Samsung Galaxy Note 8 full review
Samsung announced its new Note 8 phablet at a press event on 23 August. This is a critical launch for the company: it comes a year after the release of the ill-fated Note 7, which was recalled after battery problems caused handsets to overheat and in some cases catch fire.
Some consumers, then, may need extra persuasion to rejoin the Samsung army - but the Note 8 looks like a valiant effort to do just that, with an array of impressive specs. In this article we put it head to head with Apple's current flagship phablet, the iPhone 7 Plus, to see which offers the best blend of design, features, tech specs and value for money.
Bear in mind, however, that by the time the Note 8 goes on sale we will probably have seen our first glimpse of the iPhone 8, Apple's follow-up handset for this year. For this reason we would not recommend buying a 7 Plus now! We will update this comparison to include the iPhone 8 once we know more.
Design & build quality
Apple has been doing its thing, smartphone design wise, in much the same way for the past three years, and the iPhone 7 Plus's external build is largely identical to that of the iPhone 6 Plus of 2014. (It is believed that the company will finally shake things up with the launch of the iPhone 8 in September 2018.) This is hardly a tragedy - it's a design classic - but some of us are getting a little tired of the same old look.
There are a couple of significant changes from the 6s Plus, however: it loses the headphone port (the Note 8 has one), and swaps out the physical-clicking Home button for a non-moving part that looks similar (and takes up space that cannot be used for screen display purposes) but simulates a click with a small taptic motor.
The Note 8 is in some ways a more adventurous design. Samsung too has made changes to the home button, but it has been more radical: the home button from the Note 7 has been removed entirely and replaced by a pressure-sensitive area within the screen. This has helped the company to offer more screen space, moving up from 5.7in to 6.3in - now a long way ahead of the iPhone's 5.5in.
You get a screen that's sharper if you plump for the Note 8 - it has a pixel density of 523ppi (pixels per inch) to the iPhone's 401ppi. And the Samsung has more of a widescreen display, too: it has an aspect ratio of 18.5:9, compared to the iPhone's 16:9.
The iPhone 7 Plus is available in six colours: silver, gold, (matt) black, (gloss) Jet Black, Rose Gold and Product Red. The Jet Black and Product Red finishes are only available if you go for 128GB or more of storage, so start at a higher price point.
The Note 8 comes in two colours: Midnight Black and Maple Gold.
Water and dust-resistance
Both these devices have good ratings for resisting liquid and solid ingress, but the Samsung is rated one step higher for the former - so if you're worried about water damage the Note 8 may be the safer choice.
The iPhone 7 Plus is rated as IP67, the Note 8 IP68. IP ratings are divided into two numbers: the first one (generally up to 6) measures protection against dust and similar solid intrusions, while the second (generally up to 8, although higher ratings have occasionally been given) covers liquids.
By a standard definition, both phones are considered to be dust-tight. But while the iPhone is proof against immersion up to 1m, the Note 8 can handle immersion beyond that depth.
Let's look at the two devices' feature sets.
Samsung bundles its S Pen stylus (updated for 2017) with the Note 8. Apple's own stylus, the Apple Pencil, is not compatible with the iPhone 7 Plus (or indeed any iPhones at time of writing), although you can use a third-party stylus with it.
The Note 8 comes with wireless charging as standard. The wireless charger isn't included in the basic package, however, so you'll need to pay extra (it's £69) unless you can find a carrier willing to bundle it as part of a contract offer.
The iPhone 7 Plus's Live Photos is an Apple feature that records a few seconds before and after each still photo you take (if you've got the feature enabled) so you get a nice mini-video.
Both of these devices have twin-lens rear camera setups.
Apple uses the 7 Plus's twin lenses for a feature called Portrait Mode, which blurs backgrounds in a rather artful way (the "bokeh" effect, if you're into photography) that makes for SLR-like portrait photographs.
The Note 8 also offers a bokeh effect through its Live Focus feature, which can be adjusted after the shot is taken.
The iPhone 7 Plus's screen is sensitive to varying degrees of touch pressure. By pressing harder you get additional features, such as 'peeking' at the contents of an emailed web link (and then pressing harder still to open the link), app shortcuts by hard-pressing a Home screen icon and so on.
Let's look inside these two phablets and evaluate their internals. Bear in mind, as we've said previously, that the iPhone is a year older than the Note 8, although Samsung phones tend to have better specs for the money than Apple ones in any case.
iPhone 7 Plus specs
- 2.34GHz quad-core A10 Fusion chip with 64-bit architecture and embedded M10 motion coprocessor
- 3GB RAM
- 32GB, 128GB or 256GB storage
- 5.5in 16:9 'Retina HD' LED-backlit IPS LCD screen, 1920 × 1080 resolution (401ppi)
- Rear-facing camera: 12Mp dual lens (ƒ/1.8 wide-angle and ƒ/2.8 telephoto with 2x optical zoom), OIS, Portrait Mode
- Front-facing camera: 7Mp ƒ/2.2
- Lightning data, audio and power connector
- 158.2mm x 77.9mm x 7.3mm
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 specs
- 10nm, 64bit octa-core processor (Exynos 8895 in UK; most likely Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 in US and China)
- 6GB RAM
- 64GB storage (plus microSD up to 256GB)
- 6.3in 18.5:9 Super AMOLED display, Quad HD+ 2960 x 1440 resolution (523ppi)
- Rear-facing camera: 12Mp dual lens (f/1.7 wide-angle + f/2.4 telephoto with 2x optical zoom), OIS on both lenses
- Front-facing camera: 8Mp f/1.7
- 3.82 V 11.10 W·h (2900 mA·h) Li-ion
- Gigabit LTE
- 11ac Wi-Fi
- Bluetooth 5.0
The iPhone 7 Plus launched back in September 2016, and is available to buy now. It's nearly a year old, and we confidently expect Apple to unveil new iPhones this September, so it's probably worth waiting to see what the new handsets have to offer.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 was announced on 23 August and was made available to pre-order on the same day. It will go on sale on 15 September.
Price & where to buy
Here are Apple's iPhone 7 Plus prices in the UK:
- 32GB: £719
- 128GB: £819
- 256GB: £919
The Note 8 costs £869 SIM-free. (You can pre-order here, and those who do so now will get a free DeX docking station worth £139.)