Let’s get the obvious out of the way – the Korean giant Samsung had a forgetful 2016. The Samsung Galaxy Note7 made waves, not necessarily because of being an excellent package, but because of its defective batteries. The massive fiasco led many to believe that the brand will be shelving off the Note series, but Samsung chose to go ahead with a successor. Enter the Note8. Released last month, the device has a lot riding on its tall shoulders. While Samsung might have single-handedly created a market for large-screen devices, it’s not the only player now. So the new Note is not just tasked with salvaging the reputation of the series, but also needs to fend off the competition. Has it been successful? That’s what I’m here to find out. So without further ado, let’s begin. 

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Specs at a glance

Display
Size 6.3 Inch
Resolution 1440 x 2960 pixels
Performance
CPU Quad core, 2.3 GHz + Quad core, 1.7 GHz, Samsung Exynos 9 Octa
RAM 6 GB
Storage
Internal memory 64 GB
External memory Up to 256 GB
Battery
Capacity 3300 mAH, Li-ion, Non removable
Talktime Up to 22 Hours (3G)
Camera
Primary camera 12 MP
Secondary camera 8 MP
Connectivity
Network support Dual SIM 4G
Other options Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS
Others
Battery Capacity 3300
Operating system Android 7.1.1 Nougat

Summary

The numero uno manufacturer has been offering two separate flagship lineups annually – the Galaxy S series and the Note range. While the devices are targeted at different consumer segments, the latest Note8 is eerily similar to the S8 duo (more so with the bigger S8+). In fact, if you don’t need the S Pen – the hallmark of the Note series – then I’d suggest you to stick with the Samsung Galaxy S8+ (review), which by the way, recently received a price cut. However, there’s another key distinction that the new Note8 brings – dual cameras, which will be the key focus areas in the next section. But are these differences enough to warrant spending Rs 67,900 on? Especially when you consider the fact that Apple’s upcoming iPhone X is being regarded as “the future of the smartphone”? Many questions cloud the mind, and most of the answers lie in how good the Samsung Galaxy Note8 is in real life.

Design: the S8++ minus the pronounced curves

Dimensions: 162.5 x 74.8 x 8.6 mm
Weight:  195 grams

Samsung’s Galaxy S8 twins pushed the envelope for smartphone designs with their Infinity displays, metal frames and shiny glass backs. The Note8 carries that forward, albeit in a slightly larger form factor. It’s the largest smartphone in the Note series ever, with its display panel measuring 6.3-inches diagonally – 0.1-inch bigger than the S8+.

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However, instead of the display curving almost half-way towards the edges of the S8+, the Note8’s display panel doesn’t curve as much. The same story continues at the back as well. Similarly, instead of rounded corners of its cousin, the smartphone sports squared-off corners, giving it a boxy look. All that helps in improving the ergonomics of the Samsung Galaxy Note8. You can hold it comfortably in the hand and gripping it is easier as well. However, it must be mentioned that the phablet is quite tall, and using it is a two-hand affair. Tipping the scales at 195g, it weighs on the higher side too. Add to it the fact that the glassy panel at the rear – as good as it looks by reflecting the light in all the directions – is extremely slippery and acts as a powerful fingerprint and smudge magnet.

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Thankfully though, Samsung is bundling a transparent case in the retail box of the Galaxy Note8. Not only does the case ensure that the looks of the phone aren’t spoilt, it also makes it grip-friendly and keeps fingerprints at bay.

Coming to the placement of controls and ports, you won’t find anything new. The power toggle is on the right edge, and sitting opposite it is the Bixby key. Above it, you’ll find the volume rocker. The top panel is home to the ejectable tray that hides a nano-SIM card slot and a hybrid slot, along with a noise-cancellation mic. The bottom is quite packed – along with a 3.5mm interface (thankfully, the brand hasn’t ditched it yet), you’ll find a USB-Type C port, a primary microphone, a speaker grille, and of course, a dedicated silo for keeping the S Pen. As was the case with its predecessors, the stylus can be ejected by a single press. There are no physical keys either, as they are available as part of the software. However, it’s the home button that’s quite powerful thanks to its pressure-sensitivity as you can simply long-press its location from any app to jump to the homescreen.

