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Care/Don't Care: The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review

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On paper, the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is about the most premium smartphone you can buy right now. But do all its fancy features and high price tag translate into a phone you should actually care about? Here's what I care/don't care about the Note 8:

Care: The screen

Note 8 screen

The Note 8 screen is ginormous. In a good way.


The Note 8’s screen is a ginormous 6.3 inches. A couple of smartphone years ago, that would have translated to a handset that’s incredibly hard to manage, but seeing as the Note 8 features Samsung’s nearly bezel-less Infinity display, first appearing on this year’s Galaxy S phones, it’s not impossible to use one-handed. (Not completely effortless, but not impossible.)

Having all that real estate to read newsfeeds or compose long emails, especially at low cost of palm space, is a real value. And I’m personally a fan of the less exaggerated rounded-off screen of the Note 8 as compared to the S8.
Since the phone is mostly all screen, its handsome display design equals a handsome all-around device.

Don't Care: S Pen stylus

S Pen and Note 8

I would gladly pay less for a Note without an S Pen.


The S Pen stylus is absolutely a signature feature of the Note, and the Note 8 version writes as smoothly and impressively as any in the series. But I’m not a fan of paying for features I don’t use, and the S Pen has largely remained in its holster during my time with the new Note. Because typing “don’t forget the milk” memos to myself with an on-screen keyboard will just always be faster than handwriting them.

I will say that playing around with the new Live Message applet was fun and novel, but it hardly justifies the existence of a digital handwriting tool all on its own. I would gladly pay less for a Note without an S Pen.

Care: Power

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Note 8 tale of the tape


The most undersold element of the new Note could be its sheer power. The Snapdragon 835 processor inside matches the one in the S8 and the upcoming LG V30, but with the addition of a couple of gigs of RAM over those phones (6 GB total) – and three more gigs of RAM over the latest iPhones – the Note 8 flies through anything you throw at it. Want to watch a video while running turn-by-turn navigation in Google Maps? Though not recommended (safety first!), this is the phone that can handle all of that. I don’t remember incurring a single stutter during my time with the Note 8, which makes for a great user experience that I definitely care about.

Though Samsung, after famously struggling with battery quality control with its last Note, decided to shrink the power bank for the Note 8, the phone, even with all its RAM and processing power, still lasts about an entire day on a charge.

Care: Camera

Galaxy Note 8 camera

With its two camera lenses, the Note 8 can take two different pics (zoomed and wide) at the same time.


The camera on the Note 8 is the same great one from the Galaxy S8, Galaxy S7 and Note 7 – save for the addition of a second, wide-angle lens, and thus, some new tricks.

Like the dual-lens iPhone 7 Plus, the Note 8 has a sort of Portrait-like function that will blur out the background behind your subject. The benefit on Samsung’s version is that you can adjust the blurred background after the shot is taken. But, ultimately, iPhone’s all-around effect looks better.

What I found to be more useful was that the new Note’s camera lenses can take a wide and standard picture at the same time and let you choose between them later.

In general, this Galaxy, like the last couple, has at least as good a shooter as the current iPhone – if not better – which is a great compliment!

Don't Care: Bixby

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Bixby

Oh, a dedicated Bixby button. Thanks?


A major 'Don’t Care' is Bixby, Samsung’s new voice-activated personal assistant. Like Siri and the Google Assistant, Bixby can send text messages, schedule calendar events, search the web for you and curate a personalized info feed. The problem Samsung faces is that Android phones today, including the Note, come built with the more powerful and omnipresent Google Assistant. And so, when I used the Note, I used the Google Assistant on it – not Bixby.

Bixby does offer a dedicated button to launch it if you don’t feel like calling its name, and it has a Vision mode built into the camera app for searching the web based on images, that works sometimes. But neither of those Galaxy-exclusive features moved me away from using Google’s AI, which knows me so well from my time using it on other Android phones and iPhones.

Care: The Samsung Galaxy Note 8

All in all, I care about this phone!

The Note 8 delivers a user experience that will make you feel like you’re using the best smartphone on the planet. And if you’re a handwriting junkie, or for some reason someone who loves experimenting superfluously with multiple digital assistants, the Note really does become the best pound-for-pound smartphone you can buy.

If its near-$1,000 price tag doesn’t work for you, the cheaper Galaxy S8+ or LG V30 will work as less speedy, penless Android phone substitutes. But if you’re considering an iPhone instead of the new Note, at least for now, you’ll be settling for a lot more bezel and almost an inch less screen than the Note.

After a long search for a style of its own, Samsung have arrived at a place where it’s now making the best-looking phones around. The Note 8 is simply the most powerful and, for my money, the most attractive of its models. Whether the expensive, all-screen iPhone Apple is expected to release this fall to bring a fight to Samsung will be up for the task remains to be seen. For now, the Note is at the top of the mountain.

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