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Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Hands-on Review: Bigger really is better

We’ve got our hands on the new Samsung Galaxy Note 8 for a first-look review and already can’t get enough of this feature-packed 6.3-inch smartphone, boasting the best S Pen to date.

Samsung really pushed the boundaries of smartphone tech with last year’s Note 7, which is why we were absolutely gutted to learn of the blow-up battery issue. Strong hopes for a ‘best phone of 2016’ award went up in a devastating puff of smoke, much like the device itself.

Thankfully the Korean giant is back without a bang, today launching the fresh new Galaxy Note 8. This latest super-sized handset is the biggest Note to date, in more ways than one, although a whole heap of expectations are resting on those glossy shoulders. Thankfully in our short time with the mobile, we’ve been more than reassured. This mega-phone takes the brilliant Note 7, fixes those battery problems and adds even more awesome sauce, with quite stunning results.

Sporting an improved S Pen stylus, Samsung’s first dual-lens smartphone camera, premium specs and that stunning Infinity Display design, the Note 8 has so many impressive talking points that it’s hard to choose a favourite feature. Here’s our full hands-on review with the biggest Galaxy of all time, to get you excited for the September UK release.

Check out our guide to the best Samsung Galaxy mobiles you can buy right now for more great handsets, and if you're tempted by the Note 8, check out the full UK pricing.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 hands-on review: Specs

Phone Galaxy Note 8
Screen size 6.3-inches
Screen resolution QHD+ (2880x1440)
Weight 195g
Water resistant? Yes (IP67)
Fingerprint sensor? Yes
Iris scanner? Yes
OS Android Nougat
Processor Exynos 8995/Snapdragon 835
Memory 6GB
Storage 64GB
microSD? Yes
Battery 3300mAh
Rear camera 12MP Dual
Front camera 8MP

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 hands-on review: Design

At a majestic 6.3-inches, the new Galaxy Note 8 is a fraction bigger than Samsung’s mighty Galaxy S8 Plus. Thankfully you get the same curved-edge display and slender bezels above and below the screen, which keeps the new Note just about within ‘comfortable operation’ parameters.

With its 8.6mm frame which weighs an eyebrow-raising 195g, the Note 8 is certainly going to make itself felt when you slip it inside a pocket. One-handed use is actually just about manageable however, helped in large part by those absent bezels. Samsung has also chucked in a bunch of bonus modes to help out in this regard, such as the ability to shrink down your desktops and apps with a swipe of the screen or triple-push of the home button. You can also pull out the notifications bar by flicking a fingertip across the rear-mounted fingerprint sensor.

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that the Note 8 looks very similar to the S8 handsets. That Infinity Display is housed in a silver metal rim, which gives way to a shiny glass backing. Here in the UK, you have a choice of two colours from launch. Midnight Black and Maple Gold (which looks suspiciously silver to us) are coming to Blighty straight away, while the Deepsea Blue and Orchid Grey models will hopefully follow at a later date.

Of course, that glossy rear does get scuffed up in no time at all; pretty much as soon as you lay your hands on it, in fact. That’s no different to other mobiles with glass surfacing, including Samsung’s Galaxy S8 phones and the likes of the HTC U11.

Like those phones you also get full water resistance, so the Note 8 can be played with in the bath or shower. Even more impressively, the S Pen functionality isn’t hampered by the display being damp, as we’ll touch on in the next section of this hands-on review.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 hands-on review: Screen and media

This wouldn’t be a Note device without a flipping massive screen on board, and you can definitely place a check in that tick-box.

Samsung’s Note 8 serves up a spacious 6.3-inch Quad HD+ Super AMOLED Infinity Display, which actually seems smaller thanks to those curved edges and the slightly stretched aspect ratio (18.5:9). If you’ve used the Galaxy S8 Plus, you’ll mostly know what to expect here. You get the same 2880x1440 pixel resolution and practically identical dimensions.

If you’re not familiar with the S8 Plus, you can expect a crisp and impressively vibrant display that’s perfectly suited to movie playback. The elongated design means any letterboxing effect is minimised, while the sheer size of the panel means you can comfortably browse the web and get stuck into office apps also.

As you might expect, Samsung has once again included support for Mobile HDR visuals. Good news for when the likes of Netflix start to offer a strong catalogue of HDR-ready shows and movies to mobile devices.

We were of course hoping for full 4K visuals with the Note 8, to match Sony’s Xperia XZ Premium. Not only would that make for an even more stunning movie viewing experience, but it would produce incredibly immersive visuals when using the Note 8 in Samsung’s Gear VR headset (for supported content, that is).

All the same, it’s difficult to complain when the display is this fine.

If you carry around a big media collection, the 64GB of storage space should suffice. That’s fully expandable via microSD up to a further 256GB as well.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 hands-on review: S Pen and creative features

Samsung has continued to refine the S Pen stylus over recent years and the Note 8’s accessory has to be the pinnacle of design and functionality. We honestly can’t see how the pen can possibly get better.