All this is fine and dandy, but Samsung hasn’t changed one thing that was our major gripe with the Samsung Galaxy S8’s… the position of the fingerprint sensor. Embedded right beside the camera, it was difficult to access in the S8 duo – and with the Note8, it requires even more effort. More often than not, you end up smudging the camera sensors in a bid to unlock the phone. However, when you do get it right, the device unlocks instantly and it works almost every time. Personally, I’d have liked the fingerprint module to be available below the cameras, since it seems that the in-display fingerprint readers are still some time away. Don’t be disappointed though, as there are other ways to authenticate yourself and I’ll be discussing them in the software section.

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Available in colour options of black and gold, the Samsung Galaxy Note8 looks gorgeous from all angles –  be it the display stretching towards the edges, or the shiny rear. You don’t need to worry about nicks and accidental drops either, as both the front and back are protected by a layer of latest-gen Corning Gorilla Glass. And the phone is a perfect companion for the monsoons too, as it’s impervious to dust and water, all thanks to IP68 certification.

Display: everything comes alive

Size: 6.3 Inch
Resolution: 1440 x 2960 pixels
Display Type:  Super AMOLED
Pixel Density:  522 ppi

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The Galaxy Note8’s window to the world is its large 6.3-inch display with a wide-screen aspect ratio of 18.5:9. Samsung’s display panels are always best-in-class, and the one on its latest flagship goes one step ahead. With a Super AMOLED tech and resolution of 2,960x 1,440 pixels (also referred to as 3K resolution), it delivers darker blacks, impressive contrast levels and sharp text. At 1,200 nits, the brightness levels are the highest ever in a smartphone, which means you can easily use the Note8 even under harsh sunlight. To top it off, the device is capable of playing HDR videos as it’s certified with Mobile HDR Premium standard. While watching such content is an immersive experience, the reality is that very few streaming services offer HDR videos. The limited list includes YouTube, Netflix and Amazon Prime on which you can find some HDR-compliant titles. There’s a Bluelight filter too to ensure that you can use the phone at night without straining your eyes.

While the unique screen aspect ratio makes the Note8 a delight to consume content, the problem is that most apps and videos aren’t optimised for this format. And since Samsung lets you use the app or watch videos in this format, some text on the edges gets cut.

Cameras: two peas of the pod

Primary camera:  12 MP
Flash: LED Flash
Secondary camera:  8 MP

Samsung has usually been the trendsetter in the world of smartphones, but when it comes to dual cameras, it’s taken its own sweet time to join the club. In fact, it has boarded the bandwagon almost an year after Apple, which started offering a pair of snappers with the iPhone 7 Plus for the first time. The Galaxy Note8 flaunts a pair of 12-megapixel shooters at the rear, with the primary 26mm f/1.7 sensor being the same as the one on the S8 twins and the secondary one being a telephoto f/2.4 sensor with 52mm size. What makes them special is the fact that both of them have OIS, which ensures that your handshakes are minimised to offer good pictures in low-light and smoother videos. The dual-camera array works exactly same as the iPhone’s, i.e. offering you the ability to get closer to the subject with 2X optical zoom and ensure that your subject with the rest of the background with what brand dubs as the Live Focus mode. You also get fast autofocusing thanks to the dual-pixel technology.

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Coming to the quality, I don’t really need to tell you about the impressive pictures you can get with the primary snapper on the Samsung Galaxy Note8, since we have already applauded the S8 and S8+ for this. Irrespective of the situation, you get sharp results with peppy colours. They look unnatural due to the saturation, but also, quite pleasing to the eyes. The long shots do complete justice to the length and breadth of the scene, while you can get some amazing macro shots with some depth-of-field effects as well thanks to the wide aperture. HDR adds more life to the scene without making it look too artificial, and pictures taken at night also offer a good amount of detail. There’s a dual-colour LED flash as well, to illuminate the scene.

