Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review

The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is a device I’ve covered quite extensively here over the past few weeks. From the rumor stages to unboxing the phone and rounding up the best features it has to offer, as well as all of the S Pen features, I’ve gone over a lot.

Now, my time with the Note 8 is drawing to a close, sadly. As such, it’s time to give you my final thoughts and ratings on Samsung’s latest addition to the Note family.

And before you ask, no. It did not explode on me. (And yes, people are still cracking these jokes.)

As always, big thanks to Verizon for sending a review unit our way. I appreciate the opportunity to review the latest phones, especially when they’re out of my budget like the Note 8 very much is. It runs a whopping $960 if you buy it outright, or $40 per month if you go with a payment plan. YOWZA!

So, let’s rock.

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8 comes in 4 color variations: Midnight Black, Deepsea Blue, Orchid Gray, and Maple Gold. Verizon sent me the Orchid Gray version for this review.

Design

The Galaxy Note 8 is, without doubt, a premium device. Its ergonomic design and full glass body make it feel like you’re holding something truly special while using the phone.

It may seem huge to some folks, and don’t get me wrong – it’s by no means a small device. But it’s taller than it is wide, and it fits very nicely in my hand while using it. It also fits well in my pocket, although I don’t carry it in there more than I have to out of fear of dinging that beautiful screen.

Dimensions: 162.5 x 74.8 x 8.6 mm  Weight: 195g

The device has rounded corners and curved edges on both sides of the screen. It’s thin and fairly lightweight, although it’s still got a good amount of body to it.

The Note 8 also boasts an IP68 rating, meaning it can withstand dust, dirt, and sand, and is resistant to submersion up to a maximum depth of 1.5m underwater for up to thirty minutes. (Yay!)

Galaxy Note 8 Headphone Jack

It’s also worth mentioning that, unlike some other flagships this year, the Galaxy Note 8 does have a headphone jack. This is good news for those who just can’t let go of the functionality, although it doesn’t mean much to me. A headphone jack is nice to have, but the lack of one isn’t a dealbreaker for me.

As for buttons, we’ve got the power button on the right side of the device, and the volume rocker and dedicated Bixby button on the left. Bixby – Samsung’s answer to Google Assistant – is a colorful virtual assistant app that, at times, just feels like it tries a bit too hard to be cool.

I’m a Google Assistant and Alexa guy, so I didn’t spend much time at all with Bixby. I set it up, and that’s about it. Luckily, you can still access Google Assistant with a long-press at the bottom center of the screen.

If you prefer Alexa, you can use an app like Ultimate Alexa, which invokes the virtual assistant with a simple “Alexa” command.

Display

Galaxy Note 8 Display

In terms of device specifications, the Note 8 is an absolute powerhouse.

It’s rocking an unparalleled 6.3″ Quad HD+ Super AMOLED (2960×1440) 521 ppi display, that’s almost completely bezel-free and provides an edge-to-edge screen experience that Samsung is calling “Infinity Display”.

Not a bad way of describing it, as the Note 8 has a gorgeous display, superior to that of any smartphone I’ve ever used.

Visually, the Note 8’s display is nothing short of spectacular. It’s bright and vivid, even in the sunlight, although I did have to turn it up to full brightness at times during the brightest parts of the day outside.

There’s no light-bleed, and the display is perfectly viewable from all angles.

The screen not only looks good, but it feels equally amazing. It’s super smooth and responsive, and it’s also pressure sensitive, which comes in handy when taking notes or drawing with the S Pen.

At the end of the day, you’re not going to find a more impressive display than you will right here. So, if a sexy screen is the most important feature on your desired specs list, look no further than the Note 8. It’s that good.

Chipset, RAM, and performance

The Note 8 has a Qualcomm MSM8998 Snapdragon 835, Octa-Core (2.35GHz Quad and 1.9GHz Quad), processor. Combine that with a whopping 6GB of RAM, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for buttery-smooth usage, even while running apps that require large amounts of memory to run as intended.

