Samsung Galaxy Note8: Australian Review

A year after the disastrous Galaxy Note7, Samsung is back with another Note, its flagship big-screen smartphone that is the best it'll build in 2017. Welcome to the Note8 -- it's a masterpiece, an agenda-setting phone that's the first of a new breed of devices that could well replace your entire PC.

The Galaxy Note8 faces stronger competition than ever, but that's a great thing for you, the customer. It catches up to Apple and its competitors with an excellent dual camera, and it streaks ahead with the best screen of any phone ever. If this is the benchmark for top-end phones, I'm really excited to see what this forces everyone else to come up with.

What Is It?

The $1499 Samsung Galaxy Note8 is the latest and greatest phone from the world's most prolific smartphone builder. It's a big phone, too -- built around a new 6.3-inch 2960x1440pixel 18.5:9 ratio Infinity Display, the Note8 is 163x75x8.6mm and weighs 195g. But from the front, it's all screen. Like the S8 before it, the Note8 has a home button that's actually hidden underneath the lower edge of its extended display, responding to a light press to power on the screen from sleep or to pop you back to the home screen while you're using it.

Apart from that screen, the standout new hardware feature of Samsung's new Galaxy Note8 is its dual camera module. As well as the same existing 12-megapixel f/1.7 optically stabilised wide-angle (26mm equivalent) lens that the S8 has, the Galaxy Note8 is the first Samsung phone to have dual rear-facing cameras, and the first phone ever with dual optical image stabilised cameras. That's right, the Note8's second sensor-and-lens module, another 12-megapixel one (although lacking the dual pixel autofocus of the wide lens) with a f/2.4 lens at a 52mm equivalent field of view.

On top of that, Samsung uses both lenses simultaneously in its camera app for a new Live Focus software feature that blurs the background, using the wide-angle lens to determine the foreground and background of shots. It'll also save both a wide-angle and portrait shot, and let you adjust the background blur before or after. It works pretty damn well, too, but more on that later. You can also share these photos with other Galaxy Note8 users, by the way, and they can do all the same photo re-jiggery in their own Gallery app.

Under the hood, the Note8 has similar hardware to the S8 from earlier in the year. In Australia we get a 64GB storage variant with microSD support for 256GB more, with Samsung's octa-core Exynos 8895 CPU and 6GB of RAM supporting all the usual 4G network bands at all the usual blazing fast speeds. You also get a Bixby button under the volume ones, and Bixby now works a little better in Australia too.

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What's It Good At?

The Note8's Live Focus photos are just about the best that I've taken with a smartphone. If you've got an iPhone 7 Plus you'll know just how good Portrait Mode can be, and Samsung's come up with something that's equally good. Both the cameras are just fantastic. Case in point the small gallery below -- that squirrel snap is definitely the best photo I've ever taken with a phone, and those eggs on toast look as good as they taste. The ability to share the adjustable photos, albeit only with other Note8 users, is a nice bonus.

The camera in general is just really really nicely done. Both sensors snap photos that are very close in white balance and exposure, so there's no obvious difference in quality between the two even in difficult lighting. And that's a good thing for the consistency of your photos! I can confidently say that the Note8's camera is the best I've used on any Android phone, and is easily the equal of the iPhone 7 Plus. If you like taking great photos with your phone, you won't be disappointed with the Note8.

The software updates that the Note8 launches with, that revolve around the S-Pen, are actually pretty cool. For a gimmick, Samsung's Live Message feature -- which turns your S-Pen stylus scribbles into GIFs that you can send through any messaging service or social network you might care to name -- is pretty fun. It's not going to set the world on fire in terms of how amazing it is, but being able to jot down an animated birthday message is a little bit more wholesome than just typing one out. In that, and a few other scenarios, it might just come in handy and it might actually influence me to use the S-Pen more.

Ditto the stylus's live translation and currency conversion features, which make the Note8 a smart traveller's phone. App Pair is another software feature that just makes so much sense, especially considering the massive vertical screen real estate that you have with the Note8. Imagine getting into the car, swiping and tapping the App Pair to open Spotify and Maps while you're putting the Note8 into your car's phone cradle. Or sitting on the train with YouTube and Twitter open on your commute. Of course, you can do all these things already on a Note or a S8, but you have to multi-task manually, and honestly I just forget. Once I had some App Pair icons set up, I actually started to use them.

What's It Not Good At?

The Note8's battery life is OK, but not incredible. It's better than the Note5's life from its identically sized battery, it's better than the Note4, but anecdotally it's a little inferior to the Galaxy S8+ that I was carrying around alongside it. That's likely due to the combination of bigger, brighter screen and more high-tech stylus components sucking up power. It's still enough for all-day use, but I doubt you'd get more than a full day's enjoyment out of the Note8 unless you switched on Samsung's power saving mode early on in the day. Thankfully fast wired and wireless charging are both close at hand.

