The last phone I reviewed in Samsung’s Note line was the Note5, released in the summer of 2015. Samsung skipped the Note6 name in 2016 in favor of the Note7, which was recalled before I’d gotten a chance to take a look at it. I was eager to take a look at the Note8, released this fall, and my friends at Verizon let me spend a few weeks with one. I wrote yesterday that the Google Pixel 2 has the best Android experience you can currently find, and its software is indeed clearly better. However, the Samsung Galaxy Note8 is perhaps the most feature-complete phone I’ve ever seen, excelling at nearly every aspect of hardware and leaving very little on my wish list.
Galaxy Note8 hardware
To my knowledge, there isn’t a faster phone on Verizon at the moment than the Galaxy Note8. Other phones have the same processor, but the Note8 has a whopping 6 GB of RAM, making it a monster when it comes to specs and speed.
The Note8 is very similar in shape to the Galaxy S8+, with a shape that’s even more tall and narrow than the LG V30 and Pixel 2 XL. The phone is elegantly thin, to the point that it’s extremely difficult to hold without dropping or at least filling the back glass with fingerprints.
The power button is on the right and the volume rocker is on the left. Like the S8, the Note8 has a button on the left side dedicated to the software assistant called Bixby.
Like the S8, the Note8 uses only soft navigation keys, thankfully ditching the physical button on the front in favor of a virtual button — pressing hard on the bottom of the screen from any program will vibrate the phone and function like pressing the home button. Also like the Galaxy S8, the Note8 suffers from a really bad placement of the fingerprint reader. The reader works quite well, but it’s placed immediately adjacent to and in line with the cameras on the back and it’s tough to get to with your finger without accidentally touching the cameras.
The Note8 comes with 64 GB of storage that can be expanded using an SD card up to 256 GB. It’s water- and dust-resistant. It has a headphone jack.
One of the signature features of the Note series is the stylus, or S Pen. The S Pen on the Note8 seems extremely accurate, and I’m sure I could find times when it provides greater control or convenience than using the phone normally, but I simply can’t ever remember that it’s there.
Galaxy Note8 screen
The screen is slightly larger than the Galaxy S8+ and at 6.3″ is the largest screen on a phone I’ve yet seen. Because of the tall shape of the screen and near lack of bezels on the sides, the screen fits in a body that doesn’t feel that much larger than other phones released in 2017.
It’s also gorgeous. It’s bright and doesn’t seem to change much based on the viewing angle, which is a problem other phones struggle with. The edges of the screen are curved, which is an unfortunate trend these days from a functionality perspective, but it sure makes it beautiful.
Galaxy Note8 camera
As much as I like the cameras in the Pixel 2 XL and LG V20 and V30, I have to admit that if each was laying on the table in front of me and I had one chance to take a good picture, I’d reach for the Note8. With dual cameras, optical image stabilization and an app that never seems to have any lag, it’s perhaps the best cell phone camera I’ve ever used.
Like the AR Stickers on Google’s Pixel 2 XL, Samsung has some fun enhancements in the way of live focus and stickers. Live focus creates the bokeh, or blurred background, effect and lets the user control how much is introduced into the image by dragging a slider. The stickers, much like Snapchat filters, allow enhancements like sunglasses or animal ears to be added to the picture or video as it’s taken.
Battery and charging
The Note8 boasts the highest score I’ve yet seen on a stock battery. Lasting 7.5 hours and scoring a 4500 on the Geekbench 4 full-discharge test, I’m not sure I could run the battery down with a full day on the farm. It’s sure to last the average user all day without needing a charge.
The Note8 supports wireless charging so I don’t have to worry about plugging it in to a cable unless I want to utilize fast charging.
The software on the Note8 is definitely the weak spot. The launcher, or home screen, is extremely hard to use. Luckily, it’s easy to install Action Launcher and GBoard to simplify the experience. The navigation buttons are in the wrong order, but it’s easy to set them to standard Android order in the settings so that the back button is on the left.
Like most phones, the Note8 comes with a ton of pre-installed apps from Verizon and Samsung. Many of the games require internet access to play, a problem I didn’t realize until I was on an airplane coming home from Las Vegas.
Samsung has always tried to build software and apps that compete against core Android services. Samsung makes apps for contacts, calendar and even an internet browser that compete with the standard Android apps. The best and most recent example of Samsung trying to reinvent the wheel is with Bixby, Samsung’s virtual assistant.
In many ways, Bixby is a direct competitor to Google’s Assistant. Occupying the left pane of Samsung’s home screen, Bixby hooks to social media and news sources to create a feed of important items, similar to Google Now. While there are distinctions between the abilities of Bixby and Google Assistant, I’m squarely wrapped up in the Google ecosystem and am thankful that Google Assistant works just fine and without conflict on the Note8.
Another extremely frustrating software feature is a warning when turning the volume up above about 60%. I understand the need for parents to limit kids’ listening levels, but there’s now way to disable the warning that I’ve found. I think older Samsung phones had the warning only for wired devices. The Note8 has the warning for Bluetooth headphones as well.
Galaxy Note8 review summary
Even though Samsung has a long way to go to create a software experience that’s as simple and clean as Google’s Pixel, the Note8’s specs and feature list place it squarely ahead of the pack. It’s a beautiful device that’s extremely fast and has an excellent camera, all while ticking the boxes for expandable storage, wireless charging and a headphone jack. It’d be tough to make a claim that there was a better phone currently on the market than the Samsung Galaxy Note8 on Verizon.
Samsung Galaxy Note8 example pictures
Here’s a collection of pictures I took while reviewing the Note8. No editing was done on the pictures. Click to enlarge.
As with all my #vzreview reviews for Verizon, I wasn’t paid or otherwise compensated and my views are my own.