Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review
Both beauty and the beast, the gorgeous Note 8 has an extraordinary feature set and magnificent performance. It's expensive, but can you really afford not to consider it? Find out what we made of Samsung's brand-new flagship, which is now on sale.
UK Price and Availability
The Galaxy Note 8 was announced in a special Unpacked event on 23 August 2017. It became available to pre-order the next day at £869 inc VAT, and began shipping on 15 September.
That’s really quite expensive for a smartphone even by today’s standards - it’s £180 more than the £689 Galaxy S8 (which is now available for as little as £550), for example.
It's cheaper than the iPhone X, which starts at £999 and is likely to be one of the Note 8's biggest rivals.
However, based on previous Samsung pricing, we’d expect the RRP to quickly fall in the first few months following the launch, so if you can’t afford it just now then it might be worth waiting a little while. The same can't be said about the iPhone: Apple doesn't reduce prices until a new model is on sale.
And, of course, many readers will choose to buy the Note 8 on a contract rather than SIM-free - we’ve rounded up some of the best Note 8 deals.
Buying the Note 8 SIM-free is still the cheapest way to buy it, of course.
If you decide to buy the Note 8, don't forget to check out the best Note 8 accessories.
Build and Design
Samsung's Note 7 was a gorgeous handset, but the Note 8 is in a different league with its Infinity Display. It's not entirely bezel-less, but it's close enough, with a screen-to-body ratio of 83 percent and an 18.5:9 aspect ratio.
In real terms, there's about a centimetre of frame visible above and below the display, but the rest is all immaculately polished and largely fingerprint-free glass, with a load more space for enjoying media and games, and for working with multiple apps at once.
On either side the panel curves right round to the frame edge, leaving only a minimal bezel top and bottom in which to house the selfie camera, speaker and various sensors. It's a different - and much preferred - design to the first 'bezel-less' phone we saw, the Xiaomi Mi Mix, which has only a bottom bezel and requires you to turn it upside down to use the bizarrely placed selfie camera.
To achieve these slim bezels Samsung has removed the physical home button, moving the fingerprint scanner round to the rear beside the camera, and incorporating a pressure-sensitive home button within the display itself.
The latter takes a little getting used to, but you can always wake up the phone using the power button (don't get it confused with the dedicated Bixby button, as we often did) or popping out the S Pen stylus.
Samsung has come a very long way from the days of dimpled plastic covers, and it does not compromise on design.
You'll have heard all about the 'awkward' positioning of the fingerprint scanner on the Galaxy S8, and people will no doubt be concerned by the fact this has not changed for the Note 8. But while we'd one day like to see this functionality embedded into the Note's panel itself, for now it's not at all as bad as you may have heard.
The main concern with the Galaxy S8 was that those reaching for the scanner would accidentally smudge the camera, but the heart-rate scanner and flash now separate the two and make it unlikely that this will be the case.
We found reaching for the scanner is not too much of a stretch for the finger, and we've quickly got used to it on the Galaxy S8. Of course there's also an iris scanner, should you want to bypass the fingerprint scanner altogether.
Despite having so much going on at the rear - two cameras, a flash, a heart-rate scanner and a fingerprint sensor - it all lies completely flush with the phone's chassis, and that is evidence of the company's meticulous design. Even with the addition of the Samsung logo - pleasingly low-key in grey text - it doesn't look at all overcrowded here.
Our only real criticism from this angle is the legal info slapped on the bottom, which is virtually invisible on the Midnight Black option unless you catch it in the right light, but more obvious on the Maple Gold version we saw ahead of the launch.
By increasing the room available for the panel Samsung has been able to increase its size. Previously 5.7in, which is no longer considered huge for a smartphone, the Note 8 now has a 6.3in panel. That's only 0.1in larger than that on the Galaxy S8+, but there are other differences such as the stylus and dual-camera, too.
It has also added the best part of a centimetre to the phone's height, and the most obvious difference when viewing the Note 8 next to the Galaxy S8 is how much taller is this handset. Both phones are narrower than you would expect, given the curved edges, which makes them surprisingly comfortable to use in a single hand. But the Note 8 towers over the Galaxy S8.
The screen has the same technology as Samsung's Galaxy S series, with a super-high resolution Quad-HD+ Super AMOLED display (though in common with the Galaxy S8 it's set to full-HD by default to preserve battery life). Some people prefer the more realistic colours of IPS, but we love the saturated, vibrant colours and deep, rich blacks of AMOLED.
It is impossible to fault this display, which is crazy bright at a maximum 1200 nits (the iPhone 7, for example, is 'just' 705 nits), guaranteeing outdoor visibility in all conditions. According to DisplayMate it's 22 percent brighter than the 1000-nit panel on the Galaxy S8.
The Always-On Display has been enhanced since its original implementation in the Note series, and not only can you now create, edit and pin notes on it using the S Pen, but you can configure it to be active only during certain time periods. This feature is great for letting you see the time, date and whether you have any notifications at a glance, potentially saving battery life as you won’t need to wake the display. It also means the pressure-sensitive home button is always on.
The software has some features that take advantage of the curved edge. A thin white tab is always visible on the far right of this display, and you simply tap this to pull in various quick access options. By default you'll be able to see your most frequently used apps and contacts, but you can also switch on Edge panels for tasks, clipboard, reminders, device maintenance, weather, quick tools, Samsung internet, sports, finance, smart select and calendar.
Samsung's two flagship phone families look incredibly similar, and it's only the extra height, squarer edges and the dual-camera on the rear that differentiate the Note 8 from the Galaxy S8. The buttons, ports and sensors are all in the same places, though of course on the bottom right corner of the Note 8 there's also the S Pen stylus, which given a little tap pops out just enough to make it accessible but not enough you might easily lose it. (An alarm is activated if you try to walk away without the stylus in any case.)
S Pen stylus
You really won't appreciate how useful is this stylus until you've tried it. Tap the button on its side to open the S Pen menu, which can optionally appear onscreen at all times via a floating icon. You can pin up to 10 features or apps to this menu, giving you quick access to the tools you are most likely to want to use with the stylus.
There are some features people might argue are gimmicky, such as the new Live Message feature that lets you create and share animated GIFs, but actually we love that feature and were we able to keep the handset a little longer our friends would be well and truly fed up with all the GIFs we'd sent them over WhatsApp.
The stylus can also be used to draw notes, even when the screen is in standby, which can then be pinned to the Always-on Display. With the screen active popping out the stylus will launch Screen Memo, which can now support up to 100 pages.
The S Pen can also be used to specify just a section of the screen before taking a screenshot, rather than you cropping it later, and you can add notes right on top of those screenshots.
Hover over the screen and it can magnify text, which will be useful if you've purposely chosen the Note 8 for its larger screen to make text easier to read.
You can also now select entire passages either to copy and paste elsewhere or translate from another language. The S Pen stylus can convert units and currency, too.
We like the ability to handwrite a URL in a web browser and scrawl over other text fields, while the Air View feature is useful for scrolling down long web pages and previewing links.
Air View can also expand a thumbnail in the gallery, or show you Calendar events in greater detail.
Bixby Vision is directly integrated with the S Pen, allowing you to draw over an area of an image you want to search online for.
Samsung says it has enhanced the pressure sensitivity of the S Pen for the Note 8, and refined the nib - it's just 0.7mm and can recognise 4,096 levels of pressure. It's impossible for us to compare it to the Note 7's S Pen without one to hand, but in use we can say it feels smooth and accurate, with no lag, friction or other annoyances.