Wow, all that sounds like I’m in love with the Note8’s camera, and I haven’t even started talking about the secondary camera at the back. But before that, let’s discuss the camera interface. Samsung has always offered a ton of options in the viewfinder, but with the Note8, it has not only kept the UI choc-a-bloc, but in order to save space has used the same place for multiple functions. There are some redundant buttons too. All this makes it quite confusing to use the camera, and requires a bit of a learning curve. In the portrait mode, you get the option to shoot a picture or a video, along with previewing the clicks. What’s baffling however, is the fact that there are two shutter buttons, with the one at the centre doubling up as a zoom option (both optical, and then digital zoom of up to 10x), and the other can float anywhere on the screen (you can disable it though). Up top, you get the ability to switch to the front camera, enable full screen (which is really useful and lets you utilise the entire display), toggle the flash and access settings. Sadly, there’s no HDR button up front, and you need to go to the settings to activate it. However, you can also turn it to auto and the phone will automatically capture the dynamic range depending upon the scene. Just above the shutter button you’ll find an option for Live Focus, Bixby Vision (to detect products or monuments in front of you) and Stickers. Above that you’ll find the option to zoom 2x into the subject, but interestingly the same spot also shows the exposure controls, so you can’t zoom and then adjust the exposure immediately, or vice versa. Swipe to the left and you’ll find various modes such as Pro, Food, Hyperlapse, etc.

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The implementation of dual cameras for providing an optical zoom-like functionality is my favourite (right after the wide-angle feature available on the LG’s flagships) since it lets you get closer to the subject without actually moving yourself. However, do note that the quality takes a hit in this instance as the secondary camera on the Galaxy Note8’s rear isn’t as good as the primary one. The Live Focus mode is quite interesting… not necessarily in terms of its working, but because of the flexibility it offers. Unlike Apple, Samsung lets you control the amount of blur so that the image doesn’t look too artificial. That’s not all, you can also change it post shooting by editing it, and if you don’t like the image at all, then you can check the normal picture too as the Note8 captures the same scene with the primary snapper as well. That said, Live Focus works well when you get it right, but in most other scenarios, even using the primary sensor gives you nicely blurred backgrounds when clicked from the minimal focusing distance thanks to the aperture of f/1.7. Now it’s time to let the pictures do the talking, so here are some camera samples for you to gawk upon.

Click here to check the images in the full resolution

You can record some impressive videos from the phablet as well, with the OIS ensuring that the footage remains smooth. Professionals will also love the ability to click the RAW images. Coming to the selfies, the Samsung Galaxy Note8 might not win in terms of the resolution, the 8MP f/1.7 snapper does offer good images. You can also enable the screen flash to shoot in dim environments.

Software: harnesses the Note8 to its true potential

Operating System: Android
OS Version: 7.1.1, Nougat

As much as the Note series is about its powerful hardware, software plays an equally important role in making it a workhorse and a productivity-centric offering. The Chaebol has ensured that the Galaxy Note8 takes things to the next level, with its latest Samsung Experience v8.5 running atop Android 7.1.1 Nougat.

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Over the years, the brand has moved away from loading its phones with bloatware and gimmicky software, and to that extent, you won’t find many preloaded apps on the Galaxy Note8. It only comes with Microsoft’s suite of apps, including Word, Powerpoint, and OneNote among others. Interface-wise, it’s similar to the S8 duo, including the fact that you can now open the app menu by a simple swipe in the upward direction – just like the Pixel launcher. Although, it feels really odd that for going to the next screen, you need to swipe towards the left and not upwards.

Since the phone has a curved display, you can use the edge panels to access certain apps or reach contacts. But where the Note8 really shines is the feature called App Pair, which lets you open two apps simultaneously with a single tap. Thanks to the big screen and the widescreen aspect ratio, this is one of the best ways to enjoy the split-screen functionality. I loved writing notes while watching videos on YouTube, or checking Twitter and chatting at the same time.

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The left-most screen in the homescreen is dedicated for Bixby, Samsung’s intelligent assistant. It acts as a one-stop screen to provide you with your schedule, show reminders, display the images clicked by you on that day along with connecting with your Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts to show the latest updates and notifications. It also has a news section, which is powered by Flipboard. These cards can be customised as per your liking. This seems to be a logical successor to Samsung’s Briefing screen, and the one that’s quite useful. To access it, you can also press the dedicated Bixby button available on the left. Sadly though, this key can’t be remapped to any other action, but Samsung does allow you to disable it altogether.

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But the usefulness of Bixby doesn’t end here. During the course of my review, Samsung rolled out an update to its virtual assistant to understand voice commands, and that’s where it adds a lot to the user experience. It’s not too different from smart assistants like Google Now and Siri, but the Korean titan has tried to make it more deft with system-related skills. From setting up alarms to opening an app to reading messages, it’s quite capable. The only thing it lags behind is in searching for something on the web, but then, being an Android device, you can always use Google Now for that. I’ve just started exploring Bixby and it’s pretty good in understanding my diction and works accurately more often than not. It does take a while for processing though. Another interesting thing about Bixby is that it has a gamification feature built in, as you can gain experience points for interacting with it. This is by no way an in-depth review of how well the Bixby works and what all can you use it for, but if you want us to cover that, do let us know in the comments below.

