Samsung Galaxy Note8 Review


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Samsung launched its flagship Galaxy Note8 smartphone in India last month for Rs. 67900, a year after the Galaxy Note7 fiasco. It has similar design as the Galaxy S8 smartphones featuring Quad HD+ Infinity Display. Samsung has also added dual rear cameras for the first time. How good is the Galaxy Note8? Let us find out in the review.

Unboxing

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We unboxed the smartphone recently, check out the video.

Box contents

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  • Samsung Galaxy Note8 smartphone in Midnight Black color
  • In-ear earphones tuned by AKG
  • 2-pin charger with Adaptive Fast Charging (5V-2A/9V-1.67A)
  • USB Type-A to USB Type-C cable
  • USB Type-C to USB Type-A adapter
  • USB Type-C to Micro USB adapter
  • SIM ejector tool
  • S Pen tips
  • Clear protective case
  • Quick start guide and warranty information

Display, Hardware and Design

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The Galaxy Note8 comes with a 6.3-inch Quad HD+ Super AMOLED Infinity display with a resolution of 2960 × 1440 pixels at 522PPI, aspect ratio of 18.5:9 and a screen-to-body ratio of 83.2%, which is slightly less than the S8+ since this has a bigger screen. Since the phone has AMOLED display blacks are perfectly black. Corners of the display are squared off and it has less curvature to the front side edges compared to the S8 so it not slippery and feels good to hold.

Due to the aspect ratio content doesn’t extend to the sides of the phone when you are watching normal 16:9 videos. If you want it to extend to the sides, there is ‘Crop to Fit’ option that crops some part to fit the video to the sides. If you are watching a video in 21:9 aspect ratio, which has the benefit of removing black bars on the top and bottom of screens, the software stretches the image to fit the 21:9 format and allows you to watch the video as it more naturally.

Similar to the S8 phones, there is Blue light filter that is said to reduce eye strain by limiting the amount of blue light emitted by the screen. You can adjust the screen resolution from WQHD+ (2960 x 1440 pixels) to FHD+ (2220×1080 pixels) or HD+ (1480×720), change font size and style and select apps that you want to use in the full screen aspect ratio.

You also have different screen modes – Adaptive display, AMOLED cinema, AMOLED photo and basic along with color balance option to set the screen to cool and warm depending on your preference. You also get advanced color balance options to adjust the Red, Green and Blue colors, and also adjust cool and warm colors of the edge screen.

It also has Edge panel and Always on display that shows up in the lockscreen when the phone is in standby. Always on display doesn’t consume a lot of power, but still it takes up some power.

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On the top, there are a lot of sensors. Next to the LED indicator, there is Iris recognition LED, and the usual set of proximity and ambient light sensors on the left side of the earpiece, on the right there is an 8-megapixel front camera and Iris recognition camera. The phone also has Gyro Sensor, Geomagnetic Sensor, Heart Rate Sensor and Pressure Sensor.

Compared to face recognition that uses only the front camera to detect your face unlock the phone, the Iris recognition uses iris patterns, codes them into a digital form and saves them in the secure TrustZone of Knox to match it and unlock the phone. Iris recognition is a bit slow and requires you to keep it 25-35 cm away from your face with the screen facing towards you, but it is more secure compared to face recognition that can be fooled even with an image.

Face recognition doesn’t work well if the lighting is poor in the room, if you are wearing glasses, hats, or use heavy makeup, but Iris recognition looks only at your eyes so unless you have had any eye surgery or there is anything wrong with the eyes, it works fine.

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The phone doesn’t have home button just like the S8 series, so the fingerprint sensor has been moved to the back. It also doesn’t have capactitive touch buttons, so you need to use the on-screen buttons. By default, the button layout is Recents-Home-Back, but you can change it to Back-Home-Recents and change the background color of it from the Navigation bar option in the settings. You can also add a button to the left side of the navigation bar to show or hide it.

