Samsung has launched the Galaxy Note 8, unveiling it in New York City at an event that included plenty of hands-on time to learn about the new features.

Samsung’s unveiling comes a year after the ill-fated Note 7, which led to an embarrassing recall for the company. Where the Galaxy S8 and S8+ helped push new features through a redesigned body, the Note 8 follows in that regard, but doesn’t change that much.

Familiar design

The most obvious shift was to go with a 6.3-inch Super AMOLED “Infinity Display” with an 18.5:9 aspect ratio that covers 83% of the phone’s front panel. It’s essentially the same thing Samsung did with the Galaxy S8 and S8+, where there’s an edged display on both sides, leaving little room on the bezels above and below.

The same glossy finish is all over the device to continue the sleek look the company has sought for the Note line the last few years. The latest addition on the back is the second lens offering a 2x optical zoom, which I’ll touch on in the camera section.

The fingerprint sensor has been given a buffer zone, with Samsung moving the flash and heart rate monitor between the sensor and the lenses, helping users avoid smudging the lens by accident. Wireless charging support includes faster charging with better pads from third-party providers.

Bixby is in this phone, and can be triggered with the dedicated button on the left edge. The bottom has a headphone jack, so Samsung didn’t abandon that. A speaker and USB-C port round out the rest of the outer chassis.

Inside, there’s 6GB of RAM with 64GB of internal storage with microSD card slot expansion up to 2TB. It will run off the Snapdragon 835 processor too.

Last, but not least, is the battery. It’s 3300mAh, so not huge for a phone this size, but sizeable enough to last a full day, Samsung confirms. Further testing will prove how true that claim is, though fast charging—both wired and wireless—should help squeeze more out of it.

Software impressions

It’s still way too early to draw any conclusions on the Note 8, as a whole, and that includes the software experience. There’s real familiarity from the Galaxy S8 and S8+. While it will come with Android 7.1.1 Nougat installed, it will be upgradeable to 8.0 Oreo soon.

The same security options are available: password, PIN, pattern, iris scanner, face recognition and fingerprint sensor. No apparent change in the edge display interface, unless something pops up that I will catch later.

Overall layout felt untouched, for the most part. The phone was zippy, no question. Fast, smooth and robust, it will be interesting to see how impactful the 6GB of RAM will be.

App Pair allows you to use the pen to basically merge two apps together for Multi-Window use cases. It creates an icon on the home screen and app launcher, so when you tap it, both apps open in a split-screen view. For example, it would be possible to combine Google Maps with a music app. The only catch is that not all third-party apps necessarily support Multi-Window.

The S Pen

The vaunted S Pen has been slightly improved with more precision upon contact with the screen. It also still has its familiar holster at the bottom of the phone. Clicking the button hovering over the screen lays out the familiar carousel of apps, plus new ones like Live Message, where instead of texting, Note 8 users can send doodles as visual messages instead. Writing out a quick message or drawing on a photo and sending it as a GIF will animate after retrieval.

It can translate a menu and convert currency in real-time, expanding on the previous feature that was limited to single words. Now, you can do full sentences and more.

Pen Up is a curated gallery of art users have created using the S Pen. There will be colouring book templates to spur users to be more creative with the pen.

Writing with the pen while the screen is off is another neat feature worth exploring, especially when saving a memo on the fly.

Camera

The wide-angle lens is standard, while the telephoto has 2x optical zoom. The latter also has a f/2.4 aperture, which could be enough to make low-light photos better lit. Both lenses have optical image stabilization at the same time—a first for the industry. Usually, only one lens gets that.

Live Focus will combine both lenses to allow for adjusting focus of the foreground subject and blur of the background. This feature isn’t entirely new, as HTC had done it years ago, only the difference here is far better optics and software interpolation. I tried it out a little, and found it promising, primarily when shooting people as subjects.

Much of the same feature set remains beyond that. Samsung says colour reproduction should be better. I snapped some photos with the phone to gauge any differences. Too soon to tell.

Bixby Voice

Now available in English around the world, Samsung’s digital assistant has finally come out into the open. Plans to expand it to French and other languages are reportedly in the works. I’ll need to test it to see how well it performs, but here are some features Samsung is promising.

With Quick Commands, Bixby could perform quick tasks, like “food photo” to snap a photo of a dish. It automatically launches the camera, switches to food mode, and even saves the image in a Gallery folder designated for culinary photos.

Saying “goodnight” will automatically turn on the bluelight filter and set an alarm for the morning. Spotify integration has also been confirmed, with more details to come. The gist of it will be that you can use Bixby to control various aspects of the Note 8 itself.

Bear in mind, however, that the new Bixby Voice will also work on the Galaxy S8 and S8+.

Coming soon

Now that the Note 8 has been revealed, it’s also going to be available really soon, with pre-orders already starting now.

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Editor Cellular/Mobile Technology
I’m a fortunate man in being able to do the fun job of following and reporting on one of the most exciting industries in the world today. In my time covering consumer tech, I’ve written for a number of publications, including the Globe and Mail, Yahoo! Canada, CBC.ca, Canoe, Digital Trends, MobileSyrup, G4 Tech, PC World, Faze and AppStorm. I’ve also appeared on TV as a tech expert for Global, CTV and the Shopping Channel.

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