A lot is riding on the new Galaxy Note 8 phablet from Samsung. It’s scheduled to hit store shelves on Sept. 15 and a successful launch will help Samsung finally put the Note 7 debacle to rest. The Galaxy Note models have been popular with smartphone buyers. If the Note 8 is successful, Samsung risks ceding the market to its rivals, particularly Chinese vendors that pumping out premium devices at lower prices.
Samsung says it has taken extraordinary measures to eliminate the hazardous battery issues that plagued its predecessor. There’s reason to be optimistic that Samsung has resolved the problem, given that this spring’s Galaxy S8 has generally proven to be trouble-free in that department. For the Galaxy S8, Samsung took the lessons it learned from the Note 7 battery fires and instituted stringent new design and manufacturing processes to ensure that its latest smartphones don’t pose a safety risk and get booted off commercial airliners.
Buyers will have to trust that Samsung has solved its battery problems and judge the Note 8 by how it looks, feels, and most importantly, performs. In that regard, the Galaxy Note 8 makes an excellent first impression.
After cracking open the box, purchasers will be forgiven if they mistake the sleek Note 8 for the Galaxy S8+. They both feature the slick industrial design and premium construction that’s expected from Samsung, including the company’s distinctive, near bezel-less screen that wraps around the sides and features thin ribbons along the top (to mask the speaker and front camera) and bottom of the device.
The differences are more apparent on closer inspection. The screen on the Note 8 is slightly larger (6.3 inches versus 6.2 inches) and sports a boxier design that nonetheless fits comfortably in the hand. As in the Galaxy S8, Samsung’s bright Super AMOLED screen technology lends sharpness to the device’s 4,262,400 pixels (2,960 pixels by 1,440 pixels).
Already capable of striking visuals, the Note 8’s display also supports HDR (high dynamic range) output for video content. Interestingly, Netflix added the Note 8 to its list of four Android phones that support HDR streaming on the service. The others are the LG V30 along with the Xperia XZ Premium and Xperia XZ1 from Sony).
Photos taken with the Note 8 also pop onscreen, undoubtedly the product of the handset’s new camera setup. Featuring a dual-camera setup in the back—including an F1.7 wide-angle lens and an F2.4 telephoto lens with optical image stabilization—it’s easy to take vibrant, Instagram-worthy shots.
In terms of Performance, the Note 8 leaves little to be desired. Logins, home screen transitions and app switching were practically instantaneous on the 64GB model provided for this review by Samsung, which features the 64bit, 10nm eight-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 along with 6GB of RAM. Applications launch quickly and run without a hitch, except for one instance when the Spotify music app froze.
The S-Pen stylus, the Galaxy Note line’s signature feature, is back with some new tricks. When ejected, the S Pen allows users to scribble notes directly on the Note 8’s Always On display, eliminating the need to fire up a standalone notetaking app to capture fleeting ideas and inspirations. With 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity, detailed doodles are possible, although the Note 8’s 6.3-inch screen, while generous, may be too cozy a canvas for some artists.
Although the past few days spent with the Note 8 has been a generally positive experience, there are some rough edges.
Bixby, Samsung’s AI assistant, which gets a dedicated button under the volume rocker on the left side of the device, remains a work in progress.
Annoyingly, Bixby will randomly spring to attention, seemingly hearing its name among background noises. Its product scanning feature is useful on occasion, but like Siri and Google Now before it, Bixby needs more training from many more users over time to become truly useful. Samsung seems to realize this. Bixby include a gamification component that allows users to rack up Samsung Rewards points.
Also, plan on getting a case for the Note 8 or at least carrying around a microfiber cloth. Its striking design and somewhat rugged construction (IP68 water and dust resistance) may tempt users to go case-less. But its shiny exterior is quickly marred by fingerprints.
In all, the Samsung Note 8 impresses with a combination of appealing looks, sharp screen and brisk application performance. Its starting price of $929.99 is a hefty sum, but considering the innovation and sheer versatility packed into the new Note 8, it may be worth it for mobile professionals and other folks who use it to its full potential.