Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review

Introduction


Just a little bit over a year ago, Samsung must have felt on top of the world, having just launched the Galaxy Note 7. It had decided to skip the Note 6 in order to finally put its flagship branding all on the same page, and there was plenty of reason to be excited about this hot new hardware. Maybe “hot” is a little too on the nose, because it wasn't long before reports of particularly exothermic battery failures started making the rounds, sending a current of panic through Note owners. Samsung pivoted and tried delivering a fix, but even that effort proved insufficient, and in a matter of weeks the Note 7 went from utterly overflowing with potential to being an officially doomed smartphone.

Failures in this industry don't get much more public or embarrassing than that, and for months you couldn't get on a flight without being reminded that you and your fellow passengers were one exploding Galaxy Note 7 away from plummeting out of the sky.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review
That could have easily been the end of the Galaxy Note family, right there.

But 2017 is a year of reinvention for Samsung, and we've already seen the shocking effect a new design can have on modernizing the company's Galaxy S flagship. Armed with that success, Samsung's taking the same approach to its stylus-equipped phablet, introducing a new Galaxy Note 8 that manages to both bring the series back from the grave, and celebrate a daring new design in the process.

In the box:

  • Galaxy Note 8
  • AKG earbuds w/ alternate tips
  • Samsung Adaptive Fast Charger
  • USB Type-C to standard-A cable
  • Micro-USB to USB Type-C adapter
  • USB Type-C to standard-A adapter
  • Quick-start guide
  • SIM tool
  • S Pen tweezer w/ alternate tips

Design

More than just a giant GS8 with a stylus, but the Note 8 still struggles with its own size

It hasn't happened to every _phone_ overnight, and there are still more holdouts than not, but 2017 is the year that the shape of phones changed. With models like the Galaxy S8 and LG G6, designers looked at existing 16:9 widescreen displays and announced, “Nope! Not wide enough!” Instead, they crafted phones with the widest screens we've ever seen – and changed the shape of phones themselves in the process.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review

This new look is arguably no more pronounced anywhere than it is on the Galaxy Note 8. While the basic layout of the handset gets its cues from the Galaxy S8, the much more squared-off corners make the Note 8 feel less like a _phone_ and more like some sort of futuristic half-tablet – just an exceptionally tall one.

That's at once the phone's greatest blessing as well as its biggest curse. Right now, at least, there's nothing out there that looks quite like the Note 8. If you're just being different for the sake of being different, that's not necessarily a good thing, but here the Note 8 takes shape as the obvious extension of Samsung's recent design language: the child of the Note 7 and Galaxy S8 that we all knew was coming. It's unusual, and it stands out, but it's also so functional and intentional that its design largely avoids feeling like a cry for attention.

But while we very much understand the thought process that brought this phone to life, we also can't ignore that certain limitations start cropping up when you're dealing with a handset of this size and shape. Probably the most pronounced issue there concerns all the stretching and phone-shifting you'll be doing just to accomplish day-to-day tasks.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review
If you're anything like a lot of smartphone users, you like to perch your handset' bottom corner against the muscles at the base of your thumb; that posture gives you easy access to Android navigation buttons, and lets you swivel to reach higher areas of the screen. But the Note 8 is just so fantastically tall that it becomes problematic to do things like hitting the phone's volume buttons without shifting the phablet around in your hand.

And while last year the front-mounted fingerprint scanner was still in a convenient location, its repositioning to high up on the phone's back makes reaching it a chore. You'll get used to it eventually, but the lack of familiar tactile cues as you feel around doesn't help any with that period of adjustment.

Another thing to keep in mind is that this is a heavy phone. While basically a scaled-up Galaxy S8 (or slightly lesser-scaled-up S8+), the Note 8 comes in just shy of 200g. That's heavier than either of those GS8 brothers, as well as heavier than the Note 7, and though that could be a problem, our impressions haven't been that negative, and instead this contributes to the Note 8 feeling like a really dense, powerful, sturdy device.

Much-appreciated elements of the phone's construction like IP 68 waterproofing are back this year, and that only further helps us feel confident about the Note 8's durability.

There are definitely a few elements here that we wish Samsung would have reconsidered, but by and large the look of the Note 8 comes together as a successful, attractive design that manages to remind us that smartphones still have plenty of room left to experiment and play with our expectations.