The phone has metal frame, but it doesn’t slip out of your hands easily. On the right side, there is a power button. On the left side, there is a volume rocker and a Bixby button. On the bottom, there is a 3.5mm audio jack, USB Type-C port, primary microphone, loudspeaker grill and S Pen slot. On the top, there is a Hybrid SIM tray and the secondary microphone. You can also see the antenna lines on the top and the bottom.

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Since this is the Dual SIM mode, it comes with a hybrid SIM tray that lets you use two nano SIM cards or a nano SIM and a microSD up to 256GB.

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On the back, there are dual 12MP cameras with LED Flash, Heart rate sensor and the Fingerprint recognition sensor on the right side of the camera. Just like the S8 it is hard to access the fingerprint sensor even for people with long fingers.

The heart rate sensor is quick to measure your heart rate. Samsung Health app also has pulse oximeter that uses light to measure the SpO2 level, which is the percentage of haemoglobin in the red blood cells that are carrying oxygen. There is also stress measurement that is calculated by measuring variations in the time between each heartbeat (heart rate variability, HRV). Samsung says that this is done by comparing your HRV data with the average of a large group of healthy people in your age group.

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Just like the Galaxy S8 phones, this has a glass back with Corning Gorilla Glass 5 protection that protects it from scratches. Even though the phone has a huge 6.3-inch screen, it is compact to hold, making it one of the most compact large-screen phones. It measures 162.5 x 74.8 x 8.6mm, slightly bigger than the S8+. It weighs 195 grams, but it doesn’t feel that heavy since the phone is huge. The phone has IP68 ratings for Water and dust resistance, but Samsung warns that you should not immerse the phone in water deeper than 1.5 m or keep it submerged for more than 30 minutes.

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Even though the sides are not slippery, the back is slippery to hold, so it is recommended to use the case that comes with the phone in the box. Samsung is also selling several cases and covers for the phone – Protective Standing Cover costs Rs. 2499, Alcantara Cover costs Rs. 3199, LED View Cover costs Rs. 3,799 and the Clear View Standing Cover costs Rs. 3,799.

Samsung DeX Station that was introduced with S8 phones is also compatible with the Note8. It lets you to use phone as a desktop to access apps, browse the web, send messages and more directly from their phone on a larger display without having to carry multiple devices or transfer data.

Camera

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The Note8 has a 12-megapixel primary camera with wide-angle lens that has 1.4µm pixel size, 1/2.55″ sensor size, f/1.7 aperture, 77-degree FOV and OIS (Optical Image Stabilization), similar to the S8 and also has a 12-megapixel secondary camera with telephoto lens, 1/3.6″ sensor size, f/2.4 aperture, 45-degree FOV and OIS, offering 2x optical zoom.

It has a 8MP autofocus front camera with facial recognition technology, f/1.7 aperture, 1.22µm pixel size, 1/3.6″ sensor size and 80-degree FOV, same as the S8 series.

The first camera captures normal images while the second camera adds elements that are not captured with the primary sensor. When using the dual camera feature, two separate images are captured that are combined to produce a clear, high-quality photography with a greater depth of field. It utilizes both the phone’s rear wide-angle lens and telephoto lens simultaneously to product optimal results.

It has 2X optical and up to 10X digital zooming capabilities. The telephoto lens uses the optics or optical zoom of the camera, to make the subject appear close without enlarging any portion of it compared to how digital zoom does. In doing so, the optical zoom produces clear images without losing quality.

Live Focus lets you adjust the bokeh effect – the aesthetic quality of the blur produced in the out-of-focus parts of an image – to change the depth of field of a shot. You can control the intensity of the overall blur effect and apply it before taking the image in preview mode, or after capturing the photo in the Gallery app.

Dual Capture mode uses phone’s rear wide-angle and telephoto lenses work simultaneously to capture two separate images. You can get both zoomed-in and wide-angle versions of the image from the Gallery.

It has Auto mode, Panorama, Food and also Pro mode to adjust ISO, Shutter speed, focus, white balance and exposure manually. You can also make use the RAW capture in Pro mode to get untouched and uncompressed images. It also has a lot of stickers and stamps. The camera’s facial recognition technology lets you apply static and animated facial feature stickers on the subject when in Camera or Video mode.

