The wait for the Samsung Note 8 is nearly over, with the smartphone officially available for pre-order beginning today and slated to hit retailers on September 15. From the myriad of leaks and reveals we’ve seen over the past few weeks, everyone is pretty excited to see what exactly they can expect from the Note 8. Given last year’s Note 7 debacle that set the company back millions of dollars, everyone is still waiting with held breath to see if the Note 8 is going to be the comeback phone we’ve been waiting for.
Truth be told, and obvious issues aside, many forecasted the Note 7 to be the phone that finally put the wood to the iPhone because it was just that good. It was beautiful, feature-rich, and when it wasn’t catching fire (sorry guys!), it was basically the perfect smartphone.
For Samsung, there’s a lot riding on the Note 8. Not only are they coming back from catastrophe, they also really have to take things up a notch. And lucky for us, it seems that’s exactly what they’ve managed to do.
While you guys are eager to get your grubby little mitts on one, our friends at Samsung were kind enough to hook us up with one last week so that we’d be ready to drop a Galaxy Note 8 review in time for its release.
We subjected the phone to a very rigorous, lengthy, and totally scientific series of tests in order to gauge its quality and performance, and see how it stacks up to its competition. Just kidding. We hung out with it for a few days; took it around town, snapped some photos and just enjoyed our time with it.
Here’s what we observed:
It’s a Gorgeous Phone
By all measurable standards, we don’t think anyone out there could possibly argue against the sheer beauty of this phone. It truly, truly is a work of art, even if you’re not into the massive “phablet” thing.
For the U.S. market, the phone will come in black and gray models. Our test phone was black, and visually, we were super impressed. The phone itself is long (more on its 6.3-inch screen later), but it’s not wide to the point where it feels bulky in the hand. It looks and feels big, but it’s far from unmanageable. The Note 8’s curved edges – both on the screen and on the back – make it feel good in the hand and easy to hold.
There are only three buttons on the outside of the phone – a volume button, a sleep/wake button, and a dedicated Bixby button, which is Samsung’s go at a voice-commanded digital assistant. The display itself, however, is bezel-less, with a pressure-sensitive home “button” that wakes the phone up when pressed.
The cameras – two in the back and one in the front – are located right about where you’d expect, and the finger scanner is located next to the two rear cameras. Yes, it is awkward, and it’s probably the only thing about the phone we didn’t love.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Display—A Work of Art
We don’t use those terms lightly, but the only way to describe the Note 8 display is that it’s a work of art. We pondered for a long while what we thought could be done to make a better phone screen, and we just couldn’t think of anything.
The 6.3-inch screen is a tad bigger than the Galaxy S8 Plus, and Samsung’s curved Infinity Display really gives the phone a sleek, modern appearance. Far as actual hardware goes, the Quad HD+ Super AMOLED is as good as they come, and with a display resolution of 2960 x 1440, everything is crystal clear.
Our favorite moments with the Note 8 were spent editing photos because the massive display and screen made it a complete joy to do. We edited digital photos taken on a DSLR and uploaded to DropBox, as well as photos taken on the in-phone camera, and we loved every second of it.
One of the nicest features of the Note 8, in our opinion, is the lack of an actual home button. Instead, there’s a hard press button where you’d expect the home button to be; just press down and the screen lights up.
Samsung Note 8: What’s Inside?
We’d be lying if we said we weren’t iPhone people for the most part, but we were very impressed with the Note 8’s performance and speed. We didn’t run any benchmarks or anything like that, but in the few days we had the phone, it was perfectly responsive and smooth, there weren’t any weird glitches and for all intents and purposes, it ran like a well-oiled machine.
Of course, that’s not a shocking statement when you take a moment to consider the phone’s hardware. Not only does it come with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 processor, but it also has a staggering 6 GB of RAM, a first for Samsung.
Far as storage is concerned, the phone comes out of the box with 64, 128, or 256 GB options, but supports microSD expansion up to 256 GB. Yes, that means this phone can technically support up to a half terabyte of storage.