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Front view | Side view
Samsung Galaxy Note 8
Samsung Galaxy Note 8
6.4 x 2.94 x 0.34 inches
162.5 x 74.8 x 8.6 mm
6.88 oz (195 g)

Samsung Galaxy Note 8

Samsung Galaxy Note 7
Samsung Galaxy Note 7
6.04 x 2.91 x 0.31 inches
153.5 x 73.9 x 7.9 mm
5.96 oz (169 g)

Samsung Galaxy Note 7

Samsung Galaxy S8+
Samsung Galaxy S8+
6.28 x 2.89 x 0.32 inches
159.5 x 73.4 x 8.1 mm
6.10 oz (173 g)

Samsung Galaxy S8+

Apple iPhone 7 Plus
Apple iPhone 7 Plus
6.23 x 3.07 x 0.29 inches
158.2 x 77.9 x 7.3 mm
6.63 oz (188 g)

Apple iPhone 7 Plus




Display

An expansive, colorful panel that we only wish pushed brightness to loftier heights

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review

A Note phone's always going to have a big screen, but this year really takes the cake, as Samsung pushes past the Note 7's 5.7-inch display, and even inches past (or rather, millimeters past) the 6.2-inch Galaxy S8+ to give us a curved-edge, rounded-corner, ultra-widescreen 6.3-inch screen. Like we saw on those S8 models, Samsung calls this its Infinity Display, and with good reason, as it feels like this phone is just one big display, stretching to nearly all corners of the hardware. Only a conservative little bezel strip at the top and bottom of the phone's face keep that screen constrained.

As far as the image quality itself goes, Samsung's done this enough times before to know how not to disappoint. We get another of its renowned AMOLED panels, and through a little software magic Samsung manages to give us a best-of-both-worlds situation: you can choose from a number of display calibration preset that offer classic AMOLED-style oversaturation (where colors really “pop” and look boldly unreal), or stick with a basic mode that give us some of the most accurate (while almost ironically, looking a little a less lifelike than those over-the-top modes) color reproduction we've tested on a smartphone screen in months. Those presets are just the start of things, and you can tweak display output to your heart's content, including dialing-in the balance of individual colors.

The Note 8 doesn't ship in a way that's set up to take full advantage of its screen resolution. In order to conserve battery life and rendering time, the phone defaults to 1080 x 2220 pixels, instead of its native 1440 x 2960 px. You're absolutely free to change that, but keep in mind that for all our tests in this review, we did use that out-of-the-box resolution setting.

We don't love how Samsung limits screen brightness in manual mode, and if you prefer really intentional control over display output, you're never going to be able to set the Note 8's brightness to anywhere near the hardware's limits. Toggle auto-brightness on and that ceiling raises considerably, though we've still seen plenty of phones with brighter screens than the Note 8.

Display measurements and quality

Maximum brightness (nits)Higher is better Minimum brightness (nits)Lower is better Contrast Higher is better Color temperature (Kelvins) Gamma Delta E rgbcmy Lower is better Delta E grayscale Lower is better
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 518
(Excellent)
2
(Excellent)
unmeasurable
(Excellent)
6471
(Excellent)
2.03
3.39
(Good)
2.29
(Good)
Samsung Galaxy Note 7 570
(Excellent)
1
(Excellent)
unmeasurable
(Excellent)
7038
(Good)
2.05
1.82
(Excellent)
6.29
(Average)
Samsung Galaxy S8+ 565
(Excellent)
1
(Excellent)
unmeasurable
(Excellent)
6936
(Excellent)
2.14
5.06
(Average)
4.91
(Average)
Apple iPhone 7 Plus 672
(Excellent)
2
(Excellent)
1:1431
(Excellent)
6981
(Excellent)
2.2
3.11
(Good)
2.63
(Good)
View all

The CIE 1931 xy color gamut chart represents the set (area) of colors that a display can reproduce, with the sRGB colorspace (the highlighted triangle) serving as reference. The chart also provides a visual representation of a display's color accuracy. The small squares across the boundaries of the triangle are the reference points for the various colors, while the small dots are the actual measurements. Ideally, each dot should be positioned on top of its respective square. The 'x: CIE31' and 'y: CIE31' values in the table below the chart indicate the position of each measurement on the chart. 'Y' shows the luminance (in nits) of each measured color, while 'Target Y' is the desired luminance level for that color. Finally, 'ΔE 2000' is the Delta E value of the measured color. Delta E values of below 2 are ideal.

These measurements are made using SpectraCal's CalMAN calibration software.

