Android Central Verdict
Price: $949Bottom line: Samsung's Note line continues to be the company's dominant phone in terms of mind share, if not market share. Excellent hardware is filled with top-end specs and all sorts of hardware features that you desire, and the icing on the cake is the super-powerful S Pen stylus. There are a few quirks in the software and with the fingerprint sensor, but you can look past those to get an amazingly capable phone.
Best screen available today
Very good camera
S Pen is a truly unique feature
Great set hardware features
Software can be overwhelming
Battery life not good enough for the size
Fingerprint sensor is tough to reach
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To the hyper-observant phone nerds, the Galaxy Note 8 was never going to be a mind-blowing new piece of technology. We, after all, are no longer Samsung's target market — even for the Galaxy Note, traditionally its most enthusiast-focused device. The 2017 iteration of the Galaxy Note line isn't designed to necessarily entice and excite all of the most hardcore users — it's now clearly just the top piece of Samsung's three-pronged mainstream phone line.
The Galaxy Note 8 has a couple simple goals. It's aimed at reinstating a confidence in the Note brand after the Note 7's recall, and once again offering an S Pen-toting top-end flagship to act as the face of the Samsung brand. The Note 8 is supposed to be an example of the very best the company has to offer; a culmination of what has made Samsung so successful in the past few years. That means, of course, that the Galaxy Note 8 is mostly identical to the Galaxy S8+ — the previous benchmark for the very best it offered before now.
Samsung is going to market the hell out of the Galaxy Note 8. But what we care about is whether or not it's a phone truly worthy of an amazingly high asking price and all of the hype that brings with it. We answer these questions, and more, in our Galaxy Note 8 review.
About this review
I, Andrew Martonik, am writing this review after 10 days using a U.S. unlocked Galaxy Note 8. The phone was used on T-Mobile in Seattle, WA and on Deutsche Telekom in Berlin, Germany. The phone arrived on software version NMF26X and was not updated during the review period.
Galaxy Note 8 Video review
To get the quick take on the Galaxy Note 8 and see it in action, you'll want to watch our video review above. Once you're done with the video and yearning for even more Note 8 info, you can read the complete review below!
Iteration at its finest
Galaxy Note 8 Hardware and display
About 90% of the experience of seeing and holding the Galaxy Note 8 is familiar — that is, if you're one of the millions of people using the Galaxy S8 and S8+ already. But most people won't be looking to buy a Note 8 if they have a GS8 or S8+; they'll be coming from another phone, and should get ready to be impressed by this thing.
The combination of a sleek aluminum frame and sharply rounded glass is still striking, especially in the black and blue colors where the metal is well color-matched to the glass undercoating — which has a different, subtle pattern to it as well. Tolerances are tight, and the bezels are very small all around the screen. Does the narrow frame and bountiful curved glass make the Note 8 more fragile than some other phones? Probably. But changing the design would mean it wouldn't be so darn beautiful. For most, that's a fine trade-off.
Instead of prattling on for too long about things that haven't changed, I want to focus on the parts of the Note 8's hardware that are actually unique. Most importantly, its seriously huge proportions. Looking back to this time last year, when I reviewed the Galaxy Note 7, I found it was the first Note that was actually compact and comfortable enough to use like a "normal" phone. Now, Samsung has gone back in the other direction — the Note 8 is larger in every dimension than its predecessor, most notably being 9 millimeters (5.8%) taller and 26 grams (15%) heavier.
The Note 8's super-tall 18.5:9 aspect ratio for its 6.3-inch display does indeed give you more to look at without making the phone dramatically wider, which is key for being able to actually get your hand around it. But then again that means that the phone is ludicrously tall. Before you get to any part of actually using the screen, you notice how much the extra height influences your (in)ability to reach the fingerprint sensor on the back. It's an annoying placement on the Galaxy S8, but it's a usability nightmare on the Note 8. I really like iris scanning, but it can't (yet) fully replace a fingerprint sensor; and the Note 8's sensor is a hassle to use each and every time.
To put it succinctly, the Note 8 is once again no longer a practical one-handed phone that gives you a big screen in a somewhat manageable size. You do indeed get a whole lot of screen to work with, which is super useful particularly when using the phone with full-screen apps (or multi-window) in portrait orientation. But for anyone with average to small hands, it will be difficult to reach the top third of the display or reach to the opposite side of the screen for a slide-in gesture. And you know what? Some people are totally fine with that compromise — they just want more screen, and that's a key reason they're buying a Note. Anyone who wants something more compact (and still capable) can get a Galaxy S8.
If you're ready to handle the Note 8's body, you're rewarded with what is, once again, the best smartphone display available today. I've been gushing over these Super AMOLED panels for a few years now, and Samsung just keeps outdoing itself. The WQHD+ resolution, which comes out to 521 pixels per inch, offers plenty of density. But what really stands out is the visual clarity, punchy colors and ridiculous brightness.
DisplayMate gave out its first ever A+ rating to the Note 8, and the numbers are staggering: peak brightness of 1240 nits, 112% of the DCI-P3 color space, and reflectivity of just 4.6%. And it passes the eye test, too — I have nothing but great things to say about this screen. I just don't see how you could have a complaint with it. Every company should aspire to have this level of panel in their phone, and every person who sees a Note 8 will feel as though their current phone is inferior — because it is.
One important aspect of Samsung's recent phones is just how many great hardware features they offer that we end up taking for granted just because of how consistent they have been between devices. IP68 water resistance is here, of course, but so is fast wireless charging, a plenty loud speaker, and yes a headphone jack — plus, a really nice set of AKG earbuds in the box to complete the experience. For all of the areas Samsung innovates and switches things up, it has been extremely consistent in these core areas, and they're ones that are easy to market against the competition that are so often missing one (or many).