Coming to the image quality, there is a slight improvement in the Note8 compared to the Galaxy S8 series in the normal mode. The camera captures a good amount of detail, creates really well exposed photos with good dynamic range and detailing, and dynamic range can further be improved using the HDR mode. The autofocus speeds are fast and accurate. Thanks to Dual Pixel technology, every single pixel enables precise and fast focusing. light performance is really good and noise is really kept under control.

In the 2x mode, images are crisp and clear, even when shot at far distances or in low lighting conditions. Live Focus applies a strong background blur effect. It looks a bit uneven when looking in the camera, but the final output is pretty good.

The front camera is same as the S8, which is an 8MP smart auto-focus camera with facial recognition technology that can easily recognizes and tracks faces, even when the distance between the camera and the subjects in the photo is increased. Selfies are clear and offers good details. The front camera has beautify features to adjust skin tone, spotlight and some features such as slim face, large eyes and shape correction.

Check out some camera samples (Click the image for the full resolution sample).

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Dual Camera – 2X Zoom
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Dual Camera Live focus
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Dual Camera – Close-up
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Dual Camera – Wide-angle

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HDR OFF

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HDR ON

Low-light

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It can record videos at 4K (3840 x 2160 pixels) resolution at 30 fps, 1080p resolution at up to 60 fps and Slow Motion video recording in 720p at 240 fps. There is also hyperlapse mode. Video quality is good, and the audio is good as well, thanks to secondary microphone. Check out the video samples.

Check out the complete set of Galaxy Note8 samples here.

Software, UI and Apps

Coming to the software, the phone runs on Android 7.1.1 (Nougat) with Android security patch for August. On the top of Nougat, it has Samsung Experience version 8.5, which is the company’s new UX that is more refined compared to its TouchWiz UX. The drop-down notification shade shows six toggles on the top, and more when you swipe down again. You can easily change the button order and the button grid (3×3, 4×3, 5×3). There are also brightness control slider and option to choose SIM cards easily.

It has vertical swiping interface by default instead of separate apps button, so to navigation between the home screen and app tray you need to swipe up or down. You also have option to add apps screen button to the home screen. You can also simultaneously move multiple apps into a folder easily. You can tap and hold an app icon to open a quick options menu that lets you perform tasks such as uninstalling apps or moving them to Secure Folder without having to open the app. App icons and typography have also been changed according to the new design language.

The advanced features option has Smart stay to keep the screen on while you are looking at it, Games Launcher that gathers your games downloaded from Play Store and Galaxy Apps into one place for easy access and one-handed operation mode that lets you use the phone easily with one hand. Similar to other Android phones it also has Multi Window mode that was first introduced by Samsung several years back.

Other options include Smart capture to capture the current screen and scrollable area, and crop and share the screenshot immediately, Palm swipe to capture a screenshot, direct call to make a voice call by picking up and holding the device near your ear while viewing call, message, or contact details, Smart alert to set the device to alert you if you have missed calls or new messages when you pick up the device, Easy mute to mute incoming calls or alarms by using palm motions or facing the device’s screen downwards, Swipe to call or send message, and Panic mode to Send SOS message by pressing the Power key three times, including option to sound recordings along with the message to the recipients.

The Device maintenance option lets you manage your device’s battery life, storage, RAM usage, and security all in one place. The Samsung Secure Folder that lets you save your personal data and information.

S Pen

It also has an improved S Pen stylus with finer 0.7mm tip, improved pressure sensitivity with pressure level of 4096. It also comes with different set of tips so you can change them for drawing, writing and other tasks. Even the S Pen is water and dust resistant.

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It now lets you share animated texts or drawings across platforms that support animated GIFs. It also has improved S Pen Translate feature lets you hover over text to quickly translate entire sentences in up to 71 languages, and instantly convert units and foreign currencies.

You can use the Screen-off Memo function to take out the S Pen and start scribbling on the screen. If you need the note to be visible like a sticky note, you can pin it to your Always On Display screen.