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Remember I told you that fingerprints aren’t the only way to authenticate yourself, as there are two more methods, apart from the good ol’ pattern and pin unlock. You can use the Note8’s face recognition or iris scanning features to unlock it. I’ve used both of them, and my personal preference is the latter. While face recognition works quite well, it won’t work at all in poor lighting and it’s not completely secure as well, since there have been reports that it can be fooled by a picture or a video of the face (Apple’s Face ID feature on the iPhone X is supposed to have taken care of all these issues). Iris scanner in comparison, is better… when it works that is. You’ll need to familiarise yourself with the optimum position, which isn’t very close or far. While it does take some time to process, the good thing is that it works even in low light. My suggestion would be to use both the iris recognition and fingerprint reader as unlocking mechanisms and use them as per your convenience.

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Of course, the Note smartphones are known for their note-taking capabilities, and that brings me to my next point…

S Pen: hitting the right notes

The S Pen remains a key differentiator between the Note series and the Galaxy S range, and rightly so. It’s one thing that has ensured loyal followers for the Note series, and for them, the S Pen functionality with the Note8 is second to none. Not only it’s more accurate now thanks to 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity, it’s also improved upon its much-loved features.

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Like its predecessors, you get a variety of features at your disposal as soon as you eject the S Pen. These include Smart Select, Screen Write, and Translate, among dozen others. The first feature that got an improvement is the ability to write as soon as you take out the stylus even when the display is asleep. Dubbed Screen off memo, you can write up to 100 pages in this mode, and the best part is that you can pin them on your screen as well, thanks to the Always-On Display functionality of the Note8. Isn’t this useful for reminding yourself while going for a grocery shopping or making your to-do list?

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If you enjoy making memes, then you’ll like the Smart Select feature which lets you capture up to 15 seconds of a clip from a video, and then share it as a GIF. Live Message, as the name suggests, makes your message interactive, wherein you can make your own emojis or animate the photos and share them via messaging services. Then there’s a Translate feature which unlike earlier, lets you translate entire paragraphs instead of using word-by-word translation. You can also use this capability for doing currency conversions.

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With its 0.7mm tip, the S Pen can be used to doodle or write precisely. And it’s really good for selecting text, annotating documents or glancing at messages or emails without even opening them, and much more. That said, you’ll either use the S Pen or you don’t, and if you fall in the latter camp, then you might not find it that useful.

Performance: runs at warp speed

CPU: Quad core, 2.3 GHz + Quad core, 1.7 GHz, Samsung Exynos 9 Octa
GPU: Mali-G71 MP20
RAM: 6 GB
Memory: 64 GB + Up to 256 GB
SIM Slots: Dual SIM , GSM+GSM

2017’s flagships have followed a set formula when it comes to their internals, and the Samsung Galaxy Note8 sticks to that. The Indian variant draws power from the brand’s in-house Exynos 8895 SoC, which is similar to the Snapdragon 835 chipset, and is built using a 10nm FinFET process. It has two quad-core clusters running at 2.3GHz and 1.7GHz. Unlike the S8 and S8+ however, the Note8 gets an additional 2 gigs of RAM as it comes with 6GB capacity. The additional RAM does help a lot in terms of multi-tasking or while using App Pair. Otherwise too, there are hardly any tasks that can tax the powerful hardware combination. Add to it the Mali-G71 MP20 GPU and the gaming experience is amazing. I lost track of time while playing Contest of Champions and Asphalt 8: Airborne, and the phablet delivered incredible graphics and didn’t show any traces of lag.

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Another good thing about the smartphone was its thermal efficiency. Even after long sessions of gaming, it didn’t heat up at all. However, I did run into heating issues twice – using GPS and Google Maps for navigation while driving with songs being streamed via 4G for about an hour. The temperature was so much that the phone showed overheating warning and prompted that the app which I was using would be closed to ensure that it cools down a bit first.

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While I didn’t really have any complaints with the performance section, there were times when there was a split-second delay in execution of tasks. Changing the orientation while using the multi-window feature, for instance.