Same solid as ever
Galaxy Note 8 Software, specs and performance
Unlike the hardware strategy of offering three different phones at different sizes with slightly different capabilities, Samsung's software continues to attempt to be all things to all people. The Note 8's interface and features are again near-identical to the Galaxy S8, as well as the Galaxy S7 and Note 5 after their Nougat updates. The interface has definitely grown on me over time, especially as Samsung has moved to a nice combination of whites, grays, and blacks with hints of transparency and pops of color.
There's still an abundance of features, some of which have roots as far back as the Galaxy S3 and Note 2, but for better or worse Samsung has turned most of them off and effectively hidden them in the settings. If someone has an old Samsung phone and move up to a Note 8 and wants to find some random feature they loved, it's probably here — and at the same time, the start-up experience isn't nearly as chaotic as it used to be. There's room for improvement, and nobody is going to mistake the Note 8 for having Motorola-esque software, but it's the best it's ever been.
Samsung's only areas that need real improvement, from my perspective, are its launcher and keyboard apps. The launcher is still quirky with its wasted space in folders, funky app drawer layout and weird grid spacing depending on how you use widgets. The keyboard continues to have poor word prediction and strange auto-fill tendencies. But if you're like me and don't care for either one, you can replace both apps in a snap and move on. The rest of the interface — the parts you can't change — are solid.
Yes, Samsung continues to ship apps that duplicate Google's pre-installed versions, and I really wish there was a way it could just give in and let us actually choose which we want ... but that just seems like a fruitless fight at this point. Samsung is in love with its custom apps.
You'll notice I went through a large portion of the software section without mentioning Bixby. Well, it shouldn't come as any surprise that Samsung went through its whole press conference and the subsequent first week of advertising without highlighting it, either. Bixby is still very much a work in process, and it just hasn't caught on for me anywhere near as much as Google Now and Google Assistant have. Bixby Home is still very slow to load and then not helpful once it does, and something about having to level up and gain "xp" just to get extras like themes rubs me the wrong way. During my time in Germany this past week I attempted to use Bixby Vision to make translations only to find it fail or take so long to produce results I had moved on. Bixby has potential, but my word it isn't there yet.
Samsung phones have a bad reputation for getting a bit ... sluggish over time, with even the most powerful of its phones eventually succumbing to the weight of all of the features and apps. Granted I'm working on less than two weeks of time with the Note 8, but so far everything has been extremely fast — nary a hiccup, crash, stutter or (gasp) reboot. This is with over 100 apps installed, and everything actively running and syncing in the background with no intervention. That's a great sign.
I'm using the Snapdragon-powered U.S. model, but I don't see how things would be any different with Samsung's own Exynos processor running the show in an international model. With 6GB of RAM there's plenty of room for old apps to stick in memory, ready to respond. Most of the time I could scroll back in the Recents menu to an app from earlier in the day and it'd still be sitting there ready to go — it seems that's what people ask for in these phones with lots of RAM, and the Note 8 has it. More importantly, a year down the road the phone will still have plenty of RAM for what will surely be evermore resource-hungry apps.
The Note 8 has an understandably conservative battery capacity, with 3300mAh inside — smaller than both the Note 7 and Galaxy S8+ (3500mAh) that came before it. With a more efficient processor running the show, and some software optimization, the hope is that the combination can still provide great battery life; something the Note line has traditionally been known for.
The most notable characteristic of the Note 8's battery life has been rock solid consistency. Every single day I used the Note 8 in my review period I got almost the same battery life, even though I obviously didn't use it the exact same way each day. From full to dead, the Note 8 was good for 15 to 16 hours, which in my case also includes 3 to 4 hours of "screen on" time. I use the phone at its full WQHD+ resolution, leave all of my apps running and syncing, use automatic brightness, use Bluetooth for audio for a few hours a day on average and leave Always On Display turned on. I get a whole lot of email, send a ton of messages and take plenty of photos.
I absolutely appreciate the battery consistency. I never had a moment where I was surprised about how much battery I had left at a certain point in the day. Nor did I really feel like I had to baby it in the afternoon to get to the evening. I do, however, recognize that not everyone uses their phone like I do — and indeed I don't always have a "typical" or "average" day with my phone. Sometimes I want to sit and watch soccer highlights on YouTube when I have 30 minutes to kill on a train, or want to play a game for the same amount of time, or flip on my hotspot for a couple hours when I need a connection on my laptop. In these cases, it pushed the Note 8 to trigger battery saver (at 15%) around dinnertime — and then if I took it easy I could still end the day without charging.
For most people, getting a solid 16 hours of battery life each an every day will suit their needs just fine. Add in a few drops on a wireless charging pad throughout the day and you'll be golden. Turn off Always On Display, and you'll probably extend that battery life by an hour (seriously, it's that big of a drain) as well. But should you have to make these little compromises or changes in behavior to get great battery life out of one of the biggest phones available today? This level of longevity isn't surprising at all given its specs, screen size and battery capacity — but it may be a little off-putting for those who are used to a big Note delivering bigger-than-the-rest battery life.
Aside from a couple of budget-level imitators, the Galaxy Note 8 is your only real choice for a phone with a stylus — and just like each and every Note, the S Pen is a core part of the experience with special-made software and integrations into the system. The S Pen offers 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity, which combined with the 0.7 mm tip gives you precise control whether you're jotting down a quick note, signing a PDF, or spending time drawing something more intricate.