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Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review - Note is BACK!

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Samsung handled the Note 7 issue wonderfully. Months later, the growing anticipation for the successor has only made the wait that much longer! Not any more.
Gold Galaxy Note 8!

We loved the Galaxy Note 5, and then the Note 7. We loved the phones, and we could not stop praising our experience with them. A few weeks after we published the review of the Note 7, the horror stories came. We were as surprised as anybody as we never experienced it ourselves and we even brought the Note 7 to Tokyo with us for a three day trip.

In the aftermath, Samsung handled the issue so well that they deserve the loyalty of their customers. So when it was about time for the successor to be announced, we were excited and we wanted to know how the Note 8 will rise above it predecessor.


We've had the phone for weeks now and this is what we think!


Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Specs

Display: 6.3-inch WQHD Super AMOLED 2960 x 1440 resolution w/ Curved Infinity Display and Gorilla Glass 5 protection at 522 ppi
CPU: 2.3GHz 64-bit Exynos 8895 octa-core processor
GPU: Mali-G71MP12
RAM: 6GB
ROM: 64GB expandable via microSD card up to 256GB
Back Camera: 12MP f/1.7 RGB + 12MP f/2.4 telephoto lens w/ Dual Pixel, Dual OIS, multi-frame, and dual tone LED flash
Selfie Camera: 8MP f/1.7 w/ AF, wide angle lens, and screen flash
Battery: 3,300mAh w/ fast charging and wireless charging
OS: Android 7.1.1 Nougat w/ TouchWiz UI
Connectivity: WiFi ac, 3G, HSPA+, LTE, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS, USB OTG
Sensors: Pressure, accelerometer, barometer, gyro, geomagnetic, hall, HR, proximity, light
Others: Intelligent S Pen, Fingerprint sensor, IP68 rating, fast wireless charging, USB Type C, UHQ 32-bit / DSD support, Colors: midnight black, maple gold
Dimensions: 162.5 x 74.8 x 8.6 mm
Weight: 195 g
Price: PHP 49,990

Unboxing / Accessories

Unboxed!
Unboxed!

The phone comes in the familiar black rectangular packaging with premium made materials. Inside is the phone itself, USB Type-C adapters, power plug, USB to USB Type-C cable, replacement S Pen, nib extractor, documentation, and SIM ejector tool.

Build Quality / Design

Mic and SIM tray
Mic and SIM tray


Samsung has gotten the build quality down to a formula. The Note 8 is stunning! The way the aluminum frame seamlessly melds with front and back glass panel is so elegant. There are very few phones that can combat the beauty of this phone.
3.5 mm headphone jack, USB Type-C, microphone, speaker, S Pen
3.5 mm headphone jack, USB Type-C, microphone, speaker, S Pen
Bixby button and volume rocker
Bixby button and volume rocker
Bixby button and volume rocker
Power button

Those front and back panel do make the phone feel like it could somehow slip from your fingers though and they do attract fingerprints like honey does to bees. 

In front are the sensors, ear piece and the display. On the right is the power button while on the left is the volume rocker and the Bixby button. The sim card and microSD card slot is on top. The headphone jack, speaker, USB Type-C port and S Pen slot is at the bottom.


It comes in various colors but my we like the gold and the black on the best. However, I still prefer the coral blue from the Note 7. The way the blue matched with gold was just stunning.


The metal frame is now polished instead of matte which would make you think that it feels slippery but it isn't. It was only slippery when water got in between my hand and the phone.


The S Pen feels and looks similar to last year with minor changes. It still has that addictingly good clicker on top.


Display Quality

Stunning!

They have been for some time now and we cannot stress enough of how great the resolution and refresh rates are. The colors are saturated and they images pop. There is no better screen out there. What makes it even better is the immersiveness the curved display adds.

Samsung makes the best displays in the mobile phone market today!

It has this refined curved to it that is more elegant and beautiful than the S7 edge had. It is absolutely stunning. The way the glass panel curves makes hand holding this phone is an experience in by itself.

It has an immersive, saturated and high resolution 18:9 display!

The 18:9 aspect ratio further increases the immersiveness but at the cost of being able to reach one end of the display from the other if you have small hands like we do. 

The viewing angles are great. The brightness is great for both indoor and outdoor. There have been few cases where the sun would be so bright that it would overpower the display but this was seldom under the bright noon sky.
Display settings
Display settings

The on screen display returns but is now customizable with the ability to download more options from the Samsung Theme store. You can also customize the way the display renders colors and the output resolution!

It has 10 points of touch with high responsiveness and accuracy. The only gripe is when tapping on objects that are on the edge. It sometimes throws us off and it registers the object beside what we wanted to type. Other than the small gripes, we love this display.

Audio Quality

Speaker quality is good. It produces loud volume sound with clear details without distortion even at high volume. The sound stage isn't that big but the mids, lows and highs are almost evenly balanced. The speaker grills however are easily muffled because of its placement at the bottom. We hope samsung follows what HTC and the Pixel 2 XL did and have the speakers in front. 

