One of the big things that separates the Galaxy Note 8 from the only slightly smaller Galaxy S8+ is the former phablet’s mighty S Pen. Pair up that stylus with Samsung’s 6.3-inch flagship, and the Note 8 becomes a powerhouse device that’s light years ahead of pen-less phones.
Just press a nub on the bottom right of the Note 8 and the S Pen pops out, ready to handle anything from sketching a map on the subway to previewing data just by having you hold the pen over the Note 8’s display. At less than 0.2 ounces and 4.3-inches long, the S Pen has an odd rectangular profile that takes some getting used to, but it’s worth the effort. The side button lets you go from inking to erasing and Samsung has included a bunch of pen-based shortcuts to help streamline using the Note 8. Here’s a quick guide to the Note 8’s S Pen and what you can do with it.
Image Credit: Shaun Lucas/Tom's Guide
The Note 8’s S Pen is the latest in a long line of styluses designed for Samsung’s Galaxy Note and Tab devices. This version features a 0.7-millimeter tip, which is less than half the size of the one that came with the Note 5, helping the S Pen do a good job of mimicking the feel of a pen on paper. The pen’s 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity make it just as good at marking thin accurate lines when you want to doodle as it is at producing broad, wide lines for emphasizing a point or an artistic flare. (Image Credit: Brian Nadel/Tom's Guide)
With all the S Pen can do, it’s amazing that its controls can be consolidated onto one phone screen. Go to the Settings icon on the Note 8’s Home page and tap Display and then Advanced Features. At the top, you’ll see the S Pen category, which is control-central for the pen and its features.
For instance, I have my Note8 set to vibrate when I pull the pen out of the phone and make faint scratching sounds when writing or drawing. If this is too much, you can turn off the Vibration and Sound sections at the bottom of the page.
The Air Command interface is one of the most powerful parts of the Note8, but its shortcuts are usually hidden away. They come to the fore when you need them: hover the S Pen over the screen and press the the stylus’s button, and Air Command should pop up.
I’ve also set Air Command to start up whenever I pull the pen out of the phone by activating it in the S Pen’s Settings; you can do this in the S Pen’s Settings page under When S Pen Is Removed.
Once active, the Air Command screen has a semicircle of icons that gives you get the choice of starting a note or viewing an old one; selecting a section of the screen to capture; writing directly on a screen; creating a Live Message; translating a highlighted section; or getting Bixby to start listening to you. Not enough options? Go ahead and add your own by tapping the “+” icon to create a personal shortcut, say to add the digital magnifying glass.
I’ve used Screen Off the most during the first few weeks of living with the Note 8 and I’m glad this feature, which debuted with the doomed Note 7, made its return. With Off Screen Memo, as soon as you remove the S Pen from its slot, the Note 8 provides a black screen to write on. It’s perfect for last minute lists, capturing your thoughts or making notes at a work event. While the notes oddly look like chalk on a blackboard, there’s room for 100 pages and they’re saved in the Samsung Notes app (more on that in a moment), where you can share or edit them.
While the Note 8 and S Pen also work with Microsoft’s One Note and other apps, the stylus is well integrated into the built-in Samsung Notes app. In addition to the choice between using the S Pen or keypad to capture your innermost thoughts, Notes lets you draw, work on an image or even save voice notes. Start by tapping the Notes icon in the Samsung Apps folder and then picking the type of note you want. If you like, go ahead and give the note a name, but you can do that later.
I used Notes and the S Pen to color a photo I took and had the choice of two fountain pen nibs, a ballpoint pen, a brush and marker as well as five levels of opacity. There are nine preset colors in Samsung Notes, which also lets you pick a custom color. When you’re done, go ahead and save your note, which you can put on the Home screen, add as a reminder, or print it; you can also share your note with friends in a variety of formats.
The S Pen stylus works well when you press it on the Note 8’s screen, but if you go to the S Pen’s settings and turn on the Pointer feature, the pen shows a small blue circle when you hover over any spot on the phone’s display. Take this a step further by enabling Air view, and the screen will preview what the pen is hovering over, such as a Calendar appointment. These are very useful features, though they only work if the pen tip is within three-quarters of an inch of the display.
Day to day, one of the coolest and most useful things you can use the S Pen is to instantly erase anything you’ve written or drawn in the Notes app, giving you tremendous flexibility to try things out. Don’t like what you’ve sketched? Poof — it’s gone. All you do is press the S Pen’s button and touch the area that you want to disappear.