The Color accuracy chart gives an idea of how close a display's measured colors are to their referential values. The first line holds the measured (actual) colors, while the second line holds the reference (target) colors. The closer the actual colors are to the target ones, the better.

These measurements are made using SpectraCal's CalMAN calibration software.

The Grayscale accuracy chart shows whether a display has a correct white balance (balance between red, green and blue) across different levels of grey (from dark to bright). The closer the Actual colors are to the Target ones, the better.

These measurements are made using SpectraCal's CalMAN calibration software.

View all


Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review

Introduction


Just a little bit over a year ago, Samsung must have felt on top of the world, having just launched the Galaxy Note 7. It had decided to skip the Note 6 in order to finally put its flagship branding all on the same page, and there was plenty of reason to be excited about this hot new hardware. Maybe “hot” is a little too on the nose, because it wasn't long before reports of particularly exothermic battery failures started making the rounds, sending a current of panic through Note owners. Samsung pivoted and tried delivering a fix, but even that effort proved insufficient, and in a matter of weeks the Note 7 went from utterly overflowing with potential to being an officially doomed smartphone.

Failures in this industry don't get much more public or embarrassing than that, and for months you couldn't get on a flight without being reminded that you and your fellow passengers were one exploding Galaxy Note 7 away from plummeting out of the sky.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review
That could have easily been the end of the Galaxy Note family, right there.

But 2017 is a year of reinvention for Samsung, and we've already seen the shocking effect a new design can have on modernizing the company's Galaxy S flagship. Armed with that success, Samsung's taking the same approach to its stylus-equipped phablet, introducing a new Galaxy Note 8 that manages to both bring the series back from the grave, and celebrate a daring new design in the process.

In the box:

  • Galaxy Note 8
  • AKG earbuds w/ alternate tips
  • Samsung Adaptive Fast Charger
  • USB Type-C to standard-A cable
  • Micro-USB to USB Type-C adapter
  • USB Type-C to standard-A adapter
  • Quick-start guide
  • SIM tool
  • S Pen tweezer w/ alternate tips

Design

More than just a giant GS8 with a stylus, but the Note 8 still struggles with its own size

It hasn't happened to every phone overnight, and there are still more holdouts than not, but 2017 is the year that the shape of phones changed. With models like the Galaxy S8 and LG G6, designers looked at existing 16:9 widescreen displays and announced, “Nope! Not wide enough!” Instead, they crafted phones with the widest screens we've ever seen – and changed the shape of phones themselves in the process.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review

This new look is arguably no more pronounced anywhere than it is on the Galaxy Note 8. While the basic layout of the handset gets its cues from the Galaxy S8, the much more squared-off corners make the Note 8 feel less like a phone and more like some sort of futuristic half-tablet – just an exceptionally tall one.

That's at once the phone's greatest blessing as well as its biggest curse. Right now, at least, there's nothing out there that looks quite like the Note 8. If you're just being different for the sake of being different, that's not necessarily a good thing, but here the Note 8 takes shape as the obvious extension of Samsung's recent design language: the child of the Note 7 and Galaxy S8 that we all knew was coming. It's unusual, and it stands out, but it's also so functional and intentional that its design largely avoids feeling like a cry for attention.

But while we very much understand the thought process that brought this phone to life, we also can't ignore that certain limitations start cropping up when you're dealing with a handset of this size and shape. Probably the most pronounced issue there concerns all the stretching and phone-shifting you'll be doing just to accomplish day-to-day tasks.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review
If you're anything like a lot of smartphone users, you like to perch your handset' bottom corner against the muscles at the base of your thumb; that posture gives you easy access to Android navigation buttons, and lets you swivel to reach higher areas of the screen. But the Note 8 is just so fantastically tall that it becomes problematic to do things like hitting the phone's volume buttons without shifting the phablet around in your hand.

And while last year the front-mounted fingerprint scanner was still in a convenient location, its repositioning to high up on the phone's back makes reaching it a chore. You'll get used to it eventually, but the lack of familiar tactile cues as you feel around doesn't help any with that period of adjustment.

Another thing to keep in mind is that this is a heavy phone. While basically a scaled-up Galaxy S8 (or slightly lesser-scaled-up S8+), the Note 8 comes in just shy of 200g. That's heavier than either of those GS8 brothers, as well as heavier than the Note 7, and though that could be a problem, our impressions haven't been that negative, and instead this contributes to the Note 8 feeling like a really dense, powerful, sturdy device.

