The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is nearly here, with general availability set for September 15 and pre-orders on now. The smartphone was revealed with much fanfare during an event in NYC on Thursday, and Samsung drew particular attention to its new optically stabilized dual-camera system and improved S Pen stylus as the features that set it apart from the similar Galaxy S8 and S8+.
The Note 8’s big difference, however, based on what little time I got to spend with it so far at a hands-on event, is that it’s a truly manageable big-screen smartphone. The Note line basically created the ‘phablet’ category, and though the term itself has largely fallen out of use over the years (a lot of flagship phones now classify as phablets in terms of screen size), the Note 8 seems like the first time real balance has been achieved between offering a massive display combined with a comfortably handheld device.
I was already a pretty big fan of the Samsung Galaxy S8+ and what the company was able to do with striking a balance between usability and a large display there, but the Note 8 feels like an even better balancing act in this regard. It has a 6.3-inch display, which is quite a bit larger than the 5.7-inch one on the Galaxy Note 5 (remember Samsung skipped ‘6’ and the 7… well the 7 didn’t work out). It also manages to shave 0.4 inches off the height of the device, as well as 0.04 inches off the depth (with the same width) and though it doesn’t sound like much, it makes a big difference when the phone’s in your hand, combined with the ounce or so of weight savings.
Samsung’s Note 8 also comes with more pragmatic rectangular lines, vs. the pebble-like curves of the S8 line. It’s mostly an aesthetic difference, but it’s also something that makes the display on the Note 8 really pop. It genuinely feels like you’re holding a screen in your hand, with the thin top and bottom bezels virtually fading away during most tasks, including watching video and browsing the web. Speaking of browsing the web, this is likely going to be my favorite device for reading huge chunks of text, since that long column screen means lots of room for words, which is the only thing I love obviously as an internet blogger.
The S Pen is another contributing factor here in terms of fulfilling an early vision that Samsung had and stuck with, even through what seemed to me a few awkward early years. Using the new S Pen to write notes on the always-on AMOLED display feels like a great tool for quickly jotting things down (and for looking like you’re paying attention during a meeting instead of messing around on your phone). Plus, the translation trick is cool. Live Messages seem a bit gimmicky to truly stick, but as with most Samsung flashy features, it’s not doing any harm there even if most people ignore it.
Another highlight for me is the camera, which performed very well in my short time with the device. The Live Focus feature is really cool, letting you adjust the level of background blur both on the fly before you shoot, and after the fact in the resulting image. It uses both cameras to simulate the depth effect, as does Apple’s Portrait Mode, but it’s nice being able to adjust the level of DoF in detail. Photo-taking is also key on the Note 8 because it’s a much better mobile photo editing device, thanks to its phablet nature.
The big difference here between the Note 8 and past generations in terms of phablet success, however, is still its ability to feel like a normal phone. That might be a bit of reverse conditioning, since flagships have gotten larger and larger, and the iPhone 7 Plus I currently use as my main device is really quite hefty thanks to large bezels surrounding that 5.5-inch display. And I’ll also add the caveat that I’ve got pretty beefy mitts, so your mileage may vary, but the Note 8 feels like it could be the true flagship of the Samsung line, rather than the interesting outlier the Note once was.
As mentioned, I’ve only had a very short time with the Galaxy Note 8, but what I’ve seen so far has me interested to take it for a longer spin. For the first time, however, it looks like bigger actually is unquestionably better when it comes to Samsung’s smartphone lineup.