By most indications, Samsung’s Note 8 has helped the company recoup from last year’s debacle that was the Note 7. No exploding batteries. And plenty of new features
What is it? – The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is the biggest smartphone yet to come from the company and set off the first challenge in what’s likely to be the war of big smartphones – with Apple and Google both in the battle. This is loaded with really useful features that the iPhone doesn’t have. They say that 90% of users of any device only use about 10% of the features. But if you’re willing to spend some time exploring the available features you may find that collectively they improve the productivity value of this phone to justify it’s near $1000 price tag.
A “Wow” Screen
Samsung has taken the infinity display that was first on the Galaxy S8 and extended it to the Note 8. The screen is the biggest that Samsung created for a smartphone, 6.3″. It has an unusual aspect ratio, 18.5:9. That makes it tall and skinny. It accomplishes three things, first, it is an easier fit in your hand. Secondly, it improves the video experience and it gives you more screen space for splitting the screen so you can use two apps simultaneously. We downloaded from Netflix and streamed from Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. In all cases, the performance was flawless. While I’m still not a big fan of watching movies on the small screen, the Note 8 does it well. We also tried out the audio functionality with some tracks from Amazon Music and heard really good audio, something neglected by many smartphones.
S-Pen Writes a New Chapter
Samsung has improved its signature S-Pen. When you take the S-Pen out of its holder, it activates the S-Pen menu. Even if you haven’t unlocked the screen, you can immediately start taking notes. That’s a real convenience if you need to quickly jot down a phone number or an address. Samsung has also improved the ability of the S-Pen to create works of art if you’d like to release your inner artist. You can use the S-Pen to add live messages to photographs. And you can use it to annotate and even translate text.
Apps Edge and App Pairs
Samsung has improved the usefulness of the functions that you swipe from the curved right side of the screen. You can create a menu of those apps you frequently access such as Mail, or a browser. You can also create App pairs which allow two apps to split the screen, and it’s really easy to do.
Dual Lens Camera
The Dual Camera does a lot of tricks that photographers have only found on high-end cameras. One is a standard lens, the other a 2X optical zoom lens. Both are 12MP and have a bright f/1.7 lens. Both cameras have Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) for less blur and sharper images. You can choose to sharpen your subject and make it stand out by blurring the background. Don’t like how it came out? You can adjust the results after the fact. The camera has a variety of modes, including a food mode, and an impressive panorama capability. And of course, there’s an 8MP front-facing camera for selfies.
Bixby Voice Assistant
When Samsung first introduced Bixby in the Galaxy S8 it was not ready for prime time. Turned out it was a lot easier for Samsung to develop it for Korean than English. Now Bixby has greatly improved functionality, including the ability to use a voice password to unlock your phone. But it takes a bit of training for Bixby to understand you. We have more on Bixby below.
These are just a handful of what I consider some of the most interesting and useful new features. There are tons more. But prepare to spend lots of time on the learning curve.
Is it 50+ Friendly? – With its big bright screen, good fit in your hand, and S-Pen, I think this is a great phone for our generation. The improvements in the note-taking ability make it attractive to those of us who still don’t like virtual keyboards and are comfortable with carrying a pad and pen. This is faster. This is one of the first phones that has enough screen real estate to make it easy and practical to use two apps simultaneously. And the big infinity edge to edge display makes watching video on the phone less challenging for those of us with vision issues.
Frustration Factor? – I only found a couple of relatively minor pain points in setting up and using the Note 8. Bixby still has a lot to learn. It took quite a while for me to train it to the sound of my voice. It still doesn’t have all the languages Samsung intended, and Samsung says it is continuing to develop new functionality. For now, I found it a bit frustrating that rather than just asking a Bixby a question, the way I can with Google Voice or Apple’s Siri, I need to ask it to “Open Q&A” before I can actually ask my question. A small extra step admittedly.
In terms of music, now that we can put a 264GB micro SD into this phone, I cannot understand why there is still no Hi-Res audio capability. Hi-Res or lossless audio is far superior to what’s in your MP3 music files. It may require some hardware improvement, such as the addition of a DAC or Digital Audio Converter chip, but it just shouldn’t be that tough.
But, to be clear I wouldn’t ding this phone for either of these reasons.
Is it Worth the Money? – This is a tough one. The retail price on T-Mobile is $930. At Verizon, the retail price is $960. Same price at Sprint. And AT&T’s retail price is $950. So after you add in sales tax, you’re up at almost a thousand dollars. Can you really justify that for a smartphone? Maybe. If you absolutely must have the latest and greatest, this may be the Android phone for you. If you really like the S-Pen functionality and will use it, this may be the phone for you. If you really like a bright, big screen display, this may be the phone for you. But if you’re one of the 90% who is only going to use 10% of the features, it may not be worth it.
A Final Thought on Protection – If you are going to invest almost a grand in the Note 8, we strongly suggest you protect your investment with a screen protector and a sturdy case. Of course, the case will cover up the stunning industrial design, but so it goes. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of cases on the market. But we’ve had really good luck with UAG (Urban Armor Gear) cases. The UAG Plasma case costs $39.95. Again, when it comes to screen protectors you have a choice of hundreds. We recommend a tempered glass protector, and for some years we’ve had great success with the Invisible Shield line from Zagg. Their Galaxy Note 8 Invisible Shield costs just about $50. Using a case and screen protector will both protect your phone and also help it retain a better resale value.