Much-appreciated elements of the phone's construction like IP 68 waterproofing are back this year, and that only further helps us feel confident about the Note 8's durability.

There are definitely a few elements here that we wish Samsung would have reconsidered, but by and large the look of the Note 8 comes together as a successful, attractive design that manages to remind us that smartphones still have plenty of room left to experiment and play with our expectations.

Front view | Side view
Samsung Galaxy Note 8
Samsung Galaxy Note 8
6.4 x 2.94 x 0.34 inches
162.5 x 74.8 x 8.6 mm
6.88 oz (195 g)

Samsung Galaxy Note 8

Samsung Galaxy Note 7
Samsung Galaxy Note 7
6.04 x 2.91 x 0.31 inches
153.5 x 73.9 x 7.9 mm
5.96 oz (169 g)

Samsung Galaxy Note 7

Samsung Galaxy S8+
Samsung Galaxy S8+
6.28 x 2.89 x 0.32 inches
159.5 x 73.4 x 8.1 mm
6.10 oz (173 g)

Samsung Galaxy S8+

Apple iPhone 7 Plus
Apple iPhone 7 Plus
6.23 x 3.07 x 0.29 inches
158.2 x 77.9 x 7.3 mm
6.63 oz (188 g)

Apple iPhone 7 Plus




Display

An expansive, colorful panel that we only wish pushed brightness to loftier heights

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review

A Note phone's always going to have a big screen, but this year really takes the cake, as Samsung pushes past the Note 7's 5.7-inch display, and even inches past (or rather, millimeters past) the 6.2-inch Galaxy S8+ to give us a curved-edge, rounded-corner, ultra-widescreen 6.3-inch screen. Like we saw on those S8 models, Samsung calls this its Infinity Display, and with good reason, as it feels like this phone is just one big display, stretching to nearly all corners of the hardware. Only a conservative little bezel strip at the top and bottom of the phone's face keep that screen constrained.

As far as the image quality itself goes, Samsung's done this enough times before to know how not to disappoint. We get another of its renowned AMOLED panels, and through a little software magic Samsung manages to give us a best-of-both-worlds situation: you can choose from a number of display calibration preset that offer classic AMOLED-style oversaturation (where colors really “pop” and look boldly unreal), or stick with a basic mode that give us some of the most accurate (while almost ironically, looking a little a less lifelike than those over-the-top modes) color reproduction we've tested on a smartphone screen in months. Those presets are just the start of things, and you can tweak display output to your heart's content, including dialing-in the balance of individual colors.

The Note 8 doesn't ship in a way that's set up to take full advantage of its screen resolution. In order to conserve battery life and rendering time, the phone defaults to 1080 x 2220 pixels, instead of its native 1440 x 2960 px. You're absolutely free to change that, but keep in mind that for all our tests in this review, we did use that out-of-the-box resolution setting.

We don't love how Samsung limits screen brightness in manual mode, and if you prefer really intentional control over display output, you're never going to be able to set the Note 8's brightness to anywhere near the hardware's limits. Toggle auto-brightness on and that ceiling raises considerably, though we've still seen plenty of phones with brighter screens than the Note 8.

Display measurements and quality

Maximum brightness (nits)Higher is better Minimum brightness (nits)Lower is better Contrast Higher is better Color temperature (Kelvins) Gamma Delta E rgbcmy Lower is better Delta E grayscale Lower is better
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 518
(Excellent)
2
(Excellent)
unmeasurable
(Excellent)
6471
(Excellent)
2.03
3.39
(Good)
2.29
(Good)
Samsung Galaxy Note 7 570
(Excellent)
1
(Excellent)
unmeasurable
(Excellent)
7038
(Good)
2.05
1.82
(Excellent)
6.29
(Average)
Samsung Galaxy S8+ 565
(Excellent)
1
(Excellent)
unmeasurable
(Excellent)
6936
(Excellent)
2.14
5.06
(Average)
4.91
(Average)
Apple iPhone 7 Plus 672
(Excellent)
2
(Excellent)
1:1431
(Excellent)
6981
(Excellent)
2.2
3.11
(Good)
2.63
(Good)
View all

The CIE 1931 xy color gamut chart represents the set (area) of colors that a display can reproduce, with the sRGB colorspace (the highlighted triangle) serving as reference. The chart also provides a visual representation of a display's color accuracy. The small squares across the boundaries of the triangle are the reference points for the various colors, while the small dots are the actual measurements. Ideally, each dot should be positioned on top of its respective square. The 'x: CIE31' and 'y: CIE31' values in the table below the chart indicate the position of each measurement on the chart. 'Y' shows the luminance (in nits) of each measured color, while 'Target Y' is the desired luminance level for that color. Finally, 'ΔE 2000' is the Delta E value of the measured color. Delta E values of below 2 are ideal.

