in two colors: Midnight Black and Orchid Gray.
The Note 8’s glass is highly resistant to scratches. For instance, we don’t (yet) have scratches on the S8/S8+ review units despite using them in trade shows conditions. But extreme scratch-resistance comes with an extreme glass hardness. That also means that glass it is a brittle material which can crack upon a drop onto a hard surface.
Since the Galaxy Note’s glass is directly exposed to shocks on the front/back and on about half of the edges’ surfaces, we estimate that it will likely (75%?) crack if dropped on a hard surface. If you are clumsy, we highly recommend getting a thin, clear plastic case that still shows the design while elevating the protection to much higher levels. Samsung or third parties have a bunch of them.
The general rule is this: most phones contact with a hard surface happens at the corners (50%) then the edges (25%) then on the front or back (25%). Most protective cases will protect at least the corners, the edges, and the back. The case leads to a significant decrease in the force as it absorbs some of it. A cover case will protect the screen as well.
The Note 8 has an IP68 rating, which means that it is “dust-proof” and highly water resistant. You can read more about what IP ratings are, but in this case, the phone could stay immersed into Up to 3-meter for some time (tests last ~30mn, but the device can take more). Knowing that many phones die prematurely from water exposure, having an IP68 rating will dramatically reduce the risk.
We would not recommend using it regularly into salt water, or pool-water. Although it is possible to do so, there’s a risk that chemicals or salt will eventually damage the seals over time. Also, repeated drops on hard surfaces can also weaken the waterproofing near antenna slits and ports.
With a microSD port extension, it is possible to greatly extend the storage capacity, without spending huge amounts of money. Both Samsung and competitor Sandisk/Western Digital offer very compelling memory cards:
- Samsung 256GB 100MB/s (U3) MicroSDXC EVO (~$150)
- SanDisk Ultra 256GB MicroSDXC UHS-I Card (~$120)
- Samsung 128GB up to 48MB/s EVO Class 10 Micro SDXC Card (~$52)
- Samsung 64GB 100MB/s (U3) MicroSD EVO Memory Card (~28)
Keep in mind that microSD memory cards are not as fast as the internal storage system. However, their speeds of ~100 MB/sec (check when you buy) is more than enough to store media files, photos for example. It is also possible to store low-usage apps, but anything that is frequently used or accessed should be on the internal storage for maximum speed.
Display: huge and comfortable
The Note 8 has a huge 6.3-inch Super AMOLED display (2960×1440 Quad HD+, 521 ppi), but is ultra-compact design makes it small and comfortable to use, thanks to its 74.8mm width, which is still comfortable in hand. The Galaxy Note 8 dominates the large-display category (6.2”+) category with no clear-cut competitor right now.
"THE GALAXY NOTE 8 DOMINATES THE LARGE-DISPLAY CATEGORY"6.3” is the largest display size ever for the Galaxy Note Series, with Galaxy Note 7/5/4/3 at 5.7”. The Galaxy Note 2 had a 5.5” screen, and the original Galaxy Note had a 5.3” one.
Four years later, the Galaxy Note 8 fulfills the original 6.3” phone vision that Samsung introduced with the Galaxy Mega 6.3. Since then, Samsung has drastically reduced the volume of the handset (by ~15%+, to 74.8mm wide) and removed 13.2mm of width since the Mega 6.3, and this makes a world of difference.
A Handset like the Le Max Pro (2016, 6.33”) has a width that is 8.7mm larger (83.5mm) and has a device volume which is 19% bigger than the Note 8.
The Lenovo Phab 2 Pro (2016, 6.4”) is 88.6mm wide (+13.8mm vs. Note 8) and a device volume which is 63.5% larger (but it does support Google’s Tango).
The Xiaomi Mi Mix (Oct 2016, 6.4”) is the closest competitor with a design volume which is 1.5% smaller than the Note 8. However, the Mi Mix has a width that is 7.1mm larger (81.9mm) and will lose the ergonomy battle, along with other factors such as platform and camera performance.
As usual, the new Galaxy Note comes with an excellent Super-AMOLED screen. Samsung didn’t present the technical details but DisplayMate has taken a close look at it in their labs. Unsurprisingly, the conclusion is that this is the best display to pass into their labs.
