Samsung Galaxy Note 8 first impressions: Refined design, stunning camera

Samsung today launched its much-awaited Galaxy Note 8 in India. Being the successor to the explosive, the Note 8 has a lot riding on its shoulders. Samsung has new battery testing and safety protocols in place, the new Note 8 comes with several improvements over the previous models. But does it justify that Rs 67,900 price tag, especially when compared to the Galaxy S8 Plus?

Design and build

A closer look at the dual-camera on the Note 8

A closer look at the dual-camera on the Note 8

Overall, the Samsung Galaxy has not changed all that much when you compare it to a Galaxy Note 7. Look closely and you will realise the corners are sharper and that the device has bigger footprint compared to both the Note 7 and the more recent Galaxy S8+.

In short, it’s one big slab of rounded glass that has been crafted to perfection, no matter which angle you look at it. It does feel heavy and a bit chubby, but that rounded design makes you forget everything else once you hold it in your hand.

There are 3D curved glass panels on the front and the back, like on the Galaxy S8+, but it does not feel the same when you hold it in your hand. Apart from being larger and broader than the former, the foldable display bends less into the 3D curved corners before reaching the metal bezel. This means that the glass screen on the front does not reach the left and right metal bezel as it did on the S8.

What does this translate to? Well, you have more usable display real estate for using the S Pen for a start. Watching movies without worrying about reflections at the top and bottom will be a much better less intrusive experience as well and games too won't end up on the curved edge but will be on the flatter surface instead. While this means that the Note 8 is not as curvy as the Galaxy S8 models, there is good reason why Samsung did this and it was something that I was expecting on the Note 8 after reviewing the Galaxy S8. But more on this in the full review.

The Note 8 is about half an inch larger than the Galaxy S8 Plus

The Note 8 is about half an inch larger than the Galaxy S8 Plus

While I would like to call this sensible design, there are the usual quirks, like we saw on the Galaxy S8. The fingerprint reader on the back gets shoved even further to the right (it's already placed at an abnormal height for a phone that is pretty big). So those with small hands, will find it impossible to reach the fingerprint reader. Luckily for buyers, there is the iris scanner and facial recognition, meaning you will rarely have to use it. Of course, they're still not as fast and easy as a sensibly-placed fingerprint sensor, but at least it's better than nothing.

Then there’s the glass body, meaning it's also a ‘smudge-fest’. Those interested in buying this phablet, better keep those microfiber sheets handy.

You still get the headphone jack and the device is IP 68 water and dust resistant with or without the S Pen in its slot.

Display

The display is very sharp and offers better colour rendition than the Galaxy S8

The display is very sharp and offers better colour rendition than the Galaxy S8

Samsung has once again gone in for a QHD+ (1440x2960 pixels) resolution display. Text looks super sharp at 521 PPI and the display seems bright enough indoors. At first glance, the colours certainly seem to be the usual Samsung, oversaturated fare. However, on closer inspection, I can report that the display is better than that on the Galaxy S8 and S8+. Gone is the reddish that slight reddish tint and even the white balance seems more natural. Being an OLED display, blacks are deep and the Infinity Display looks even better because the flatter surface of the display is a lot bigger than what you get on a Galaxy S8+. The curved edges are as curved as on the S8+, but the slightly larger real-estate means that it's not as noticeable. The display is also HDR10-compliant, comes with Always-on tech and that 3D Touch home button at the bottom.

Chipset, storage and RAM

The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 on the left, the S8+ on the right

The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 on the left, the S8+ on the right

While the US markets get the snappy Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, buyers in India will get the Exynos 8895, a chipset already found on the Galaxy S8 lineup. This time around, Samsung has included a juicy 6 GB of RAM and 64 GB internal storage. Sadly, the higher capacity storage variants haven't made their way to India. Those not happy with storage options can add a microSD card. But the device only supports cards of up to 256 GB in capacity.

OS and software

The S Pen is fun to use

The S Pen is fun to use

Being this close to Oreo (The Pixel 2 launch is expected on 15 October), it will indeed be a wasted effort for Samsung to roll out this device with Android 7.1.1 Nougat inside. Still, you do need software to use this smartphone, so, well, deal with it until an Oreo update arrives. While there are the usual customisations, Samsung’s Grace UI also get some added functionality because of the S Pen. The S Pen comes with some additional tricks as well, all of which I will discuss in detail in my full review.

The extra RAM is certainly appreciated and I noticed that larger apps stayed open longer and that the overall response felt marginally better when compared to the Galaxy S8 with 4 GB RAM (Samsung also launched 6 GB RAM model in India not too long ago).

Bixby is still not available in India, and I do wish I could remap the button. Samsung has promised that Bixby will be coming to India in the next few weeks, however.

Camera

Indeed, this is the highlight of the Galaxy Note this year. The phablet is Samsung’s first ever device to pack in a dual camera setup and they have taken things up a notch as well.

The dual camera on the Note 8 is impressive

The dual camera on the Note 8 is impressive

With a dual 12 MP camera setup along with dual OIS and a proper 2X optical zoom, the Note 8 reps at Samsung’s showrooms will have plenty to brag about. There are other features like Live Focus photos where the camera clicks a photo using both wide and the telephoto lens, giving users plenty of options to edit even after they have clicked a photo.

The front facing camera is an 8 MP unit with an f/1.7 aperture and unlike most others, it also packs in autofocus. The note 8 is also capable of shooting HDR video, which is impressive. I will go in depth with the dual camera setup and test it to the limits in my full review before I conclude whether the dual camera setup makes any sense over the S8's single lens system.

Image: Samsung

Image: Samsung

My initial impressions are that the camera is impressive. Live Focus is extremely quick and while it struggles a bit in low light, performance is amazing. Switching between modes is also very fast. Shooting with the telephoto lens is also a pleasure, and I was surprised at how good it was. Images were excellent. The focussing system is superfast. Subjectively, the images from both sensors are at least on par with that on the Galaxy S8. The bokeh effect is also very impressive.

Battery and connectivity

The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 packs in the usual connectivity options, you get 4G LTE bands with a dual SIM setup, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth v 5.0, GPS, NFC and a USB 3.1 Type C port at the bottom.

The phone is completely waterproof, even when the S Pen is out.

The phone is completely waterproof, even when the S Pen is out.

All of the above hardware is powered by what seems to be a really tiny 3,300 mAh battery. I say tiny, because the Galaxy S8+ packs in a 3,500 mAh unit that is paired with the same chipset, but with a slightly smaller display.

Let’s just hope that Samsung does not throttle it down too much as buyers will not tolerate performance problems with 6 GB of RAM on board.

Conclusion

The only reason to complain about the Samsung Note 8 is its price. But with so many features, so much more hardware and that S Pen, at Rs 67,900 there is little left to whine about. It is clearly the most feature-packed Android smartphone right now, but how does it perform against a standard Galaxy S8+ model? Are those dual cameras and the S-Pen worth the extra buck? Find out in my full review.


Published Date: Sep 12, 2017 03:09 pm | Updated Date: Sep 12, 2017 03:47 pm