These measurements are made using SpectraCal's CalMAN calibration software.

The Color accuracy chart gives an idea of how close a display's measured colors are to their referential values. The first line holds the measured (actual) colors, while the second line holds the reference (target) colors. The closer the actual colors are to the target ones, the better.

These measurements are made using SpectraCal's CalMAN calibration software.

The Grayscale accuracy chart shows whether a display has a correct white balance (balance between red, green and blue) across different levels of grey (from dark to bright). The closer the Actual colors are to the Target ones, the better.

These measurements are made using SpectraCal's CalMAN calibration software.

View all


Interface and Functionality

S Pen support adds a welcome new chapter to the Samsung Experience

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review

If you've already played around with the Galaxy S8, Samsung's interface on the Note 8 is going to feel very familiar: it's the same Samsung Experience software on top of Android 7.0, and just like it was on the GS8, here it also manages to strike a nice balance between power, flexibility, and ease of use.

That said, there are some real improvements here. Part of that has to do with timing, and the Note 8 lands with fully fleshed-out support for Samsung's Bixby virtual assistant. When the GS8 got off the ground, Bixby wasn't quite ready for prime time, a situation that's slowly been improving over the last few months. Now with the Note 8's debut, Bixby's finally ready to show what it can do right when you take the phone home, making for a much more satisfying user experience. And if you're in the US, that also includes Bixby Voice, giving you some powerful tools to control the Note 8 just by speaking to it.

The syntax that uses can take a little while to learn, as it's just different enough from the Google Assistant that you'll have to think about crafting your requests properly, but Samsung goes to some effort to help train users and get them on the right path.

Multi-window support has been a mainstay of the Note series since even before it was integrated into standard Android, and here with the Note 8 Samsung continues to stay ahead of the curve. With App Pair, you can choose a set of two apps and configure a one-button shortcut that will open them both at once. It's not exactly revolutionary, but it's just so convenient that it has us multi-tasking more than we ever did when we had to jump in and out manually.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review
With its curved-edge screen, the Note 8 also gets access to Samsung's Edge Panels, a deceptively powerful tool for putting app shortcuts, contacts, news, and information all just an easy screen-swipe away. It's deceptively easy to take for granted, and new Note 8 users owe it to themselves to spend a few minutes customizing those panels to their tastes, in order to get the very most out of the phone.

S Pen: What's New

S Pen has a finer tip and new tricks

The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 comes with an improved S Pen that has a finer tip, better sensitivity and a few neat new software tricks up its sleeve. And yes, thank God, the S Pen can't go in backwards (this was a real issue on the Galaxy Note 5 back in the day).

The Air Command center is displayed automatically when you pop out the S Pen: it is a dial with all the available functions. This year it is picking up some extra modes like Bixby Vision (just hover over the screen to highlight an image and use Bixby to search for matches), and here is a look at everything that you can do with the S Pen:

  • Translate and Convert: hover over text to translate not just individual words, but whole sentences into 71 languages.
  • Smart Select: use the S Pen to select and share animated GIFs.
  • Live Message: create animated GIF messages with the S Pen. GIF is a nearly universally recognized format, so it's easy to share GIFs with friends on social media.
  • Magnify: hover the S Pen to take a closer look at something.
  • Screen off memo: quickly jot down or edit notes pinned to the Always-On display.
  • Coloring: the Note 8 comes with PENUP, the social network for S Pen-created art, pre-loaded. It features coloring books that are fun for both kids and adults, and are a great time killer.

We also see the return of screen-off menus, tapping into the convenience of the S Pen to transform the Note 8's screen into a there-when-you-need it notepad for quickly jotting down memos. Screen-off memos are actually improved from before. You can now save up to a 100 pages of notes for some truly detailed note-taking, and you have easier access to notes from the lockscreen.

