Noteworthy Note 8
A hands-on review of the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 : an absolute powerhouse.
- The 2017 smartphone has jumped into the bandwagon of the bezelless with great aplomb creating a very high screen to body ratio and this one taking it edge to edge especially at the sides.
- The new 8 point battery safety check by Samsung on all its latest devices also provides reassurances to prevent last year's chain of unfortunate events.
- Unless you’ve really shaken it up or got the frame horribly wrong, pictures in any scenario (including low light) are decent.
Display : 6.3 Inches Super Amoled
Display Resolution: 1440 x 2960 pixels ~521 ppi pixel density (max)
Weight: 195 g
SoC: Exynos 8895 Octa - EMEA
CPU: Octa-core (4x2.3 GHz & 4x1.7 GHz) - EMEA
ROM: 64/128/256 GB
GPU: Mali-G71 MP20 - EMEA
Rear Camera: Dual 12MP - (both sensors with OIS), dual-LED flash
Front Camera: 8MP autofocus f/1.7
Battery: 3300 mAh non removable Li-ion cell.
Protection: Gorilla Glass 5 front and rear, IP68 water/dust proof
Samsung has always been known for top tier smartphones and as eagerly awaited flagships every year. Coming in at hefty price tags that get closer to the iPhone each year, the smartphones themselves have been nothing less than groundbreaking. Arguably one of the best smartphone brands there is today, with its heavy focus on R&D and a track record for being the first to market new tech, the Korean manufacturers have repeatedly delivered state of the art products in previous years. Besides the illustrious Galaxy S series, renowned for beautiful craftsmanship and a lovely combination of aesthetics and performance, Samsung has always had a bigger device to boast- the Galaxy Note. This year with much at stake after the Galaxy Note 7’s “explosive” exit from the market last year, Samsung had the bigger responsibility to clear the Note’s image and bring it back to it's A game. Launched recently in the global market and released in Nepal as well, the Note 8 is up for pre-order and going on sale pretty soon. In the meantime, we got ourselves a unit to give you a full hands-on review of the Galaxy Note 8 - from addressing your speculations on the phone’s notorious battery to what new features the Note 8 has to offer, we’ve got it all covered in this month’s review.
Build (and unboxing)
A full sales unit isn’t out yet (at the time of review), so we only got to work with the handset this time around. As far as what the customer unit will entail, it’d be safe to say that you’ll get your Galaxy Note 8 (Exynos variant), adaptive fast charging USB type and stock earphones along with a microUSB to type C converter. IMS Nepal’s early bird offer adds in a Samsung convertible wireless charger for pre-bookings.
Talking about the Note 8, at first glance you’ll notice that it's big not in a bulky way but just way taller than usual. Clearly, the 2017 smartphone has jumped into the bandwagon of the bezelless with great aplomb creating a very high screen to body ratio and this one taking it edge to edge especially at the sides. While holding the phone, we see that it’s not as curvy as other Samsung devices and has a blocky design. I encountered the first flinch moment of my review while holding the device which is almost all glass except the sides which is metal. The design and build quality is superb and gives the impression of being very strong but the fact that there’s too much glass around makes me a little wary. Also, while this trend is catching up, we’re already getting used to devices that are very slippery and get way too dirty with fingerprints. Of course a decent skin takes that out of the equation but adding a skin to an already large phone makes it even larger and potentially loses some of the aesthetics that Samsung’s worked pretty hard on.
Coming back to the design and form, one of the biggest changes this year is the doing away of physical home buttons. With this year’s models (including the S series), it’s all screen with onscreen nav buttons. Nevertheless, an underlying pressure sensitive home button is present at the bottom center of the screen which is similar to iPhone’s force touch except that this one works only on that part of the screen. On the top, the little bezel area houses a brand new iris sensor, the notification LED, in-call speaker grill, selfie shooter and the proximity sensor. Up top, there’s nothing other than the SIM tray, on the left the volume rockers and a dedicated Bixby button (more on this later) and on the right we have the power button. The bottom edge accommodates the primary speaker grill (sadly mono) along with a 3.5 mm jack (thank you, Samsung), a universal Type-C USB port and the S-Pen. At the back, we’ve got dual cameras finally; the first Samsung smartphone to adopt the dual camera setup with dual LED flash. A fingerprint sensor aligned to the right of the camera module at an awkward height where your finger’s wouldn’t readily reach while holding the phone. The fingerprint sensor’s position has been lambasted many times so I’ll not get into that. Instead, there are other ways to unlock the Note 8 which will make this issue less relevant. Also, tucked inside the back are the wireless charging deck and the NFC chip so if you plan to use wireless charging as well as use a cover, be sure to buy genuine compatible cases.