Apart from the usual set of utility apps and Google Apps, the smartphone comes with Facebook app and Microsoft Apps – Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, OneDrive and Skype. You also get option to install apps when you are setting up the phone.

The phone has Samsung Pay, which is Samsung’s own payment service that was launched in India in March. It works with Samsung’s patented Magnetic Secure Transmission (MST) technology as well as with Near Field Communication (NFC). MST replicates a card swipe by wirelessly transmitting magnetic waves from the supported Samsung device to a standard card reader, so Samsung pay works seamlessly on a majority of Point of Sale terminals in India. It has three levels of security—fingerprint authentication, card tokenization and Samsung’s security platform Samsung KNOX. It also has UPI support.

It also has Bixby Assistant that was first introduced with the S8 series. You can slide to the left to view the Bixby screen or press and hold the dedicated Bixby button to launch it. It has Vision, Home and Reminder features currently. Vision option can detect what users are looking at and take action according to what they see, Home lets users see the content they care most about and Reminder helps users remember important events and to-do tasks.

Samsung started rolling out its Bixby Voice assistant globally in August and it was launched in India officially last month. It supports U.S. English, and Samsung says that it has been optimized to understand English in Indian accents. Samsung at the launch said that the development of Bixby voice capabilities for Indian consumers was carried out at Samsung Research & Development Institute, Bangalore (SRI-B), which is Samsung’s largest R&D facility outside Korea.

Samsung Bixby India

You can easily activate voice commands by pressing the Bixby button and saying “Hi, Bixby.” You can also type the commands. It works well most of the times, but sometimes it can’t understand what you are trying to say. I feel Google Assistant does a better job, but Samsung is expected to improve with Bixby 2.0 that is expected with the S9 next year.

Out of 6GB (LPDDR4) of RAM, you get 5.34GB of usable RAM, out of which about 3.3GB of RAM is free when the default apps running in the background. Out of 64GB (UFS 2.1) of internal storage, 51.9GB of storage is usable.

Fingerprint Sensor

The fingerprint sensor is present on the back of the phone, same as the S8 series, but it is hard to access since the phone is tall your finger can’t reach the fingerprint sensor. It immediately unlocks phone just by keeping your finger on the home button so that you don’t have to press it.

You can add up to 4 fingerprints. It can also be used for Samsung Pay in markets where the service is available and for Samsung Pass to verify your identity with browser and other supported apps.

Music Player

Google Play Music is the default music player. It has equalizer, UHQ upscaler, Surround and Tube Amp Pro sound effects that can be enabled from the settings. All these improve the audio when listening through earphones. Separate app sound option lets you set to play a selected app’s sound through your device’s speaker or the connected Bluetooth headset or speaker. That said, audio through the bundled Samsung-made headphones tuned by AKG is good and the loudspeaker output from the mono speaker is decent. Wish it had dual speakers, since it is not loud enough.

Calling and Messaging

The dialer and messaging have the same UI as the S8 phones. Since this is a dual SIM phone, you get option to select either SIMs when calling or sending text message. There are no call drops and the earpiece volume is good.

Connectivity

The connectivity options include, Wi-Fi 802.11ac (2.4/5GHz), VHT80 MU-MIMO, Bluetooth v 5.0 (LE up to 2Mbps), GPS with GLONASS, NFC and USB 3.1 with support for USB OTG. It has Bluetooth 5 support with Bluetooth Dual audio that lets you Stream audio from Note8 to up to two Bluetooth headsets or speakers simultaneously. You can also adjust the volume levels for each device independently. However, the two connected devices may exhibit a slight difference in sound output, according to Samsung. We tested it and hardly found and delay.

It has 4G connectivity with support a lot of bands and also has Voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) support for Reliance Jio. Both the SIMs support 4G, but you can enable 4G only in one SIM at a time, while the other goes to 3G.

