Samsung introduced the Note 8 to the world on 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 have put Samsung firmly on the road to redemption. The phone manufacturer has not had a new model of its premium phone since 2015, after last year's recall of the Note 7 when some of the devices overheated and caught fire. With that said, here are my initial impressions of the phone.
The most striking thing on the Note 8 is its display. It runs edge-to-edge as it does on the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus. On a phone as large as this — 6.3 inches — the extra space is especially 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, such as this one a Samsung representative penned on my portrait.
The screen is set up for multitasking, 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 the screen.
The dual camera is another notable feature. Samsung has made several software improvements to make the phone even better at shooting in low light, getting sharp in a close-up, and staying steady even when your hands are not.
In a briefing, Samsung used a side-by-side comparison of the Note 8 with a “competitor” — unnamed, but definitely Apple’s iPhone — in a demo designed to make the new Note's stabilization software look amazing. With both phones mounted on a vibrating box, the Note 8’s screen showed barely a wobble compared with the super-shaky competitor.
I'll have to test whether that comparison goes the same way in the real world.
Samsung has also worked some software magic on how the phone’s camera focuses. Thanks to the dual lens, the Note 8 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.
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 remains clumsily placed next to the camera lens. 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 after I have more time to spend with the phone.
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 multitasking features, this is the best option on the market. Samsung also slightly squared off the edges of the Note 8, which makes the phone much easier to hold than its slippery predecessors.
For those wondering whether the Note 8 will have the similar battery issues that plagued the Note 7, Samsung has said that it learned its lesson and applied new safety standards during the manufacturing process.
This is Samsung’s premium device, and it should be thought of as a competitor of the iPhone 7 Plus, or whatever upcoming model might appear in the fall. For some, it will be worth a wait to see what Apple has in store — which also, conveniently, gives Samsung time to work out any potential growing pains with the Note 8.
The Note 8 goes on preorder on Thursday and hits store shelves on Sept. 15. Prices at carriers will vary, based on the way consumers choose to pay for the phone. For example, buying the phone through AT&T will cost $949.99.
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