Take Note: Samsung's new 8 is hot favourite in sales battle
The tech giant has released what may be the ultimate business phone. But can the Note 8 banish the ghosts of its exploding predecessor in the battle with Apple's new iPhone? Our technology editor handles with care as he finds out
It may still be August, but the fight for control over your next business phone is about to reach white-hot levels of competition in coming weeks. The world's two biggest phone companies, Samsung and Apple, are kicking off a massive battle for the title of the world's new flagship phone.
At stake, literally, is billions of euro in revenue and profits.
The business phone segment is among the most profitable around. This is not just because the handsets themselves are among the most expensive devices with the best margins. It's also because business users remain willing to spend two to three times as much (€60 to €100) per month as non-business users out of sheer ignorance about what a competitive monthly package actually costs.
Against this backdrop, Samsung yesterday unveiled its new contender, the Note 8. This is the successor to the doomed Note 7, scrapped after several handsets overheated or caught fire. Samsung is hoping that that episode does not overshadow what was previously the company's most esteemed line of flagship smartphones, stretching back six years. The Note line of phones changed the smartphone industry, normalising large screens before competitors.
In doing so, it contributed to an irreversible change in the entire media, tech and entertainment industries, with a growing list of content now primarily focused on large-screen phones rather than laptops, tablets or televisions.
SAMSUNG NOTE 8
So what's the Note 8 like? Our hands-on preview of the device revealed a slick, streamlined phone that looks like a powerful bet to claim the top business phone title.
Its screen size now stands at a massive 6.3 inches, a fraction bigger than Samsung's recent S8 Plus (6.2 inches) and far larger than Apple's current iPhone 7 Plus (5.5 inches). However, Samsung has given the device the same bezel-less design as its S8 models, meaning that the phone is barely bigger in overall size than Apple's biggest iPhone despite the significant extra screen size.
Despite its extra size, the Note 8 has one drawback that could hurt it - its battery is smaller than its sister device, the Galaxy S8 Plus.
The reason for this is twofold. First, Samsung has to make room for its S-Pen stylus, which comes directly off potential extra battery life. Second, the company is (understandably) reluctant to get too adventurous in pushing alternative battery-extension processes, given the negative aura still hanging around its battery technology after the Note 7 fiasco. So it has opted to accept that the Note 8's 3,300mAh battery may not match the Galaxy S8 Plus's 3,500mAh battery.
The Note 8 has taken a leaf out of Apple's book by having dual cameras on the back of the device. Both featuring 12-megapixels, one is a wide-angle (f1.7) lens while the other is a telephoto (f2.4) lens.
A front-facing 8-megapixel f1.7 lens is also present. However, Samsung believes it has an edge over Apple for two reasons. First, the company claims that its camera sensor is bigger (fractionally) than that on the high-end iPhone 7 Plus.
This means that it can let in more light, which usually results in better, sharper images. Secondly, the Note 8's camera is claimed to have better optical stabilisation than the iPhone 7. Samsung showed off a number of tests to try and prove this. If true, it means that the Note 8's camera will produce slightly sharper images in low light and when taking photos with shaky hands. I tried out the optical stabilisation when using the phone's camera in video mode and could see it in action. It simply won't allow jerky movements.
A slightly better camera, a similarly sized screen and a smaller battery make a tough case for this phone to be a must-have business phone when compared to Samsung's existing S8 Plus.
So what's the Note 8's distinguishable selling point? Samsung holds that it's the S-Pen, the slim stylus that fits into the bottom right hand corner of the phone.
Most people simply don't use styluses.
Then again, those who do are exactly the niche that might be attracted to this phone. Samsung has some nice functionality for those who like the idea of a small stylus. This includes live translation of pages or phrases using the stylus. It also includes new live notes that can be adjoined and there's a raft of calendar and business software uses that the S-Pen is designed for. Having used the new version, I found its latency pretty low, making it fairly easy to write.
OTHER FEATURES AND CONCLUSION
The Note 8 has blistering power under the hood. Using a 64-bit octacore (10nm) processor and 6GB of Ram, this will still be considered powerful in a couple of years' time.
The Note 8 comes with a flat 64GB of memory, expandable by 256GB with a microSD memory card. This is frankly a little disappointing. Power users, who the Note 8 is squarely aimed at, are likely to use the new camera and multimedia prowess of the phone a lot.
Memory cards can be used to hold photos and videos but can be problematic for backups and slower to access. They also fail more than a phone's hard drive.
Despite this limitation and the smaller battery, the Note 8 could still emerge as the best business phone out there this year. It has two main competitors: Samsung's own Galaxy S8 Plus and whatever Apple releases in a few weeks' time.
The contenders: four rivals to challenge the Note 8’s power
Samsung’s Note 8 has some high-powered rivals seeking to be your next business phone. Here are four of the most likely contenders.
1. iPhone 7 Plus (from €749)
This is currently the high watermark for the iPhone. Its gorgeous 5.5-inch screen makes emails, business apps and other tools far more efficient than smaller models. It also has more power than most other iPhones and sports storage levels of up to 256GB, unique among business handsets. Its only drawback is that it is about to become last year’s model when Apple launches its new iPhones in a few weeks’ time.
2. Samsung S8 Plus (from €799)
Ironically, one of the strongest rivals to the new Note 8 is Samsung’s own S8 Plus. This 6.2-inch phone is a pioneer in design and engineering, increasing the size of the screen without making the overall device any bigger in your hand or pocket. This is because Samsung effectively eliminated the bezels, maximising how much of the phone’s front side is taken up by screen alone. The S8 also has a longer battery life than the Note 8, a crucial consideration.
3. Sony XZ Premium (from €699)
If you like to bring a bit of bling to your business phone, Sony’s top-end model has it with that shiny silver casing. Despite the glam shell, there’s monstrous power packed under the hood and a top-end 5.5-inch screen to go with it. It’s also fully waterproof, unlike the Note 8 which is merely water “resistant”. Its only main downside is that its shiny casing makes it a bit of a smudge-magnet.
4. Huawei P10 Plus (€749)
Huawei’s top model is worth mentioning for a couple of reasons. Its 5.5-inch screen and engine keeps pace with the other flagship devices and it includes a whopping 128GB of storage. But it also has one hidden strength: coverage reception. This (and the smaller Huawei P10) is brilliant at picking up weak mobile signals in blackspots because of its quad-antenna system. Huawei claims this boosts reception by 30pc.