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Hands-on with Samsung's Galaxy Note8

By Michael Low & James Lu - 23 Aug 2017

Hands-on with Samsung's Galaxy Note8


With the display on Samsung's Galaxy S series growing to 6.2-inches, the Note series is no longer Samsung's only flagship phablet. So what makes the Note8 different from the S8+? Well, there's the S Pen and its suite of productivity and creativity features, of course. And for the first time on a Samsung phone, you also get a dual rear camera setup with OIS on both lenses.



As expected, the Note8 basically uses the same Infinity Display design as the S series, with the display curving at both edges and cascading over the sides like an infinity pool. There are no physical buttons on the front and only tiny bezels at the top and bottom. We absolutely loved this design when we reviewed the S8, saying that "it really feels like you're holding just a display in your hand", and that's just as true with the Note8. 

There are some subtle differences between the Note8 and the S8, but they're hard to spot. First of all, the corners of the display aren't as rounded as they are on the S8. According to Samsung, the more squarish corners is to give the Note8 a more professional look. Secondly, the curved edges on the side of the display are steeper than they are on the S8.

The Note8 has a 6.3-inch display, making it just 0.1-inches bigger than the S8+. In hand, it feels almost identical to the S8+, except that it's slightly thicker. The phone measures 162.5 x 74.8 x 8.6 mm, making it a tiny bit longer and wider, and 0.5mm thicker than the S8+. At 195g, it's also 22g heavier than the S8+. Compared to last year's Note7, the Note8 is also slightly longer and wider, but also quite a bit thicker and heavier. Of course, like the S8, it's IP68 dust and water resistant, which means it can withstand up to 1.5 meters of water submersion for up to 30 minutes at a time. 

Like the S8 and S8+, there's a dedicated Bixby button on the left side of the phone, just below the volume rocker. Unfortunately, it seems like there's still no option to remap this button for another purpose.

The power button is once again on the right side, while the 3.5mm headphone jack, USB Type-C port, and single speaker remain on the bottom. The S Pen port is also tucked away here.

On the rear of the phone, there's a glass panel that also curves at both sides, mirroring the design of the front display. Back here, you'll also find the Note8's standout new feature: a dual rear camera setup that pairs a 12MP telephoto f/2.4 lens with a 12MP wide-angle f/1.7 lens. The setup works almost exactly the same as Apple's iPhone 7 Plus, giving you 2x optical zoom and a background blurring mode that Samsung calls Live Focus (more on that below).

Unlike the S8, which had each of the rear camera's individual elements embedded separately into the rear of the phone, all of the Note8's camera elements, as well as the fingerprint scanner (yes, unfortunately, it's still awkwardly positioned back here), sit inside a black rectangular module. This arrangement looks fine on the Midnight Black color, but the big black box is a bit of an eyesore on the rest of the colors, especially with the box inside a box design to include the fingerprint scanner.

Speaking of colors, the Note8 will be available in four colors: Midnight Black, Orchid Gray, Maple Gold, and the new Deepsea Blue, which is a darker version of the S8's Coral Blue, and probably my favorite color  if not for the unsightly black camera box. Personally, I'd probably buy the Midnight Black color just because the camera box blends in so much better. It's unknown yet if Samsung Malaysia will be bringing in the Deepsea Blue color at launch, but if previous phone launches are anything to go by, prepare for disappointment.



Like the S8, the Note8 has an always-on QHD Super AMOLED panel, with a 18.5:9 aspect ratio and a 2,960 x 1,440 pixels resolution (~522ppi). Like the S8 and S8+, the unusual ultra-wide screen ratio means that the total screen size isn't actually as large as a traditional 16:9 screen. When viewing regular 16:9 content on the Note8, it looks about the same size as a 5.7-inch screen.

The unusual screen ratio also means that many apps will display with black bars at the edges, as they're made with a 16:9 ratio in mind. Having said that, since the S8's launch, quite a few apps have been updated to support 18.5:9 ratio, so the problem isn't quite as bad as it was before.


Final thoughts

The Note8 is a fantastic phone packed full of flagship features like an IP68 build, wireless charging, and QHD always-on display. The addition of a dual rear camera setup makes the Note8 by far the most feature packed smartphone on the market  not only that, it's probably the best dual rear camera setup we've seen to date. 

However, as good as the Note8 is, it just doesn't fill us with the same level of excitement we had when Samsung launched the S8. Samsung seems to have reached the limit of things it can do with the S Pen, and the dual rear camera setup, while very well done, is nothing new we've had dual rear camera phones since HTC's One M8 back in 2014. While all of the Note8's combined features are excellent, there's actually nothing new here.

The Note series used to be the go-to phone for phablet users, but with only a 0.1-inch difference in screen size between the S8+ and Note8, that's not the case anymore. Phablet users also tend to care a lot more about battery life (because bigger screens drain battery faster), but the Note8's smaller battery capacity means that it will very likely have a shorter battery life than the S8+.

The lines between the S and Note series have never been blurrier; for now, the dual rear camera setup is enough to differentiate the Note8 from the S8, but we're almost certain to see a very similar camera setup on next year's S9. At that point, the only difference between the S and Note series will be the S Pen, which makes me wonder if Samsung should just retire the Note line, and incorporate S Pen functionality into the S series.

The Galaxy Note8 will be available in mid-September. Local pricing, including pre-order details, will be announced later.