Actually, the Galaxy Note 8 Is Totally Worth $1,000

“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:

  1. Probably won’t blow up.
  2. And worse, isn’t very exciting.

Credit: Samsung

(Image credit: Samsung)

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.

Both rear cameras have optical image stabilization, so you should get steadier shots and footage when you zoom in. This is a first for smartphones.

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.

Credit: Samsung

(Image credit: Samsung)

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.”

What Samsung has done with the Note 8 is to extend its Infinity Display design language from the Galaxy S8/8+ line. Samsung did what they had to in terms of updating the Note design. - Wayne Lam, IHS Markit

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 thing “safe” about this product is the battery Everything else about the Note 8 is not conservative but bold! Bigger infinity display, dual cameras, better pen. - Werner Goertz, Gartner.

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.

Mark Spoonauer

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for over 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends, including Cheddar, Fox Business and other outlets. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.

  • A thousand dollars!? Good lord! I hope this thing blows other phones out of the water for a price tag like that.
  • william.ramsey594
  • Dave Haynie
    The Note series has never been "mainstream". This is a "phablet", and actually a useful one with that Wacom digitizer and pen. That's typically, by itself, been a $100 premium over devices with only a touchscreen. So you're basically getting the larger display for free versus the S8. Though a smaller battery is stupid, and no, not needed to "find room for the S-pen".
  • Dave Haynie
    The "probably won't explode" feature is great as well, but you sort of expected that to be included with all smartphones.

    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.
  • Sushi_burger
    I’m surprised no one is complaining about the lack of stereo speakers. I can’t believe that they promote a “cinamatic experience “ and a case that you can view it sideways, and then drop the ball buy putting a single speaker on the thing.
  • thpilgrymm616
    The LG V20 also has the same camera setup, which means that the Note 8 is not the first phone to do the dual camera thing.
  • farnumdl
    Nobody said the dual camera was new. What is new is it is the first phone with stabilization on both lenses.
  • Markason
    I'm sure it's a great phone, and from a price-is-no-concern perspective, it might even be a good value. Personally, I would not pay $1000 for ANY phone in 2017. I'm certain I will be quite happy with a lower-cost model that offers excellent bang-for-the-buck features, while allowing me to use what I'm saving on the purchase of other gadgets I want.
  • jcyoungmoney321
    S8 has newer screen technology than the S8+ and the Note 8. The y-octa screen will be used in the S9 series and Note 9. Don't know for sure why the S8+ and the Note 8 did not get it. Almost 50 more ppi means a sharper screen on the S8 versus the other two. You'll notice the difference between the three side by side in terms of sharper detail. I'll take next year's screen technology with more pixel density over the slightly larger battery and screen size along with the dual camera setup and 2 extra GB of RAM.
  • jdonalds2001
    There is no way I would spend $1,000 or even $600 for a phone. I'll buy older models New In Box on eBay, or buy non top-tier phones even if it means reduced capability.