I was pretty happy with most of the specs on the Note 8 on paper. The first captivating factor definitely has to be the sheer screen size, the vibrant quality and the high resolution which is without doubt the best in its class. Arguably the best screen there is right now in our market, it does one better than its own S8 and S8 plus by providing a slightly higher brightness which always comes in handy outdoors. Also its unusual 18.5:9 aspect ratio makes it a perfect fit for running two apps simultaneously using multi-window. The edge apps and contacts is another unique feature that gives you more value from your screen. As far as the overall resolution is concerned, you can get one as high as a 4k resolution or as low as HD 720p.
The dual camera setup on the Note 8 is not only the first Samsung dual camera phone but the first dual camera phone in the world with Optical Image Stabilization (OIS). While many of us aren’t aware of the smartphone camera nuances and believe that a higher megapixel lens always shoots better, compare the 12 MP Note 8 pictures with other higher megapixel cameras without stabilization and see for yourself. The camera sensor on the Note 8 is pure joy. The dynamic range on it is spot on. Unless you’ve really shaken it up or got the frame horribly wrong, pictures in any scenario (including low light) are decent. Videos go all the way up to 4k at 60fps. Yes, the colors are slightly overexposed as has been the case with Samsung. Sticking to more news on the dual cameras, Samsung’s very own live focus lets you create the blur effect much like the portrait mode on other dual cameras we’ve seen lately. Only, on the Note 8, you can adjust the blur manually to your liking after the photo’s been taken and also, the camera preserves the wide angle and the zoom lens photos just in case. On the front facing shooter, we’ve got crisp detail and a decent low light performance.
The Note’s secret weapon - the S-Pen is another highly talked about feature on the phone and something you will not get in any other premium phablet these days. For most of us, the S-Pen is there and you won’t need it nine times out of ten but for those who use their Note devices also as their primary computing device and not just their phone and media consumption, the S-Pen delivers. Yes, scribbling, sketching is fun but the S-pen has a bigger appeal if you are looking to get things done.
Talking about what is under the hood, the Exynos variant of the Samsung Note 8 that we will receive here in Nepal is seamless For a premium handset, most of what’s inside is the latest technology available and the quality of components seem to be up there. For intensive tasks and supporting greater degrees of multitasking and live processing, it has an octa-core processor half of them clocked at 2.3 GHz and 1.7GHz each backed by 6GB of RAM (the most on any Samsung phone). The device is available is 64, 128 and 256 GB variants. Also there is a dual SIM variant which allows for expansible microSD card slot at the cost of the 2nd sim slot.
Powering the insatiable hunger of that massive 6.3 inch Super Amoled display and the processing unit inside the device is a measly 3300 mAh cell. This is probably the biggest letdown on the phone because a Note device has always been known for its performance aggression complemented by appreciable endurance. While the former just got better, the same cannot be said about the latter. In contrast to its own flagship, the S8+ has a bigger battery pack and for all it’s worth, the power consumption is lesser on the S8+. After last year’s fuming fiasco on the Note 7 battery, maybe Samsung wanted to play it safe this time but it is a setback nonetheless. The new 8 point battery safety check by Samsung on all its latest devices also provides reassurances to prevent last year's chain of unfortunate events. With wireless charging enabled, alongside adaptive fast-charging, topping up charge on the Note 8 should be relatively hasslefree and less time consuming but if you are going for longer spans without a charge, battery life could creep in as an issue.
This device is definitely not your usual smartphone and has a few tricks up its sleeves and that is a hard combination to find. For one, it’s got great hardware and not only that, it's got a lot of hardware too. We have the all new Iris scanner which scans your eyes and acts as a security sensor for device unlocking and using Samsung Pay. This will definitely be your new way of unlocking. And it’s got the fingerprint sensor intact that doubles up as a health tracker acting as a HRM (heart rate monitor) as well as a pulse oximeter. Lastly, the whole device is IP68 certified which means it's both dustproof and waterproof at 1.5m for 30 mins.