You can read the full analysis, which is super-geeky but the takeaway is that the color restitution and brightness are leading edge. I’ve confirmed this for the brightness since we can measure it. Also, it is a bit more power-efficient than the S8 screen, which is great since the surface area is larger.
S-Pen pushes the envelope of handwriting on smartphones
The Note 8’s digital pen is accurate (4096 levels of pressure) and has a thin 0.7mm tip. It is 108mm long and has a diameter of 5.8mm. The Galaxy Note has a virtual monopoly on the smartphone digital pen experience because everyone else has pretty much given up, or can’t compete, at least in the high-end.
LG has the affordable LG Stylus 2 Plus ($80) aka LG Stylo 2 for Verizon (2016, 5.7”) mid-range handset but it is not intended to go head to head with the Galaxy Note 8. In fact, the only potent pen-enabled competitor for the Note 8 is… The Note 5, and at ~$340, it’s a good alternative for lower budgets. If you want to go lower, the forementioned LG phones could work.
Screen Off handwriting
The Pen can be used even when the phone is sleeping/locked, thanks to the Screen Off feature that lets you take notes right away. Samsung has made it possible to write for up to 100 pages (!), which was my primary concern because handwritten notes tend to have much bigger letters, that is why the high number of pages is important.
Drawings converted to animated GIF
Maybe the most entertaining feature of the new S-Pen is the ability to record handwriting/drawing and turn it into an animated GIF file. The best part is that it should be compatible with many popular messaging apps.
Camera x2: Optical zoom joins the party
We were expecting the Galaxy Note 8 to feature two 12MP cameras with OIS, but we did not know if Samsung was going to pick a secondary “zoom” or “(ultra) wide” camera. Now it’s official, Samsung has chosen to compete with Apple and Huawei. LG will be left with a monopoly in the desirable ultra-wide photography area, but until triple-cameras arrive, one needs to pick their battles.
After taking some pictures with the 2X zoom, we had to compare it with the iPhone 7 Plus, which introduced that feature last year. Both phones performed quite well, although I think that the Note 8 has a slight advantage. I’m looking at the details here because that’s what the zoom is supposed to conserve. Some of the sharpness on the Note is due to different choice of sharpening levels, but not all of it.
If you want to know what dual cameras can do and why different combinations lead to improving totally different aspects of mobile photography, you can read our Dual Cameras vs. Single Camera article. The short story is: compared to the Galaxy S8, the Galaxy Note 8 improves Zoom photography and Bokeh quality (background blur for portrait-like, or food, photo).
Unlike everyone else in the high-end dual-camera phone space, Samsung is the first OEM to integrate an optical image stabilization (OIS) to both back cameras. This is particularly important when you zoom because every shake is amplified. Samsung has demonstrated this during their media briefing, but we will take the phone for a spin and update this article with real-world experiences. But surely, Dual OIS is an excellent thing.
Learn more: What is Image Stabilization?
Samsung has confirmed that the Note 8 is using two dual-pixel camera sensors. This is referring to the Dual Pixel Diode technology what we have explained in detail. Its main characteristic is that “every” pixel can be both a light-sensing and an auto-focus pixel. This is a huge deal because AF speed and quality often depend on AF pixel coverage (~100% here) and the number of AF pixels. For reference, many “high-end” mobile cameras have “hundreds” of AF pixels, while the Galaxy S7/S8 and Note 8 have “millions.”
Dual-Pixel Diode is crucial for the fastest autofocus performance, provided that the software implementation of the Camera app is excellent (mobile photo is never “just hardware”).
Also, if you wonder “why 12 Megapixel” and not more, from a mobile photo sensor technology in general today’s 12 Megapixel sensors represent an excellent balance between sensor size, pixel size, dual-pixel availability and optical stabilization integration.
Bright-light: leading performance
Bright light performance is usually about details, color metering and overall image quality. Obviously all high-end phones tend to do very well, so we try to find challenging situations to push the limits and reveal differences that users would see in the real world. For example, in this city shot the Note 8 tends to fare better in both color and details. I have uploaded the full-size images on flicker: iPhone 7+ city shot and Galaxy Note 8 city shot.
The Galaxy S8 was already the Best Phone Camera according to our experience, and the Google Pixel was a peer or close competitor, with slightly different strengths and weaknesses. Until we can run the usual tests, it’s fair to use the Galaxy S8 as a baseline for “classic” camera performance, especially in low-light.
