Hands On with the Samsung Galaxy Note8
Samsung is back with the Note8, a wholly reimagined handset when compared to the disastrous (and fire prone) Note7. This year's Note smartphone takes cues from Samsung's existing Galaxy S8 devices thanks to the Infinity Display with curved edges. The Note8 manages to carve its own path, however, thanks to a twin camera array and new S Pen powers. Here are Phone Scoop's first thoughts about the Galaxy Note8
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The Samsung Galaxy Note8 is a stunner, even if the phone is a bit familiar. It's perhaps best to think of the Note8 as a Galaxy S8+ on steroids. The two phones are nearly identical in terms of size, design, and specs. The Note8's strengths are found in the S Pen stylus and camera, which deliver more productive and creative oomph than the S8+ can muster on its own.
If you take the S8+ and make it slightly taller, slightly wider, and give it more square shoulders, you have the basic silhouette of the Note8. The phone has similar curved plates of glass on front and back, and a slender metal frame sandwiched in between. The construction of the phone is, as expected, top notch. The metal and glass components are fitted together perfectly and the materials are the best of the best. The midnight black and orchid gray colors to be sold in the U.S. are attractive, but I'm far more interested in the deep sea blue and maple gold that are going to be sold overseas. Seriously, the blue is super nice. Shame it won't be available to American consumers (at least right away.)
The phone is tall as hell, but narrow enough that it's still fairly easy to grab hold of. I like the curve of the glass materials. The glass surfaces are silky under the thumb. With its giant 6.3-inch screen, there's no question in my mind that the Note8 is a two-handed phone. My thumb could barely reach 40% of the screen lest I juggled my grip. The phone is slender and smooth. It easily glides into pockets.
The Infinity Display means there are hardly any bezels. Since the glass display curves toward the side edges, there are no bezels to speak of along the left and right borders. Samsung needed a bit more space in the chin and forehead to contain the Note8's components, but not by much. You'll see a small slit above the screen for the earpiece, with the selfie camera and sensor off to the right. Like the Galaxy S8 devices, the Note8 has no hardware controls below the display. Instead, Samsung opted for on-screen controls that come and go as needed.
The screen itself is crazy awesome. The Super AMOLED panel measures 6.3 inches across the diagonal (which is only 0.1 inches more than the S8+). It uses the same 2,960 by 1,440 resolution, which translates to a weird 18.5:9 aspect ratio. Samsung had the Note5 and iPhone 7 Plus on hand for comparison, and the Note8's rich, contrast-y display put them both to shame. You can't ask for a nicer canvas for getting work done or having some media-related fun.
Speaking of work, the S Pen is tucked into the bottom edge, closest to the right corner. Like last year's S Pen, it sits flush with the edge. It pops out by about 1cm if you press it quickly. You have to pull it the rest of the way out manually. The phone will vibrate quickly to let you know when you've removed or replaced the S Pen. The pen only fits in one way thanks to the square top and rectangular shape to the stalk of the stylus. Samsung says the tip is smaller than ever at 0.7mm, which helps provide a more natural feel when writing on the screen. It does feel to good use. Moreover, Samsung doubled the pressure sensitivity to 4,096 levels of pressure. This translates to far more accurate drawings if you're an artist. I like that the phone is waterproof even with the S Pen removed, and that the S Pen will work on the screen when it is wet. (Your sweaty palms won't impact usability.)
As for the rest of the hardware, there are few surprises. The top edge is smooth, the left edge holds the dedicated Bixby button (groan), and volume toggle, while the right edge holds the screen lock button. The bottom is where you'll find the USB-C port, headphone jack, and speakerphone. The three side keys have incredibly slim designs, but the profiles are good enough that finding and using them isn't difficult. I do think the volume toggle is a bit high up the left side if the phone.
If you were hoping Samsung might reconsider the position of the fingerprint sensor, I have some bad news: the Note8 uses the same camera/sensor configuration os the S8/S8+. That means the fingerprint sensor is really high up on the rear surface and positioned just to the right of center. I was able to adapt to the location of the sensor on the S8 after a while, but the sensor is even further away from your fingertips on the Note8. It may take some getting used to for Note8 owners. The camera module itself is blessedly flush with the rest of the rear panel. The two lenses are separated by almost an inch; the LED flash and heart rate monitor are in between the camera lenses and the fingerprint sensor.
