Galaxy Note 8 review – THIS TIME LAST YEAR, we were quick to declare the Galaxy Note 7 as a knock-out smartphone and branded it Samsung’s “most beautiful” plus-sized handset yet.
Just weeks later, Samsung was forced to recall the smartphone after it was revealed, somewhat dramatically, that a dangerous battery flaw saw handsets explode, burn arses and cause chaos on flights.
While at the time many had speculated that this was the end of the now-tarnished Galaxy Note lineup, the phablet is back and bigger than ever, with Samsung no doubt hoping that the Note 8’s souped-up specs and super-sized screen will see the smartphone burn past flaming charred remains of its now-defunct predecessor. Ahem.
The Galaxy Note 8 is not too dissimilar from its S8 sibling in the looks department. It sports a similar (albeit larger) aluminium and glass chassis, while the ‘bezel-less’ 6.3in Infinity display adorns the front of the handset.
At 6.3in, this is the biggest version of Samsung’s Infinity display that we’ve seen yet, and it’s a thing of beauty that got heads-turning on our morning commute. However, this large screen does mean those of you will dainty hands will struggle to comfortably operate the Note 8 one-handed, and at 163x75x 8.6mm you’re going to struggle to wedge the phone into your skinny jeans pocket.
The display, which offers steeper curves than the Galaxy S8+ and S8+, helps with handling, though. Although we (with our Donald Trump-sized mitts) struggled to refresh Twitter while using the Note 8 with one hand, the sloped sides make for a fairly comfortable in-hand experience and make the smartphone easy(ish) to grip.
Like the S8 before it – and as you’d expect for a phone that’s going to set you back more than 800 quid – the Galaxy Note 8 is IP68 certified, which makes it both dust and waterproof. We’re not (too) scared of Samsung’s PR team so we were quick to throw the smartphone in the sink, and it (thankfully) came away unscathed.
While we’re pleased to see Samsung retaining IP68 certification, we’re not so happy with the firm’s decision to maintain the awkward rear placement of the fingerprint sensor. We were unable to comfortably reach the sensor when using the smartphone with one hand, and although the sensor is slightly more pronounced than on previous Galaxy smartphones, we wish the rumours of a screen-embedded scanner had come to fruition.
Thankfully, Samsung has also added iris recognition to the Galaxy Note 8. This worked well during our time with the phone and saw the phone unlock super-quickly, even when we were sat in our dark basement flat.
Unlike the S8, the bottom of the Galaxy Note 8 houses a slot for Samsung’s new and improved S Pen, which sits alongside a USB-C port and 3.5mm headphone jack. There’s also a Bixby button on the left-hand side of the handset, which fires up Samsung’s not-so-good-at-English AI assistant. More on that later.
Display and S Pen
As we’ve previously mentioned, the Note 8s 6.3in Infinity display is a thing of beauty and made our iPhone 7 look frustratingly dated thanks to its chunky bezels and, by comparison, low-resolution screen.
Quality-wise, the QHD+ screen is unsurprisingly stunning, while the AMOLED display makes for eye-popping colours and deep blacks that make the Note 8 ideal for watching Netflix (or Masterchef on iPlayer, if that’s more your kind of thing). The slightly odd 18.5:9 aspect ratio is strange at first, but you can stretch videos and apps to fit it so it doesn’t detract from anything. Like the S8, the Note 8 is HDR certified, but the actual amount of HDR content around is still slim.
The inky-black OLED is also utilised for the Note 8’s always-on display (above), which showcases the time, data, battery percentage and notifications. We found that having this glanceable information meant that we were picking up, unlocking the handset and getting distracted by inane Twitter chatter less frequently, which can only be seen a good thing.
Unlike the Galaxy S8, the Note 8’s screen has been designed to take advantage of the bundled S Pen, and Samsung says that the edges of the smartphone are steeper in order to make the Note 8 more suited to, er, taking Notes.
When we first got our mitts on the Note 8, we were quick to whip out the S Pen, which now boasts 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity and a more flexible tip, at any opportunity. However, although fans of the Note 8’s added functionality, in particular, its support for note-taking while the screen is switched off, the S Pen has always felt like an antiquated accessory and we soon stopped reaching for it.
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