You can set preferred SIM for voice call, text and data from the SIM card manager. As usual it has Smart Dual SIM feature, similar to other latest Samsung Dual SIM smartphones. This automatically forwards calls from the phone number on SIM 2, even if a user is on the phone with SIM 1’s number. There is a new option called confirm SIM card for calls so that it asks which SIM card to be used for the next call when you make a call without your preferred SIM card for calls.

Performance

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The Indian version of the Galaxy Note8 is powered by an Octa-Core Samsung Exynos 9 Series 8895 processor that has four of the company’s 2nd generation custom designed CPU cores clocked at up to 2.5GHz per core and four ARM Cortex-A53 cores clocked at up to 1.7GHz per core. It uses big.LITTLE architecture similar to earlier Samsung’s high-end SoCs. It has 6GB of LPDDR4 RAM and packs a Mali-G71 MP20 GPU.

It is also the first Samsung SoC in the premium line-up to include gigabit LTE modem that supports five carrier aggregation, or 5CA. Check out some synthetic benchmark scores below.

AnTuTu Benchmark 6

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It scored 1,74,938 points in the AnTuTu 6 benchmark and grabbed the second spot, behind the HTC U11.

Geekbench 4 Single-Core

Samsung Galaxy Note8 Geekbench 4 Single-Core

It scored 1997 points in the Geekbench 4 Single-Core benchmark and grabbed the second spot, behind the S8.

Geekbench 4 Multi-Core

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It scored 6718 points in the Geekbench 4 Multi-Core benchmark and topped the charts.

3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited

Samsung Galaxy Note8 3D Mark Ice Storm Unlimited

It managed to score 32787 points in the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited GPU benchmark and grabbed the fourth spot.

Basemark OS II

Samsung Galaxy Note8 Basemark OS II

It managed to score 3285 points in the Basemark OS II benchmark.

Coming to the gaming, the 20-core Mali-G71 MP20 GPU does the job in latest games, including some high-end games, but it is not optimized for old games, hence you might face lags.

Battery life

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Coming to battery life, the 3300mAh battery lasts for less than a day even with average use even though the display resolution is reduced from WQHD+ to FHD+, which is not impressive.

It has Medium power saving mode that reduces brightness, reduces the screen resolution to FHD+, reduces the CPU speed and turns off the Always On Display. The Max mode does all this and also puts the display resolution to HD+. You can customize these based on your usage. There is also App power monitor that alerts you when an app is using more power so that you can close it.

Samsung Galaxy Note8 FoneArena One Charge Rating Pie Chart

In our battery test the smartphone achieved a One Charge Rating of 14 hours and 46 minutes, which is less even when compared to the Galaxy S8 with a 3000mAh battery that got 15 hours and 27 minutes in our test. Thanks to adaptive fast charging, it can charge from 0 to 100% in 1 hour and 21 minutes and from 0 to 50% in just 38 minutes. We will bring you the complete set of battery test results soon.

Conclusion

The Galaxy Note8 is just not a larger version of the Galaxy S8+. Samsung has adopted the Infinity display and the design of the S8 series, added unique Galaxy Note features such as S Pen and dual rear cameras that make it one of the best premium phones in the market. It does a great job when it comes to build quality, performance and camera. Placement of the fingerprint sensor on the back is still a concern since it can’t be accessed easily, but you can also use the Iris scanner and face recognition.

At a price tag of Rs. 67,900, the Galaxy Note8 is costly compared to most other flagship. If you can afford, it is definitely a good choice if you are looking for a phone with a large screen and a compact body, dual rear cameras and S Pen stylus. The phone is available exclusively from Amazon.in online and offline stores as well.

Pros

  • Brilliant display
  • Good camera
  • Good performance
  • S Pen stylus is now more precise

Cons

  • Fingerprint sensor placement makes it useless
  • Battery life is not impressive
  • Priced on the higher side
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Author: Srivatsan Sridhar

Srivatsan Sridhar is a Mobile Technology Enthusiast who is passionate about Mobile phones and Mobile apps. He is currently using the Motorola Moto G4 Plus. You can follow him on Twitter @ssrivatsan and on Google+