The only downgrade to the entire phone is in the battery – understandably so. The interesting thing to note, however, is that the 3,300 mAh battery in the Note 8 is actually smaller than the 3,500 mAh battery in the S8 Plus. Nevertheless, we didn’t really have a problem. The AMOLED screen helps keep battery usage down, and to get a full charge from the phone took us about an hour and a half (maybe a little less).
Either way, we didn’t encounter any problems.
Two Standout Features: App Pair and Screen Off Memos
There are a few useful new features on the Note 8 (and a couple not-so-useful ones, too – we’re looking at you, Live Messages!), but two really stood out to us that we think everyone considering this phone should look at.
The first is App Pair, which is pretty much what it sounds like. The feature allows you to create a custom shortcut on the Edge panel that links together two apps at a time. So, when you click on the icon, both apps open up simultaneously. If you want to run YouTube and Spotify together, you can. Or if you like to edit your photos in VSCO then upload them straight to Instagram, you’re good. It’s all right there.
We also really enjoyed the screen off memo feature, which allows you to use the S Pen as a general notepad on the go, without having to unlock your phone, open the Notes app, and start writing. You just take out the stylus and start jotting down your thoughts. You can then save them directly to notes, or just put the pen away when you’re done and it’ll save it automatically.
The Nicest Dual Camera Setup Yet
Of all the new stuff coming to the Note 8, the dual camera setup is what really enticed everyone. Over the years, Samsung has proven itself a worthy competitor in the mobile photosphere, and luckily for their fans, they really delivered with the Note 8. The front-facing camera is a standard 8MP f/1.7 that takes excellent selfies, even in low light, but it’s nothing really new or special to write home about.
The rear-facing cameras, however, are where the big news is. The Note 8 features a 12 MP wide-angle and 12 MP telephoto lens, and both have Optical Image Stabilization, which is another smartphone first. The wide angle lens clocks in at f/1.7, which means it performs exceptionally well in low light without having to use any kind of digital compensation. The telephoto lens isn’t as impressive at f/2.4, but it definitely didn’t give us any headaches, and it’s still better than the iPhone 7 Plus’ f/2.8 telephoto.
The telephoto lens gives the camera a 2x optical zoom, which means you can get closer to your subject without losing any resolution to a digital zoom, and OIS in both lenses means even in low light conditions, your photos are crisp and clear. We definitely noticed a huge difference.
In fact, we’d argue that the Note 8 has the best camera setup on the market right now.
Of course, there’s the Live Focus feature, which allows you to take portraits of people or things, while giving your background a nice, creamy bokeh effect to emulate a narrow depth of field. What really stood out to us about the Note 8 is that you can actually control exactly how much bokeh effect you want before and after you take the photo. It’s an awesome touch that really puts all the fine details directly in users’ hands.
The only problem we found is that Live Focus wasn’t perfect. It would sometimes cut off pretty obvious edges, or wouldn’t be able to differentiate between subject and background. That said, most of the time it was perfect
All in all, we’re very impressed with the cameras.
So, What Did We Actually Think?
Well, the short version of our Galaxy Note 8 review is that it might possibly be the best smartphone we’ve ever gotten our hands on.
The long answer is that the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is almost perfect. Its design is simple and sleek and well put together; its hardware is absolutely batshit; its camera setup is, at the moment, unrivaled; and its UI is seamless and butter smooth.
It’s water and dust resistant, extremely customizable and it’s so feature rich that even after a week with it, we’re positive there’re things we never even touched.
It’s pretty obvious that Samsung knew they really couldn’t afford to fuck around with the Note 8, and they’ve given us something that’s about as perfect as we could have imagined it to be. We could do without the insane thousand-dollar price tag, but hey – you get what you pay for.
Oh! And it makes pretty good calls, too.
Now find out everything we know about the iPhone 8 so far.
- Lead image: Drew Angerer / Getty Images