Galaxy Note 8 Ram

I’ve used the Note 8 as my daily driver device for about the past month, and I’ve not experienced a single slowdown or crash.

I’ve had multiple apps open at once, played memory-intensive games, and used video chat apps, like Google Duo, several times. The phone hasn’t overheated on me, and functionality is still smooth, regardless of what I throw at it.

You may know I’m not a fan of benchmarks because they relate to absolutely nothing in the real world. Here are a few scores for those who do care.

In terms of storage, the Verizon Note 8 is only available in 64GB, but there are 128GB and 256GB variants elsewhere. If internal storage isn’t enough for you, external storage is expandable, thanks to a MicroSD card slot. There are also single-SIM and dual-SIM models available, apparently.

Battery Life

The Note 8 houses a 3300mAh battery; curiously a bit smaller than the Galaxy S8+, which has a 3500mah battery.

I’m not sure if Samsung decided to tone things down a bit due to last year’s fiasco – one that saw several devices explode and an eventual ban altogether from just about every major airline. But, why it doesn’t have at least the same amount of juice as the S8+ is beyond me.

Quoted battery lifespan

  • MP3 playback (AOD on): up to 47 hrs
  • MP3 playback (AOD off): up to 74 hrs
  • Video playback: up to 16 hrs
  • Talk time: up to 22 hrs
  • Wi-Fi Internet use: up to 14 hrs
  • 3G Internet use: up to 12 hrs
  • 4G Internet use: up to 13 hrs

Above you’ll see a chart of Samsung’s quoted battery lifespan times. I don’t do ridiculous, scientific battery tests in my reviews, as they don’t relate to the way I use my phone. I’ve never watched 16 hours of video playback on a single charge, nor do I have the desire to.

I’m also skeptical of these quoted times, because really? Even without an Internet connection, you expect me to believe we’re getting screen-on time to the tune of 16 hours? Yep. And pigs fly, too, I suppose.

Real-life results

I judge battery based upon my real-life usage. And I have to admit, I need a lot of screen-on time to get me through the day.

On average, I get between 5 and 6 hours of screen-on time with the Note 8, depending on usage. If I’m taking a lot of photos or videos, the battery dies much quicker, but that’s to be expected.

All-in-all, even most heavy users should be able to make it through the day without running out of juice. And if you do find yourself in that position, the battery charges pretty quickly, thanks to Fast Charging technology.

It takes about an hour and a half, maybe slightly more, to charge from completely dead to 100%. Also worth mentioning, the Note 8 can Fast Charge wirelessly, as well.

S Pen

I’ve already covered the S Pen in pretty good detail, so I won’t take up much of your time with it here in this review.

Features

  • Pressure levels: 4096
  • Pen Tip diameter: 0.7 mm
  • IP68
  • Live message
  • Samsung Notes
  • Screen off memo
  • Smart select
  • Screen write
  • Translate
  • Bixby Vision
  • Glance
  • Magnify

Be sure to check my roundup of its best features for more in-depth detail on the S Pen. For now, I’ll leave you with its dimensions and weight (108.3 x 5.8 x 4.2 mm and 2.8 g, respectively) and a couple of quick “notes”. Like what I did there? I’m here all week.

  • I love the S Pen!
  • That said, I forget it’s there most of the time.
  • It really comes in handy for taking screenshots where you don’t want/need the entire screen. I’ll miss that aspect dearly when I send back my review unit.
  • The pressure sensitivity aspect is pretty cool. It gives writing notes and drawing a more realistic feel, as the harder you press, the more “ink” comes out of the pen.
  • If you NEED the S Pen, buy the Note 8. If you don’t, you’re likely better off with the (now much cheaper) Galaxy S8+.

Galaxy Note 8 S Pen

Biometrics

Face recognition

Galaxy Note 8 Facial Recognition

Face recognition isn’t new to Samsung phones, but it seems to be a bit better now than it was in previous iterations. This especially applies to using face recognition to unlock your device in lower lighting.