Targeted at power users, the Galaxy Note8 ships with 64GB of memory on board that can be extended further with the use of a microSD card (supports up to 256GB capacity). After accounting for OS and other resources, the phone offers around 52GB of space.

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Connectivity-wise, the Note8 doesn’t miss out on anything. It supports 4G VoLTE, offers dual SIM cards )although the secondary slot is of hybrid type), dual-band Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth 5.0 and GPS. As can be expected, voice calls work splendidly as well.

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For all its screen and pitch as a multimedia offering, the Samsung Galaxy Note8 misses out on stereo speakers. Moreover, the position of the single-firing speaker at the bottom of the phone means that it easily gets muffled when used in the landscape mode – which is what most people will use it in while watching movies or playing games. That said, the sound output is quite loud and crisp.

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The Samsung Galaxy Note8 comes bundled with a pair of AKG-tuned earphones, and they’re really good. As they are in-ear type, you can wear them comfortably for long durations. The braided cable exudes quality and durability, and ensures that they don’t get tangled easily. In terms of the sound quality, the pair delivers an impressive output, although it’s attuned towards bass. If you are like me who likes listening to EDM and songs with thump, then you’ll definitely like them.

Battery: playing it safe

Capacity: 3300 mAH, Li-ion, Non removable
Talktime: Up to 22 Hours (3G)
Standby Time

Well, this is the aspect where the Note7 faltered, and Samsung has already promised that all its batteries now follow a stringent 8-point check. So you shouldn’t worry about the Note8 meeting the same fate. That said, it seems that the company has still played it safe as even though its latest flagship is larger than the S8+, it packs in a 3,300mAh battery – 200mAh lesser than the one fuelling the latter.

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The impact of lower capacity is apparent in the runtime of the Samsung Galaxy Note8. It just manages to last an entire working day if used judiciously. And this is when the display resolution was set at FHD+ (2,220 x 1,080) and not WQHD+. Charged at 100 percent at 8 am in the morning, it dropped to less than 5 percent till the time I reach home with my usage comprising navigation via GPS, 4G running in the background, streaming music, 15 to 20 minutes of gaming, and a few calls. I usually got around three and a half hour of screen on time, which is just about average. The good thing however, is that the phone supports quick charging and quick wireless charging (you need to purchase the charger separately). It can be juiced up fully in about an hour and 45 minutes with the bundled adapter.

Worth your banknotes’?

In the end, everything boils down to this. Should you loosen up your purse strings for the Samsung Galaxy Note8 – which at Rs 67,999 is the most expensive Android smartphone you can buy currently? It all depends on what are you looking for from your smartphone. If you like cutting-edge technology and money is no bar for you, then you probably should wait for the Apple iPhone X. But if you want a smartphone that gets most of the things right, from the design to the internals, and from the display to the cameras, along with packing some extras, and are willing to pay a premium – then I have another question for you. Do you need the S Pen? If the answer is yes, then you can surely go for the Galaxy Note8.

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But if the answer is no, then you can get almost the same experience with the Galaxy S8+. You can also choose to wait for the upcoming LG V30 (first impressions), which has made many of my colleagues excited with its 6-inch POLED display, powerful hardware and focus on audiophiles.

All said and done, the Samsung Galaxy Note8 is possibly the best smartphone out there if you are willing to compromise on the battery life, and of course, the only option, if you love the functionality of the S Pen.

 

Editor’s rating: 4 / 5

Pros

  • Beautiful IP68-protected design
  • A stunning display
  • Impressive dual cameras
  • Powerful innards
  • Interesting software features to exploit the large screen
  • S Pen offers nifty functionality

 

Cons

  • Too tall for single-hand use
  • Average battery life

 

Photos by Raj Rout

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One of the earliest members of the 91mobiles' editorial team, Nitansh is a walking encyclopaedia of product specs. Name a phone and he’ll tell you the specifics on screen resolution, processor and camera without blinking an eyelid. Ask him if he remembers the launch date of a noteworthy phone, and he'll tell you the dates when the device first leaked, its global unveil, its Indian launch, and when it got a significant update. He’s a lover of all things Android, and loves writing reviews and scouting for new apps. A Wordpress whiz, he’s always ready to help out a fellow writer. While he juggles between many things at 91mobiles, he always manages to find time to write. In his non-tech avatar, Nitansh is a philatelist, which is a fancy word for stamp-collector.