It's also expensive, very much so. The Galaxy Note8 is the most expensive smartphone that Samsung has released into Australia, and it's one of the most expensive smartphones period -- eclipsed only by the ridiculous storage 256GB variant of the iPhone 7 Plus that will still set you back the same $1569 RRP a year after the phone's launch. A Galaxy S8+, sans dual cameras and stylus but with a bigger battery, will set you back $1349 at RRP or significantly less if you shop around. It's not necessarily that the Note8 is expensive that's the sticking point; it's that it's more expensive than other very good phones at the same time.

Apart from the dual camera, the main drawcards of the Samsung Galaxy Note8 are predominantly software features. And that's a point of concern because, with time and effort, software features can be replicated on other phones, either by manufacturers or enterprising third-party users. The fun Live Message feature? That doesn't need a stylus; it just needs an app developer to put a similar feature together and release it on the Play Store.

If you wanted to focus criticism on the Galaxy Note8, you'd say it's not hugely different to the Galaxy S8 and S8+. Its screen size is similar enough to the S8+ that it's really no different in the real world, it's just as powerful in terms of the processing under the hood and the internal modem and the software version that it's running. The years of the Note line having a more powerful CPU than the S line are over; you'll have to want that stylus and Samsung's Note-specific software features to justify the extra cost of a Note8 over the significantly cheaper S8+ or even the smaller S8.

Should You Buy It?

It's hard to argue that, right now, the $1499 Samsung Galaxy Note8 is not the best Android phone that you can buy, and perhaps the best phone you can buy. That might change with the imminent announcement of new Apple and new Google phones some time in the next month, but for now, and into 2018, the Note8 will remain one of the most powerful and versatile smartphones on the market. It has tremendous power, but so does the Galaxy S8 -- the Note8 sets itself apart with that excellent dual camera, an even better display, and the actually useful S-Pen.

The Note8 is not hugely different to the recent Samsung Galaxies and Galaxies Note that have come before it. It's solid iterative change rather than revolution. But in the recent climate of the Note7, that's not necessarily a bad thing. The improvements that it makes are real and substantial and will change the way in which you use your phone. The dual camera especially, and the actually useful Live Focus mode, allows for the most creative photos to come out of any Samsung Galaxy yet. It's a mix of new and familiar, but it's all good.

The Galaxy Note8 is phenomenally expensive -- the most expensive Galaxy, more expensive than all but the most capacious iPhone, more expensive than any other Android phone. $1499 is a lot of money: enough for a laptop, for one of Samsung's own 4K TVs, for a cheap second-hand car. But, with that said, you use your phone probably more than any other piece of technology, and you're probably going to buy it on a plan that splits that four-figure sum up into more palatable monthly chunks.

But most importantly, the Samsung Galaxy Note8 is a true Note. It's a worthy successor to the Note7 and Note5 before it. It's a phone that can do just about anything you ask of it.


Comments

    $1,500 for a PHONE?!

    The world has truly gone mad...

      I don't know.
      I get that it's expensive.
      And at a time when wages are flat it would put some people off.
      But lets face it most people here buy their phones on plans.
      So the question will be how much will the plans be.
      Also I use my phone more than any other piece of technology that I own.
      Given that is the case how much does that make it worth?
      Do I spend $2000 or more on a laptop that I use maybe 2 hours a day.
      Do I spend $3000 or more on a home PC that I just game on and maybe find 6 hours a week to do that (in a good week).
      Or do I spend $1,500 on a device that I literally use for many hours in a day.
      It's an interesting thought.

        you sir have nailed it. i all comes down to a $per hou/day/week basis with things like this. well, at least thats the best way to make you feel good about the purchase. but it does actually have merit.

          I say just stop trying to justify it. If you want it buy it. ;)

        That's a really good way to look at it. I still say too expensive considering a 2 year turn around for a LOT of users, but my previous utter contempt and indignation for that price point is tempered to a large degree now. Damn your logic and reason!

          Hahaha.
          I know, logic and reason is not often accepted or tolerated on the internet today. :)
          But yeah I don't disagree that it's too expensive but I think the value equation is going to be different for everyone.

          I reckon $1500 will be the price point where we start seeing 3 year contracts offered for anyone that fancies being tied to a device/contract/provider for that long.

            I think voda have already started 3 years contracts

        Very similar vibe to your comment,

        I upgrade my phone every few months, I work in IT and for me, I love the idea of having the newest and best technology in my pocket.

        Out of work I don't own a computer, so all communication etc goes via my mobile, so spending 1500 on a phone is nothing.

        Its either buy a new phone or buy more bitcoin....

          Damn.
          Honestly every few months would be a bit much for me.
          The thought of having to reinstall the apps and remember my passwords etc is already giving me a headache. :)
          But hey you got the money and happy to do it knock yourself out.
          Especially if your phone is also your computer etc.
          I was upgrading my android phones about once a year but that was because I always had problems with them. :) It was a bit frustrating.
          My iphone has lasted me about 2 years now though and been happy with it.

