The Galaxy S9+ gets all of the focus right now, but we must remember Samsung has another big flagship that was hot stuff just a couple months ago: the Galaxy Note 8. I wrote my review of the Note 8 just over 7 months ago, and since using a couple other big-name flagships and Samsung's latest, I've come back to the Note 8 to see how it stands with some age and a fresh software update to Oreo.
Samsung's tick-tock release strategy spacing out the Galaxy S and Galaxy Note lines every year always puts each one in an odd predicament every six months, but in this case it's extremely pronounced. With the Galaxy S9+ on the scene, the Note 8 has effectively zero addressable market now — here's why.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8
Bottom line: Samsung's Note line continues to be the company's dominant phone in terms of mind share, if not market share. Excellent hardware is filled with top-end specs and all sorts of hardware features that you desire, and the icing on the cake is the super-powerful S Pen stylus. There are a few quirks in the software and with the fingerprint sensor, but you can look past those to get an amazingly capable phone. The only question is whether you want to spend extra over the better Galaxy S9+ just to get the S Pen.
- Best screen available today
- Very good camera
- S Pen is a truly unique feature
- Great set hardware features
- Top-end specs
- Software can be overwhelming
- Battery life not good enough for the size
- Fingerprint sensor is tough to reach
- Doesn't offer the same value as the Galaxy S9+
Lots to like
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 What I still love
Look, this is a $950 phone that came out just over half a year ago — it's still going to feel fresh, modern and capable. And the Note 8 absolutely does. Partially due to the Galaxy S9 launching with a relatively unchanged design language, you don't feel like you're missing out on anything in that respect with the Note 8 — it's sleek, simple and beautiful. It's also surprisingly robust: mine just recently survived a nasty 4-foot drop onto tile with nothing more than a scuff in the frame's paint.
It shouldn't be surprising that the Note 8's hardware is still great. And the display is top-notch.
It also still has a headphone jack, which instantly keeps it relevant to so many people, and also has some fan favorites like wireless charging and an SD card slot. Outside of signing the odd PDF I come across or annotating a screenshot I really haven't been able to work the S Pen into my Note 8 usage, and I think stylus importance as a whole is regularly overestimated, but of course this is still the absolute best stylus experience on any phone if you need it. Samsung knows it has a certain set of users who will buy each and every Note because they're tied to the stylus workflow — I just question how big that market is.
The Note 8's screen is still amazing and a core strength of this phone. I've never found a situation in which it wasn't bright enough to get the job done, and it even manages to get dim enough to not be bothersome at night (with some help from the blue light filter). Not that I expected any, but I don't see any sort of screen defects like dead pixels, banding, discoloration or burn-in. It's all great, and this is still a top-of-the-industry display.
But that's all old news. We know the Note 8's hardware is great. The big change Note 8 owners have experienced is the update to Android Oreo. Note 8 owners didn't have to endure a full year before their update like Galaxy S8 owners did, but it still took a while. My expectations were tempered entirely by using the Galaxy S9+, so I knew what to expect — and thankfully, the experience of using a Note 8 on Oreo is near-identical to that of the GS9+.
Oreo is good, and I haven't experienced bugs or slowdowns like so many previous Samsung updates.
This isn't a dramatic departure from Nougat, especially considering the Note 8 already had some features not found on the GS8 series, but this still feels modern and is of course the newest software Samsung has to offer. It has all of the same shortcomings of duplicate apps and mountains of settings, but we expected that. Oreo didn't bring any changes to the S Pen experience, which honestly doesn't feel like it needs anything changed just for the sake of change, nor did it add some of the superfluous GS9 features like AR Emoji, but I see no huge loss there.
Performance is still great after the Oreo update, and my Note 8 hasn't fallen back into its pattern of odd slowdowns and general jankiness that I found a couple months in. Samsung's updates are particularly notorious for dramatically changing performance and arriving with bugs, and so far that hasn't been the case here.
In daily use you'd be hard-pressed to find an area where the Galaxy Note 8 was slower than the Galaxy S9+, though perhaps you'd notice small changes in load times and multitasking if you set the two side-by-side for some synthetic testing. I certainly never felt like I was missing out on something when using the Note 8 on Oreo, and happily kept using it even though I could've bailed back to the Galaxy S9+ at any moment.