For earphones, quality of audio is great. It uses a good performing DAC that pairs well with the AKG earphones that come with the phone. The sound stage is decently sized with powerful volume and decent clarity. It does gravitate to the bass though. The trebles and mids are good too! We are happy that even Samsung is stepping up their audio game!

The Note's dual microphone has crisp sound w/ defined details and the noise isolation is great, but not on par w/ the U11's setup.

Battery Life

Battery score

The Note 8 has 3,300 mAh battery capacity which is down from the Note 7's 3,500 mAh. In our benchmark tests, the battery would reach at least 10 hours. And this is consistent with our usage without LTE or data connection.

The standby time is phenomenal; HOWEVER, when we used LTE with our daily texting, calling, web surfing, email, messaging, YouTube and social media, the battery significantly drops to 4 hours of on screen time.

At first we thought it was the new face unlock features but we used the same feature extensively with the Vivo V7+ so we thought it may really be TouchWiz. 

Charging time is fast! The charging time has saved us a lot during the days where we used LTE extensively. We would get around 40 to 50% back after charging for 40 minutes. It charges to full under 90 minutes. The phone never heats up while charging with the 2 ampere charger.

Camera

Dual OIS 12MP cameras!
Dual OIS 12MP cameras!

The Note 8 is the first Dual Camera phone that has OIS on both cameras! The first camera is a 12MP f/1.7 RGB while the second one is a 12MP f/2.4 telephoto lens. Both have w/ Dual Pixel autofocus, multi-frame, and dual tone LED flash.


Other modes include Pro, Panorama, Slow Motion, Hyperlapse, Food, Virtual Shot, Sport shot, Rear-Cam Selfie, Animated GIF, and HDR. The HDR is set to on on default and it is one of the fastest implementation we have seen. It takes the two shots and combines them in an instant.

Samsung also added their own portrait mode called the Live Focus but what makes this better is that you can see and adjust the level of out of focus while in live view and after you've taken the picture! The results are better than the competition but it does falter sometimes transitioning from focus to out focus for tricky subjects like hair. Otherwise, this is one of the better implementations out there.


The Food mode allows you to pick where you want to focus and adjust color temperature while the Sport shot allows you to capture fast moving subjects better. The rear-cam selfie mode allows you to take selfies with the main cameras. The Animated GIF allows you to capture and convert the image into an animated GIF automatically. Lastly, the virtual shot prompts you to keep your subject in the middle while moving the phone from left to right. It produces images with added depth because of capturing multiple angles of subject.


There are also stickers which is Samsung's version of Snapchat filters. There are quite a number of them and the ladies will love them!


The Pro mode allows for ISO 50 to 800, Shutter Speed of 1/24000th of a second to 10 seconds, manual focus, white balance control and exposure compensation. You can also choose your metering modes from center weighted, matrix and spot metering. You can also select from center autofocus or multi autofocus points.


Shutter speeds can go as fast as 1/24000th of a second which is rare we did wish the ISO could go up to 3200 though.

Photos from this phone are unmatched so far!

The Dual Pixel autofocus is still the best in the market today for both tap to focus and focus tracking in both stills and video. It is accurate every time. We had moments where it missed but it was so seldom that it was negligible.

The images from cameras are sharp, saturated with a punch that most phones can't keep up. In our tests it beats the HTC U11, the Huawei P10 Plus and the OnePlus 5 by a hair. Our only true gripe with the camera is that the telephoto camera's images tend to be grainier than the other camera. I always know that the image is from the telephoto because of the amount of grain. Don't be discouraged though as the grain is acceptable compared to other telephoto implementations. It is just that compared to wide camera images, it is noticeable.

When transferred to other displays, the colors of the Note 8 are saturated in a pleasing way. Its just enough that improves the look of the pictures. If you want pure color accuracy you may have to look elsewhere.

The dual tone flash is bright enough to illuminate up to 5 to 7 feet away and is smart enough to know which of the dual tones flash to use at each situation.


Rear Camera Samples

Daylight Main camera!
Daylight Main camera!
Indoor Main Camera featuring Jam Ancheta and Duey of Unbox
Close-up Telephoto Lens Shot!
Close-up Telephoto Lens Shot! 
Close-up Wide lens shot!
Live focus sample
Live focus sample
Live Focus Close-up!
Live Focus Close-up!
Live Focus Close-up!
Low light main camera

The 8MP f/1.7 w/ AF selfie camera has the selfie mode, wide selfie mode, and selective focus. Selective focus allows for subjects that are 50cm or shorter to have an out of focus background while the wide selfie is basically a panorama for selfie.

Selfie Mode also has skin tone, spotlight, slim face, large eyes and shape correction adjustments for the beauty mode fans.

The selfie camera has face detect autofocus and it is quick and accurate while the tap to focus is responsive and accurate as well. The images as we said earlier are stellar. It is sharp, saturated and punchy. The contrast is very good too! The field of view is wide but you will need the Wide selfie for big groups.