The glass rear panel cannot be removed. That means the 3,300mAh battery is inaccessible to end users. A few words about the battery. If you're paying attention, you'll note that it's actually smaller than the S8+'s 3,500mAh battery. Samsung said it kept the batter smaller on purpose thanks to the advancements available from the 10nm construction of the Snapdragon 835 processor. Further, Samsung has refined its power management software and claims the Note8's battery will deliver more than a full day despite its smaller capacity. The battery supports Quick Charge 3.0 for rapid wired and wireless power-ups.
The Note8 runs Android 7 Nougat, not Android 8 Oreo. That's a shame. The company did not commit to any sort of timeframe for updating the phone to Oreo. The Samsung Experience user interface is, for all intents and purposes, identical to that of the S8 and S8+. The only differences concern the S Pen, camera, and several other minor features that we'll discuss here.
First, the Edge tool. Like the early Galaxy devices with curved screens, the Note8 supports Edge-based shortcuts. Swipe the little tab open to see People Edge, Apps Edge, and others. The one new and exciting addition to the Note8 is called App Pairs. It targets multitasking. With App Pairs, you can pair together any two apps and open them simultaneously. Let's say you want to see your calendar and contact list at the same time. Simply create an app pair and tap the icon, which will open both apps in separate multitasking windows. Samsung said this feature is available to any app that can be used in multitasking mode. My favorite was running YouTube in one window and Twitter in another. It works really well. Samsung hinted to us that this feature might come to the S8 or S8+.
Next, the S Pen. The S Pen is the heart and soul of the Note series and is what makes this device unique. One neat new addition: you can write directly on PDFs for signing documents, such as when you need to provide a signature.
The primary new S Pen feature is called Live Message. With it, anything you write or draw is animated. The message is sent via the AGIF format, so it should be compatible with most messaging apps, email apps, and even operating systems. You can draw on a blank canvas, on top of photos, or on top of screen shots. The recipient sees the words draw themselves magically as they watch the message.
Samsung improved the Screen Off Memo that we saw on last year's Note7. With Screen Off Memo, Note8 owners can write directly on the lock screen without unlocking the handset. This new version supports up to 100 pages of text. You can then pin memos on the lock screen so they are accessible at a moment's notice even when the phone itself is locked.
The S Pen improved its ability to translate between languages. Last year, it could translate single words. Now, it can translate entire sentences and/or phrases from 30 different languages. Last, the PenUp tool, which is a free-range drawing app, adds some coloring book templates so even those without artistic talent can enjoy some doodling time.
The Note8's dual camera includes all the neat tools found on the S8 and S8+ and adds Live Focus and Dual Capture.
Live Focus is basically bokeh on steroids. This mode uses both cameras to help create blurred background effects. What's neat is you can adjust the level of background blur both before and after you take the picture. The tool provides a live preview of the potential results as you adjust the strength of the blur effect.
Dual Capture puts both the rear cameras to use. The idea here is to let you take telephoto and wide-angle shots at the same time. For example, maybe you're at a concert and want to zoom in on the lead singer. The telephoto lens will allow you to do that. When you snap the shot, it will also capture an image from the wide-angle camera so you can see the entire stage in addition to the close-up of the lead singer. Neat.
The Note8 also supports a tool for capturing the 2 seconds before a picture, and makes it easy to turn these short clips into shareable GIFs.
Some odds and ends worth mentioning. The Note8 includes the same version of Bixby Voice that's running on the S8/S8+. Samsung insists Bixby has now recorded tens of millions of utterances in English that have improved Bixby's reliability and usefulness since it first launched earlier this summer.
The Note8 also includes an improved version of the DeX PC-style computing app. It works with the same DeX docking station that's already available to the S8 and S8+, but adds new multitasking features and gaming capabilities. This means, with the dock, you can open and use multiple apps at a time when using the Note8 with a display, mouse, and keyboard. The gaming support looks pretty need in the demo we saw.
The Note8 supports the same face/iris unlock tools found on the S8 models.
As for availability. The Note8 goes up for preorder on Thursday, August 24. It will be sold by all major U.S. carriers as well as unlocked directly from Samsung. Samsung said the unlocked version will go on sale with the carrier version on September 15. Pricing will vary based on carrier promotions. Samsung expects several bundles to be available from carriers, such as memory card and Gear VR viewer, or wireless charging pad.
We have high hopes for the Note8. It certainly can't do any worse than the Note7. Have thoughts and feelings? Be sure to sure in the comments!
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Band 2,4,12,66,71 with the last 2 still in infancy stages.
Would be nice though to extend coverage in West Virginia, Wyoming, Montana, Maine, Alaska.