One thing to keep in mind, this still isn’t the most secure method of locking your phone, as it’s easy to trick face recognition; all it takes is a photo of your face. Also notable, I can’t even take a screenshot of the face registration screen. Slightly annoying for the sake of this review, but it’s a great call for security reasons on Samsung’s part.

Fingerprint scanner

Galaxy Note 8 Fingerprint Sensor

If I have to pick the one thing that irks me about the Note 8’s design, it’s the placement of the fingerprint scanner. It’s in an unnatural and hard to reach position, right next to the camera’s flash and heart rate sensor.

Yes, there’s still a heart rate sensor, by the way.

The scanner works fine, but the placement essentially renders it useless, in my book. Holding the phone in one hand and trying to use it often produces less-than-desirable results.

You see, I’m spoiled, coming from the LG G6 and the V20 before that. They both have the sensor dead-center around back, and I can’t think of any other place it should be after using those two devices.

Iris Scanner

Galaxy Note 8 Iris Scanner

The Note 8 can also be unlocked by scanning your eyes. This one is a bit gimmicky, however. And while it’s likely a bit more secure than face recognition, it’s still a pain. For instance, wearing contacts can interfere with iris unlocking. So can lighting conditions. Direct sunlight really makes things difficult, in fact.

You also have to fully open your eyes to give the scanner a clear view. And if you get a fingerprint on your selfie cam, or – god forbid – a scratch, it won’t work then, either.

In my time with the Note 8, I used Face Recognition pretty much exclusively. The fingerprint scanner placement and the unreliability of the iris scanner gave me no choice.

Cameras

The camera setup on the Note 8 is amazing.

Rear cameras

There’s a telephoto camera and a wide-angle camera around back. The telephoto cam is 12MP with autofocus, it has a pixel size of 1.0µm, a sensor size of 1/3.6″ and 4:3 ratio, and a f/2.4 aperture.

The wide-angle cam is 12MP (Dual pixel) with autofocus, it has a pixel size of 1.4µm, a sensor size of 1/2.55″ and 4:3 ratio, and a f/1.7 aperture, which makes the Note 8 perform impressively well in low-light conditions.

One really cool feature the dual-camera setup offers is that the Note 8 captures both a close-up and wide-angle photo at the same time. The above example was taken with one click, and then I had the option of saving either version. I saved both to show you here.

Selfie cam

Galaxy Note 8 Selfie Cam

In front, there’s just a single camera, but don’t let that fool you. You can take some pretty awesome selfies with the Note 8. The selfie cam is 8MP with autofocus, a pixel size of 1.22µm, a sensor size of 1/3.6″ and 4:3 ratio, and a f/1.7 aperture for those same great low-light abilities as the rear cameras.

You can also use Selective Focus – a feature that lets you select which area of your image to be in focus (like the photo above) – and Wide Selfie. Wide Selfie is like a mix between a panorama shot and a selfie.

To give you an idea of how well the Note 8 performs in darker situations, here’s a shot from the Stone Sour concert I attended earlier this month.

Low-light beast

Stone Sour Concert
Stone Sour Concert, 10-10-17, @ 7 Flags Event Center in Des Moines, IA

And speaking of this concert, here’s a video I shot of the band playing their single, “Song #3”. The quality is impressive, to say the least; especially in the audio department. If you go to a lot of concerts, you won’t be disappointed by the the Note 8’s results.

Sample video

Like with the battery, the camera isn’t an area I get overly technical with. I prefer to point and shoot, especially when I’m using a smartphone instead of my Sony A6500 mirrorless camera.

Shattering Silence
Shattering Silence – Des Moines, IA

With the Galaxy Note 8, you don’t have to do much more than point and shoot to take very nice photos. Blue skies are deep, grass is vibrant and green, and most images are crystal clear and sharp as can be.

Of course, results will vary, depending on your level of photography knowledge. There’s a “Pro mode” in the setting which lets you control settings like shutter speed and ISO.

If you’re comfortable with using manual settings, I highly suggest it; you can produce some pretty spectacular images with just a few pre-shot tweaks.

