Samsung Galaxy Note 8: My first week with a nearly perfect smartphone

After last year's Note 7 fiasco, we weren't sure how Samsung and Note fans would respond. The Note 8 is a stunning phone and Note lovers are sure to appreciate the S Pen functionality, dual camera performance, and more.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer

After spending a couple hours with a Galaxy Note 8 at a briefing in San Francisco I sold my S8 Plus on Swappa and ordered my own Note 8 from T-Mobile. With a week of time under my belt using a review Note 8, I'm convinced the purchase was the right move and look forward to further exploration of the Note 8.

ZDNet's Jason Cipriani posted a full review of the Note 8 and concluded it is a worthy successor to the Note 7. I put the Note 8 at the top of my updated 10 best smartphones list too.

CNET Review: Galaxy Note 8 is pricey, powerful and does it all | Also: See the Note 8 from every angle | Note 8 display sports record-breaking brightness

Over the past week, the Note 8 was used during my daily commute and at the office, on a business trip to Florida for a few days, and over the holiday weekend out and about with family and friends. The Note series are my favorite Samsung phones and it's clear Samsung is leading all others when it comes to smartphone innovation and added value.

Hardware experiences

I tried to describe my feelings about picking up and using the Note 8 on MobileTechRoundup show #405, but it comes down to a "flatter" feel of the display compared to the curvier Galaxy S series. This flat feel lets me use the S Pen to write on the display with ease. Check out these cool tricks you can do with the S Pen.

In addition to the wider flat part of the display, the Galaxy Note 8 is a bit wider overall and a bit taller than the Galaxy S8 Plus. It also has a massive Infinity Display, beating out the six-month old Galaxy S8, that is 0.1 inch larger than the S8 Plus. The top, bottom, and sides are arranged and look the same as the S8/S8 Plus with metal construction.

The biggest differentiator between the S8/S8 Plus and Note 8 is on the back where you will find Samsung's first ever dual camera setup. The two cameras have optical image stabilization (OIS).

Unfortunately, the fingerprint scanner is still positioned next to the cameras, but now on the side of the flash and a bit closer to the edge. Use the iris scanner or Google Smart Lock instead.


The AMOLED screen is stunning and since you spend the majority of your time looking at the display your eyes will appreciate the Galaxy Note 8. I love Samsung's implementation of the Always On Display with the ability to have any image you want appear under the time and date and above the notifications. I had the Sounders FC logo there and now have a morning sunrise shot I took of Mt Rainier. BTW, I took that Mt Rainier photo on my commuter train going about 50 mph through dirty windows.

As a person with larger hands and big pockets, the Note 8 fits me perfectly. It isn't too large and I love that Samsung gives me the option to have a massive 5x6 grid on the home screen panels.

Hands-on with the Samsung Galaxy Note 8: In pictures

Software experiences

The S Pen experience is improved on the Galaxy Note 8 and I have never used the stylus as much before on a Note as I have over the past week. I doubt this is just due to the novel stylus as I am already integrating the S Pen into my daily life.

The ability to take notes with the display off is extremely useful for me as I often have random thoughts and need to write them down before I forget them. My family has been enjoying my Live messages created by the S Pen.

As I get older, I find I need reading glasses more often and thus the S Pen magnify option is extremely useful. With the finer tip on the S Pen and my aging fat fingers, it has also been serving as my mouse to navigate around the device, scroll up and down websites, peek into my emails in Samsung Focus, and more. The S Pen has become an extension of my finger and is turning into a magic wand for me.

In addition to the S Pen, the dual camera was the other major reason I moved from the S8 Plus to the Note 8. Unlike other dual camera phones where you select what mode you want to capture before the shot, with the Note 8 you can capture photos in Live Focus mode and then manipulate the blur after the fact or also view and save the entire image even though you were focused in on one subject.


The 2x optical zoom is also handy for getting you a bit closer to your subject. The wide angle is only a Samsung label to differentiate it from the telephoto lens and not a true wide angle like the 110 degrees found on the LG V30. You won't be experiencing a wide angle capture with the primary lens. The integrated photo editor is functional, but the LG V30 is a more capable phone for creating video content and editing your captured subjects.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is powered by Android 7.1.1 Nougat and we haven't yet heard what Samsung plans for an Oreo update. However, as I have written before Samsung's software often offers enhancements in the current version of Android that match or exceed functionality coming in the next version of Android. I always recommend people buy a phone that satisfies them with the software it launches with. If you are counting on major version software updates, Samsung devices are not the ones to buy for timely updates. However, Samsung is one of the fastest and most consistent at releasing the monthly Android security updates.

While Samsung recently released its internet browser for all current Android smartphones, provides S Health for Android and iOS owners, and provides Samsung Pay for a Gear S3 connected to a non-Samsung Android smartphone, there are still several apps that require a Samsung smartphone. A few of these have become standard for me, including Samsung Focus, the phone dialer with integrated visual voicemail, the text messaging app with layout and ability to pin favorites to the top, the contacts app with call and message history, and the image gallery for advanced editing options. There is a ton of value added by Samsung on the Galaxy Note 8 and I don't think people really appreciate what is offered.

Bixby is pre-loaded on the Galaxy Note 8 and so far the voice launch is more responsive than when I was testing Bixby on the S8 Plus. I am still not using it to control all kinds of fine actions, but I do find it useful for calling, texting, and performing basic actions. There is a ton of capability in Bixby and since the Note 8 will be in my hand for a while I will try to explore more of what it can do.

I used to say that if I only had to choose one smartphone (thankfully with ZDNet I don't have to limit myself), I would choose an Apple iPhone. That is no longer the case and if I only had to choose one to use every day it would be the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.

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