The Galaxy Note 8 rises from the ashes of its predecessor; but can Samsung win back a spot in your pocket?
Aside from one scorching flaw, I think we can agree that the Note 7 was a remarkable Android handset. When originally launched, we sung its praises and even placed it at the top of our best smartphones hierarchy. Mind you, we did have to rescind the honour not long afterward.
For in the end the Note 7 drew headlines for all the wrong reasons. A spate of exploding batteries and the resultant bad press (it was even banned on flights) forced Samsung’s hand, and the Note 7 was recalled. There were fears the Note brand had been killed off for good.
But Samsung isn’t taking no for an answer, and it’s now raised the curtain on the Note 7’s do-over: the Galaxy Note 8. It expands on everything we loved about its predecessor and then some. The only question remains: is the Note’s reputation still in tatters, or can it win back critical acclaim in 2017? Here’s where we find out.
UPDATE: This review is regularly being updated with our benchmarking findings. Stay tuned for my full Note 8 verdict, soon.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review: What you need to know
With the Note 8, the Korean firm will be hoping to put last year’s fiery disaster firmly behind it. It’s still the plus-sized Android phablet we know and love, with an edge-to-edge 6.3in QHD+ display, the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor (or Samsung’s own Exynos 8895, depending on region), 6GB of RAM and 64GB of expandable storage. The major upgrade – aside from the bezel-less screen – is a set of dual 12-megapixel cameras found on its behind.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review: UK release date, UK price and specifications
- Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 / Exynos 8895
- RAM: 6GB
- Storage: 64GB
- Display: 6.3in QHD+ Super AMOLED
- Rear camera: 12-megapixel f/1.7 wide-angle and 12-megapixel f/2.4 telephoto
- Front camera: 8-megapixel f/1.7
- Battery: 3,300mAh
- UK release date: £869 SIM-free
- UK price: 15 September 2017
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review: Design and display
The Galaxy Note 8 is a visually striking handset, but that’s not really shocking, is it? After all, if there’s one thing Samsung has been nailing these past few years, it’s aesthetics.
And it’s an area where Samsung has a commanding lead. Those who are willing to pay more for the best smartphone they can get their mitts on already know exactly where to turn. The Galaxy Note 8 doubles down on that, delivering everything previous Note phones have – and even upping the ante.
Case in point: the dominating, plus-sized display on the front. Note devices have always had large screens, but something is different this year. Just like the Galaxy S8’s stunning bezel-less design, the Note 8’s front is all display, and it’s a sight to behold.
That means we’re treated to a massive 6.3in QHD+ display – 0.6in larger than last year’s effort – and it’s a great screen. Just like the Galaxy S8 and S8+ before it, it benefits from Samsung’s Super AMOLED technology, so we’re getting effectively perfect contrast levels and an image quality like no other.
Case in point: after putting the Note 8 to the test with our X-Rite colour calibrator, we found it covers 98.2% of the sRGB colour gamut space. With an average delta E of 1.49 (anything less than 1.5 is preferred) the Note 8 produces wholly accurate colours across the board, even if images are a tad overexposed.
And, because this is an AMOLED panel, contrast levels are unbeatable, at a perfect Infinity:1, and maximum brightness reaches a respectable 330cd/m2. Switch on adaptive brightness, and that figure creeps up to a blinding 981cd/m2. No more squinting at your Facebook feed in direct sunlight.
Samsung aces the ergonomics, too. The Note 8 still has the familiar perfect chamfered, rounded edges, complete with a tapered edge on either side. Pair that with a slim 8.6mm profile and you get a device that’s not only exquisitely elegant but also comfortably snug in the palm of your hand.
The last big one-up is less obvious, but one you’ll likely be taking full advantage of if you take the leap. Samsung’s excellent S-Pen stylus – the pointing stick that gives the Note its name – can now be used to jot quick notes on the screen while it’s off, for on the fly note-taking. Among other things, handwriting and doodles can also be converted to GIFs and emoji should you so desire, and you can now hover the S-Pen over any text or sentence to translate it, or use it for currency conversions. Perfect if you’re the regular traveller.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review: Camera
Dual-sensor arrangements aren’t new, but the Note 8’s twin-camera setup is a first for Samsung. One is a wide-angle 12-megapixel f/1.7 camera, while the other has an f/2.4 telephoto lens with 2x optical zoom; both are equipped with optical image stabilisation (OIS) for seriously stable shots.