Here’s a gallery full of photos taken during my time with the Note 8.

Live Focus

Galaxy Note 8 Adjust Blur

For the first time ever, Samsung went with a dual-camera setup, giving the Note 8 the ability to create portrait-like photos. This is done using Live Focus – what Samsung calls the Note 8’s ability to blur the background of your image.

To use the feature, tap the Live Focus button directly above the shutter button. The camera will zoom in and then reminds you to be at least four feet away from your subject. Also worth mentioning, The results are pretty impressive, just like everything else with the Note 8 cameras.

Software and UI

Galaxy Note 8 Nougat

Out of the box, the Galaxy Note 8 runs Android 7.1.1 Nougat. It will almost certainly see an update to Android 8.0 Oreo, but we might be a few months away from that, at best. Samsung has been notoriously slow on rolling out updates, even to its latest and greatest devices.

Hopefully, that trend will die one day, but even with Google’s strides to eliminate fragmentation, I still have little faith.

Now, as you may have noticed, things have been gleaming in this review, thus far.

This is where things start to get ugly…

The Samsung Experience

Gone are the days of TouchWiz, and now are the days of the Samsung Experience. And there’s not very much different, in terms of design, from the old days. Despite the name change and a bit more unnecessary flare, Samsung’s user interface is still an absolute shitshow.

The Samsung Experience

It’s an absolute trainwreck…

It’s clunky and confusing, and it feels like everything is designed to slow you down, rather than making things more accessible and easy to use. This especially applies to the home screen and app drawer, where apps aren’t sorted alphabetically like they are on most phones. This setting can be changed, but figuring that out took me a few minutes.

For me, this isn’t a major deal, but from the perspective of a person who just wants to use their phone and doesn’t have the time or desire to dig through settings to get everything set up in a logical manner. Of course, those folks are likely better off buying an Apple product, but that’s a different argument altogether.

The Note 8 is supposed to be a productivity beast, but until you’re very familiar with the interface, you’ll spend more time looking for stuff than being productive.

Do yourself a favor…

Skip the default launcher altogether and go with a custom launcher app from Google Play. I recommend Nova Launcher, as it’s a long-time favorite for me. You can go with any you like, but for God’s sake, do yourself a favor and go with something better than the Samsung Experience. There are many options out there.

Bells and whistles

8 Best Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Features
Samsung is not only the king of hardware, but it’s also the king of features, in my book. Almost to the point where it’s a bit overwhelming.

By the time I’m writing this portion of the review, I’ve already had the phone almost a full month; I still don’t feel like I know everything there is to know about the Galaxy Note 8.

That said, I do know a good deal about the features the phone has to offer. Again, I wrote a roundup of the ones I think are the best, and here they are, in case you don’t feel like straying from this page:

  • Dual camera setup – One of the best image-takers you’ll find on a smartphone.
  • Live Messages – Those spiffy animated GIF messages.
  • Live Focus – Portrait mode, FTW!
  • Updated Screen Off Memo app – Taking notes has never been easier.
  • Moar RAM – 6GB makes the phone silky smooth!
  • App Pair – Convenient split-screen app pairing shortcuts.
  • Gigantic screen – It’s massive and it’s gorgeous.
  • The headphone jack – One of the last of a dying breed.

There may be features you like more or less than I do, but these are the 8 that really stand out to me about the Galaxy Note 8.

Final thoughts

If you want a beautiful phone with a ton of features and a ginormous, best-in-class display, look no further than the Samsung Galaxy Note 8. Just make sure to bring your wallet. Again, this bad boy runs either $40 per month or $960 outright at Verizon.

If you want all of the above and you’re okay with not having the S Pen (and saving a handful of cash), opt for the Galaxy S8+, for $35 per month or $840 outright. Either way, the chances you’ll have buyers remorse are slim.

One thing is for certain: even after last year’s battery fiasco, the Galaxy Note lineup lives on. And as for the Galaxy Note 8? Don’t call it a comeback; call it a full-blown revival.