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5 things we love about the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 – and 3 we don’t

Samsung's big phone is back and better than ever, but it's not for everyone

After last year’s flaming debacle that was the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, we’re pleased to confirm that the Galaxy Note 8 is here – and it’s rather excellent.

And at least in our testing, we didn’t run into any heat issues. Granted, it took some time for the problem to emerge last year, but we’re hopeful that the Note 8 will survive for the long haul and reestablish Samsung’s stylus-centric, super-sized smartphone line.

But the Galaxy Note 8 won’t be for everyone. Much as we were impressed by this comeback device, it might just be too much handset for many people – not to mention too expensive, given how superfluous some of its perks might be to the average buyer.

We’ve already published a full review, but if you’re looking for a punchy, to-the-point overview of what’s great and what’s not-so-appealing about the Galaxy Note 8, read on.

5 things we love about the Galaxy Note 8…

1) That gorgeous design

1) That gorgeous design

Samsung’s Galaxy S8 has been this year’s no-doubt stunner, and the Galaxy Note 8 smartly continues its impeccable design approach. Like the S8, it cuts out a load of bezel from the front, with very little on the top and bottom and basically none on the sides, packing in a curved screen with rounded edges. It just pops in a way that more standard-looking phones do not.

But it’s not a complete copy of the Galaxy S8 Plus: the Note 8’s screen curves are less subtle and a bit sharper, providing just a hair more flat surface and giving the phone a boxier look. It’s all business, essentially, which is good because…

2) The S Pen returns


With the demise of the Galaxy Note 7 came the demise of a top-tier smartphone with a stylus. Granted, the Note 5 remained on the market to compensate for the loss, but it was a generation behind, and it lacked many of the enhancements seen during the brief stretch that the Note 7 hung around.

But the Note 8 brings back the S Pen, and for anyone who relies on a smartphone for work purposes or other productivity or creative-minded needs, it’s a helpful feature. It’s super sensitive on the touch display, too, with 4096 levels of pressure recognised, and you can draw doodles, take notes, annotate images, and more.

3) Its screen is second to none


Aside from the slightly sharper curves, the 6.3in display of the Galaxy Note 8 isn’t all that different from the 6.2in screen of the Galaxy S8 Plus – and really, it’s not a far cry from the 5.8in screen of the standard Galaxy S8. And that’s good news, because they’re collectively the best smartphone screen in the world.

They’re also super tall, packing an atypical 18.5:9 display ratio to give you a little more screen real estate without making it impossible to one-hand the device. And the panel itself is a beauty: it’s an ultra-crisp Quad HD (2960×1440), Super AMOLED Infinity Display with mobile HDR capabilities, to boot. It’s absolutely gorgeous, not to mention seriously huge here.

4) You get some extra photo perks

4) You get some extra photo perks

The Galaxy S8 didn’t bother with a dual-camera setup on the back and it’s still one of the best smartphone cameras on the market today (although not the best). However, the Note 8 needed an extra perk, so it’s taken the S8’s excellent camera and gone one better.

Not only do you get the 12-megapixel, f/1.7 main sensor from the S8, but you also get another 12MP sensor (f/2.4) alongside it – and both pack optical image stabilisation. This lets you get crisp shots, variable 1x-2x zoom without losing detail, and trigger beautiful blurred-backdrop portrait and bokeh shots. And even your everyday snaps are sure to be vivid and sharp.

5) It’s packed with power


Once more building upon the Galaxy S8’s strengths, the Galaxy Note 8 packs in the same Exynos 8895 system-on-a-chip, which is one of the best in the game – but it then bumps the RAM tally to 6GB, instead of 4GB on the S8.

That extra RAM helps with multitasking, split-screen apps on the larger display, and S Pen usage, but ultimately doesn’t seem to deliver any great boost in speed. But that’s not a problem at all: the Galaxy S8 was already brilliant, running any game, app, or media with ease, and the Note 8 is likewise one of the fastest phones available right now. You won’t find a snappier handset today.

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What do we hate about the Note 8?

…and 3 things we don’t…

1) You (probably) don’t need the S Pen

1) You (probably) don

The S Pen remains the most distinctive thing about the Galaxy Note line today, especially since the phone’s large size isn’t so unique anymore – but how many people truly need a stylus for a smartphone?

Some people do: it’s why the Galaxy Note thrives, and why there was so much disappointment after the Note 7 fizzled out last year. But 99% of smartphone users get by fine with fingers, and in our Note 8 testing, we just didn’t find the S Pen to be a critical part of the experience. It’s there and it can be helpful, but is it really worth paying extra for? We’re not convinced.

2) The facial recognition fails

2) The facial recognition fails

As with the Galaxy S8, the fingerprint sensor is in a pretty awkward position on the upper back, right next to the camera – but the Note 8 offers facial recognition to unlock the phone instead.

Unfortunately, it isn’t great. In dim light, the front-facing camera just isn’t up to the task of making out your face consistently. Unlocking your phone should be a seamless process each and every time, and there’s no happy medium here: both options are irritating. It’s the phone’s biggest shortcoming.

3) It’s incredibly expensive


We saw this coming, given the high price of the Galaxy S8 Plus, but the final price shocked even us. Indeed, Samsung wants £869 for the Galaxy Note 8. It’s a hell of a phone, pretty much top to bottom, but that’s a ridiculous amount of cash for a phone.

And for the average user, we don’t think it’s worth all that extra scratch. The Galaxy S8 is our favourite phone in the world at £689, nearly £200 less, while the impressive OnePlus 5 comes in much lower at £449. There’s increasingly just fewer reasons to spend several hundred quid extra on a smartphone these days, but Samsung keeps pushing the envelope.

As we explained in our Galaxy Note 8 review, it’s a brilliant phone – surely one of the best in the world based on its technical and design merits. But what are you paying extra for? A stylus? The extra camera sensor? Unless you can’t live without the S Pen, we say go for one of the Galaxy S8 models if you’re craving a top-tier flagship.