There has been talk in some corners that the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is nothing more than a larger version of the Galaxy S8 Plus which was launched earlier this year. Well, I can see where that is coming from when you clap eyes on the device – that edge to edge Infinity display with 18:9 aspect ratio, and tapering gently over to the sides, has a way of dominating the business end of a phone (the display) like nothing else does. Just as in the S8 Plus, the Note 8 too is all display on the front with no physical buttons. Even the buttons on the side follow the same pattern – volume rocker and Bixby on the left and power/display on the right. And there is a tiny notch for the earpiece on top of the screen, just like on the S8 Plus.
Pick up the phone, however, and the Note 8 proves itself to be a very contrary beast from the S8 Plus. For one, it is discernibly larger. Yes, it has a slightly larger display 6.3 inches as compared to 6.2 inches, but the phone itself is much larger, with proportions of 162.5 x 74.8 x 8.6 mm, as compared to the 159.5 x 73.4mm x 8.1 mm of the S8 Plus. As you can see, it is larger in every dimension, and at 195 grams, is significantly heavier than the 173 grams of the S8 Plus. Yes, some of it can be blamed on the presence of the S-Pen stylus in its base, but all said and done, this is a big, heavy device. Yes, it still serves up a much bigger display in a frame that is slightly longer than the iPhone 8 Plus and is less wide and lighter, but we do not think dimensions are the forte of the larger iPhone. So yes, let’s get this out of the way: while the S8 Plus surprised us at how compact it was, the Note 8 is a big device. You are not going to be able to use it easily with one hand!
Mind you; it wears its size with style. For, it is also a very good looking device. It is slightly on the boxy side as compared to the more curve-y S8 Plus, but that blend of glass and metal is ever so premium if slippery (its being on the longer side makes accidental drops even more possible). We got the black model, and we loved its smooth plain black, notwithstanding its penchant to pick up smudges and scratches (Samsung has included a rather basic transparent plastic case in the package – we have been using it from the word ‘go’). A small tip: do not leave it on any surface with even the slightest incline, for it does have a penchant of slipping down. The back, however, has also grabbed attention for containing the first pair of dual cameras on a Galaxy Note device and also for the fingerprint scanner parked right next to them (a design aberration carried over regrettably from the S8/S8 Plus, and one which is even more difficult to comprehend, given the sheer size of the device.) The top is plain except for a dual SIM card slot, one of which is hybrid and can be used to accommodate a microSD card (a bit of a pity given this is a high-end device). The base has the USB Type C port, flanked by a 3.5 mm audio jack and a speaker grille, and of course, a tucked in S-Pen.
It is a large but very good-looking package, and it packs in some very hefty hardware too. That 6.3-inch display is quad HD, and Super AMOLED has a brightness level of 1200 nits, which is the highest we have seen on a mobile phone. Powering the device is an octa-core Exynos processor (no Snapdragon 835 in India, alas), paired with 6 GB RAM and 64 GB storage, expandable to 256 GB if you use that hybrid SIM card slot for a memory card. The dual cameras on the back are both of 12.0-megapixel apiece, and one of them offers 2x optical zoom, and both come with optical image stabilization (OIS), a first in smartphones. There is 4G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS on offer in the connectivity options, and the entire phone is water and dust-resistant – even the S-Pen is. Rather interestingly, the battery is at 3300 mAh, making it smaller than the 3500 mAh one on the S8 Plus. We can only assume it was done to avoid the issues that occurred with the Note 7, but it nevertheless is curious, when you consider that the Note is actually a bigger device than the S8 Plus and the battery is often considered to be the biggest offender in a size increase!
The real ace up the sleeve of the device is that S-Pen, which comes with a stackful of features, including the ability to scribble on the lock screen itself, sketch, draw, mark out content and even send Live Messages, which are like animated messages. On the software side, it comes with Android 7.1.1 with Samsung’s TouchWiz UI over it. Once considered a bit of pain, TouchWiz has now been simplified and cleaned up a great deal, and well, there’s also Samsung’s virtual assistant, Bixby, which is available for voice commands too now in India (an update arrived even as this was being written).
It is a pretty mighty combination of features and comes at a mighty price – Rs 67,900 – as well. But does it do enough to justify that price tag and continue to be the darling of the anti-iPhone crowd (Sorry, Pixel/Nexus, the figures are with the Galaxy S and Note series)?