What’s it like to use Samsung’s best phone ever? Read on to find out.
From a scant hour of playing with the new Note8 at a preview session ahead of the new phone’s launch in New York, here are my collected musings on everything that’s new about Samsung’s newest and most powerful and most expensive (…ever) phone.
The Dual Camera Is Full Of Potential
The Galaxy Note8’s natural competitor is the iPhone 7 Plus, which also has the same combo of two 12-megapixel sensors and one ‘1x’ wide-angle and one ‘2x’ telephoto lens — although focal lengths are likely very slightly different between the two. There are other dual lens cameras out there, but Note buyers will likely only be considering a top iPhone and little else.
Both phones take very very good photos both in wide-angle and in telephoto, both are exceptionally good in low light, both are quality from top to bottom. If you’re zooming in further than ‘2x’ using digital zoom, though, the Galaxy Note8 should have an edge — so to speak — because of that telephoto optical image stabilisation and faster lens, both of which translate into a more usable range of shutter speeds.
On paper, the Note8 is better — it has optical image stabilisation on both lenses, and its telephoto lens is faster. In reality, the iPhone and Note8 trade blows in the software side of things when it comes to that background blur: the 7 Plus is more refined at applying it, but the Note8 is faster and gives you that very useful dual capture option as well as more post-processing adjustment. It’s close, but I’d say its photos are a little better too.
The S-Pen Is Genuinely Better Than Ever
If you’ve used one decent stylus on a smartphone or tablet, you’ve used them all — that’s my opinion, at least. For writing and quick sketching, more pressure sensitivity and a finer tip is better, sure, but one size fits all for the most part. Samsung is the benchmark for its stylus, and after years of refinement there’s nothing that doesn’t feel good about the Note8’s.
And that’s why it’s the software of the S-Pen that sets it apart from the crowd, too. Live Message, for example, is the smallest and most unimportant thing on paper — write your own GIFs! — but in practice it’s so fun to do, whether you’re writing something short and silly and sappy like a birthday message, or just making fun of your idiot friends, that I really think I would use it.
Translating text by hovering over it is useful, converting money by hovering is even moreso. And PenUp, the time-wasting social community of Note user ephemera, now has adult colouring books! If you ever had a moment when you weren’t doing anything else on your phone, it might be a fun way to pass the time? As with any high-powered hardware feature, I’m sure it’ll take another good third-party app to get the best of it.
The New Software Should Come In Handy
The biggest addition that Samsung brings to the Note8 might be one that doesn’t stay exclusive to the phone for long. App Pair, the feature that lets you load two apps in split-screen simultaneously from a single shortcut on the Edge menu, is so straightforward it’d be silly not to bring it to other devices in the future. Which certainly isn’t a bad thing, but lessens the appeal of the Note8 in the long run.
Either way, App Pair is fantastic. I can see it being really useful for quick-launching a pair of apps that belong together in specific circumstances — the big one for me will likely be Google Maps and Spotify or Apple Music or another music streaming service, quick-loading when I jump into my car and put the Note8 into a phone cradle on my dashboard. It has limited utility outside of those specfics, but for convenience, it seems like it’ll be a huge boon.
Android 7.1.1 out of the box is about as good as you can expect from a phone at this point in 2017, but it’d be great to get some transparency on what Samsung’s plans are to bring Android 8.0 Oreo to its newest and most powerful phone on the cusp of Oreo’s launch barely a month from now. We do know that monthly software updates are a definite thing, although not for how long into the future, as is Samsung’s usual suite of Knox and first-party productivity tools.
There Are Still A Few Unanswered Questions
What’s the battery life like? Good, probably, but maybe slightly inferior to early-2017’s Galaxy S8 Plus, which has a smaller screen and larger cell. Almost certainly better than the already good Galaxy Note7 — when it was around, at least — due to the more efficient 10-nanometre Exynos 8895 processor versus the 14-nanometre 7000-series chip of the Note7. “All-day” battery life is almost a certainty, two-day battery life is less likely, but it’s up to smart Samsung software to get the best out of the hardware.
Will it blow up? Look, almost certainly not. If it does, well… we’ll tell you about it.
Gizmodo travelled to New York as a guest of Samsung.