They say opportunity comes only once, and when it knocks, you have all but one chance to seize the day.
The tech world, however, operates by different rules. Each year is a chance to get things right, to improve on a great idea, or to pick up the pieces from a disastrous fall.
In the case of Samsung’s hugely popular Galaxy Note series, so hard was its tumble last year, so fiery was its fall, that at one point, a comeback was thought to be impossible.
But like a phoenix out of the ashes, comes the Samsung Galaxy Note 8, unveiled here in New York City this morning. In the week leading up to today’s launch, GadgetMatch test drove the new flagship, and in its rebirth we see the Note 8 coming back better and stronger.
The Galaxy Note 8 is the product of several generations’ worth of design iterations from faux leather to plastic and back. Two years ago, Samsung settled on glass, and it’s been quite the game changer.
Like the rest of Samsung’s 2017 flagship models, the Note 8 looks like it’s carved out of a solid piece of glass with curves on each side of both its front and back. The curved display is pretty special and unique to Samsung. You’ve got to hold one for yourself to really get the difference. The experience is seamless, futuristic, and expensive all at the same time.
The glass is cool to the touch, sometimes slippery, and a bit of a fingerprint magnet.
The Note 8’s corners are less rounded than on the S8 or S8+ giving the phone a more squarish appeal and what feels like a larger surface area for jotting down notes.
Like the S8 and S8+, it too is taller and narrower, following Samsung’s new unconventional 18.5:9 aspect ratio. Compared to other big screen phones, the Note 8 is one that you can wrap your hands around more securely and comfortably.
Less comfortable, however, is the placement of the fingerprint sensor. Once again, the technology for placing the scanner underneath the display didn’t make it in time, and we’re forced to settle for the same awkward implementation as the Galaxy S8’s — to the right of the rear camera.
Fortunately, it’s not as bad this time around. Now that the LED flash is sandwiched between the fingerprint scanner and dual-camera setup, you’re less likely to get your smudgy fingers on the lenses. Still, with the slight increase in the phone’s height, reaching for the sensor will take getting used to.
If you’re still not satisfied, the ever-reliable iris scanner is another option, and a highly secure one at that.
Other design choices worthy of note: a dedicated button just for Samsung new’s personal assistant Bixby like on the S8 — which unfortunately would have been a killer feature had it been re-assignable to a feature of your choosing; hybrid SIM card slot (for regions where dual-SIM variants are available); and I can’t believe I’m calling this a feature, but yes, a headphone jack. Hurrah!
Dual cameras, finally!
A bit late to the dual-camera bandwagon, the Note 8 is the first Samsung flagship with two rear cameras. Samsung execs tell GadgetMatch, they didn’t want to put a dual camera on their smartphone just for the sake of it. Not that they needed to. Some of the highest-rated smartphone cameras, including the S8’s, are single-lens shooters.
But now that they’ve given in, the Note 8’s dual-camera system is poised to be different, if not better. Its setup is a combination of two super-fast 12-megapixel cameras (f/1.7 and f/2.4) both with optical image stabilization (OIS). All other smartphone manufacturers thus far have only put OIS on the main shooter.
The Note 8’s second camera is a zoom lens, and having OIS gives it a leg up when it comes to low-light close ups. That, and the fact that Samsung flagships have a history of doing well in low light, means it knocks the iPhone 7 Plus’ zoom lens out of the water.
But that’s just in the case of poor lighting; anything else is more evenly matched:
Also like the iPhone 7 Plus, the Note 8 comes with its own portrait mode called Live Focus. Unique to the Note, however, is the ability to control the amount of blur applied to a shot. You can do this while taking a photograph or after the act. This comes in handy if you don’t want to completely blur out the background or if things start to look unrealistic, which can sometimes be the case.
Samsung is also touting a new dual-shot feature, meaning even if you choose to use the zoom lens, it will take the same photo using the standard lens, allowing you to pick between both shots when you go in to edit.
If you really think about it, the Note 8 is in a class of its own being the only flagship phone from any brand to come with a built-in stylus.
While the pen and smartphone combo is not for everyone, it does have its productivity benefits, especially now that the experience is pretty similar to that of pen on paper. Artists will love this digital canvas as will Snapchat and Instagram users.
In fact, Samsung is positioning the S Pen as an expression tool. The pen can also now be used to create handwritten animated notes similar to the handwriting feature on iMessage, except that it works on your favorite chat apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Viber, to name a few.
You can also drag the pen over text to translate full sentences, as well as currencies or measurements that need unit conversions.
From essentials to bells and whistles, this phone has got it all covered.
The phone is water and dust resistant and can be used even if the display is wet. To test this, we scribbled a note while the screen on our Note 8 was covered with large drops of water; everything worked like a charm. Try doing that on a soaking piece of paper.
If the phone gets too wet you’ll get a warning, suggesting that you let your phone dry up before you attempt to plug it in.
You also get top-of-the-line specs; the best mobile processor money can buy which is either an Exynos 8895 or Snapdragon 835 depending on your region, 6GB of memory, 64GB of storage, and a gorgeous 6.3-inch Quad HD Super AMOLED display.
The only area where Samsung seems to have skimped is its 3300mAh battery, which is not only smaller than last year’s model but also lower than the industry standard.
That said, we think it’s still the most prudent thing for Samsung to do considering last year’s battery issues. Samsung still promises improved battery life, thanks to a more power-efficient chip. And yes, you get other essentials like fast and wireless charging.
And to alleviate any concerns about exploding smartphones, the company also promises that like the rest of its phones since the Note 7, the Note 8 has undergone a rigid 8-point battery check.
When Samsung rolled out its Nougat update last year, it quietly killed any references to its relatively unpopular TouchWiz user interface. Now called Samsung Experience, the new UI is snappy, clean, and much closer to stock Android.
While the Note 8 comes fresh off the heels of Android 8.0 Oreo, it ships with Android 7.1.1 Nougat out of the box. It isn’t clear when that update will be available for the phone.
One cool software feature that’s unique to the Note 8 is the ability to launch two apps in split-screen mode at once. Imagine you’re about to drive to work and want to launch Spotify and Maps at the same time, or if you want to watch a YouTube video and chat at the same time — all that’s possible here.
Users who have more than one Facebook or WhatsApp account will also like the new Dual Messenger feature. We saw this on Samsung’s mid-range Galaxy J7 series earlier this year and now Samsung is bringing it to high-end devices, as well. Once set up, you can have two instances of your favorite messaging apps on one phone.
Is the Galaxy Note 8 your GadgetMatch?
While we’d much rather hold off judgement till we can publish a full review, Samsung’s second attempt at building its best smartphone ever is a smashing success.
As a whole, the Note 8 is so complete, it won’t leave you wanting. As long as you’re willing to shell out some serious dough for it, this one’s a match.