Reviews

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 – The Complete Package (Review)

Best Smartphone of 2018

The Note line up from Samsung has arm-twisted Android mobiles to think beyond 5-inch displays. The term phablet was introduced to the world by Samsung Galaxy Note and since then it has been a roller coaster ride for the Note series, with a few major bumps and crashes along the journey. Last year the Galaxy Note 7 almost won the title of the best mobile in the Galaxy, but then you know what happened! I personally would have bought the Note 7 but had to settle for the S7 Edge. After using it happily for a year, I decided to get myself the Note 8 and I have been happier since I got it. Here is my review of the Galaxy Note 8.

Design

Note 8 is a massive mobile phone, but thanks to its Infinity display, the 6.3-inch display mobile is reasonably easy to manage. It is tall due to the 18:9 aspect ratio of the display. It is a heavy mobile as it is made of glass. Corning Gorilla Glass protects it on the front and back. It supports wireless charging.  At the bottom, you would find audio jack, USB C port, mic, speaker and the S-Pen slot. The noise cancelling mic and the SIM slot is at the top. The infamous Bixby button is placed below the volume rocker. We would’ve preferred to have a dedicated camera key or a notification slider (like one in OnePlus phones).The power button is on the right. The dual camera arrangement at the back has the fingerprint sensor next to it. The placement of fingerprint sensor is weird and inconvenient on such a tall mobile. The end result is your fingers searching for sensor and adding smudges on the camera glass. Whenever you are going to take a photo, better rub the camera protection glass.

The metal and glass design gives premium look to the Samsung Galaxy Note 8. The phone is a little bit slippery though. The phone’s 18:9 6.3″ display makes the phone feel tall. This makes the phone a bit awkward to handle at the beginning. Those with tiny fingers and palm will find it impossible to use the phone with one hand. For these users, it is better to stick to LG G6 or Galaxy S8. The small bezels at the top and bottom help you grip the phone well when you are holding the phone in landscape mode.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 comes with IP68 certified water and dust resistance. This is extremely helpful for everyone who is regularly exposed to dusty roads and neighbourhoods.  I live in Bangalore and it rains when you least expect. I have seen many stopping their vehicles at the side and throwing their phones in scooter’s storage area on in backpacks almost every day during monsoon season. With Galaxy Note 8, this ritual is not needed anymore.  This is more of a safety feature to protect your phone from accidental drops into water or when you are riding in the rain. This does not mean that you can use it as a feature. Do note that Samsung will not honour the warranty if there is water damage.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is a definite head turner and the design of the phone is such that only those with big hands should think of getting one. Others may like it at the beginning but will have a hard time later on. IP68 water and dust resistance is a big advantage.

Stylus S-Pen

This is the single biggest reason for me to go ahead and purchase the Galaxy Note 8. Last year’s Note 7 was in my wishlist, but then you know what happened to it. I went ahead and got the S7 Edge. But I was waiting for the Note to return. Note 8 has an exceptional S-Pen experience. I can take notes with it, even when the screen is off. It has amazing palm rejection and I have happily use the s-pen while resting my hands on the mobile display. The S-Pen mimics the experience of a normal pen.

Camera

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is easily the best camera mobile I have used this year. It has a dual camera at the back. Both the sensors are 12 MP and they have OIS. One sensor has a f/1.7 26 mm lens while the other has a f/2.4 52 mm lens. This gives the mobile 2x optical zoom. The quality of the shots is exceptional. Focusing is fast and accurate. Exposure is spot on. The colour saturation is a bit high, but the contrast ratio is pleasing. The camera UI is highly capable and has loads of features. The pro mode is one of the best I have used in any mobile so far. The front has an 8 MP f/1.7 camera and it can click pleasing selfies as well. I have nothing but good things to say about the camera on the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.

It can shoot videos at 4K. The quality of the footage is exceptional. But when I record videos for longer than 10 minutes, there are some lip sync issues. I searched for a solution online, but nobody seems to have reported it. I have written to Samsung and yet to hear a reply.

