Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review
Modern smartphones are great for all kinds of things – but honestly, using them as telephones really isn’t one of them. Their shapes are optimized for their role as portable touchscreens, and not to be making calls on them all day. And it's really felt like that, over the years, we've been moving further and further away from the idea that something with the word “phone” in its name needs to be well-made for making calls.
But then there's the Galaxy Note 8. Now, we've already talked about the phone's unusual size and shape from a couple different angles – and how it's relatively successful in some respects, while making a misstep or two with others. But in the end, it's a tall, relatively narrow handset. You know what else is that shape? A proper old-fashioned telephone receiver.
The Note 8 may not be the very most comfortable phone we've ever made voice calls on, but it's totally a step in the right direction. And that calls also sound good is only the icing on that cake. Would we trade all that for a fingerprint scanner that wasn't such a pain to reach? Absolutely, as we're unlocking our phone far more often than we're using it to call people. But we'll take these wins where we can get them.
The Note 8 doesn't kill it with day-plus battery life, but it shouldn't leave you high and dry, either
Calling a phone “Galaxy Note” means several things: obviously a big screen and the presence of an S-Pen stylus, and usually also hardware that goes a little above and beyond what the most recent Galaxy S phone offered. But what's a little less consistent is what Samsung will be giving users in terms of a battery. Over the past few generations, we've seen battery capacity dip up and down, usually hovering in the low-to-mid 3,000mah range. With the Note 7, we got 3,500mAh but – well, we all know what happened with the battery there, and when the phone returned as the Fan Edition, capacity was cut back to 3,200mAh.
For the Note 8, Samsung again seems to have come to a compromise, squeezing a 3,300mAh battery into this hardware. That sounds good, but don't forget we've also got a humongous screen on this phone, just itching to consume all the power it can get. Luckily, CPU tech is also becoming more efficient, and with chips based on a 10nm process here, the Note 8's able to get more done while making less of an impact on the phone's battery.
In the end, we were able to clock just under eight hours of screen-on time from the Note 8 in our custom tests. That's very close to what we were seeing from both the Galaxy S8 and GS8+, so it feels like Samsung had the same sort of endurance target in mind, and chose a battery capacity that, when paired with the rest of the Note 8's hardware, would offer similar run-time.
That figure's decent, and similarly equipped flagships have done both better and worse, so we're not going to criticize Samsung much there. And that we get bonuses like flexible support for wireless charging is only sweetening things for the Note 8.
Don't go out and buy the Note 8 specifically because you want a phone with really long battery life (there are quite a few better options there), but at the same time we don't think anyone will be too disappointed by how long the Note 8's going to last between charges.
The Galaxy Note 8 is at once a safe, almost obvious phone, and one that still manages to show Samsung reaching out into new, untested waters. By taking the look of the Galaxy S8, scaling things up a bit from the GS8+, and adding in S Pen support, the Note 8 feels like the Galaxy Note phone Samsung was always going to make. But by giving us dual cameras for the first time, it still shows that Samsung is willing to use the Note platform to test out new features.
Even those dual cameras, though, are valid targets for criticism, and should we really be rewarding Samsung for taking this long to catch up with what feels like almost every single other smartphone manufacturer out there?
While there's a healthy handful of issues like that we could pick at, none of those are worth ignoring that this is a powerful, attractive, feature-rich handset that is exactly what the next Galaxy Note needed to be. It's enough to get you to move past the Galaxy Note 7 and finally start feeling secure again about Samsung's stylus-equipped phablets.
That's asking a lot from smartphone shoppers, especially with the very similarly equipped Galaxy S8 going for $200 less. The S Pen, larger screen, additional memory, and telephoto camera have to cost something, but there's a big psychological barrier as we start approaching that $1000 mark, and for as good as the Note 8 can be, it's not clear that it's the sort of exceptional phone that has the right to demand such lofty sums.
If you're a die-hard Note fan, and already like the new look Samsung introduced with the S8 this year, then maybe the Note 8 makes a lot of sense. But if the most attractive thing about this handset for you is just the dual cameras, maybe wait until the Galaxy S9 and see if you can't get some similar imaging hardware in a more compact package for a lot less money.
Update: Read our Galaxy Note 9 review!