Samsung has an opportunity to utilize the second camera with computational photography techniques to improve single-shot image quality. The potential is there, but it has yet to be proven. In reality, with an aperture of f2.4, the 2X zoom works better in broad daylight, and the camera app will probably fallback to the f1.7 primary lens in low-light shooting.
In any case, we do know that the primary camera (non-zoom) is similar to the Galaxy S8’s, so we expect the low-light quality to be just as excellent. During bright daylight photo capture, the optical zoom can certainly provide a higher quality image in the center of the picture.
Bokeh with Live Focus: beats the iPhone 7 Plus with ease
"OF ALL THE DUAL-CAMERAS BUILT FOR BOKEH THE NOTE 8 PERFORMS THE BEST"Since our initial review, we had time to take photos with the Galaxy Note 8, and we compared it to the bokeh reference phone, the iPhone 7 Plus. The result is clear: the Galaxy Note 8 is much better at dealing with edges around the photo subject, which is the main problem when doing bokeh via software.
The first thing that a good bokeh should do is to NOT unintentionally mess up with the subject. This is a classic problem for blur bleeding into areas where it should not. Of all the dual-cameras built for bokeh the Note 8 performs the best.
On the other hand, one could argue that the blur quality is a bit better on iPhone, but not by much. Here are two photo samples. Look around the edges of each subjects, and you’ll see unwanted blur on the iPhone 7+. This is not a new problem, and we’ve already talked about during our Mate 9 review. However, the Galaxy Note 8 is the best to deal with it today.
Dual Photo Mode
The Note 8 also introduces a new capture mode called “Dual Photo,” it shoots with both cameras at the same time, saving one standard picture, and a zoomed photo alongside it. That way you have both shots, and you don’t need to choose, or switch modes. The user must switch to this particular “photo mode” to have this happen.
"THE IPHONE 7 PLUS COULD NOT KEEP UP WITH THE GALAXY NOTE 8"From a standard camera’s perspective, the Galaxy Note 8 is very close to its Galaxy S8/S8+ cousin, which was until now our “Best Phone Camera” pick. However, with the additional lens and the portrait mode (among many other things), the Note 8 becomes the de-facto best camera of the Galaxy family.
I tested it against the iPhone 7 Plus, the XPERIA XZ Premium and the new LG V30. The V30 is a serious challenger (more tests to come), but the divergence in dual-camera use will make it a lifestyle choice, more than a technical choice. The iPhone 7 Plus could not keep up with the Galaxy Note 8, so it’s time for the iPhone 8 to show up, and we’re just days away from that.
With a 3300 mAh battery, the Galaxy Note 8 has a very decent battery size, but the average battery capacity size is ~3705 mAh for the 6.3” – 6.4” smartphone category (we looked at these phones: Lenovo Phab2 Pro, Lenovo Phab2 Plus, Lenovo Phab2, Xiaomi Mi Mix, LeEco Le Max, LeEco Le Max Pro, Samsung Galaxy Note 8).
The justification here is that the Note 8 is much smaller than most of these phones – sometimes by as much as 63% in volume (Phab 2 Pro). The Xiaomi Mi Mix is the one in this group to have the best capacity for its size.
- Xiaomi Mi Mix : 701 mAh/cubic inch (CI)
- Galaxy S8+ : 605 mAh/CI
- Note 8: 518 mAh/CI
- Le Max Pro : 448 mAh/CI
- Phab 2 Pro : 389 mAh/CI
The bottom-line is: the Galaxy Note 8’s slim design and the internal pen do have a consequence on the battery capacity. I would venture to say that digital pen enthusiasts will not be deterred by this because they have fast-charging and wireless charging options. But the Galaxy Note is no longer Samsung’s high-capacity phone, the Galaxy S8+ is.
Fast-charging is a must-have feature on all phones. We have not yet run charging speed tests on the Galaxy Note 8, but we expect it to reach a charging speed of ~50 mAh/mn (1500 mAh/30mn). This is how most great phones perform, including recent Samsung Galaxy Phones.
The notable exceptions to this are the Huawei Mate 9 (77 mAh/mn) and the OnePlus 5 (65 Mah/mn) — both are using a proprietary charging technology, which was obviously not Samsung’s Fast Charge, and not Qualcomm’s Quick Charge either.
