Samsung Galaxy Note 8 India review: Two months later

The Galaxy Note 8 is the best phone you can buy in India.

Samsung jumped on the minimal bezel bandwagon earlier this year with the Galaxy S8 and S8+, offering an evocative design with top-notch internals. The Infinity Display design language backed by Samsung's industry-leading Super AMOLED panels ensured the Galaxy S8 and S8+ broke all sales records for the company, allowing Samsung to set record profits for three quarters in a row.

With the Galaxy Note 8, Samsung is looking to keep that momentum going. Samsung has perfected the two flagship-per-year release cycle: the Galaxy S series is aimed at mainstream users, whereas the enthusiast-focused Note lineup is the proving ground for the South Korean manufacturer's latest tech. That's no different this time around, with the Note 8 being the first phone to receive dual rear cameras. It is also the first Samsung flagship with 6GB of RAM.

The Note 8 is available for ₹67,900 in India, and at that price point there really isn't a lot of competition. The Pixel 2 XL is retailing in the country for ₹73,000, and while Google is stepping up its marketing efforts, it cannot meet the scale of Samsung's marketing might. Read on to find out why the Galaxy Note 8 is the best phone currently available in India.

Galaxy Note 8 What you'll love

Unlike the iPhone X, there's no notch to distract you from the beautiful OLED display.

The Galaxy Note 8 shares a lot of visual cues from the Galaxy S8+, which isn't necessarily a bad thing as the GS8+ is one of the best-looking phones in the market today. The phone has a slightly larger 6.3-inch QHD Super AMOLED display, and to accommodate the S Pen, Samsung increased the overall thickness to 8.6mm, 0.5mm more than the GS8+.

The increase in size makes the Note 8 rather boxy, with less pronounced curves at the front and back. However, the design works in the phone's favor, as you have more room to grip the device. The phone features an aluminum mid-frame sandwiched between two Gorilla Glass 5-backed glass panels. The Infinity Display is still a sight to behold, and unlike the iPhone X, there isn't a cutout for the front camera that mars the overall look at the front.

Like the Galaxy S8+, the screen on the Note 8 is one of its best features. Samsung has invested significant amounts of resources into its AMOLED display tech over the years, and the result is that the company has the best displays in the smartphone segment. Thanks to HDR10 Mobile certification, you'll be able to take full advantage of the panel in apps like Netflix and Prime Video.

The Note 8's display has a resolution of 2960 x 1440, but it runs at 2220 x 1080 out of the box. You can, however, head into the display settings and change the native resolution to QHD+. There are four display modes to choose from, which let you tailor the screen to your preferences. The panel gets sufficiently bright under harsh sunlight and goes all the way down to 2nits in low-light conditions. The Always On Display has picked up a few additions as well, giving you a quick overview of the time and incoming notifications without having to switch on the phone.

Coming over to the performance, the Exynos 8895 SoC coupled with 6GB of RAM ensure the Note 8 blazes through everyday tasks with ease. I haven't encountered any lag in over two months' of usage, and the phone continues to be a delight to use. (The North American version ships with Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835 SoC.)

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 specs

Not everyone picking up a Note 8 will use the S Pen regularly, but the stylus is a great addition. The ability to take notes while the screen is off comes in handy if you need to jot down a few lines in a hurry, and Samsung Notes gives you plenty of options for doodling. The screen-off memo is engaged automatically when the display is off, and Air Command kicks in when you pull the stylus out of its silo when the screen is on, giving you quick access to shortcuts. Smart Select allowing you to take screenshots of a particular area on the screen, Screen Write lets you doodle on the screen, and Translate gives you access to real-time translations.

You're better off just ignoring Bixby altogether.

Then there's Live Message, which is an interesting addition to the S Pen's feature set. Live Message lets you draw and send animated messages, with the feature recording your pen strokes in real time. There are several fonts and effects to choose from, and you can send the message in any app that supports GIFs. You can also invoke Bixby Vision from Air Command, but you're better off not using the feature.

