Sunday 18 February 2018

Samsung's Galaxy Note 8 is an outstanding flagship phone for business users

Tech Review: Note 8, €949 (€199 on contract)

Galaxy Note 8
Galaxy Note 8
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Much of the attention over the last month may have been around Apple's new iPhones. But Samsung recently launched a beast of a flagship smartphone that goes head to head with the best from Apple.

After a couple of weeks trying it out, here's how we found the Galaxy Note 8.

1. DESIGN

This is a high point for the Note 8. With almost all of the front of the device used as a display, this is now the sleekest handset on the market (at least until the iPhone X is released in November).

The most obvious reason is its 'infinity display'. Because the screen goes from edge to edge, Samsung fits a 6.3-inch display onto a phone that feels smaller in-hand.

Helping this is the way that the device adopts an 18:5:9 ratio, which makes it much easier to handle for such a large screen. In essence, this is a tall, slim phone. That screen, by the way, is incredibly bright, even in sunlight.

To be fair, Samsung has been ahead of the curve on screen design over the last two years and the Note 8 is the culmination of this: it's pretty gorgeous.

All of this design kudos comes with two reservations. First, Samsung has the fingerprint reader on the back of the phone, which some (myself included) aren't crazy about. (However, it is at least separated from the camera lenses, unlike its sister S8 device which houses the fingerprint sensor too close to the lens, resulting in constant smudging.)

The second reservation is that it's not easy to find a case for the Note 8. Its glass casing is beautiful but there's extra trepidation about dropping it.

2. FACE RECOGNITION

Right now, this is all the rage. The Note 8 has it and, generally, it works pretty well. But sometimes it takes a second or two, while other times (in very bright or dark conditions) it doesn't work at all. Even when it's almost instantaneous, you have to hold the phone up or bend your face down to face the screen directly - it doesn't work from an angle.

In a nutshell, I'd keep it enabled but wouldn't rely on it completely. (To be fair, it's a lot better than the Note 7's face recognition, which was really glitchy and unreliable.)

3. CAMERA

This is another highlight of the flagship device. Like the iPhone 7 Plus and 8 Plus, the Note 8 has two rear camera lenses (a wide angle and telephoto lens). But unlike Apple's flagship phones, both of them are stabilised whereas only the wide angle lens on the iPhone 8 is stabilised.

The upshot of this is that if you're trying to zoom in on something - in any light - the Note 8 will catch a slightly sharper image. It also has a 'live focus' mode, which allows you to generate the blurry background effect of shallow depth of field in telephoto shots. You can change the blurriness level, too, after the shot is taken.

Aside from this, there's little to choose from when comparing the iPhone 8 Plus - which we previously rated very highly for its camera - and the Note 8.

The only area that the Note 8 might lag Apple's phone is that it slightly overexposes some elements of a photo compared to the iPhone 8 Plus, defaulting to shadow recovery over highlights. That said, it may come down to a personal preference. Suffice to say that this is easily one of the best cameraphones on the market right now.

One additional feature that's present on the camera is Bixby Vision, which attempts to identify the object you're point at, with the purpose of either scanning it (to extra text) or shopping for it (using Amazon as a default).

4. BATTERY LIFE

One repercussion of the overheating battery issue in last year's Note 7 is that Samsung has played it ultra-safe with the battery in the Note 8. This means the battery is smaller than both the Note 7 and the Note 8's sister device, the S8 Plus. However, Samsung has added in some clever battery-management options that give extended performance.

One I used a lot (as I hammer my phones every day) is an option in settings to trade performance off against extended battery life. This can be done to either a moderate or an extreme amount.

With 70pc of battery remaining, for example, choosing "mid" will extend the battery life from eight hours of performance to nine hours and 30 minutes. In exchange, your screen's brightness is reduced by 10pc and unused apps are always in sleep mode.

Choosing the 'max' battery setting (again at 70pc) bumps the remaining battery life up to a gargantuan 24 hours and 55 minutes. In this mode, you can only use a few apps (which include Facebook and Twitter) and you won't get any push notifications. It's great to have this as an option.

5. WIRELESS CHARGING AND WATER RESISTANCE

Like Samsung flagship devices before it, the Note 8 works flawlessly with wireless chargers. In fact, it works with the same 'Qi' wireless chargers that mesh with the iPhone 8.

Similarly, it's water-resistant. I didn't really test this in depth other than a few spots of rain. But like most water-resistant gadgets, it's not designed to be exposed to salt water.

6. THE STYLUS

I'm not going to lie - I generally don't use styluses with phones. There's something fiddly and Excellish about the whole concept, not to mention that you're conceding to a two-handed operation by design.

That said, the Note 8 stylus has some impressive touches. The best one is probably that you can draw quick notes on the lock screen. The feature immediately becomes active as soon as you click the stylus out of the phone and the (shareable) notes are saved in a custom Samsung app.

The stylus is designed to let you capture and edit screenshots very quickly. This could be useful for people who constantly collaborate on the move.

8. CONCLUSION

The Note 8 is an outstanding smartphone that deserves its flagship status. Continuing the Note range was a risky branding move from Samsung, after the overheating catastrophe that was the Note 7. But it's a good thing for the phone ecosystem that Samsung has come back for another shot.

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