Image quality, as you’d expect from Samsung these days, is superb. From 42 storeys above London, I managed to take some lavish, detail-rich photos. You can flick between the two cameras at a press of the button, if you’re just after a wide-angle shot of the city skyline for instance, or if you want to zoom in real close.
While I can’t deliver a definitive verdict at this point, the Note 8 looks likely to be one of the better phone cameras we’ll see this year.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review: Performance and battery life
Internally, the Note 8 is very similar to the Galaxy S8. Inside, you’ll find a 10nm CPU, the second of Samsung’s flagships using such a processor. There’s also 6GB of RAM for heavyweight multitasking, and 64GB of onboard storage, expandable by up to 256GB via microSD.
As with some previous Samsung handsets, the processor comes in two flavours depending on your region. US owners get the latest Qualcomm processor (in this case, a Snapdragon 835), while Europeans are treated to Samsung’s own Exynos 8895 chip. In the Galaxy S8, Samsung’s own chip proved to be a smidge quicker than Qualcomm’s, and I’d expect that to hold here too.
Our own testing affirms my expectations, too – the Note 8 is one seriously speedy handset. Running the Geekbench 4 multi-core and single-core tests, the Galaxy Note 8 reached 6614 and 2008 respectively – the highest figure we’ve seen on an Android handset thus far. That’s a good 10% increase in multi-core processing when put against the Exynos 8890-equipped Galaxy Note 7. Mind you, the Note 8 is in line with the similarly well-performing S8 Plus, which currently retails for well over £200 less.
Graphics performance, as you can expect, is exemplary. The Note 8 breezed past the GFXBench Manhattan 3.0 test, scoring a 55fps average at native resolution, and 64fps offscreen at 1080p. This’ll run any Android game you throw at it, no question.
The smaller manufacturing process also typically means improved power efficiency, so we should have expected to see the 3,300mAh battery last a decent bout longer than its competitors. If Samsung’s previous launches were anything to go by, I certainly didn’t expect to see battery life cut. I was wrong.
Reaching just 13hrs 38mins in our continuous video playback test with the screen set to our standard 170cd/m2 brightness isn’t typical of Samsung. In a world where the Galaxy S8 Plus reached well over 20 hours, this is a massive shame. Obviously, Samsung could be playing safe with their battery – after all, the Note 7 hit a ludicrous 22hrs in our original testing, and you know what happened there. This could be a problem with the unit, though. We’ve requested another Note 8 review unit back in the Expert Reviews’ offices for further battery testing, and will update this review with our findings.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review: Early verdict
On initial impressions, the Galaxy Note 8 looks ready to take the smartphone world by storm. It’s a stunning handset, both to gawk at and to clutch in your palms. Its bezel-less display is on par with the dazzling beauty of the Galaxy S8, and with bang-up-to-date internals, new and improved S Pen features and fancy dual rear cameras, the Note 8 is the crème de la crème of smartphone flagships.
Samsung has a lot to prove if it wants to rehabilitate the Note brand. But with the Note 8, I’d say it has every chance of success. This review is regularly being updated with our benchmarking findings.
- Processor-Octa-core 2.3GHz Samsung Exynos 8895 / Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
- Screen size-6.3in
- Screen resolution-2,960 x 1,440
- Screen type-Super AMOLED
- Front camera-8-megapixel
- Rear camera-12-megapixel f/1.7, 12-megapixel f/2.4
- Storage (free)-64GB
- Memory card slot (supplied)-mcroSD
- Wi-Fi-Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
- Wireless data-4G
- Dimensions-162.5 x 74.8 x 8.6mm
- Operating system-Android 7.1.1
- Battery size-3,300mAh