Processor and Memory

Extra RAM may not be a game changer, but still gives the Note 8 a little bonus “oomph”

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review

As a Galaxy-class flagship, the Note 8 is outfitted with some of the most powerful silicon around, and for the Note 8 that means either a Snapdragon 835 chip (like in the US) or an Exynos 8895 (in international markets). While that sounds a lot like what we got on the Galaxy S8, for a big phone like the Note 8 Samsung's also super-sizing system memory, boosting RAM from 4GB up to 6GB.

Subjectively, the Note 8 feels crazy fast – as fast as any other high-end Android device out there. But if we're going to be picky, it's not clear that the extra RAM makes a huge impact on performance – a little extra flexibility, sure, but don't think that this 50-percent increase in system memory is going to make multitasking run 50-percent faster than on a 4GB phone. Think: five-to-ten-percent boost, at best.

Using some benchmarks to back up those impressions, we can confirm that Note 8 performance is very, very good, and up near the top of even other phones running 835 chips. It's not the very fastest we've ever seen, but also knowing how easy it can be for some devices to game benchmark apps, we're not getting too hung up over those numbers.

Just like the Galaxy S8, Samsung gives the Note 8 a 64GB base storage level, which we've got no complaints about whatsoever. Internationally, you can track down options as high as 256GB, and while that does have us feeling all sorts of jealous, there's nothing stopping you from popping a big microSD card in even a regular 64GB Note 8.

Performance benchmarks

AnTuTu
Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 175439
Samsung Galaxy Note 7 116036.33
Samsung Galaxy S8+ 173945
Apple iPhone 7 Plus 179811
JetStream
Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 67.884
Samsung Galaxy Note 7 47.411
Samsung Galaxy S8+ 60.931
Apple iPhone 7 Plus 167.76
GFXBench T-Rex HD on-screen
Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 60
Samsung Galaxy Note 7 53
Samsung Galaxy S8+ 60
Apple iPhone 7 Plus 58.2
GFXBench Manhattan on-screen
Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 39
Samsung Galaxy Note 7 15
Samsung Galaxy S8+ 41
Apple iPhone 7 Plus 55.8
Basemark OS II
Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 3422
Samsung Galaxy Note 7 2496
Samsung Galaxy S8+ 3256
Apple iPhone 7 Plus 3119
Geekbench 4 single-core
Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 1877
Samsung Galaxy S8+ 2006
Apple iPhone 7 Plus 3443
Geekbench 4 multi-core
Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 6552
Samsung Galaxy S8+ 6708
Apple iPhone 7 Plus 5619
View all

Connectivity


Last year, the Galaxy Note 7 stepped up to enter the world of USB Type-C. That was a particularly important milestone, as the Galaxy S7 was still clinging on to its aging micro-USB port. While the Note 7 itself wasn't destined to stick around, Type-C has stood the test of time, and it's back here in top form for the Note 8. Better still, Samsung's family of accessories has also been evolving over the course of the past year, and more and more are similarly getting on board with this now-very-much-standard new way of connecting and powering mobile devices – no need to carry around multiple cable types.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review

Wireless connectivity is nice and well-rounded on the Note 8, and even after last year's upset, all the major US carriers have lined up to welcome this new Note into their lineups, complete with support for their own networks.

Once again, Samsung also makes it easy to connect the Note 8 with their existing phones, and the phablet's Smart Switch feature is ready to start importing files and data. What's really great is how the Note 8 ships with extra adapters to make this process as seamless as possible, and not force users to pick up new hardware for a task they'll probably only need to do once.

Camera

A secondary zoom-lens camera adds a welcome new dimension to Samsung's already solid camera package

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review

So much of the Note 8 feels like a logical extension of existing Galaxy flagships that Samsung could have really phoned things in for this phone: pair a GS8-style extra-wide Infinity Display with an S Pen, and, boom: Note 8. But to its credit, Samsung is continuing its practice of using Note device to introduce new hardware, and this year that means joining the world of dual-camera smartphones.

In the past, Galaxy phones have given us some really strong cameras, but only ones with single rear sensors. Even as other manufacturers experimented with what dual cameras could do, Samsung was delivering image quality that put those more complicated-looking setups to shame. But now with the Note 8, we're finally ready to witness the next evolution of Samsung camera hardware, as the company pairs one standard 12MP camera with a secondary 12MP telephoto one. Samsung gets major credit for giving both those cameras proper optical image stabilization.

Image quality


Samsung cameras have been producing such great-looking pics for so long that this already feels like a forgone conclusion, but just in case you need some reassurance: the Galaxy Note 8 shoots some beautiful-looking pics. Really, what you're getting is a camera that's every bit as good as you got on the Galaxy S8, but with the addition of a 2x hardware zoom.

