There's a Big Reason Note 8 Beats S8, And It's Not the Pen

One has a 6.2-inch screen and the other a 6.3-inch display. They have the same Snapdragon 835 processor and 64GB of storage. But the slightly bigger Galaxy Note 8 costs $80 to $100 more than the Galaxy S8+. Is the premium worth it?

Yes, but not for the reasons you might think.

There’s no question that the S Pen is a highlight feature for the Note 8. And it offers some pretty nifty new tricks. For instance, you can write memos and check items off your to-do list with the screen off, create drawings with an impressive level of detail and even translate other languages on the fly just by hovering the tip above the screen.

MORE: Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review: Redemption Never Looked So Good

The most attention-grabbing S Pen feature is Live Messages, which enables you to turn whatever you scribble on the screen -- be it a quick note or something you write on top of a photo -- into a GIF that’s easily shareable via text message, Facebook and more.

But as convenient as the S Pen can be on the Note 8, that’s not why I recommend it over the S8+. It’s the dual cameras. In fact, the Note 8 is now our top camera phone.

For starters, the dual 12-megapixel cameras on the Note 8 give you a true 2x optical zoom. Anyone who has used the iPhone 7 Plus knows how powerful an optical zoom can be. It’s not just about getting closer to your subject; it’s about being a more creative photographer by grabbing shots on the go that otherwise wouldn’t be possible with the S8+.

The Note 8 really flaunts its camera advantage with a feature called dual capture. The phone snaps a wide-angle and close-up shot simultaneously and then lots you toggle between the two images after you shoot. If you like both images, you can save them separately for safe keeping. Switching from one angle to the other could be finicky in my testing, but I’m hoping Samsung irons that bug out with an update.

Then there’s Live Focus, which is similar to the Portrait mode on the iPhone 7 Plus. With this feature enabled, you can blur out the background on your subject to really make it pop. But the Note 8 goes further than the current iPhone, because you can adjust the intensity of the effect while you’re shooting or after the fact. That’s versatility.

If you like to shoot video, or you just want steadier images as you zoom in, you’ll also appreciate that both lenses on the Note 8 boast optical image stabilization. This is a first not just for Samsung phones but any smartphone.

There are other smaller reasons to pick the Note 8 over the S8+, including the fact that it packs 2GB of more RAM for swifter performance. The Note 8 also makes better use of its larger 6.3-inch screen with a new feature called App Pair, which launches two apps side by side at the same time. So you could say the Note 8 is a better multitasker, especially when you throw the S Pen into the mix.

But to me, all of those features are nice to haves compared to getting a superior camera. That’s why I’d spend the extra dough on the Note 8.

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.