Camera quality has improved with updates.
No sign of Android 8.0 Oreo update as yet.
Occasional lag sort of ruins the experience..
It’s already been a little over six months since Samsung launched the Galaxy Note 8, which was crowned as one of the best flagship smartphones of 2017. But just how well has it fared over the past six months? Is it still the beast that it was promised to be when new, or should you pick-up something else, such as the Pixel 2 XL, iPhone X or the more recently released 2018 flagship smartphones, the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+. I have been using the device since its launch, and now, half a year later, here’s my long term review of the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.
The Galaxy Note 8 has been an impressive smartphone. It has a premium design and still looks stunning compared to the competitors. The Note 8 also packs top-notch hardware for powerful performance. But, no matter how powerful an Android smartphone is, it eventually slows down and most users complain about various issues after the initial few months.
The Galaxy Note 8 is priced at Rs 67,900, and you sure wouldn’t want your expensive device to slow down, would you? The Galaxy S8, even after a year, runs smoothly, except for the occasional hiccups. With the Galaxy Note 8 having an extra 2GB of RAM, you would expect things to run smooth, but does it?
Galaxy Note 8: Things I like
Trustworthy cameras: To leave your DSLR behind
Now, one of the things I love about the Galaxy Note 8 are the cameras. Since September when I got the smartphone, I’ve been on a handful of trips abroad, and during all these trips, I completely ditched my bulky DLSR and relied on the Note 8. Be it capturing photos with scenic views, or something in low-light, the Galaxy Note 8’s cameras don’t disappoint. Below are some camera samples.
That gorgeous display
Of all the smartphones I’ve used so far, the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy Note 8 displays are something to write home about. The Super AMOLED panel offers good color reproduction, it is sharp and bright. Photos and videos look lively, and thanks to HDR 10 support, watching movies and TV shows on Amazon Prime Video is great.
IP68 certification: Not afraid of water
Of course, having IP68 certification for water and dust resistance means you don’t need to worry about an accidental splash of water or walking in the rain. You can dunk the Note 8 in a pool too, as long as it doesn’t go below 1.5m water for up to 30 minutes. I took the opportunity to take the Note 8 while snorkeling in Hawaii, and it survived that comfortably. I won’t recommend you to try such stunts, but still, accidentally dropping water, tea or coffee won’t do any damage to it. Here’s one video that I shot underwater on the Note 8.
Samsung Pay: A savior when out of cash
Life has never been the same since demonetization of old currency notes, and a lot of us have moved on to cashless transactions already. Having Samsung Pay on the Galaxy S8 and Note 8 have been my saviors at times.
A couple of times when I walked into restaurant close to my house only to realize I forgot my wallet at home, Samsung Pay did let me make payment by simply tapping the phone on the POS machine. And today, whenever I get an opportunity, I prefer paying using Samsung Pay.
The S Pen: More than a stylus for jotting quick notes
They say – a pen is mightier than a sword – which could be true, but in my case, despite being a writer, it is not so. Mostly because my writing happens on a laptop, not on a paper. But the S Pen lets me jot down quick notes without having to unlock the smartphone.
The S Pen also lets me doodle and sketch something when I get bored. I don’t use it much, but I like the idea of having the S Pen, and I’m sure a lot of users might be putting it to good use, although I only use it occasionally.
Bixby: Has a great potential, but….
Love it or hate it, Bixby is here to stay, and you can do nothing about it. I’ve seen people bashing Bixby, even without fully using it, or checking out its full capabilities. It may be a little underpowered compared to Siri, Cortana and Google Now, but the tricks that Bixby has up its sleeves, it has a lot of potential. Just watch the below video, in case you haven’t completely had a chance to see Bixby at work.
Galaxy Note 8: Things I don’t like
Long-term performance: Not that fast, and fluid anymore
One of the best things about new smartphones is the fact that they are blazing fast and fluid in their operation. But as they start aging, they tend to slow down. It’s a result of multiple things such as installing too many apps, storing lots of data, the apps cache, and more. The Galaxy Note 8 doesn’t slow down per se, but it’s not the beast anymore.