As expected for a company doing dual cameras for the first time, Samsung can't help but play with all the standard dual-camera special effects, like a variable bokeh portrait mode (here called Live Focus) with the ability to adjust focus after the fact. That's fun, but maybe more useful there is the ability to zoom out and switch back to wide-angle mode even after you've taken the shot, which Samsung calls Dual Capture.

Much as we've seen with earlier Samsung cameras, low-light performance is strong, and here that's helped out by the very wide-aperture f/1.7 main camera. The telephoto lens is understandably a bit less flexible, with an f/2.4 aperture. Still, keep in mind what you're shooting and what your lighting conditions are like and you can get some great pics out of this hardware.

Extras like Snapchat-style stickers and animations are a fun touch, but nothing that's really worth impacting your phone purchase.


Camera speed

Taking a pic (sec)Lower is better Taking an HDR pic (sec)Lower is better CamSpeed score Higher is better CamSpeed score with flash Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 1.7
1.96
996
765
Samsung Galaxy Note 7 1.7
1.75
405
334
Samsung Galaxy S8+ 1.2
1.3
730
622
Apple iPhone 7 Plus 1.33
2.01
No data
No data
View all

Video recording


The same flexibility you get from having a zoom lens extends over to video recording on the Note 8, and most of the time you can jump between standard and telephoto views with just a tap of the screen. That extends to even the highest 4K filming resolution, though we did notice that the zoom option seemed to vanish when filming at 60fps in full HD.

Beyond offering a nice assortment of filming modes, including quad-HD and an 18.5:9 aspect ratio 1080p mode (1080 x 2224) that perfectly fits the Note 8's screen during playback, the camera supports video stabilization and HDR (even auto-HDR) but those fancy effects don't work at the phone's highest video resolutions and frame rates.

One particularly impressive aspect to the Note 8's video performance is exceptionally fast refocus speeds. It can sometimes be a little tricky to automatically sense a new subject, but most of the time shifting focus to compensate (and back, after the subject leaves the frame) takes just a blink of an eye. And if you're going to be filming one subject in particular, there's a nice tracking mode that will follow it around, keeping things in focus all the while.

Multimedia

Samsung could stand to step up its speaker game, but the bundled headphones are on point

As we've already discussed, the Note 8 has a big, beautiful screen. It could be a tad brighter, but with lots of control over screen output, the ability to generate rich, colorful tones, some solidly high pixel density, and the speedy refresh rate of an AMOLED panel, watching video on the Note 8 is mostly a really solid experience. If you can find some 18:9 or similarly ultra-wide content, so much the better, and the only downside worth mentioning is the way the screen brightness falls off at the top and bottom as the panel curves away from the phone's face – some users are bound to think that looks cool, but we'd love a consistently illuminated display even more.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review

The speaker sounds alright, and has totally acceptable loudness, but the output isn't quite as balanced as we'd like to hear, and the lack of stereo is disappointing. We know that's not something Samsung prioritizes, but we're still wishing that one day it decides to use earpieces as secondary speakers. Placement also isn't ideal, and if you're using and replacing the S-Pen while listening to music, there's a good chance you'll momentarily block the speaker while reinserting the stylus.

The bundled headphones, like on the Galaxy S8, are once again AKG-branded. They're nice, have a stylish braided cable sheath, and come with a selection of alternate tips for optimal ear comfort, but they're also not so above-and-beyond good as to be a feature that weighs heavily into why we'd recommend the Note 8.

Audio output

Headphones output power (Volts)
Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 0.78
Samsung Galaxy Note 7 0.75
Samsung Galaxy S8+ 0.74
Apple iPhone 7 Plus 0.992
Loudspeaker loudness (dB)
Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 74.6
Samsung Galaxy Note 7 72
Samsung Galaxy S8+ 80
Apple iPhone 7 Plus 77.4
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Call Quality


Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review

Modern smartphones are great for all kinds of things – but honestly, using them as telephones really isn’t one of them. Their shapes are optimized for their role as portable touchscreens, and not to be making calls on them all day. And it's really felt like that, over the years, we've been moving further and further away from the idea that something with the word “phone” in its name needs to be well-made for making calls.

But then there's the Galaxy Note 8. Now, we've already talked about the phone's unusual size and shape from a couple different angles – and how it's relatively successful in some respects, while making a misstep or two with others. But in the end, it's a tall, relatively narrow handset. You know what else is that shape? A proper old-fashioned telephone receiver.