            With google smart lock and backups etc these days, setting the phone up usually is letting the phone connect to the network and download all the apps and their settings and then running nova launcher with backups to set up my folders and everything again.

            it really isn't a difficult task at all like it used to be when androids first released.

            With Smart Switch, upgrading from Apple other recent phones is *very* easy.

            Never had a problem with an android (or Treo - remember them?) phone.

            That pen with "Screen off memo" is a killer app. An endless piece of paper and the Note reminds you not to leave the pen out - unlike the Treo where many lost pens.

        I use my computer a billion times more than I use my phone...and it cost almost the same price as the Note 8 to build it too...

          Yeah everyone's value equation is going to be different.
          The only tech I use more than my phone is my work laptop. And I don't pay for that. :)
          These days I will often even use my phone when lounging on the couch rather then get out my laptop.

      You get a free wireless charger and screen repair so it's not really $1500.

    I don't think the author actually researched the difference between Note 8 and Galaxy S8+, saying they have the same power under the hood is plain wrong, the Note 8 has 6GB of RAM while the S8+ comes with 4GB, while it may not be obvious when you just pick it up and play around with the different menus, but it will definitely make a difference when you use the large and memory intensive apps.

    Here are the key differences between Note 8 and S8+
    * Note 8 has Dual Camera for the 2x optical zoom and additional camera options
    * Note 8 has 6GB of RAM vs. 4GB for S8+
    * Note 8 has the stylus
    * Note 8 has slightly bigger screen, 6.3" vs. 6.2"
    * Note 8 has a slightly smaller battery compared to S8+, 3300mAh vs. 3500mAh

    Note 8 is $150 more than the S8+, sure both devices may be overpriced, but just comparing the two handsets I would pay the difference to get the Note 8.

    Last edited 06/09/17 1:44 pm

      Problem is (just looking at optus) is 72 vs 90 for the 1gb plan) so 432 difference on the base plan.

    "Australian Review" - Here are some pictures of New York.

      Cam (the Editor of Gizmodo Australia) travelled to New York from Sydney to get his hands on the phone early, and reviewed the version we will get in Australia from there.

        I was about to comment on the 'Australian Review' piece but saw@rabbit had already commented on these topic. Thanks for clarifying Rae but still doesn't justify calling this article an Australian review. In a lot of cases, handsets hitting Australia have different chip sets as compared to US units. Calling this an Australian review gives the wrong impression the unit reviewed will be the one launched in Australia.

        Call the article 'Review by an Australian' to make it clear to the readers :-)

          She just said he reviewed the version we will be getting here.

        Please ignore my comment. I just re-read your comment again the Cam didn't in fact review the unit to be launched in Australia.

      "Here's a picture ofan australian native squirrel"

    I'm quite happy with preordering it from Optus. All up I'm paying 124 a month which includes insurance, 30gb data and unlimited Netflix, abc Iview etc and Spotify streaming.

    Not to mention in the box you get a phone cover and 99 dollar earphones. Also add to that the wireless fast charger from Samsung.

    For me the note just ticks all the right boxes, as did the note 7 and the note 4 before that.

    Looking forward to getting it in my hand!

      Only if you need 30gb. Otherwise the optus $40 plan with 14gb and outright purchase saves about $660.

        I have a tablet for work and also have have my nan on a cheap tablet plan included in my data pool, so I do.

          How are you getting that deal anyway? Just looked and optus are $140 for 30gb without insurance.

            Optus were offering a $30 discount on their $140 pm plan, but the offer ended on the 4th. I grabbed it, but the data free Netflix streaming is only in SD so I probably won't bother with it. Especially on a handset that has Netflix official accreditation for their HDR streaming?

            The deal ended on the 4th of September. That's why I jumped on it with the preorder.

    I can’t wait for 2020 when telstra are offering $200 plans with 500-1000gb of included data so I can cut the home NBN connection once and for all!

    Assuming they keep increasing data as exponentially as they have these last few years.

      I can. The network will be an over saturated mess. Mobile broadband is convenient but awful for high volume traffic.

    Freakin Bixby....
    It doesnt understand me, fails at being helpful and keeps getting in the way.
    Bixby button? The most annoying feature of this line of Samsung phones.
    Its not that an extra button is a bad thing, but its that I cant change it to anything else

      Download bixbye remapper from the app store and you can change it to any app you want.

    Wow, those Samsung phones are flaming expensive...

      Looked at the iStuff? That old tech ain't cheap either.
      I hear they finally get an AMOLED screen this year.
      Always criticised . . . until they have it.

      I wait for the folding one - my Note Edge has at least another year in it :)

    my only gripe with the new S8/S8+/Note is bloody Bixby. Doesnt work when you want it to and that bixby button is plain annoying!

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