It also has screen flash for selfies in lowlight.

We think that this is one of the best selfie cameras out there. Given the price, it should be.


Selfie Camera  Samples

Daylight selfie!
Daylight selfie!
Indoor Selfie!
Indoor Selfie!
Low light selfie!
Low light selfie!

For video, the rear camera can record 4K 30 fps while the selfie camera can record up to QHD 1440p at 30 fps with both sides having OIS. The image quality of the 4K is stunning! The resolution is so high! While the 1080p at 60 fps and 30 fps are so very good. The colors on all video resolution has the standard saturated colors of Samsung with good contrast. When recording, we never experienced stuttering or slow downs. 

The Selfie video is also amazing! It detects are face and when it is in focus, the images are sharp with great contrast and saturated colors as well.


Autofocus tracking on video are only limited to 1080p 30 fps and is not enabled in 4K, QHD or 1080p 60 fps. Dual Pixel Autofocus remains the best in the market!


Performance

Daylight selfie!
Wow!

Powering this device is a 2.3GHz 64-Bit Exynos 8895 octa core processor w/ a Mali G71 GPU! This is coupled with 6GB makes this on paper a beast! In benchmarks it rated an Antutu score of 175K! Very few phones stand ahead of this phone. It maintains the Samsung trademark of bleeding edge performance!
Daylight selfie!
Reflections and smoothness!


Gaming on this phone is smooth as silk! The graphics are a cut above the competition and is noticeably smooth in gameplay even at the highest settings at QHD for games like asphalt.

This phone has great thermal management with consistent non throttled speedy performance. We only experienced the phone heating up and it was when we played a demanding game with LTE for over an 120 minutes. It never happened again though.

Daylight selfie!
TouchWiz!

Like the rest of the flagships this year, the Note 8 comes in the latest version of Android 7.1.1 but with TouchWiz on top. It is scheduled for an Android Oreo update soon.

TouchWiz has improved in recent years but because the Flagships tend to have a lot of features, the Settings menu is flooded with settings that we have a hard time finding specific options. This may confuse users. 


If you've been a Note user before, then you know the main software benefit is the S Pen compatible note taking apps! Like the native Samsung Note apps or the Google Keep. The Samsung keyboard also allows for writing keyboard where in you write the letters you want to be typed and the phone will detect it. It is accurate 9 out of 10 times and with practice with the S Pen typing this way is a breeze! 


Daylight selfie!
Notes and Apps Edge!

The Samsung Note has been improved under the hood and couple with some new features and a more accurate S Pen, it is one of the best Pen based interface for smartphone today.

Samsung has added several new features for the screenshots this time around. Aside from being able to draw, to crop and to scroll capture, you can now use Bixby vision where in it will detect the objects inside and will say if it is an image or a text and give search results accordingly.

With the curved edge display, you are also given access to Samsung's Edge panels where in you swipe from the edge and gain access to App shortcuts, Screenshot shortcuts, contact shortcuts, rulers and even Device maintenance options! It is a very good way to access contacts and your specified apps quickly.


Customizable Navigation bars and Edge Panels!

At first we thought the phone would suffer from the fingerprint sensor placement difficulty when you have short fingers from the S8 or S8 Plus, but on the Note 8, it's a lot easier to reach it. Because the phone is slimmer in width than the height which results in the fingerprint being easier to reach if you are right handed. If you are using your left hand however, it will be a bit of a stretch.

As expected, the fingerprint scanner is fast! It unlocks instantly as you place your finger. The Face Unlock is even faster! It unlocks as soon as a line my face in front of my phone. It is accurate 8 out of 10 times. The other 2 times are when you use face unlock in dim lighting and are when you use face unlock are at weird angle. Otherwise it works intuitively and quickly. I am spoiled by this just like the Vivo V7+'s face unlock access.


Telephony-wise, call quality and GSM/LTE signal works great while the WIFI is strong.  We never had complaints from people we speak them through Telco and Data calls. There is a gyroscope and it works accurately and is responsive. 


Pros - Build quality is unmatched, High performance, display is the best, 18:9 is the new standard, one of the best dual camera implementation, S Pen 
Cons - Battery when using LTE doesn't live up to the Note brand standard, images from the telephoto lens tends to be grainier than the wide lens, TouchWiz Settings still needs improvement, 49,990 is the new flagship standard pricing

Verdict

The Note 8 is one heck of a comeback from the Note 7! In fact we only have 2 gripes with the phone: The battery when LTE is lacking and that the Php 49,990 price tag. Is it worth the price? It depends on you. It does however have the most advanced and refined features in the market today in one complete package. Few phones come close.

Otherwise, this is one of the best phones out today. There are few phones that can match its build quality, display quality, camera quality and performance quality that this phone offers. So if you can live with the short LTE battery life and you have the money, the Note 8 is a great and only choice for an Android Phone at this price point.

Build / Design - 5
Display - 5
Audio - 4.25
Battery - 4
Camera - 4.75
Performance - 5
Average - 4.75 / 5
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