Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review: the world's best phone for getting stuff done

If you’re a fan of the Note series, you won’t be disappointed by the Note 8 features, S Pen, camera and more

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T3 Verdict

The best just got (a tiny bit) bigger and with worthy S Pen and camera enhancements, it's an insanely good combination that doesn't fail to appeal.

Reasons to buy

  • +

    So powerful

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    S Pen enhancements worth having

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    Camera image stabilisation tech

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    We like app pairs!

Reasons to avoid

  • -

    It's expensive

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    Fingerprint reader

Welcome to our Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review. However much we try and dress it up, this year’s Note release has an elephant in the room – the debacle of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7

Last year’s battery problems cost Samsung billions and are the reasons this year’s Note contains a relatively small 3,300mAh battery, which is even less than the Galaxy S8 and S8+. Room needs to be made for the (super) S Pen stylus we guess, but Samsung knows it cannot afford too much negative stuff around this year’s Note. Samsung likes to talk about the 'Note community' and is honest enough to acknowledge that it let them down last year.  

The good news - as you'll hear - is that the lack of battery capacity actually doesn't matter that much when compared to the battery life of its sister handsets. 

One thing is definitely clear after only a few hours with the Note 8 - his joins the Samsung Galaxy S8+ as one of this year’s very best phones. If you’re a fan of the Note series, you won’t be disappointed. 

Since there is basically no difference (well, 0.1-inches) in the 6.3-inch screen size, it’s all about whether you’ll make good use of the S Pen stylus.

If you won’t, then this isn’t the handset for you – largely because of its price point - over £800 SIM-free. 

Don't know which to choose? Check out Samsung Galaxy Note 8 vs Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus

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Samsung Note 8 UK pre-order and launch info

UK RRP: £869

UK pre-orders are open.

If you pre-order from select retailers you can claim a DeX station12 from Samsung.

The Galaxy Note8 will launch on the 15 September in UK

Two colours will launch in the UK; Midnight Black and Maple Gold. Samsung says that potential availability of the additional two colours, Orchid Grey and Deepsea Blue, will be announced in due course.

Galaxy Note 8 specs

As with the S8+, the Quad HD+ 1,440 x 2,960 Super AMOLED display is an absolute stunner for the Note – it’s only ever so slightly less pixel dense than the sister phone. And, as you'd expect. it's HDR compatible of course. 

Once again, Corning Gorilla Glass 5 is used, alongside other common but modern accoutrements such as Bluetooth 5.0, iris scanning, Samsung’s Bixby Assistant (yes, the Note 8 has a dedicated Bixby button), USB Type-C and Gigabit LTE. As with many other USB-C handsets there's fast charging, while you can use wireless charging. 

Naturally, there's also NFC for use with Android Pay and Samsung Pay. plus a sneaky heart rate sensor on the back by the camera flash. 

6GB of RAM is used alongside 64GB of memory and Samsung’s Exynos 8895 used in the S8 series (it’s a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 in the US and China). 

As with the S8 series the screen fills almost all of the front of the phone and the trio of Android controls at the bottom of the display are part of the display (the buttons are in the traditional Samsung arrangement of App Switcher on the left, Home in the centre and Back on the right). 

As with last year’s Note 7, everything is waterproof and dustproof including the S Pen, which first appeared with the first Galaxy Note way back in 2011. Naturally, we put it in the sink to try this out.  

And - praise be - there's a headphone jack unlike some of the big phones from those other guys. AKG by Harman headphones are included in the box as with the S8 series.

Note 8 software and Bixby

Being a Samsung Galaxy handset, the Note 8 uses the TouchWiz overlay atop Android 7.1.1 Nougat. The interface has improved a lot over the last couple of years and we're now fans. However, one irritation remains and that's the conflict between Samsung's own software offering and Google's, (which is a problem with many Android handsets, to be fair).

Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the conflit between Google's virtual assistant - called the Google Assistant - and Samsung's assistant, called Bixby. The Note 8 features the aforementioned Bixby button on the left so you can call up the virtual assistant easily. You can also swipe in from the left on the home screen. 

But during the phone's startup process you're offered the option to enable the Google Assistant. Subsequently, holding down the virtual home button gets you to Google's app while swiping left takes you to Bixby. Samsung says it wants to provide choice, but some users will be confused. 

As for Bixby itself, it's still too early to judge whether it can be a contender versus Siri, Alexa and the rest long term. It's not yet available in UK English (US English and Korean only for now). 

The big problem is the lack of unique functionality with Bixby. The Bixby screen is a bit like a less intutive Google Now at the moment, while Bixby Vision enables you to search to do a shopping search for things you take pictures of, or find images of the item online. Matches are still really hit and miss for this. 

Galaxy Note 8 battery life

As we know, the Note 8 battery is just 3,300mAh compared to 3,500mAh in the Galaxy S8 Plus but it's the same as the S8's 3,000mAh. 