Since this is the Galaxy Note series, some of you may wonder about the battery safety. It seems that Samsung has learned its lesson and so far the new safety measures put in place have ended the battery issues. A Note 7 derivative has returned to the market as the “Galaxy Note Fan Edition,” and no systemic battery problems were discovered.
The Galaxy Note 8 has wireless charging built-in, which is a convenient feature if you want to charge your phone in any static location (even in your car), without having to connect/disconnect the USB-C cable. The charging isn’t as fast as with the wired charger, but it is undeniable that some users will find it highly convenient.
The fact that wireless charging is integrated makes it truly usable. Using a case to get wireless charging is a losing proposition for anyone who wants to see the industrial design in its full glory.
In the USA, the main processor is a Snapdragon 835. Despite all rumors to the contrary, Samsung isn’t getting a special version of the chip or some upgrade. The Snapdragon 835 software should be very stable by now, and Samsung has ample experience with it because the Galaxy S8 was the first phone using that chip. In other markets, Samsung may use its own Exynos 9 chip instead. In the past, the use experience was sufficiently similar that the difference didn’t cause any stir.
It is well documented that Snapdragon 835 is the best chip available for Android phones when you look at the mix between computational power, features and connectivity capabilities (Gigabit LTE). Read our in-depth overview of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 platform. We’ve added some charts to give you an overview of how the Galaxy Note 8 scores in a couple of popular benchmarks.
Of course, a few new phones with Snapdragon 835 have arrived on the market, so it means the S8/S8/Note 8 have a few competitors in raw computing performance, but they still are in the “leading class” of handsets.
Designed for multitaskingThe Galaxy Note 8 has 6GB of RAM (+50% from the Galaxy S8), and this is a clear sign that Samsung has designed this phone with multitasking in mind. It’s not easy to saturate 6GB of RAM, but there are two things that are peculiar to the Note 8 which justifies such a choice.
First, Galaxy Note buyers want higher productivity. The larger screen, the pen, and the top performance contribute to this. Secondly, Samsung is introducing “App Pair” a new shortcut type designed to launch two apps at once in split screen mode. This makes a lot of sense because launching two apps normally takes multiple taps and even some scrolling. Samsung is removing a significant amount of friction for that use case.
App Pair may create a multitasking surge, and the hardware needs to be ready for it. The goal of having more memory is to be able to switch between apps more quickly. It is notoriously hard to predict how much RAM one needs, so Samsung made sure that Note 8 users will have enough. 6GB is on the upper-scale of what’s available, but 8GB RAM phones have started to appear.
Samsung Dex update: Samsung has updated its DEX software and has worked out a lot of small issues, in addition to adding new features. In time all the upgrades will find their way to S8 DEX users as well. Although we have not yet published a full review, we have spent some time with DEX in the office, and it’s the closest thing to a full Desktop experience you can get using a handset. If you are not familiar with Dex, watch our S8+Dex demo video.
Security: Samsung phones that come with Samsung Knox have a higher degree of security and IT departments typically like those, from an Android perspective. Consumers can benefit from many aspects of Knox, but the Samsung Vault feature that protects privacy for both Apps and Files is probably more interesting for regular people. Being able to loan a phone for a few minutes and know that critical things are locked in a secondary layer can be important in specific use cases.
The Note 8 has a fingerprint reader on the back — a controversial location, but a necessary decision to accommodate the huge screen. It is also one of the few phones that can unlock by reading the iris. It is convenient when you can’t touch the phone (dirty/wet hands).
The Galaxy Note 8 is an excellent handset that dominates today’s large screen (6.3”+) smartphone landscape. If you are a digital pen lover, this is the best you can get. If you only care about the screen and battery size, the Xiaomi Mi Mix might be of interest, but keep an eye on the ergonomics and performance.
"SIMPLY THE BEST LARGE-DISPLAY PHONE"From an absolute performance standpoint, the Note 8 is now the tip of the spear of the whole Galaxy line of products. It has leading-edge performance, a world-class 6.3” high-PPI display, (probably) the best camera and an unmatched industrial design process.
Depending on your preferences and needs, there may be another “perfect phone”, but no other phone can provide such a high-powered package in such a tight package. Despite all odds (at the time), Samsung has created a substantial market with the Note series and is now defending it ferociously. Although there are occasional competitors, the reality is that the Note 8 is simply the best large-display phone.