Dubai: Samsung’s second water and dust-resistant phablet — Note 8 — has added new features to make it even more enticing after the ill-fated Note 7 last year.
In simple terms, Note 8 isn’t a huge step forward with what Samsung already offers but it is a combination of Galaxy S8 Plus and Note 7 or a bigger Galaxy S8 with a stylus.
If you have kept both the S8 Plus and Note 8 on the table, it will be difficult to differentiate. Samsung always used the Note brand’s extra-large screens to differentiate it from its Galaxy line of handsets. The difference between the two is 0.1 inch.
What Samsung has done is it went deep into the smaller details to make it more perfect when compared to its other high-end devices.
The dual-curved, edge-to-edge and bezel-free Super AMOLED 6.3-inch Quad HD (1440 x 2560 pixels) screen is powered by home-grown 2.3GHz octa-core 64-bit Exynos processor with 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage capacity. The hybrid SIM tray supports up to two SIMs or one SIM and a 256GB microSD card. It weighs 195 grams.
The benefits of HDR-capable OLED display are pronounced in this device as photos looked amazing with colours popping out and nice shadow detail.
Regarding design and display, Samsung is still the clear winner in the industry.
The most interesting elements on Note 8 are the dual cameras on the rear and the S-Pen stylus.
Samsung has added new features to its stylus such as Live Messages, while allowing it to write off-screen memos of up to 100 pages without unlocking the device, and translate text or convert a unit or currency in real time just by hovering over the sentence. Right now, it supports up to 71 languages.
The Live Message feature allows users to draw or write something to create an animated GIF and sent it through any messaging apps or email.
The S-Pen stylus, with a tip diameter of 0.7mm, is water and dust resistant and has 4,096 pressure sensitivity. It is comfortable to use and does not slip when writing on the Gorilla Glass 5 screen, making it a productivity smartphone.
The stylus can also be used under water to take notes, make selections, and write annotations on screen, translate, magnify and glance.
The phone can be unlocked using iris scanner, fingerprint sensor at the back, face recognition, PIN and password.
Talking of the iris scanner, the device is simple to set up but it is a hit and miss. If chosen as the unlock method, the device should be held about 35cm away from the face and there is a red LED indicator above the display to let the users know when the sensor is active. It does not work well in lowlight conditions and under sunlight. It takes a few minutes of your time to get the accurate distance.
I was using face recognition and it is faster to unlock. The face lock or iris scan cannot be turned on at the same time.
Samsung has repeated the same mistake of placing the fingerprint sensor as in S8 next to the LED flash, an awkward position to place it. It is difficult to get it right and most of the times my finger fell on the flash. The positioning is also out of the reach of most fingers when holding the phone naturally.
It would be convenient if Samsung just placed the scanner just below the camera like every other manufacturer does.
Samsung has updated its — Bixby — similar to Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant. It consists of voice, home, vision and reminders.
There’s a dedicated Bixby button on the left side but it is half-baked and not quite ready yet.
By pressing the Bixby button, it takes to the Bixby home, similar to Google Now, with reminders, gallery, schedules and top news. Bixby integrates with only a handful of Samsung’s own apps such as the camera, contacts, settings, calendar, gallery, and messages.
Voice feature has been added and it is taking to recognise your voice and it will take time to learn your voice. The voice facility can perform actions with voice dictation like “turn off WiFi” or “show me the latest photos or open WhatsApp” and it works fine if it recognises your voice.
Samsung has added new features to its edge panel. The ‘App Pair’ feature lets you create a custom pair of apps and simultaneously launch two apps with ease. Users can pair two apps of their choice to work in multitasking mode where the screen splits into two sections, allowing one to watch YouTube and sending messages at the same time.
Overall performance on the Note 8 is fast. Apps open quickly, and multitasking by switching between open apps is smooth.
Samsung’s My Knox service is installed, a software suite by Samsung to create a secure environment for private data and apps.
The new user interface on S8 is quite better running on top of Android Nougat with 3D touch, haptic feedback. Long-pressing on the icons brings up contextual m, similar to iPhone. Samsung has removed the physical home button from the Infinity Display and there are now virtual buttons.
Coming to the camera, Note 8 has one camera with a wide-angle (right) with a f/1.7 aperture while the other is a telephoto lens with a f/2.4 aperture. It provides 2 x optical zoom and 10 x digital zoom and dual-tone LED flash. Both the front and back provide OIS.
Two 12MP sensors work together or separately. You can use Bixby Vision to identify objects in the frame or put some stickers on the pictures, which is a fun feature.
In Dual Capture mode, both rear cameras take two pictures simultaneously and allow you to save both images — one being a close-up shot from the telephoto lens and one being a wide-angle shot that shows the entire background. The downside is that it will eat up more of your storage space.
The Note 8 is not brilliant at full zoom and there are cute stickers and augmented reality masks you can pop over the photo.
Sometimes, the camera has a tendency to slightly overexpose images in bright light. Otherwise, it takes excellent snaps with details and great sharpness across a range of focal lengths. Colours look strong even in night shots.
The camera app has plenty of manual settings but also good automatic modes. The telephoto camera is capable of producing great portrait or object shots only when the light is right.
The “Live Focus” feature lets users take images and artificially control the amount of blurring the background before or after taking the picture, similar to DSLR cameras. But the feature will not work if there is no enough light.
It can take 2160p videos at 30 frames per second (fps), 1080p at 60fps and 720p at 240fps.
Sliding right after opening the camera will bring in different modes like Panorama, Pro, Auto, Hyperlapse, Slow Motion, Food and Virtual shot to name most of them, plus you can download more. Sliding left brings in different filters.
The 8MP camera on the front with f/1.7 aperture, autofocus and Auto HDR takes good pictures, even in lowlight.
Sliding right after opening the camera will bring in different modes like Selective Virtual shot, Selfie and Wide Selfie, plus you can download more. Sliding left brings in different filters.
The front can record 1440p at 30fps.
Regarding connectivity, Bluetooth 5.0, 1GBPs LTE speed, dual-band 11ac Wi-Fi, NFC and GPS.
The 3,300mAh battery is decent enough to last for a day for heavy users. Power users can also take advantage of the fast-charging option. In video playback, with 50 per cent screen brightness and connected to WiFi, the device lasted close to 16 hours. The device charges from zero to full in 114 minutes via fast charging technology.
It is priced at Dh3,399 and comes in Midnight Black, Orchid Gray and Maple Gold.
The Note 8 is Samsung’s best phablet with dual cameras and stylus but if you are not a stylus person, S8 Plus would be better and not worth the extra bugs.
Huge and beautiful display
Good battery life
HDR video streaming
No infrared blaster
Awkward fingerprint scanner placement
Bixby needs fine tuning