The GS9+ bests the Note 8's camera overall, but this is still a great pair of shooters.
The Note 8's cameras may not be top-of-the-line anymore since Samsung really stepped up its game with the Galaxy S9+, but it the older phone still deserves credit for the high overall quality. Extreme low-light shots won't match the GS9+, but daylight shots, mixed lighting scenes and zoom photos are indistinguishable to my eyes — though it's worth noting the Oreo update didn't seem to make any improvement on Live Focus portrait shots. Looking at the great photos I've taken with this phone, this is still one of the better cameras available today, even if it's been bested by Samsung's latest.
A couple things faded
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 What I don't like
7 months in, there isn't too much to complain about with the Galaxy Note 8. Using the Galaxy S9+ the past few weeks has made it even clearer that I can't stand the fingerprint sensor placement on the Note 8. It's just downright too hard to reach, and useless for the notification swipe-down gesture. And that extra bit of screen size and its slightly blocky shape make it just that much tougher to handle and use in one hand compared to the latest Galaxy S. But these are things I found after a week of using it.
The Note 8 was never a strong battery performer, but Oreo added an extra question mark.
The only issue I have with the Note 8 that has changed since I first reviewed it is the battery life, which has taken a downward trend since being updated to Oreo. To be clear my battery life wasn't exactly fantastic before, just merely average — but since grabbing Oreo to my U.S. unlocked model, I've had a couple days with very basic usage and under 3 hours of "screen on" time that hit 5% battery in under 12 hours. On Oreo, I'm good for roughly 16-17 hours of usage now no matter what I really do throughout the course of the charge. Anything even slightly intense, like hopping into Android Auto for 20 minutes or streaming video, takes a big chunk out of the battery.
Could this be fixed in a future update? Maybe, but don't hold your breath.
On one hand it's not uncommon for new updates to flip some bits incorrectly and cause odd battery drain, but this also isn't exclusive to my phone. Chatter on Twitter, in our forums and on Reddit points to many Note 8 owners that are seeing battery life drop-offs after the update, all pointing to high "Android System" use as the culprit. There are theories about how to "fix" this, but I'm skeptical considering that my Galaxy S9+ battery life, with a larger battery and the same Oreo software, is also pretty weak. Suffering from the same bug? Perhaps. But it's just as likely that this is just what a modern Samsung phone with Oreo gets out of a battery of this size.
Surprisingly, the glass back of my Note 8 has held up far better than my Galaxy S8's has — albeit with months less of use, and more time spent in a case. But it definitely isn't in mint condition, and as I continue to use it I simply watch its glossy exterior pick up cosmetic damage. Watching these shiny phones gradually pick up scratches with use is just part of the deal now — the best you can say is the Note 8's body hasn't aged any worse than expected.
No longer the best
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 7 months later
The Note 8, with the new Oreo software on board, is a really good phone that feels modern and worth the money even in April 2018. The latest software hasn't slowed down like Nougat did for me, the hardware still looks and feels great, the screen is fantastic, and the cameras are very capable. The only things that really haven't aged well on the Note 8 are the fingerprint sensor placement and the battery life — complaints we had from Day 1.
The Galaxy S9+ is the best Samsung phone available — only serious stylus users should consider a Note 8.
But the Note 8 doesn't exist in a vacuum, even in Samsung's own lineup. And because of that, I can't come up with any reason why you'd buy the Note 8 today. For as solid and modern as it feels, there isn't anything the Note 8 does better than the Galaxy S9+, save for the exclusive S Pen — and yet, the GS9+ is less expensive and has its own set of improvements and better features. The Note 8 is still $960 from Verizon, $960 from Sprint, $950 from AT&T and $870 from T-Mobile. That's too much in a world where the Galaxy S9+ is $50 to $100 less.
Anyone who has had a Note 8 for months can still feel proud of it. In the past 7 months, the smartphone world hasn't advanced beyond it. It feels fast, modern, powerful, feature-packed and capable. But for anyone looking to buy a big, expensive smartphone today, the Galaxy S9+ is Samsung's sole front-runner — and unless you know you need a stylus, there's no reason to buy the Note 8.
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