Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review

Samsung Galaxy Note 8


A secondary zoom-lens camera adds a welcome new dimension to Samsung's already solid camera package

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review

So much of the Note 8 feels like a logical extension of existing Galaxy flagships that Samsung could have really phoned things in for this phone: pair a GS8-style extra-wide Infinity Display with an S Pen, and, boom: Note 8. But to its credit, Samsung is continuing its practice of using Note device to introduce new hardware, and this year that means joining the world of dual-camera smartphones.

In the past, Galaxy phones have given us some really strong cameras, but only ones with single rear sensors. Even as other manufacturers experimented with what dual cameras could do, Samsung was delivering image quality that put those more complicated-looking setups to shame. But now with the Note 8, we're finally ready to witness the next evolution of Samsung camera hardware, as the company pairs one standard 12MP camera with a secondary 12MP telephoto one. Samsung gets major credit for giving both those cameras proper optical image stabilization.

Image quality

Samsung cameras have been producing such great-looking pics for so long that this already feels like a forgone conclusion, but just in case you need some reassurance: the Galaxy Note 8 shoots some beautiful-looking pics. Really, what you're getting is a camera that's every bit as good as you got on the Galaxy S8, but with the addition of a 2x hardware zoom.

As expected for a company doing dual cameras for the first time, Samsung can't help but play with all the standard dual-camera special effects, like a variable bokeh portrait mode (here called Live Focus) with the ability to adjust focus after the fact. That's fun, but maybe more useful there is the ability to zoom out and switch back to wide-angle mode even after you've taken the shot, which Samsung calls Dual Capture.

Much as we've seen with earlier Samsung cameras, low-light performance is strong, and here that's helped out by the very wide-aperture f/1.7 main camera. The telephoto lens is understandably a bit less flexible, with an f/2.4 aperture. Still, keep in mind what you're shooting and what your lighting conditions are like and you can get some great pics out of this hardware.

Extras like Snapchat-style stickers and animations are a fun touch, but nothing that's really worth impacting your phone purchase.

Live Focus (Portrait mode)

Live Focus is Samsung's answer to Portrait Mode on the iPhone 7 Plus. It is not necessarily better, but it does deliver a solid bokeh effect, and the results do look pleasing. But it could use some improvement. 

One slight drawback of Live Focus is that the border between the subject and the background is very sharp and obvious when you take a close look at the image. Yet that's a small imperfection since the Live Focus shots that you take will rarely be viewed in their full size. What's much more noticeable is that the Galaxy Note 8 gives images a significant saturation boost. As we've mentioned before, this could make certain scenes really pop, but with portraits, that's rarely the case. 

Do note that the images below have the Live Focus effect strength set to the default value (which is around the middle of the slider). The only exception is the second image where we demonstrate the effect at its full strength.

Video recording

The same flexibility you get from having a zoom lens extends over to video recording on the Note 8, and most of the time you can jump between standard and telephoto views with just a tap of the screen. That extends to even the highest 4K filming resolution, though we did notice that the zoom option seemed to vanish when filming at 60fps in full HD.

Beyond offering a nice assortment of filming modes, including quad-HD and an 18.5:9 aspect ratio 1080p mode (1080 x 2224) that perfectly fits the Note 8's screen during playback, the camera supports video stabilization and HDR (even auto-HDR) but those fancy effects don't work at the phone's highest video resolutions and frame rates.

One particularly impressive aspect to the Note 8's video performance is exceptionally fast refocus speeds. It can sometimes be a little tricky to automatically sense a new subject, but most of the time shifting focus to compensate (and back, after the subject leaves the frame) takes just a blink of an eye. And if you're going to be filming one subject in particular, there's a nice tracking mode that will follow it around, keeping things in focus all the while.


Samsung could stand to step up its speaker game, but the bundled headphones are on point

As we've already discussed, the Note 8 has a big, beautiful screen. It could be a tad brighter, but with lots of control over screen output, the ability to generate rich, colorful tones, some solidly high pixel density, and the speedy refresh rate of an AMOLED panel, watching video on the Note 8 is mostly a really solid experience. If you can find some 18:9 or similarly ultra-wide content, so much the better, and the only downside worth mentioning is the way the screen brightness falls off at the top and bottom as the panel curves away from the phone's face – some users are bound to think that looks cool, but we'd love a consistently illuminated display even more.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review

The speaker sounds alright, and has totally acceptable loudness, but the output isn't quite as balanced as we'd like to hear, and the lack of stereo is disappointing. We know that's not something Samsung prioritizes, but we're still wishing that one day it decides to use earpieces as secondary speakers. Placement also isn't ideal, and if you're using and replacing the S-Pen while listening to music, there's a good chance you'll momentarily block the speaker while reinserting the stylus.

The bundled headphones, like on the Galaxy S8, are once again AKG-branded. They're nice, have a stylish braided cable sheath, and come with a selection of alternate tips for optimal ear comfort, but they're also not so above-and-beyond good as to be a feature that weighs heavily into why we'd recommend the Note 8.


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PhoneArena rating:
8.9Very good
Display6.3 inches, 1440 x 2960 pixels (522 ppi) Super AMOLED
Camera12 megapixels
Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, Octa-core, 2350 MHz, Kryo 280 processor
6 GB
Size6.40 x 2.94 x 0.34 inches
(162.5 x 74.8 x 8.6 mm)
6.88 oz  (195 g)
Battery3300 mAh, 22 hours talk time

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