Review: First impressions of Samsung's Galaxy Note 8
Samsung introduced the Note 8 to the world Wednesday, looking to put the recall of the Note 7 behind it once and for all.
I got to spend some time with the new phone. At first glance, the Note 8 seems to put Samsung firmly on the road to redemption. Samsung has not had a new model of its premium phone since 2015 because of the recall. With that said, here are my initial impressions of the phone.
• The screen: When you see the Note 8, the most noticeable thing is definitely its display. It runs edge-to-edge in the same way as on the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus.
On a phone as large as this -- 6.3-inches -- the extra space is even more noticeable. For those upgrading from the last available Note, the added screen real estate is almost eye-popping. I've never found bezels particularly annoying, but there is something deeply impressive about seeing a screen of this size with (almost) no border around it.
That gives you plenty of room to play with the Note's signature stylus, both for handwritten notes and for doodles.
The screen is set up for multi-tasking, which is arguably Samsung's biggest power-user advantage over the iPhone.
Users can set "app pair" shortcuts to quickly open two apps at the same time. So, if you want to have your calendar handy along with your email, you can set a shortcut to have both appear on screen.
• The camera: The dual-camera, for me, is the next most notable feature. Samsung's made several software improvements to make the phone even better at shooting in lowlight, getting sharp in a close-up, and staying steady even when your hands are not.
In the pre-briefing, Samsung also had a side-by-side comparison with a "competitor," -- unnamed, but definitely Apple's iPhone -- in a demo designed to make its stabilization software look amazing. With both phones mounted on a vibrating box, the Note 8's view screen showed barely a wobble as compared to a the super-shaky iPhone. I'll have to do a test at a later date to see how it plays out the same way in the real world.
Samsung has also worked some software magic on the way the phone's camera focuses. Thanks to the dual-lens, the Note 8 actually takes a couple of shots with every shutter click. That allows users to edit their photos more comprehensively after the fact -- you can change the background blur of a picture, for example, or see the wide-angle view of a close-up shot.
• Bixby: The Note 8 has a dedicated button for Bixby, Samsung's voice assistant. The voice assistant is smart in some ways -- it can recognize what's in your photos, for example -- but still works with a limited number of apps. Samsung is adding more support, however, including for the music service Spotify.
• What I would have liked to see:
There are some gripes, of course. The fingerprint reader, which was clumsily placed next to the camera lens, is in the same awkward spot. And the Note is still large and somewhat unwieldy to hold if your hands aren't that big -- though the ability to get more screen real estate out of a device that's physically smaller helps ease that concern.
Of course, evaluations of the more practical considerations -- battery life, speed and daily use -- will have to come upon further review when I have more time to spend with the phone.
• Conclusion: So who should buy it?
Devotees of the Note line should be very pleased, particularly coming from the Note 5 -- Samsung skipped the Note 6 for branding reasons. If you must have that huge screen, the stylus and/or the multi-tasking features, this is the best option on the market. Samsung also slightly squared off the edges of the Note 8 as compared to previous models, which makes the phone much easier to hold than their slippery predecessors.
For those wondering whether the Note 8 will have the similar battery issues as the Note 7, Samsung has said that it learned its lesson and as a result applied new safety standards when making the phone.
This is Samsung's premium device, and should be thought of in competition with the iPhone 7 Plus, or whatever upcoming Plus model may appear in the fall.
For most, it will be worth a wait to see what Apple has on offer -- which also, conveniently, gives the Note 8 time to work out any potential growing pains.
The Note 8 went on pre-order on Aug. 25, and hits store shelves on Sept. 15. Prices at carriers will vary, based on the way consumers choose to pay for the phone. But, as a sense of the price, buying the phone through AT&T will cost $949.99.