After two years South Africans finally have a new Samsung Note smartphone to buy.
As you may recall the Note 7 never made it to South Africa due to a battery fault that caused many handsets to spontaneously catch fire.
Samsung insists that the Note 8 is safe and so far that appears to be the case given that no news has come to light that the smartphone is catching fire.
So with that out of the way, how does the Note 8 perform as a smartphone? Is it still a phone suited for enthusiasts or is it just a bigger brother to the S8 and S8+ with incremental improvements? Here are my thoughts.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review – Bigger doesn’t mean better
The Note 8 is big but it’s not much bigger than the Galaxy S8+. No really, its display is 0.1 inch bigger.
There are a few things I don’t like about the Note 8. The single speaker output is located at the bottom of the handset, exactly where your fingers rest when you’re watching a video in fullscreen.
Why Samsung? You know people are going to use your gorgeous display to watch videos so why place the speaker in such a stupid spot? Come now, this isn’t your first rodeo.
The placement of the fingerprint scanner also feels odd. I had heard people bemoaning its placement but you only truly understand how awkward it is when you’re fumbling to unlock the handset.
Finally, the stylus is completely lost on me. To be fair you can write notes on the locked screen and then save them to notes. The trouble is that outside of that functionality the stylus is almost useless.
You can use it to draw but its no Apple Pencil.
Somethings I do like are unlocking your phone with facial recognition though I found the front camera struggled in low-light conditions.
The blue-light filter is also great especially at night when the glare of a display can be just a bit too much.
While the image below is courtesy of Samsung, having accidentally left my phone outside as it started raining I can vouch for the fact that the Note 8 is water resistant.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review – Bixby is great on Wifi
Samsung’s personal assistant is a good effort. At the start it was a bit hit or miss but Bixby learned to recognise my voice rather well. One of the best things about Bixby is how exact you can be in your instructions. You can tell Bixby to take you to a menu within an app or open Maps and take you to a direct address.
The only problem I have had with Bixby is when I am on the move. “Bixby open Maps and take me home”, I would say only to be told there was a data connection problem.
This happened whether I was in an area with LTE or 3G. I am acutely aware that this might have been down to my network so your experience might differ wildly.
The crux of the matter is that Bixby works well and of the assistants I have used it’s among the best.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review – Performance
Like the Galaxy S8 range, Samsung has once again fitted an Exynos 8895 CPU into the Note devices available in South Africa.
The chip is good and its performance is better than the performance of the Galaxy S8 so in that aspect you are getting a bit of an upgrade. Note that we have not tested the S8+ (though we have requested a review unit) so the results might reveal that the S8+ and Note 8 are more evenly matched.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review – The camera tech is ace
My favourite part of the Note 8 is its camera. Even in low-light the camera performs well and gives you enough wiggle room to edit the photos to improve the lighting and such after the fact.
The video footage is great and the audio capture is perhaps the best I’ve encountered in some time.
Even if you are just recording audio the quality is pristine. The Note 8 does well when it comes to creating rich media and the editing capabilities are really good even if somewhat limited by the mobile form factor.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review – The battery
The battery in the Note 8 clocks in at 3300mAh which is slightly larger than the Galaxy S8 battery and just smaller than the S8+ battery.
Wait a second.
The Note 8 is larger than the S8+, has more features and the battery is smaller?
I would say “that makes no difference” but it does. As soon as the Note8 comes off of its USB Type C charger it begins to lose power at an alarming rate. With the phone just sitting on my desk one evening the power dropped from 100 percent to 80 percent in two hours, and the phone was idle.
On an average day the Note 8 lasts six to eight hours depending on what it is you’re doing. This result came after having Wifi and Bluetooth on, screen brightness set to 100% and mobile data on. The Note 8 doesn’t sip battery it chugs it.
For those looking to watch movies and series on their Note 8 on a long-haul flight you can expect about 10 hours of life with WiFi, off, screen brightness set to 50% and the headphones plugged in.
And if you expect to use the Note 8 while it charges, think again. The phone heats up to a point where it feels almost dangerous to hold. I understand that phones get warm when they charge but the Note 8’s temperature while charging is concerning especially given what happened with the Note 7.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review – Conclusion
The Note 8 feels very much like an incremental upgrade from the S8 and S8+. That’s not a bad thing but if you already own an S8 or S8+, chances are you won’t need this phone.
What saved this handset for me however is the camera. Dual sensors are now par for the course with flagship devices and Samsung has a winner on its hands. Colour reproduction is spot on with photos looking remarkably true to life and video is so clear I couldn’t believe I was watching footage captured on a glass rectangle.
Right now you can get the S8+ for R14 149 and the Note 8 costs R16 995.
That gap might seem huge but you are getting better performance, a better camera set up and a stylus (as useless as it is in real life). What you need to decide is whether a smaller battery and 0.1 inches of extra screen real-estate is worth that extra fee.
To us it isn’t but the Note 8 is the top performer on our charts and as much as it isn’t as well rounded as the Nokia 8 we can’t deny that Samsung has made a beautiful handset that many folks will want.
Disclaimer: A Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review unit was provided by Samsung’s local representation. It has been returned.