Galaxy Note 8 Review

The Galaxy Note 8: Beautiful Visuals & Camera

8 min read

The Note series have been flagship phones for Samsung since the inception. From the introduction of a stylus to pushing the current limits of screen size, the Samsung Galaxy Note phones have always served as examples of a luxurious, top-tier gadget for the user base. (With the exception, of course, of the Note 7’s unstable battery.)

As a Note 5 user for the last couple years, I was excited to dive into the gigantic Note 8 and see what Samsung changed in their flagship phone.

Design & Specs

At 6.3″ the Note 8’s ample screen is in many ways the most comfortable reading experience I’ve ever had on a smartphone. From text to videos, and even games, the color saturation Samsung screens are known for (along with the QHD screen) makes for a beautiful experience. The phone runs at 2960×1440 resolution, and is equipped with a 3500mAh battery.

This may be the largest smartphone I’ve used, but it does come with the challenge of being so large that some pockets struggle to contain it. I’ve shoved it in a hoodie pocket and almost dropped it, and had certain pants pockets where it was uncomfortable to move around because of the Note 8’s size. This is somewhat mitigated by how slim the phone is, but it’s still big no matter how you use it.

That aside, the Note 8 also features a curved bevel around the outer screen. This increases viewing area and gives the phone a sleek look. Button placement is similar to earlier Notes, with a volume rocker on the left side and power button on the right. This Note also features a dedicated Bixby button on the left side, underneath the volume rocker.

The bottom features an updated USB-C port for greater water resistance, as well as a speaker and a 3.5mm headphone jack. That last bit might appeal to some folks given that many smartphones have stopped including a dedicated headphone jack, opting instead for converter dongles run out of the power plug.

Other specs:

  • RAM: 6GB
  • Storage: 64GB – 256GB
  • Processor: Exynos 8895 Octa-core (2.3GHz Quad + 1.7GHz Quad)
  • Memory card expansion: up to 256GB

The Note 8’s Camera

Main Camera: Dual 12 MP (f/1.7, 26mm, 1/2.5″, 1.4 µm, Dual Pixel PDAF) + 12MP (f/2.4, 52mm, 1/3.6″, 1 µm, AF)
Front/Selfie Camera: 8 MP (f/1.7, 25mm, 1/3.6″, 1.22 µm)
Video: Up to 2160p @30fps, 1080p @60fps (main), up to 1440p @30fps (front)

I was always impressed with the Note 5’s camera, as it took better HD video than several point-and-shoots I’d owned. The Note 8 really continued their effort to be a top smartphone camera, as was evident from the first shots I experimented with.

This time Samsung equipped the 6-inch phone with dual main cameras. One, as they explain, is telephoto while the other is geared toward closer up focus. The combined result is better HDR and photos far clearer and less grainy in low light conditions. That was something I found the Note 5’s camera always struggled with.

Shot of an arcade showing the Note 8's low light capabilities

As you can see above, the camera does a good job of capturing bright lights in an otherwise dark space. This is something a lot of cameras struggle with.

The Note 8’s main cameras do a great job at adjusting aperture and focal range, which you can set easily by touching a subject on the screen while staging the shot. If you have a clear person/subject at a short distance — and particularly if you get right up on it — you can create a dramatic focus where the subject is incredibly clear and the background is focused out significantly. What’s more, reviewing your photos on this phone’s huge Quad HD screen is a great experience.

Note 8 closeup shot

The cameras seem to capture light better than other phones, even the Note 5. For outdoor shots, that means more realistic-looking shots. The difference from the Note 5 isn’t a huge one, but it’s definitely sharp and beautiful.

Note 8 subject shot of Sasha

The Note 8’s front camera, like all front smartphone cameras, produces noticeably less detailed pictures than the main camera. With the Note 5 I often felt certain seemingly cool shots were hampered by being grainy or just not very sharp. This is improved upon in the Note 8, with the camera being able to deal with less-than-ideal lighting more effectively. Illumination is better, and picture detail isn’t as far behind the main camera.