User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX)
Complementing the near perfect hardware on the Note 8 is an equally fine tuned OS running on top of Android Nougat 7.1.1. And guess what? We’re finally past Touchwiz. For years, the one thing I’ve always disliked about Samsung is how they skinned their devices. Reshaped and renamed to Samsung Experience, the new look and feel is definitely more welcoming than the TouchWiz as it draws more parallels with stock android. It still feels like Samsung with all the colors and icon sets but generally it looks more robust and fluid. From a navigation perspective, the edge apps were quite handy as you could run certain apps and app pairs on that long display without having to return to the main menu. Edge contacts help expedite the calling process too. Detaching the S-pen overrides the UI with a pen focused menu that have a wide array of features from screen grabbing translating, writing on the existing screen, live messages etc. Jotting memos on the go, taking handwritten notes give an almost pen -paper experience. Also you can push important notes directly to your lockscreen.
With very little Samsung bloatware the proprietary apps they do have were largely useful. The Samsung Health folder has some of the latest health tracking apps and with the HRM and pulse oximeter built in the phone, there are already stats to record and give you health data history. Also, Samsung Gear comes into play in all this, tracking your fitness routines and giving you fairly accurate calorie charts. You can measure your heart rate, stress and blood oxygen right from your smartphone.
The new pre-built device maintenance feature helps to clear cache and killing processes on the phone to keep it performing well. Speaking of performance, the phone was clearly the highest grossing android device when benchmarked but was outdone by the flagship Apple phones. In addition, further scrutinizing the Note 8, running a stress test gave very resounding results with heating specially as the phone peaked to temperatures up to 43 degrees at the end of a 15 minute stress test. In terms of general user interaction, you might not want to keep the display at its highest resolution as it consumes battery with relative ease. Bearing in mind that the Note 8 packs a smaller battery this time, power efficiency will be the biggest concern on this phone. While it can process really heavy things and run the most demanding of games with ease, its endurance leaves a very big question mark. During my tests, an average of six hours of screen time on heavy usage was consistent. For limited use, the phone could last two days with relative ease.
Another heavy investment by Samsung was Bixby this year. Samsung’s own version of digital assistant like Siri or Alexa, Bixby has tried to create a big impression on its users. They’ve dedicated a physical button below the volume rockers just for it. Yes, it’s still new but it’s already pretty impressive. Letting you control your device with your voice, its promising features include voice password unlock which matches the passphrase with your audio profile to offer device access, over 3000 commands and the all new Bixby vision which is a very practical application of computer vision. Bixby also finds its place in the camera app where you can click objects to find out what they are or point cameras at certain directions to locate points of interests such as restaurants in your field of vision. Quite impressive!
The speakers on this device sound great in terms of quality but again aren’t stereo as we would prefer at this price and definitely not loud for noisy environments. Even though the cameras were great, the camera app really wasn’t and I would have preferred greater control over a camera that has jaw dropping hardware. Fingerprint unlocks second to Iris unlocks which work great even during the night but might be erroneous when there are reflections on the spectacles which is quite common while holding a screen close to it. Reaching the fingerprint sensor though requires a mini finger hike towards the top of the screen. Meanwhile, a one handed mode helps you breeze through the device if you can’t grab the device with both hands.
Before handing away our closing thoughts, it is worth mentioning the the phone is priced at a staggering Rs 102,990. If you are a Note fan, then you have no reason to second guess the phone and it's already something you are looking forward to possess. If you are a true fandroid, again, the Note 8 is a dream phone for you. It feels premium, is premium, gives you all you want and keeps it all clutch. What else can we wish for? However, if your budget is an issue, and you are worried about dropping your device regularly, despite the available EMI options and breakage insurance to solve both problems, you might look around no further than their flagships, the S8 and S8+ that give you almost the same specs without the dual cameras, the S-pen for an arguably better design, an ideally smaller phone which is far cheaper. Yet, if you want to go all in, the Note 8 is definitely the shiny beast in your pocket that you’ve been waiting for all along.