Display

Samsung’s AMOLED display is the best you can get in Android devices. In IPS and TN panel LCD displays, the pixels require a light source to illuminate. Due to this, blacks are never truly black. in AMOLED, the pixels are OLEDs and they generate light on their own. Black means the pixels are off. This creates truly deep blacks and eye-popping colours. Go to a Samsung SmartCafe and try the Note 8 and we assure you that you will have a brain freeze. Earlier, AMOLED displays had lower brightness levels making them hard to use outdoors. That problem is mostly gone and the new panels generate pretty high. In fact, the max brightness in auto mode is nearly as high as that on iPhone 8 display. One slight hiccup is the newer 18:9 aspect ratio. Majority of video content is made for 16:9 or 16:10 so expect seeing black bars on left and right sides till content creators adapt to the new aspect ratio that is fast becoming popular among OEMs.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 comes with 2960 x 1440 pixel resolution. Samsung has set the default resolution a bit lower, at 2220 x 1080 (FullHD+). This is to get more battery life. We do recommend you to stick to this resolution as there is not much difference between FullHD and 2K resolution for normal content. If you want to watch 2K videos, you can switch to higher resolution.

Users can switch between different display modes. The best choice is to stick to ‘Adaptive display’ mode which changes the display colour balance based on content that is displayed. Other options are AMOLED Cinema, AMOLED Photo, Basic. Switch to AMOLED Cinema, turn the brightness all the way up to see how gorgeous this AMOLED display is. Do not use the phone this way as it will suck battery life out and is also not good for the display panel in long run. The Note 8 sunlight legibility is very good and we never had an issue using the phone outdoors.

Performance

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 in India is powered by Exynos 8895 octa-core chipset. There is a good performance advantage for 8895 for Snapdragon 835 but the downside is that 3rd party ROM development will be more for SD835 variant. The phone feels fluid with no lag at all. Game load times are fast and the same is the case with application switching. I don’t have much to say about the performance of this mobile as it is self-explanatory. It is one of the fasters mobile of 2017. Samsung UX adds a bit of stress to the performance, but the hardware manages it well. Smooth and buttery performance is written all over the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.

Software

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 comes with Android 7.0 pre-loaded, with Samsung UX skin on top. The Samsung UX is much better when compared to TouchWiz. If you turn on Always-On-Display, you will see the clock and notification icons on the display. You can opt for either digital clock on an analogue clock. Date and battery stats are displayed below the clock and then notification icons are listed. Tap on the home button to see shortcuts on the bottom left and right corners.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 comes with iris scan so you can unlock the phone without using the fingerprint reader. Bring the phone to your eye level and the phone will unlock. This is easier than searching for a back mounted fingerprint sensor. I did like the task switcher interface on Samsung Galaxy Note 8. You can pin two apps to screen for multi-window mode. To close all apps, click on ‘Close all’ tab. Samsung allows you to resize each window in multi-window mode so that app that needs more space can be made bigger. Galaxy Note 8 also gets Edge panel, thanks to the new curved display panel. You can configure the edge screen to light up when there are notifications. This is the best (and probably only) feature of curved display on Galaxy Note 8. You can select which edge panel to show (shortcuts, reminders, clipboard etc, contacts etc).

Battery

Note 8 has just 3300 mAh battery for such a large device with a tasking display and a heavy processor. Samsung did not want to take any risk with the battery density and also they needed some space for the stylus-groove. The result is a mediocre battery life. It sure can last for one whole working day, but Samsung UX consumes battery when the mobile is idle as well. Battery life could have been better with the Note 8. It comes with an adaptive fast charger and it can get charged from 0 to 100% in about 2 hours.  Samsung has added three different power saving modes. If you are desperate to keep the phone on for really long time, you can switch to Ultra power saving mode that turns the phone into half smart half dumb phone.

Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is not a cheap phone to own. It is a premium device, but in my opinion, it is worth every paisa. It is a complete package. For the price paid, you get a top-class camera, top-“notch” display, amazing performance, feature rich UI and a great stylus experience. Battery performance is not satisfactory, but I can live with that. The design is also a head turner. While the launch of S9 is around the corner, we may not see a new Note mobile from Samsung very soon. So if you are looking to end the year with a great mobile purchase, go for the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.

Giridhar

A Technology evangelist, Giridhar reviews gadgets and mobile applications. He is also a passionate photographer and a user experience designer by profession.

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