Accessories and Features

I always love it when companies add little touches to what’s included with products. Since the Note 8 has moved away from micro-USB — the standard for several years — they included a small micro-USB to USB-C adapter. This means you can use any of the chargers you already own, and helps alleviate that feeling of, “ah man, what am I gonna do with all these old cables?”

The phone does of course also come with its own USB-C fast charger.

You can’t write a Note review without mentioning the stylus. If you’ve had Notes before it’s going to be about the same as you’re used to, but I’ll note that Samsung kept the Note 8 a bit simpler software-wise. It doesn’t come pre-loaded with all the Samsung apps like my Note 5 did, so I have to get the S Note app to doodle. However, the stylus works well for Swype typing. Also, the tail end of the stylus seems to sit more flush in the phone than on the Note 5.

The stylus does struggle a little on the curved edges of the screen, but flipping screens and such is still quite easy.

Software, Usage, and Sound

As I mentioned above, the Note 8 is closer to a stock Android experience than the Note 5 was. It has far less random software on it by default, which may appeal to some folks. You can still obtain all the classic Samsung apps by signing into your Samsung account, however.

The phone’s ample processor and 6GB make for a responsive experience on web pages full of media, games, and even when scrolling through your social media news feeds. I never had to worry about closing apps to free up resources, and could jump between apps for readily without them reloading/refreshing because the system dumped them out of memory to free it up.

The Note 8 has the “always on” clock display enabled by default, which is pretty handy for checking the time or whether you have notifications throughout the day without unlocking the phone dozens of times. You can disable this feature if you don’t like it, but I didn’t find that it noticeably affected battery life with it on.

The battery life is nicely improved with 500mAh more than the Note 5 had. I had a couple lighter usage days, and the phone lasted from 7am off the charger one morning all the way through that day, the night, and the entire following business day before hitting 33%. I’ve not yet had a smartphone able to go 2 days before. Even on heavier usage the phone worked like a tank through a busy day of car navigation, music, videos, checking emails, texts, and long phone calls.

With the quick charge technology its charger is capable of, if you do need to charge throughout the day Samsung says you can get about 7 hours of usage time out of 15 minutes of charging. I confirmed that charging it from about 20% to full took just under an hour, which is a welcome change from 2-4 hour charge times of standard 5V/2.1A chargers.

One issue I did encounter with this phone is with Facebook videos. If the videos were low-def and not 16:9 orientation they appeared ultra zoomed in, as if the QHD screen conflicted with the video’s display. In landscape or portrait orientation it would do this. It’s worth noting that the Note 5 is also a QHD screen and I’ve not had this issue.

Sound quality from the headphone jack is good, but not great. I was able to get it sounding pretty good with apps like jetAudio and its numerous EQ settings. But few phones are as crisp and robust as recent LG model phones where the sound quality is a selling point. Still, if you’re a casual listener the Note 8 is an apt music player.

Final Thoughts

As a Note 5 user these last 2 years, this is certainly a nice step up. It’s a familiar experience, with all the things I enjoyed about Samsung’s earlier model. The big 6.3″ screen can be a little bulky to carry around in pockets, and protective cases that accentuate the curved screen do make me less confident about the phone’s ability to take a fall without damage.

However, this is certainly a top-tier smartphone. Nothing is laggy, the touch screen is responsive, and the display is luscious. It still features a 3.5mm headphone jack, and its speaker does a good job of playing music or videos in a pinch. If you’re already a Note user, this will be more of everything you love. If you’ve never had a Note before and are considering it, this is a nice entry point.

To me, coming from a Note 5, the biggest selling point are the cameras. The bigger screen and faster hardware is always nice, but if you’re into photography and capturing beauty while you’re out and about, you’ll really enjoy what the Note 8 can do. I could go back to the Note 5’s speed without it being frustrating since that phone was pretty quick, but stepping back to an old camera after this one is something you notice.