Samsung Galaxy Note 8 hands-on: The Cautionary Follow-up
A dark, stormy cloud hung over Samsung's head for a good time leading up to the announcement of the Galaxy S8 earlier this year. That's because the company was still enduring the fallout from its failure with the Note 7 during the crucial holiday season last year. Initially, it seemed as though the phone was going to rocket to stardom thanks to positive reviews from critics around, but things went off on a tangent once reports started surfacing about Note 7 handsets exploding.
Eventually, it was determined that battery faults were the culprit in the phone's issue, but the more pressing manner was Samsung's approach to addressing the issue. And after numerous recalls and attempted fixes, the handset was discontinued entirely – bruising Samsung's reputation in the process. Nearly a year after that debacle, the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is finally here to help rebuild the reputation that the handset has established over the many years it's been in existence.
Does the Note 8 have what it takes to make us forget? More importantly, though, can the Note 8 set the bar for the rest of the year to fend off the fierce competition on the horizon? Let's dive right into this hands on and find out!
All of this shouldn't be any surprise, but as we looked at it closer, it honestly looks very much like the Note 7; almost an exact facsimile. While many of the same design qualities remain intact here, like an IP68 water & dust resistant construction, there's very little in terms of major changes to the overall design. Like we said, it's great looking phone worth its cost, but it doesn't have nearly the same level of changes that we saw from the Note 5 to the Note 7.
The only noticeable change that most people might be able to distinguish is the phone's slightly longer length, which is needed to accommodate its even larger screen. Adding to the design are the usual arsenal of goodies we've seen before, like an iris scanner and fingerprint sensor, which unfortunately for the latter is still situated next to the new camera (more on that later). Out of the gate, the Note 8 will be available in four colors –midnight black, orchids grey, maple gold, and deep-sea blue. However, we're told that the US will be getting the first two colors, while the latter two will be reserved for international markets.
As we've mentioned already, the Note 8's slightly longer length means it's able to sport a larger display, which in this case is a 6.3-inch 1440 x 2960 (Quad-HD+) Super AMOLED Infinity Display. We're rarely ever disappointed by Sammy's screens, so this one is no exception with its immense details, solid clarity, and piercing color tones. Adding to the beauty are the subtle curve edges on its side, aiding in the ergonomics of the phone in our hand.
From our quick look, the display exhibits all the stellar qualities we're constantly exposed with Sammy's line of Super AMOLED panel. That's further accentuated by the Infinity Display's near bezel-less appearance with its left and right edges – while the top and bottom sport very narrow ones as well. What's impressive, though, is the phone's screen-to-body of almost 83%. In comparison, 2013's Samsung Galaxy Mega seems wasteful at 74% with its equal sized 6.3-inch display.
Superficially speaking, Samsung's interface on the Note 8 sports the same cleaner, more refined approach that we saw first introduced with the Note 7 last year, which was tweaked even more with the S8. The result here is no different, as the phone is running Android 7.1.1 Nougat. Most of the changes to the interface comes in the form of software features that center on the S Pen and the Note 8's productivity-centric features.
Starting off with the S Pen, which now features a narrower tip of 0.7mm, users can expect a new way of sending messages to people with "Live Messages." This new feature essentially allows you to create a message (or drawing), which is then converted to an animated gif and sent to a recipient via email, text, social media, and much more! There's a bar at the top of the message to indicate how much jotting 'time' is left before the gif is complete.
As for the other new software features, they relate to the edge screen functionality. Now that side-by-side apps multi-tasking is something that's offered natively by Android, the Note 8 now leverages the edge screen by allowing users to instantly launch two apps simultaneously using the edge screen access. Rather than having to launch two separate apps, you can now prepare a shortcut that's pinned to the edge screen to access them right away.
For the most part, the new features introduced here by the Note 8 aren’t ground breaking by any means. Instead, they simply enhance the existing foundation that the series is most notable for – and that's productivity. Over on the hardware side, it's packing a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 with 6GB of RAM and a healthy 64GB of internal storage. Leveraging the newest chipset and all, you can expect the Note 8 to perform smoothly with all sorts of applications – more so when it receives the latest Android software too!
A first in the Note line, as well as the Galaxy line as a whole, the most notable difference with this year's Note 8 over its predecessor is its new dual-camera system – a notable addition to the Note 8's arsenal. Sporting dual 12-megapixel cameras, they break down to a wide-angle one with an aperture of f/1.7 and a telephoto one at f/2.4. Following the implementations we've seen incorporated into other dual-camera wielding phones, like the iPhone 7+, Huawei P10, and OnePlus 5, Samsung doesn't tread too far because it follows in similar fashion.
Basically, the end result with the dual-camera system is to achieve a digital zoom of 10x and the option to produce bokeh through its "live focus" mode. Behind the scenes when you snap a shot, the phone captures both wide-angle and telephoto shots, which can then allow you to select the focus area and the amount of background blur surrounding it. The whole thing was seamless in our quick hands on, as the phone does a nice job of capturing sharp, in-focus subjects – with the background exhibiting that out-of-focus look.
Worth mentioning, too, is the fact that the cameras here both offer built-in OIS; a first of its kind we're told. And from what we saw against an iPhone 7+, the Note 8 does a better job with its stabilization – whereas the iPhone 7+ appeared adversely affected by the shakes. It'll be interesting no doubt to see how the new camera stacks up, so we'll be reserved with our judgement until it receives a full testing from us.
Above all, the biggest question surrounding the Note 8 is its battery, which in this case is a 3300 mAh one. Despite the negativity that surrounded the Note 7's battery issue and eventual recall, Samsung has made it clear that they're investing a ton of research, development, testing, and quality assurance that the Note 8 won't suffer the same fate. They seem confident in that because they went so far to hire a third party to validate the Note 8's 8-point battery check, which in this case is Underwriters Laboratories.
The capacity is a slight dip from the Note 7's 3500 mAh battery cell, but we imagine that the optimizations to the software, processor, and screen should help it to achieve the same levels. Complementing the new battery, there's also rapid charging via its USB Type-C port, as well as a new fast wireless charging feature.
Knowing the backlash Samsung received with the Note 7 debacle, you can absolutely be assured that there isn’t going to be a repeat. We hope!
If there's one word that best describes the Note 8, it has to be none other than cautionary. Every year since its inception, it seemed as though Samsung kept on outdoing itself with each release, but for once, we're not completely blown away. That's strange for us to say, given how the Note series has continued to be a force to be reckoned with in the landscape. However, due to all the problems that arose with the Note 7, and consequently the recalls, bans, and eventual discontinuation of it, Samsung's reputation has been bruised in a way it hasn't before.
And with the Note 8, it makes perfect sense for them to take caution. Rather than attempting to redefine or make an evolutionary leap, the Note 8 seems more like a v2.0 edition of the Note 7, especially with all the minor iterative improvements we've seen thus far. The new dual-camera system in tow should do nicely, but in the grand scheme of things, the Note 8 doesn't seem like a game changing thing.
Preorders for the phone begin on August 24th, with general store availability by September 15th. Now, what's interesting here are the promotional bundles that Samsung will be offering for those who pre-order the phone. It'll break down to two options we're told – one that comes with a Samsung Gear 360, and another that'll include both a wireless charger and 128GB microSD card. Those should be great incentives for those on the fence about buying the phone!
Will all of this be enough for the Note 8 to push ahead of the pack this upcoming holiday season?