With the Galaxy Note 8, Samsung finally made the switch to dual rear cameras. The manufacturer ended up using a primary 12MP camera — similar to that on the Galaxy S8+ — and augmenting it with a secondary 12MP telephoto lens. The primary shooter has an f/1.7 lens, 1.4-micron pixels, and Dual Pixel autofocus, whereas the secondary lens offers an f/2.4 aperture and 1.0-micron pixels.

What's different with Samsung's implementation is that both imaging sensors feature OIS. The introduction of the telephoto lens enables 2x optical zoom and a portrait mode in the form of Live Focus. The mode selectively blurs out the background, and you have the option to adjust background blur after the fact.

As is the case with the Galaxy S8+, photos and videos shot with the Note 8 are exceptional. The phone consistently delivers great images irrespective of the lighting conditions. Photos come out saturated and with plenty of dynamic range, and the phone is one of the best at shooting in low-light scenarios.

The Note 8 comes with Samsung Experience 8.5 atop Android 7.1.1 Nougat out of the box, and the overall experience is in line with that of the Galaxy S8+. It'll take you a few days to go through the sheer number of features on offer, and even if you don't end up using all of them, they're there if you need them.

Samsung Pay continues to be great for payments at offline stores, with the service picking up 1.5 million customers over the last few months. Barring a few retail stores, I haven't had any issues using the mobile payments service to pay for purchases over the last two months.

Samsung is great at including a lot of goodies with its flagships, and with the Note 8, you get AKG-branded earbuds in the box, spare tips for the S Pen, a clear case, and a USB Type-C to Type-A and a Type-C to Micro-USB converter. The AKG headphones are surprisingly good, with decent bass response and clear highs — they're certainly a far cry better than bundled earbuds from most other manufacturers.

You can also redeem a free wireless charger from the My Galaxy app, provided you purchased the Note 8 before October 21.

Galaxy Note 8 What needs work

Samsung was always going to be conservative regarding battery size following last year's debacle. The 3300mAh battery is smaller than the 3500mAh unit on the Galaxy S8+, and combine that with a slightly larger 6.3-inch screen and you'll find that the battery life on the Note 8 is one of its main drawbacks. The phone barely manages to last the course of a day, with usage spread across an hour or two of web browsing, streaming music over Spotify, social media, navigation, and an hour's worth of calls.

Battery life is really the only major knock against the Note 8 right now.

Screen-on-time averaged anywhere between three-and-a-half hours to four hours, but that varied wildly based on usage patterns. During the weekends — when I was out running chores and was primarily using cellular data — I saw screen-on-time of under three hours, with the battery lasting for just over 10 hours.

While vacationing in Thailand, a fully-charged Note 8 conked out in just under seven hours, with screen-on-time of under two hours. I managed to take a hundred photos, and that undoubtedly put a strain on the battery. But in the time it took the Note 8's battery to go down to 5%, the Pixel 2 XL — which was also used to shoot a lot of images — still had a 45% charge.

Samsung's much-hyped virtual assistant Bixby still needs a lot of work. Bixby Voice debuted in India last month, and while it's great for surfacing specific images from the gallery or delving into the settings, it isn't a service you'll end up using often. The lack of integrations make Google Assistant a much better alternative, particularly when you consider that the "Ok Google" hotword works even when the screen is off.

Another area of annoyance with the Galaxy Note 8 is the location of the fingerprint sensor. Its placement was awkward on the GS8+, and things haven't gotten any better on the Note 8. Given that the phone is larger than the S8+, you'll find it harder to reach the sensor.

Finally, the single speaker at the bottom is decent, but it's nowhere close to the BoomSound setup on the HTC U11 or the stereo speakers on the iPhone 8 Plus.

Galaxy Note 8 Bottom line

Although the Note 8 has sub-standard battery life, the phone more than makes up for it in other areas. The screen and the camera in particular are outstanding, and the sheer number of features on offer make it the phone to beat in 2017.

The Pixel 2 XL has a better software experience, and Google's advances in computational photography have led to an outstanding camera, but the lack of a 3.5mm jack is a drawback. Then there's the fact that the Pixel 2 XL has a blue tint across the display, and the phone is also plagued with quality control issues.

Simply put, if you want the best overall package, the Galaxy Note 8 should be at the top of your list.

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