Samsung Galaxy Note 8

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ADOPTING A DESIGN THAT’S BASED HEAVILY ON THE GALAXY S8+ FROM EARLIER THIS YEAR, THE GALAXY NOTE 8 DIFFERENTIATES ITSELF BY BEING SLIGHTLY BIGGER AND SPORTING THE SIGNATURE SQUARISH LOOK THAT HAS BEEN SYNONYMOUS WITH THE LINE SINCE ITS INCEPTION.

SAMSUNG GALAXY NOTE 8

$1,499 www.samsung.com/au

CRITICAL SPECS

Android 7.1.1; 6.3-inch Super AMOLED display @ 1,440 x 2,960 pixels (521ppi); Exynos 8895 octa-core CPU; Mali-G71 MP20 GPU; 6GB RAM; 64GB internal storage (with microSD support up to 256GB); rear-facing 12MP + 12MP dual camera; front-facing 8MP camera; 802.11ac Wi-Fi; USB Type-C; NFC; Bluetooth 5.0; 16.3 x 7.5 x 0.9cm; 195g

LAST YEAR WAS not a good one for Samsung. Had it not been for an incendiary battery issue that resulted in handsets bursting into flames — and sparked a worldwide recall — it’s highly likely that the company’s Galaxy Note 7 would’ve been crowned as the best smartphone of 2016. Knowing that anticipation for the failed phablet’s follow-up would be gargantuan, it’s perhaps not surprising that Samsung would keep the well-known ‘Note’ moniker and soldier on with a successor.

Thus, against the odds, we’ve not got the Galaxy Note 8 — a handset that demonstrates Samsung’s eagerness to move forward and put that previous mishap well in the past. So is the Galaxy Note 8 the triumphant return to form that we’ve been waiting for, or has Samsung perhaps played it a little too safe this time around?

GETTIN’ SQUARE

Adopting a design that’s based heavily on the Galaxy S8+ from earlier this year, the Galaxy Note 8 differentiates itself by being slightly bigger and sporting the signature squarish look that has been synonymous with the line since its inception. This gives the monolithic Note 8 a more professional look and feel, one that’s punctuated by the device’s retractable S Pen — one look and it’s clear that the Note 8 is ready to take care of business.

Physically, this new handset is slightly wider than the S8+, yet still feels tall and slim thanks to its striking QHD 18.5:9 Super AMOLED display. Again, like the S8 and S8+, the Note 8 has a drastically reduced bezel, with beautiful curved glass bringing Samsung’s signature Infinity Display effect to the face of the device.

Unlike the Note 7, there are no buttons on the Note 8’s face, with the fingerprint scanner unfortunately moved to the same awkward location it found itself on the Galaxy S8, albeit with the flash now placed between the camera and the scanner itself. It’s not a deal breaker, though — the iris scanner is back, as is the face-recognition functionality that Samsung introduced with the S8 range, so there are plenty of options available for unlocking your phone. That said, PIN, pattern and password are still the most reliable and secure.

There is, however, a power button on the right edge of the Note 8; while on the left, you’ll find a volume rocker and a dedicated button for Bixby, Samsung’s in-house voice assistant. It doesn’t have an Australian-specific setting and will still get confused by Aussie accents, but Samsung’s promised that this will get better over time.

We’re also pleased to note (heh) that the 8 still has a 3.5mm headphone jack, despite many rivals recently opting to go the Bluetooth-only route. Thankfully, it seems that Samsung isn’t interested in following this particular trend — yet.

TAKE A PICTURE

Despite being very similar in terms of specs, one of the Note 8’s main advantages over the S8+ is in its dual camera setup — a first for a Samsung phone. In this instance, it’s used to take photos using 2x optical zoom without any loss in quality, and also to create Live Focus photos, which let you apply a background-blurring bokeh effect before or after a photo has been taken.

It’s pretty good for a first attempt, though in our experience, the mode was rather fiddly, often only working in ideal shooting conditions (being in a well-lit environment at a distance of 2m from our subject regularly wasn’t good enough). When it is working properly, the portrait-style pictures look great, albeit quite zoomed in.

A similar feature has been available on Huawei’s flagship handsets since last year’s P9, using the Chinese phone-maker’s partnership with renowned camera company Leica to great effect. That version seemed a bit more user- friendly — not only did it work every time without fail, it allowed the user to also choose the point of focus, whether it be the foreground or background. Like Bixby, we expect the Note 8’s Live Focus mode to also improve in due time.

PEN IS MIGHTIER

Without question, the inclusion of a stylus is the one thing that sets the Note series apart from every other phone on the market, and Samsung has made its S Pen more useful than ever thanks to its increased levels of pressure sensitivity (up to 4,096) and some truly ingenious and natural-feeling software applications.

Upon taking the S Pen out, you’re immediately presented with a number of tools that relate specifically to it. You can choose to create a handwritten note, write on the screen, draw a box around an area you want to screenshot or create a GIF from, hover over words to translate them into different languages, and more. Perhaps the best new feature, though, is Live Messages, which grants you the ability to create animated GIFs out of your drawings and then share them. It’s kind of like an expanded version of the Digital Touch feature found on the Apple Watch, only with a much greater reach.

The ability to scribble notes while the phone is locked and then pin them to the Always-On Display is back and even more useful than before, thanks to a larger writing area and the ability to cycle through multiple pinned messages.

NOTABLE PERFORMANCE

Unsurprisingly, Samsung has played it safe with the Note 8’s battery, opting to use a 3,300mAh unit — that’s 200mAh smaller than the battery featured in the S8+, despite being a larger phone with an extra 2GB of RAM to work with (6GB in total). Because of this, the Note 8’s battery life takes a bit of a hit, giving us 7 hours, 24 minutes of intense usage compared to the 8 hours, 10 minutes achieved by the Galaxy S8. It will definitely give you a whole day’s worth of solid usage, but you’ll need to juice it back up each night. The good news is that fast charging is back, allowing you to go from completely flat to 100% in around 115 minutes. That’s slightly slower than some other handsets out there, but you can’t blame Samsung for being cautious.

In terms of performance, the Note 8 is predictably on-par with the similarly-specced S8 range, with the additional memory helping boost it by 10–15% in some areas. In Australia, the Note 8 sports a Samsung-made Exynos 8895 octa-core chipset, which performed well in our benchmarks. Its GeekBench 4 single/multi-core score hit 2,017/6,754, easily outranking the major handsets on the market, like the HTC U11 (1,913/6,326), OnePlus 5 (1,971/6,646) and, of course, the Galaxy S8 (1,995/6,611). That said, when it came to graphics, it was surprisingly outscored by the Nokia 8 and other Snapdragon 835-equipped phones in several instances. That comes down to the Adreno 540 graphics processor that’s paired with the latter being a bit stronger than the Mali-G71 Samsung used here.

In real-world use, however, you likely won’t notice that performance dip and, as a whole package, the Galaxy Note 8 really is a welcome return to form — one that will readily please series fans who’ve been waiting for a worthy Note 7 successor. With terrific performance that’s backed by a smorgasbord of unique features, this is the phablet to beat in 2017.