“Playing it safe.” “Cautious.” “Without the Boom”
Those are the play on words that have been flying around in reaction to Samsung’s new Galaxy Note 8, and they’re clearly designed to communicate that Samsung’s new phone:
- Probably won’t blow up.
- And worse, isn’t very exciting.
It also doesn’t help that the Note 8 is the most expensive mainstream smartphone ever, starting at $929 unlocked and costing as much as $960 through carriers.
Does the Note 8 truly wow? Perhaps not. But when you actually look at the phone’s merits, it looks very much worth the premium over the $850 Galaxy S8+ and over every other Android phone.
For one, the 6.3-inch Infinity Edge display is absolutely gorgeous, and I like how Samsung made the curve less severe towards the edges, which makes for a more natural writing experience. Just as important, Samsung made it easier to take advantage of that extra real estate with its new App Pair feature. With it, you can run two apps side by side on the display with a single tap, such as the Mail and Phone app or Chrome and YouTube.
Samsung also deserves credit for not just slapping two cameras on its phone like everyone else. These two 12-megapixel shooters have optical image stabilization, so you should get steadier shots and footage when you zoom in. This is a first for smartphones. Yes, I would have preferred 3x optical zoom, as had been rumored, but 2x is fine.
The Note 8 also does a better job than the iPhone 7 Plus with its Live Focus mode, which is the equivalent of Portrait Mode on Apple’s phone. Unlike the iPhone, the Note 8 lets you adjust the level of blur on the background both before and after taking shot. And at least based on early impressions, the feature works pretty well.
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“The dual cameras is definitely an enhancement and should vie for the title of best phone camera,” said Wayne Lam, principal analyst for research firm IHS Markit.
If you’re already a Samsung fan, you might already be sold, but what about the big-screen Galaxy S8+? That 6.2-inch phablet is about the same size, but it lacks the Note 8’s dual cameras, as well as the S Pen. That’s an important distinction, because not only can you now write tons of notes with the screen off (up to 100), you can turn what you write into an animated GIF (via the Live Messages feature), which makes using the Note 8 feel more personal.
Where’s the wow factor, you ask? That’s a fair question. As someone who is appearing on TV to talk about the Note 8, I need to decide what’s really worth the viewer’s time. So, for me, it really comes down to the dual cameras and S Pen and what they enable. They’re the kind of things that get a reaction of “That’s really cool.” But not “wow.”
Part of the reason the Note 8 seems like more of the same is because that’s exactly what it is. Samsung took one of the sexiest phones ever made in the Galaxy S8 and S8+ and made it bigger and added more features to it. That’s a good thing.
“What Samsung has done with the Note 8 is to extend its Infinity Display design language from the Galaxy S8/8+ line,” Lam said. “Samsung did what they had to in terms of updating the Note design.”
I do think Samsung should have made more of an effort with augmented reality with this device. With all the attention that Apple is getting with ARKit, and with AR rumored to be a tentpole feature of the iPhone 8, not even mentioning the technology seems like a missed opportunity by Samsung.
And while virtual reality is cool, not everyone wants to strap a headset to their noggin — and yes, the Note 8 requires that you buy a new Gear VR to fit its design.
The issue here is that Samsung can’t create its own AR ecosystem like Apple can. It needs the help of Google, which has not done enough to get developers excited about Project Tango and what augmented reality can do on phones. In fact, there are only two such phones on the market right now, and they’re from smaller players like Lenovo with the Phab 2 Pro and the newer Asus Zenfone AR.
As good as the Note 8 is, there’s a definite risk of the Apple stealing shoppers away from Samsung in just a few weeks.
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“Will the next iPhone steal the Note 8's thunder? Probably, but that was always expected” Lam said. “However, we'll need to consider the pricing of the new iPhone design.”
The iPhone 8 is expected to be priced around $1,000, or a bit more than the Note 8.
"If that comes to pass, it is hard to see how Samsung would receive much consumer backlash,” said Avi Greengart, research director at GlobalData. “Samsung's biggest challenge this fall -- or biggest opportunity -- will be reminding consumers who are looking for more modestly priced premium phones that the Galaxy S8 is still an exciting option.”
The only other complaint some have about the Note 8 is its battery. At 3,300 mAh, it’s capacity is less than the 3,500 mAh in the Galaxy S8+. But that’s understandable, given that Samsung had to find room to fit the S Pen in this design.
The only thing “safe” about this product is the battery – it could have been bigger, but this might have been a risk, said Werner Goertz, research director at Gartner. “Everything else about the Note 8 is not conservative but bold! Bigger infinity display, dual cameras, better pen.”
Overall, It looks like Samsung should be able to put the Note 7’s battery debacle to bed while building on the best Android phone in the market. That’s not “wow,” but it is giving the power users who are the Note 8’s target audience exactly what they want. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
On the other hand, the glass back idea that's catchy lately, despite Apple having dumped that years ago, is one of the stupidest things ever. I can see the designer meeting on that: "Hey, I have an idea... let's take the part of the phone that always breaks and make the whole phone that way! That'll get us so many more sales, and unlike the exploding battery trick, I think the press will be on our side!"
I actually prefer a phone designed for the way phones are actually used. If you need a case for your phone, you don't have one of those.