The Note 8 may not be the very most comfortable phone we've ever made voice calls on, but it's totally a step in the right direction. And that calls also sound good is only the icing on that cake. Would we trade all that for a fingerprint scanner that wasn't such a pain to reach? Absolutely, as we're unlocking our phone far more often than we're using it to call people. But we'll take these wins where we can get them.

Battery Life

The Note 8 doesn't kill it with day-plus battery life, but it shouldn't leave you high and dry, either

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review

Calling a phone “Galaxy Note” means several things: obviously a big screen and the presence of an S-Pen stylus, and usually also hardware that goes a little above and beyond what the most recent Galaxy S phone offered. But what's a little less consistent is what Samsung will be giving users in terms of a battery. Over the past few generations, we've seen battery capacity dip up and down, usually hovering in the low-to-mid 3,000mah range. With the Note 7, we got 3,500mAh but – well, we all know what happened with the battery there, and when the phone returned as the Fan Edition, capacity was cut back to 3,200mAh.

For the Note 8, Samsung again seems to have come to a compromise, squeezing a 3,300mAh battery into this hardware. That sounds good, but don't forget we've also got a humongous screen on this phone, just itching to consume all the power it can get. Luckily, CPU tech is also becoming more efficient, and with chips based on a 10nm process here, the Note 8's able to get more done while making less of an impact on the phone's battery.

In the end, we were able to clock just under eight hours of screen-on time from the Note 8 in our custom tests. That's very close to what we were seeing from both the Galaxy S8 and GS8+, so it feels like Samsung had the same sort of endurance target in mind, and chose a battery capacity that, when paired with the rest of the Note 8's hardware, would offer similar run-time.

That figure's decent, and similarly equipped flagships have done both better and worse, so we're not going to criticize Samsung much there. And that we get bonuses like flexible support for wireless charging is only sweetening things for the Note 8.

Don't go out and buy the Note 8 specifically because you want a phone with really long battery life (there are quite a few better options there), but at the same time we don't think anyone will be too disappointed by how long the Note 8's going to last between charges.

Battery Benchmarks

Battery life (hours)
Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 7h 50 min (Good)
Samsung Galaxy Note 7 9h 49 min (Excellent)
Samsung Galaxy S8+ 8h (Excellent)
Apple iPhone 7 Plus 9h 5 min (Excellent)
Charging time (minutes)
Lower is better
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 102
Samsung Galaxy Note 7 96
Samsung Galaxy S8+ 99
Apple iPhone 7 Plus 197
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Conclusion


The Galaxy Note 8 is at once a safe, almost obvious phone, and one that still manages to show Samsung reaching out into new, untested waters. By taking the look of the Galaxy S8, scaling things up a bit from the GS8+, and adding in S Pen support, the Note 8 feels like the Galaxy Note phone Samsung was always going to make. But by giving us dual cameras for the first time, it still shows that Samsung is willing to use the Note platform to test out new features.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review

Even those dual cameras, though, are valid targets for criticism, and should we really be rewarding Samsung for taking this long to catch up with what feels like almost every single other smartphone manufacturer out there?

While there's a healthy handful of issues like that we could pick at, none of those are worth ignoring that this is a powerful, attractive, feature-rich handset that is exactly what the next Galaxy Note needed to be. It's enough to get you to move past the Galaxy Note 7 and finally start feeling secure again about Samsung's stylus-equipped phablets.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review
But even though this comes together as a well-done phablet and a worthy new addition to the Note family, it's also an expensive phone: a really, really expensive phone. The Galaxy Note 7 was already a pricy phablet in the mid-$800 range, but with the Note 8 you could be paying $950 or more, depending on your carrier.

That's asking a lot from smartphone shoppers, especially with the very similarly equipped Galaxy S8 going for $200 less. The S Pen, larger screen, additional memory, and telephoto camera have to cost something, but there's a big psychological barrier as we start approaching that $1000 mark, and for as good as the Note 8 can be, it's not clear that it's the sort of exceptional phone that has the right to demand such lofty sums.

If you're a die-hard Note fan, and already like the new look Samsung introduced with the S8 this year, then maybe the Note 8 makes a lot of sense. But if the most attractive thing about this handset for you is just the dual cameras, maybe wait until the Galaxy S9 and see if you can't get some similar imaging hardware in a more compact package for a lot less money.