This latest stylus sports a super-slender 0.7mm diameter, with a narrow tip that is perfectly curved to allow for all manner of brush strokes as well as precision input. The pressure sensitivity level stays at 4096, as it was with the Note 7, which means accurate reproduction of your taps, swipes and scribbles. We still find the slender pen comfortable to clutch and use, despite its reduced dimensions.

Like last year’s S Pen, this stylus is again IP68 water and dust resistant, thanks to some nifty rubber and silicone sealing. Even more impressive, you can use the S Pen to draw on the Note 8 even when the stylus and screen are both sopping wet, without any issues.

On this new Note you’ll once again find the S Pen housed neatly in a slot on the bottom edge. A quick push and the stylus springs free, which also opens up a customisable wheel of apps, ready for action. This includes old favourites as well as some new bits.

For instance, Live Message allows you to create your own GIFs, on top of a plain background or any pics on your Note 8’s storage. Any GIFs you create can be shared via the usual messaging apps. We saw a demo where someone took a screenshot from Google Maps and then created a GIF of the best route to take, before sending to a friend. Definitely could be a handy feature, or just a bit of fun if you want to add rude stuff to a mate’s photo.

Screen Off Memo can be used to scribble notes when the phone is hibernating. You can keep on scrolling down now too, as much as you like, if you’re crafting a huge list.

Translate is pretty straight-forward, as you might expect. Just highlight a body of text in a foreign language to get the English meaning, with support for a wide selection of common tongues. You can also hover the tip of the S Pen over an amount in foreign currency to get a conversion to GBP.

Pen.Up, Samsung’s social media app for sharing drawings and other creative stuff with other Note users, also makes a return on the Note 8.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 hands-on review: Features and OS

Samsung is certainly making sure that you get the most from that massive screen.

As well as the S Pen creative tools mentioned above, the Note’s new App Pair feature allows you to create shortcuts on your desktop which can automatically open two apps at the same time. Give this shortcut a tap and both apps pop up simultaneously, in a split-screen arrangement. For instance, you can open your mail and calendar at the same time, to check your schedule as you reply to meeting requests.

That spacious panel is perfect for getting stuck into office apps as well. And with Samsung’s own Knox 2.9 security suite on offer, you can rest assured that your personal and private data is locked away tight, with full encryption and password-protected folders.

Which brings us neatly onto the Note 8’s biometric authentication features. You can use a combination of the fingerprint sensor, iris scanner and facial recognition to unlock this device, some impressive flexibility to suit any occasion. Of course, the fingerprint sensor is once again housed in a slightly awkward position on the rear of the phone. That means you’ll likely have to grope for it as you’re getting used to the Note.

Still, that iris scanner works in the dark thanks to the IR sensor, although we’re yet to see if it can handle motion and glasses better than the Note 7.

Rounding off the features is Bixby Voice, Samsung’s AI assistant which should be coming to the UK in the near future. You can also use the Samsung DeX feature introduced in April, which allows you to plug your phone into a monitor via a dinky dock for a convenient desktop experience.

All of these features sit on top of Android Nougat, which should get an update to Android O by the end of 2017, just like the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 hands-on review: Performance and battery life

At our pre-brief, Samsung didn’t mention exactly which chipset the Note 8 would be shipping within each region. The manufacturer did guarantee a 10nm platform however, backed by 6GB RAM. With full Gigabit LTE support, we can only assume that you’ll get a Snapdragon 835 or one of Samsung’s own Exynos processors, mostly likely the 8895 found in the S8 and S8 Plus.

A 3300mAh battery has been crammed into that gorgeous frame and this time you can rest assured that any technical issues are unlikely. Samsung has performed an 8-point battery check (the same tests used for the S8 and S8 Plus) to ensure that the Note 8 is perfectly safe to use. Wireless charging is also supported, if you happen to hate plugging in cables.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 hands-on review: Cameras

For the Note 8, Samsung has produced its first ever dual-lens smartphone camera. We were expecting this kind of setup on the S8 and S8 Plus, so finally seeing it here on the new Note isn’t much of a shock. So far we’re certainly impressed with the level of quality on offer, so it seems like this dual-lens snapper has been well worth the wait.

Check out our full Galaxy Note 8 camera preview for all you need to know.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 hands-on review: UK price and release date

Although we’ve had a chance to go hands-on with the Note 8, we haven’t yet received official word from Samsung about the UK pricing or the final release date. However, you can expect pre-orders to begin from early September. More news when we have it.

Stay tuned for our in-depth Galaxy Note 8 review! In the meantime, check out our Note 8 comparisons to see how the latest Samsung handset compares with rival Android phones:

Galaxy Note 8 vs Galaxy Note 5 vs Galaxy Note 4

Galaxy Note 8 vs Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus vs Galaxy S7 Edge

Galaxy Note 8 vs iPhone 7 Plus vs Google Pixel XL

Galaxy Note 8 vs iPhone 7S Plus vs Google Pixel XL 2 vs LG V30

You can pre-order the Galaxy Note 8 from O2, with a wide selection of tariffs and up to 50GB data allowance. Some of the contracts are viable for the Yearly Upgrade Programme and you can enjoy other benefits, including daily offers with O2 Priority.

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