During the initial review period and the first couple of months, it all went smooth. But then, reality hit. Now, the Note 8 is not as fast and fluid anymore. There have been occasional moments where there have been hiccups, the phone goes unresponsive for 3-4 seconds. This is mostly while multitasking – say you click a phone using the stock camera app, and quickly want to tweet it or upload on Facebook. When I attend work events, I do such multitasking while live tweeting, and that’s exactly when I have faced these issues.
Recently when I was traveling, and I was in a high-speed train sitting by the window. I looked out, and it was pretty scenic. I quickly took out the Note 8 to click a photo, but it took about three seconds to wake from the lock screen. And then when I opened the camera app from the lock screen shortcut, it took another 5 seconds to load, and bring up the viewfinder. Result: I missed the perfect shot.
I used the device maintenance app to clear cache and storage, and restarted the phone, and next time I wanted to quickly snap a photo, it worked well. But a couple of days later, I was back to square one. Clicked a photo, and it took about 4 seconds to save in the camera roll. And at times, it captured blurry shots too.
But, as I mentioned, these were rare occasions, and I finally figured out the culprit – ‘battery power saver mode’ which I often use when roaming to conserve battery life. Then I switched to high-performance mode, and the problem seemed to vanish. But on the whole, I don’t think a layman would easily figure that out, and some optimizations even in battery saving mode could be better. The Pixel XL that I also use as a secondary device doesn’t encounter such problems in battery power saving mode. Ditto with my previous phones.
Slow software updates process
One major problem with the Android ecosystem is the software update process. The Google Pixel devices solve the problem with stock Android OS, but that’s not the same with the rest of the smartphones from other OEMs. Project Treble aims to solve the problem by separating Android OS and vendor implementation, but sadly, it is a part of devices that run Android 8.0 Oreo out-of-the-box.
Google released the final version of Android 8.0 Oreo OS in August 2017, before the Galaxy Note 8’s India launch. Half a year has passed, and while the Galaxy S8 recently got treated with the latest Android flavor, there are no signs of the update yet. This is not what I would expect from a premium device.
Ok, there are over-the-top customizations, but OEMs need to figure out a solution to quickly roll out upgrades. The new Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ come with Project Treble, and Google has already released the Android P developer preview. We are a few months away from the final release of Android P, and it will be really interesting to see the Project Treble implementation at work.
Battery life: The struggle continues
This is the major pain point of every smartphone user. Whether you have an affordable smartphone or an expensive one, if the battery can last a day, that’s an achievement. With low to moderate usage, the Galaxy Note 8 easily sails through the day, but with heavy usage, even if the battery lasts about seven hours, that’s a big bonus.
On event days when I am traveling, I live tweet the announcement along with photos. Those are the times when after an hour-long press conference, the battery dies down by over 50 percent, and I always need to keep a power bank handy. Not that the battery life is bad, because, it has to power the chipset, the large high-resolution display and a lot more. But, a slightly bigger battery could have helped in getting some extra juice. And if the Galaxy Note 7’s ill-fated battery still haunts us, there’s always a way to optimize the software to extend the battery life.
Should you still buy the Galaxy Note 8?
If you missed out on buying the Galaxy Note 8 last year, or until now, you would rather take a look at the new Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+. They come with improved cameras, faster hardware, stereo speakers, and new features. And on top of that, they are more affordable than the Note 8. The only thing that you will miss on the S-series is the S Pen stylus support. The new Pixel 2 smartphones are other good alternatives, at least you can be sure about the amazing cameras and timely software updates.
Not that the Galaxy Note 8 is a bad smartphone. It is still one of the best ones you can pick up today, but in the long term, there are these minor issues that you may come across. I reiterate, these were the rare occasional issues, but yes, they were there. Battery life could have been better, but it is subjective to one’s usage. If you like the Note-series, and still considering to buy one, the Galaxy Note 8 is still a hot pick. And fortunately, in the long-run, it doesn’t have a battery that will blow up.