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Apple iPhone 8 Plus vs Samsung Galaxy Note 8

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The iPhone 8 Plus has breath-taking colors, while the Note 8 is a close runner-up with excellent sharpness.

Apple iPhone 8 Plus vs Samsung Galaxy Note 8

Not only are these two of the best smartphones all around, both of them aim for the best phone camera title as well.

Both have a dual camera system on their backs, both have a telephoto lens to zoom in, and both support portrait mode to blur the background. So let’s skip the specs and go straight to what matters: the actual performance.

The cameras on both open similarly quickly and snapping pictures is very fast on both.

Apple iPhone 8 Plus camera user interface - Apple iPhone 8 Plus vs Samsung Galaxy Note 8
Apple iPhone 8 Plus camera user interface - Apple iPhone 8 Plus vs Samsung Galaxy Note 8
Apple iPhone 8 Plus camera user interface - Apple iPhone 8 Plus vs Samsung Galaxy Note 8
Apple iPhone 8 Plus camera user interface - Apple iPhone 8 Plus vs Samsung Galaxy Note 8

Camera app UI of the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 - Apple iPhone 8 Plus vs Samsung Galaxy Note 8
Camera app UI of the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 - Apple iPhone 8 Plus vs Samsung Galaxy Note 8
Camera app UI of the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 - Apple iPhone 8 Plus vs Samsung Galaxy Note 8
Camera app UI of the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 - Apple iPhone 8 Plus vs Samsung Galaxy Note 8

First thing you notice when you compare photos from the two is the difference in colors. The iPhone has more realistic colors while the Galaxy has slightly more vibrancy to them. Both look great and it’s a matter of personal preference which one you like better, in some cases the iPhone has the slightly better look, in others – it’s the Note. One peculiarity with the Note is that it always renders greens with a slight yellow tint, this is an easy way to tell the pictures apart between the two.

The Note wins it in terms of sharpness: pictures on it clearly have more definition and have a more eye-popping look. Looking at the details, you notice that the iPhone lacks sharpness around the edges of a picture, while sharpness on the Note stays consistent in the whole frame.

Is there a clear winner? We tend to like the Note 8 look a bit more, but stripping personal preference aside, a draw is a fair outcome.



Portrait Mode vs Live Focus


The thing that you probably are really curious about is Portrait Mode, the feature that blurs the background of an image leaving only the person in sharp focus. On the Note 8, this is called Live Focus because you can actually adjust the amount of blur added to the frame, while on the iPhone it is pre-set to a certain level.

The big problem with blurring the background on images is in those tricky edges where you have to draw the distinction between subject and background. The Note 8 does a slightly better job making it a more invisible transition – at least in the set of samples we took for this comparison – while the iPhone preserves a bit more artifacts. Oddly, the Note 8 did worse than the iPhone in a recent Portrait Mode comparison of ours, so the results could greatly depend on the shooting circumstances.

And then we have sharpness: the Note 8 consistently takes sharper, more pleasing pictures, while the iPhone has lackluster detail in comparison. The dynamic range of the Note 8 is also better: the iPhone burns the highlights easily, while the Note 8 is able to preserve more nuance in pictures.

The iPhone 8 Plus comes with a new Portrait Lighting effect that the Note 8 lacks. This effect comes in four facets:
  • Studio Light: lightens up the face with no harsh shadows
  • Contour Light: highlights the edges of the face with deeper shadows, brightens up central parts of the face, creates more contrast
  • Stage Light: same as contour light, but replaces the background to black, to isolate the subject
  • Stage Light Mono: same as stage light, but converts the picture to contrasty and slightly grainy black and white

It adds an extra pop to faces in portraits and it’s seamlessly integrated in the camera and photos apps, but it’s hard to see it as more than just a few additional (good-looking) filters. You can see more about it in our detailed Portrait Lighting article here.



Video


One area where the iPhone has an advantage is certainly video: it supports 4K at 60fps, which is a big leap in terms of quality, especially when there is any kind of motion in the shots. It makes a big difference and once you see how smooth 4K at 60fps looks, you will not want to go back to 30fps. But it comes at a cost: double the storage size. So if you are planning on recording a lot of video in 4K at 60fps, you’d better get ready to spend extra for that 256GB iPhone model.

Samsung has promised to update the Note 8 to support 4K at 60fps in the near future, but we don’t have that update yet. But even in 4K at 30fps we can see that the Note 8 has a slightly less dynamic video capture and video stabilization with OIS looks more jittery on the main, wide-angle camera. Switch to the tele lens in video, though, and the iPhone 8 Plus can’t match up: it lacks OIS and footage looks very shaky, while the Note 8 stabilizes the secondary tele lens as well.



Image formats and sizes


iPhone now uses modern HEIF and HEVC formats for photos and videos. These new formats can half the size of photos and videos, and make great use of limited on-device space. 1 minute of 4K 30fps video now takes up 170MB, while it used to occupy 350MB of space. Keep in mind that many other platforms will not recognize and play these newer formats, but unless you directly try to download these files, sharing them will automatically convert them to compatible legacy formats.

The Note 8 uses the standard JPEG and MP4 file formats that take up more space, but are easily recognizable across all platforms.

Sound


Apple iPhone 8 Plus vs Samsung Galaxy Note 8

There is a single bottom firing loudspeaker on the Note 8 and while it gets pretty loud, it lags behind in comparison to the clear, crisp, well pronounced sound from the iPhone 8 Plus. The Note 8 is muddy and lacks definition sorely, so if you listen to music straight from your phone speakers, the iPhone provides a much better experience.

Of course, using headphones results in much higher quality of the audio, but there is no audio jack on the iPhone 8 Plus. Yes, it’s been a year, and no, the Lightning ecosystem of headphones has not really exploded with options. You do have the excellent AirPods, though, and we recommend using them. Dealing with the unsightly Lighting to 3.5mm adapter is really not something that we are looking forward to, but you should know that the adapter does come included in the box. It’s all easier on the Note 8 where the good old 3.5mm jack is present.



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