The Galaxy Note 8 is an impressive return for Samsung in a lot of ways, and during our initial hands-on last month, the phone proved to be a promising release. Now the phone is starting to ship to early buyers, and reviews have dropped.

As you might have expected, the Note 8 has received overwhelmingly positive reviews which praise what Samsung is offering. A lot of that comes from the massive new display. At 6.3-inches with an 83% screen-to-body ratio, that makes sense, as The Verge notes:

This HDR-capable display is everything you’d expect from a high-end Samsung panel: it’s crisp, vibrant, and super bright, so it’s visible outdoors in direct sunlight. The sheer size of it sucks you in when watching video, and the 18.5:9 aspect ratio lets it display lots of content at once or easily run two apps at the same time in split-screen multitasking mode.

That big display is also important to Samsung’s Note lineup especially since it is a productivity-focused device, but the huge size here doesn’t really take away from the phone as a whole as TechCrunch points out:

The Note 8 is the best balance out there right now between an extremely generous display size, and a device that actually fits the descriptor “mobile.” Its 6.3-inch display gives you a long, gorgeous column for easily gobbling down long sections of text…

In terms of software, Samsung hasn’t done too much to step up its game from the Galaxy S8 family, and its past few phones for that matter. That’s not a bad thing, though, as Samsung has really improved things over the past few years, Android Central:

Samsung’s software continues to attempt to be all things to all people. The Note 8’s interface and features are again near-identical to the Galaxy S8…

There’s still an abundance of features, some of which have roots as far back as the Galaxy S3 and Note 2, but for better or worse Samsung has turned most of them off and effectively hidden them in the settings. If someone has an old Samsung phone and move up to a Note 8 and wants to find some random feature they loved, it’s probably here — and at the same time, the start-up experience isn’t nearly as chaotic as it used to be. There’s room for improvement, and nobody is going to mistake the Note 8 for having Motorola-esque software, but it’s the best it’s ever been.

Despite Samsung’s usual overkill on features, performance remains solid as The Verge mentions, but there haven’t really been any major improvements over what the S8 and S8+ offered:

The Note does have 6GB of RAM versus the S8’s 4, but I haven’t seen an appreciable difference in performance because of it. Both of these phones are fast and fluid, and performance was not a concern in my day-to-day use.

The most unique factor with the Note 8, as always, is the S-Pen, and it’s great to see this signature feature return to Samsung’s lineup. A lot of the features we saw debut on the Note 7 have returned to the Note 8 such as the water-resistance in the pen itself. There have been improvements, though, such as the new “live messages” feature which everyone (myself included) loves, Engadget:

The most notable new S Pen feature is also the most fun. Samsung has gone a little insane with GIF creation on its recent phones, and Live Message is the logical next step in that insanity. Long story short, you can use the S Pen to write animated messages that can be shared far and wide as GIFs. The concept is simple, but that simplicity belies its addictiveness: I’ve been sending out handwritten messages and marked-up photos that sparkle for a week, and I’m starting to think I have a problem.

Aside from the S-Pen, the only real improvement found in the Note 8 over the S8 family is the new dual-cameras. Samsung is making some big promises for this system, but so far, it seems as though only half of the camera is pulling its weight, Android Police:

The standard “x1” system is basically similar to what you’d get on a Galaxy S8 or S8+. That is to say, this is one of the very best smartphone cameras on the market, and takes truly wonderful photos in a wide variety of lighting conditions. Samsung’s wide f/1.7 aperture lens really shines in low light, and its HDR performance is second only to the Pixel’s.

The thing is, this second camera is clearly not as good as the primary one. Colors are noticeably more subdued, details oversharpened, and processing just a bit harsh overall. It gives photos a cold, digital feel that smartphone cameras a few years ago tended to suffer from.

A big question surrounding the phone following the spec reveal was battery life, especially seeing the massive screen and not so massive battery on the phone. Luckily, it doesn’t seem like the smaller capacity has hurt things much, but you can clearly see that Samsung has put a lot of precautions in place to make sure this one doesn’t explode. TechRadar says:

What’s more obvious is that Samsung isn’t pushing the battery life boundaries of the sizable Note 8. It has a 3,300mAh battery, while the Note 7 and S8 Plus have a 3,500mAh power pack.

You’ll still get all-day battery life, and Samsung’s power-saving software tricks can extend that to slightly over 24 hours. However, our on-screen tests showed a noticeable drop in the Note 8’s ability to hold onto power, partly due to its intense brightness and wider 18.5:9 screen.

For once, Samsung isn’t pushing the envelope on battery life with the Note 8…

So far the consensus on the Note 8 is strong. Samsung has another big winner on its hands, but it’s not exactly blowing everyone away like the Note 7 did. That phone came at a time when the competition didn’t have any rivals, but at this point basically everyone does.

Samsung will face a tough battle against LG and likely Google this fall, especially when it comes to pricing. Samsung’s phone is not cheap, and just about every review brings up the starting price of $930 as a negative. Personally, I think Android Police details the problem the best that I’ve seen.

The weakest aspect of the Note may be its value proposition – frankly, it sucks. At $930 unlocked here in the US, the Note is easily the most expensive Android phone on sale today.

Even Samsung’s own S8+, a phone nearly identical to the Note8 in most respects, currently retails for just $675. The idea that there is $255 more value packed into the Note8 is utterly laughable. In fact, I’m not even sure the Note8 is objectively a better smartphone than the S8+. The S8+ has a larger battery, is easier to hold, and is a hell of a lot cheaper. Anyone weighing the pros and cons has to at least conclude the S8+ is by far the better value….

…Despite middling value and a relative dearth of new innovations, it would be foolish to suggest the Note8 isn’t an excellent smartphone. It is. It’s definitely too expensive, and it definitely doesn’t bring much that’s new to the table. It’s also damn good.


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Ben Schoon

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