For a little while there, we weren’t sure this day would ever come. After last year’s Galaxy Note 7 was ultimately discontinued after several reports of batteries exploding or catching fire, we had to wonder whether or not Samsung would consider the Note line too tainted to keep around. But, when the Galaxy S8 arrived without the Note’s trademark S Pen, we had to figure that there would be a Note 8 after all, and that’s exactly what Samsung announced earlier today. The 6.3″ phone looks similar to the Galaxy S8 while reintroducing a lot of S Pen features that originally debuted on the Note 7 — there’s not too much new or surprising, but if you’re a longtime Note user who wants to jump back into the water now that it’s safe, there’s nothing that should turn you away, either.
And the waters should be safe. After the Note 7 battery disaster, Samsung introduced an exacting battery testing procedure in their factories that they first put into use for the Galaxy S8 and S8+. That should prevent a repeat of last year’s battery problems, which stemmed from manufacturing defects and poor quality control when implementing replacement third party batteries.
The Note 8 takes after the Galaxy S8, using the same kind of widescreen 1440p display — 6.3″ in size, this time. The phone runs Android 7.1.1 Nougat on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 SoC and 6 GB of RAM. The generous amount of RAM is significant — the Note line still gets dinged occasionally for hitches in performance, so the extra RAM should hopefully keep Samsung’s heavy TouchWiz UI running smoothly. The Note 8 has 64 GB of storage, with a microSD card slot supporting up to 256 GB more. The 3,300 mAh battery should give the phone solid battery life, but all-day battery life might not be realistic considering Note users tend to be power users. All that is packed into a metal frame with glass back that once again boasts an IP68 rating, making it waterproof and dust-proof.
The S Pen is back, and it’s got a finer point for more accurate note taking. All told, it looks like Samsung has simply carried over the new S Pen features that were to be introduced in the Note 7, although some of them have been improved. Up to 100 pages of notes can still be taken and edited without unlocking the phone, and the hover to translate feature can now handle entire sentences instead of just words — as always, how well that works will depend on which languages you’re translating to and from. The note-taking feature is part of the ever-popular always-on screen, which will always be active to show you basics like time.
The biggest change might be the camera. Samsung has moved to a dual camera for the Note line, using one 12 MP sensor with an f/1.7 wide-angle lens and one 12 MP sensor with an f/2.4 telephoto lens. Both of those sensors have autofocus and, in a first as far as we know, optical image stabilization. Both cameras having OIS means that you’ll have more freedom to decide what kind of shot you want to take in low-light conditions, in addition to getting the depth-of-field effects enabled by a dual camera array. On the front, the Note 8 has an 8 MP sensor with autofocus and an f/1.7 lens.
Overall, the Note 8 is still geared towards people looking for a good business phone. That’s true because of the S Pen, but there’s a handful of security and productivity features that help, too. Like the ill-fated Note 7, the Note 8 has an iris scanner for quick unlocking in addition to the fingerprint scanner, which is now on the back next to the camera array. That’s not a popular placement, especially for people who want to unlock their phones while they’re laying on desks. Because of the desire to fit larger screens into smaller frames, it seems like the fingerprint scanner is becoming a design annoyance — if iris scanning takes off next year, we wouldn’t be surprised to see fingerprint scanners abandoned altogether.
The Note 8 also works with Samsung’s DeX dock, which works in a similar way to the Windows 10 Continuum feature — the dock allows users to run their phone on a larger screen, making it an all-in-one productivity device for anyone who’s comfortable using Android in that way.
Samsung still has their advantages in wireless features, too. Having both NFC and MST enables Samsung Pay to be used with magnetic stripe terminals in addition to contactless terminals, and there’s still built-in wireless charging for anyone who’s invested in a charging pad. That’s added on to the advantages of having the Snapdragon 835 SoC, which has a modem that enables use with emerging Gigabit LTE networks.
Audio still won’t be top-notch. You’ll only get a mono speaker on the bottom, although at least Samsung has still kept the 3.5 mm headphone port around.
Overall, it’s undeniably a high-powered phone, but it’s definitely one that’s just for the S Pen adherents. There’s not much else here that can’t be found on the Galaxy S8 — it’s almost the same in most respects, although the corners are a little more squared off and the display isn’t as dramatically curved. If you were banking on a kind of a midseason Galaxy S8.5, it’s not that.
It’ll still be crazy expensive, though. Samsung plans to sell the Galaxy Note 8 through AT&T, C Spire, Cricket Wireless, Sprint, Straight Talk Wireless, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, Verizon Wireless and Xfinity Mobile, in addition to a handful of other electronics retailers. As always, the price will vary depending on where you shop and whether or not you use monthly payment plans. I’d expect to pay somewhere in the vicinity of $900 if you’re buying the phone outright. Samsung will start preorders tomorrow, with phones arriving in stores on September 15.