We used the PCMark for Android Work 2.0 benchmark which gives just over 8 hours on the S8, 9 hours 40 minutes on the S8+ and 10 hours 21 minutes on the Note 8. Running the Antutu benchmark until the phones died was a little more similar, with just a few minutes between the S8+ and Note 8. Once again, the Note won, though. 

Note these figures have been obtained from phones with Samsung Exynos processors, rather than the Qualcomm Snapdragon variant found in the US. 

Galaxy Note 8 fingerprint reader and iris scanning

If there was one thing we hated about the generally wonderful Galaxy S8 it was the fingerprint reader. It was really easy to smudge the camera lens when placing your finger on it - or trying to. Samsung has clearly tried to fix this with the Note; it's within its own 'frame' beside the camera. However, the 'fix' doesn't work that well. 

It's quite difficult to locate the reader first time and we're still finding it a bit irritating. As the phone is so tall (like the S8+) you almost need to stretch your finger to find the reader unless you've especially big hands (!). As such we can imagine most Note users trying to use face or iris unlock or using a PIN or pattern. 

As Huawei moved its reader from the back to the front on the P10 and P10 Plus, it will be interesting to see what the company's new Mate 10 does when it is launched later in the year. 

And we know what's happening with the iPhone X or iPhone Edition, don't we! 

As for the iris scanning, it's still not quite ready for prime time although we have got more used to it. Facial recognition is also an option but, as with our S8 tests, we found we needed to hold it up so it was at head height. This is fine if you're alone, but if you're in the middle of the supermarket it just makes you look like an idiot. 

Samsung's Knox security tech is built into the device and there's a Secure Folder app you can use to keep confidential files safe. 

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 camera

The Note 8 camera setup is very interesting – as well as the 8MP  f/1.7 unit on the front, there are dual 12MP cameras on the rear, one a telephoto, another wide angle. 

Crucially, the Note 8 steals a march on the iPhone 7 Plus dual cameras as BOTH have optical image stabilisation. 

And there's a new feature called Live Focus which enables you to have fine control over the depth of field at any point. 

You can adjust bokeh either before you take the shot or after in the gallery; it’s all very clever. 

We were pleasantly surprised at how well this worked. We can certainly see ourselves experimenting with it on a regular basis. If you're in dual capture mode, two photos are taken so you can always go back to the non-Live Focus image should you wish. 

A few times we used it and we weren't that happy with the result so we were able to simply revert back to the original image. 

Galaxy Note 8 camera samples

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Samsung Galaxy Note 8 productivity enhancements

The S Pen is now slightly more sensitive in the Note 8. Samsung says it has a finer tip, too. Note enthusiasts might be able to tell the difference, but it didn't seem noticeably more sensitive to us. It is several months since we'd used a previous Note, however. 

If you love the S Pen then there are some cool new enhancements – and it’s as with other Notes it’s with using the S Pen for deep productivity that the Note 8 really sings.  

The edges of the phone are slightly steeper than the S8 lineup. Samsung says this is to do with making the Note better for using with a stylus – more flat for note taking. 

You can write up, edit and pin notes on the the Always-On Display. That means you can cross things off your shopping list as you shop, or add more stuff. We actually found ourselves using this quite a bit as you tend to think of things as you walk along. However, if you don't use Samsung Notes as your app of choice, these can descend into a black hole. 

As with last year’s Note 7, everything is waterproof and dustproof including the S Pen, which first appeared with the first Galaxy Note way back in 2011. Naturally, we put it in the sink to try this out.  

And - praise be - there's a headphone jack unlike some of the big phones from those other guys. AKG by Harman headphones are included in the box as with the S8 series.

Another cool feature is the ability to create a live message with the S Pen – essentially a doodled animated gif – and then send it via messaging and social apps. We could definitely imagine ourselves using this on birthdays and maybe to make announcements. It works really very well. 

We have to say we love this feature and it's potentially the most useful software enhancement for day-to-day use. While previous Notes have been able to use apps in a multi-window setup (and this remains), you can now create a shortcut to the 'App Pair' on the home screen to launch apps together. Naturally you can pin them to the Edge panel for easy access, too. 

This could be really very useful if you, say, always use your mail and mapping together. And, of course in true Galaxy Note-style, you can drag and drop between the windows – say an image from the My Files app across to the Samsung Email app. 

Using the S Pen you can also select and translate sentences– even text from images – or hover over currencies and it’ll convert those as well. This works in over 71 languages apparently. 

The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is available in gold and black in the UK, with grey and blue also available elsewhere. 

Don't forget to check out the latest Note 8 deals and prices.

T3 Verdict

Thankfully the small battery doesn't mean the battery life hit we thought it would. And, with the dual optical image stablisation the camera is pretty darn hot, too. 

There's so much to like about the Note 8 and while it's probably the best phone in Samsung's line up, you need to be sure you actually need its productivity prowess because of its price - notably the S Pen. Don't need it? Get the Galaxy S8+ instead. 

Liked this? Why not read T3 Smackdown: Samsung Galaxy Note 8 vs Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus