Should you buy the best phone available in the market today?

Samsung’s been working hard to reverse the damage caused by its disastrous Galaxy Note 7 recall last year. And while there will still be haters that’ll crack a joke about their failed flagship, the Korean brand has managed to mainly undo the hit to its reputation via the excellent showing of the S8 and S8+. But while Samsung’s reputation has been repaired somewhat, only a flawless only the flawless launch of the next evolution of the Galaxy Note would end all doubts to Samsung’s manufacturing mastery.

Does the Galaxy Note 8 make up for the problems that the Galaxy Note 7 brought to Samsung? Absolutely. Time and time again Samsung has proven themselves one of the best, if not very best makers of Android smartphones, and the Galaxy Note 8 is just another proof of that fact. But as the company’s flagship offerings evolve, so does their prices – and at Php 49,990, it’s the most expensive Android smartphone currently in the market, which begs the question: is it really worth the money?

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 specs

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor (US, Europe), Exynos 8895 processor (Asia, rest of the world)
  • 6GB of RAM
  • 6.3-inch Quad HD+ resolution, 18.5:9 aspect ratio,  2960 x 1440 resolution display, Gorilla Glass 5
  • 12-megapixel twin rear camera with Dual Pixel tech, wide-angle camera with f/1.7 aperture lens, OIS, PDAF, 2x optical zoom lens with f/2.4 aperture lens with OIS, PDAF
  • 8-megpixel front camera with f/1.7 aperture
  • 64GB of storage, expandable via microSD up to 256GB
  • Dual SIM
  • 3G, LTE
  • WiFi, Bluetooth,  GPS, A-GPS, Fingerprints scanner, facial recognition tech, iris scanner, USB Type-C, NFC, Wireless charging
  • 3300mAh battery
  • Android 7.1.1 Nougat with TouchWiz UI
  • Php 49,990

Same edge-to-edge goodness as the S8+, only in a slightly bigger package

Samsung’s edge-to-edge displays, dubbed the Infinity Display wowed reviewers and critics alike when it was first unveiled in the S8 and S8+. Obviously Samsung used the same tech with the Galaxy Note 8, though in a slightly bigger size: 6.3-inches compared to the 6.2-inch display on the S8+. The size difference is pretty minimal, and if you’ve handled the S8+ before, the ergonomics are pretty similar – the Note 8 handles similarly to a 5.5-inch phone with the obvious benefit of having an overall bigger screen. That bigger screen translates to more vertical real-estate, rather than horizontal, as the phone uses a 18.5:9 apect ratio, and a QHD+ resolution set at 2960 x 1440.

There’s been a few efforts by Samsung to make the Galaxy Note 8 unique as far as looks go, and to not make it just an S8+ with a stylus: the phone has a squarer design compared to the S8+, and obviously the dual-camera module on the rear is a dead giveaway. Speaking of, those two rear cameras are flush with the body and are composed of 12-megapixel twin rear cameras with Dual Pixel tech, with one wide-angle camera with f/1.7 aperture lens, OIS, PDAF and another 2x optical zoom lens with f/2.4 aperture lens with OIS and PDAF. The fingerprint scanner is located on the right of the camera module. Like Samsung’s other flagship devices, the Galaxy Note 8 is IP68 rated.

Button placement is the same as the S8+, with the power button on the right and the volume rocker and Bixby button on the left. We’ve come to loathe the position of the Bixby button, as we often mistake it for the power button when we’re fumbling around for the phone despite having the device for around a week now. On the bottom lies the USB Type-C port, speaker grille and 3.5mm jack.

Aside from the gorgeous display, you’ll also see the 8-megpixel front camera with f/1.7 aperture on the front, as well as the iris scanner. Samsung brought back iris scanner that was present on the Galaxy Note 7 for better security, which is just as well, since the fingerprint scanner’s location on the dual camera module couldn’t be harder to get to. Despite having big hands, we found that we had to continually adjust our grip whenever we were holding the phone to unlock it because of its awkward positioning.

A Note wouldn’t be a Note without a stylus, and we’re happy to report that S Pen that ships with the Galaxy Note 8 is basically the same as the one on the Galaxy Note 7. You’re getting a stylus with 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity and a 0.7mm tip which allows for precise work, important if you’re an artist. The pen is also IP68 rated as well. Samsung also threw in a few new tricks to the S Pen’s arsenal: you can jot (and save) a quick memo on the screen while the display is off, translate foreign currencies and languages on the fly by simply hovering the pen over them, as well as write hand-written notes to be sent off via Facebook Messenger.

The Galaxy Note 8’s Infinity Display is pretty much par for the course for Samsung: it’s vivid, bright and a treat to watch movies and videos on. There’s really nothing quite like Samsung’s Super AMOLED panels in phones sold today, you really have to see it yourself to appreciate how nice that panel is. There are a few caveats to the Note 8’s display though – while it’s technically 6.3-inches, the display stretches vertically, not horizontally, so you’re not getting a substantially wider display compared to a regular 5.5-inch panel. It also means that videos will be cropped if you want to take advantage of the whole display – we found ourselves watching the original aspect ratio because the phone takes quite a bit off of the top and bottom of videos in YouTube and Netflix.

Exynos 8895 is as potent as ever

As with the Galaxy S7 and Note 7, Samsung’s re-using the processor that it chose on the S8 and S8+ on the Galaxy Note 8, namely their own Exynos 8895 chipset. If you’re outside Asia, you’re getting Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 processor. Whatever the chipset, the Galaxy Note 8 will come with 6GB of RAM, 2GB more than the S8 and S8+, along with 64GB of storage. Samsung has made mention of a more roomy 128GB version of the device that will go on sale later, though they have said that only the 64GB version of the Note 8 will be available in the Philippines.

Exynos 8895 is a pretty potent processor for the most part, and is able to get through all of current Android apps without any problems. With a generous 6GB of RAM, the phone felt silky smooth as we navigated through TouchWiZ UI, Samsung’s UI that ships with every device they offer. Just like any other curved display phone that they sell, you can customize the edge panel with your favorite contacts or quick access to the apps you use the most.

We are a little disappointed that Samsung only includes 64GB of storage in the Galaxy Note 8, considering its price. Flagships 10K cheaper already offer 128GB of storage as standard. MicroSd card expansion takes a little bit out of the sting, but we’d have preferred 128GB of storage out of the bat.

When Samsung launched the Galaxy S8 and S8+ a few months ago, Bixby, their AI-driven assistant, wasn’t fully 100 percent yet. This time around the Korean company’s AI efforts is more fleshed out, and Bixby can now understand voice commands. Setup requires you to read a few words so that Bixby can store your voice in its database, and after that you can start using it via the dedicated Bixby button on the side or via its voice prompt. Bixby isn’t as fully fleshed out compared to Google Assistant, for example, and there’s still a few non-native apps that it can’t access (Spotify) but Samsung promises that that will change as time goes by.

Dual camera beast

The biggest change for the Note series this year is the addition of dual rear cameras. Dual cams have been a major selling point for smartphones for a few years now but Samsung has finally embraced the new trend (bandwagon?) with open arms. The Note 8 has twin 12-megapixel DualPixel camera sensors on the rear, utilizing much the same camera hardware that’s present on the S8 and S8+. The primary rear camera has a wide-angle camera with f/1.7 aperture lens, OIS and PDAF, while the secondary camera lens has an 2x optical zoom lens with f/2.4 aperture lens with OIS and PDAF.

While it’s not hard to find a dual camera flagship these days, Samsung’s implementation of the tech seems to be the most solid. The phone took excellent photos in a variety of lighting situations. Samsung’s dual-camera tech is the first to have OIS on the secondary zoom camera, something that the iPhone 7 Plus lacks, which mean snaps using the secondary camera are blur free. Just like any other dual camera smartphone in the market today, the Galaxy Note 8 can also add artificial blur to the shots when shooting, though snaps taken this way are relegated to the 2x zoom lens. There’s also a minimum distance requirement for these shots as prompted by the phone.

But honestly you don’t really need that unless you’re going for portrait shots, since the f/1.7 aperture lens in the main camera sensor adds plenty of bokeh on its own without the need for software trickery. Just check out our sample photos above taken in and around Berlin, Germany.

Battery is enough for a day

After the debacle that was the Galaxy Note 7, we really can’t blame Samsung for using a smaller battery for the Galaxy Note 8 this time around. The phone is equipped with a 3300mAh battery, which is a few mAh less than what shipped with the Galaxy Note 7. Using the phone in Berlin while attached to O2’s LTE network gave us around a day’s use with little left at the end of the day, which is a little worrisome, considering that the phone’s display was set to FHD+ to conserve power at the time. If you put the device in performance mode which pushes power consumption even higher, it’s not out of the question that the Note 8 will run out of juice before your day ends. Thankfully the phone has quick charge functionality plus wireless charging to remedy this. And just like any other phone made by Samsung after the Note 7 debacle, the batteries for the Note 8 all pass through Samsung’s 8-point safety check for enhanced safety and reliability.

Verdict: it’s the best dual-camera phone in the market, but comes with a steep price

Samsung has finally managed to shake free the stigma that last year’s failed flagship brought upon them with the Galaxy Note 8. It’s another top-tier flagship offering that has the best implementation of dual-camera tech that we’ve ever seen to date. It’s fast, beautiful and has all the trimmings you can ever ask for in a flagship.

It’s also the most expensive Android flagship currently available, clocking in at Php 49,990. That makes the phone out of reach for most people in the market for a flagship and honestly, for most of Samsung’s fans. The question now changes from if you should buy it to can you afford it. There will be plans made available for the Galaxy Note 8 via the two telcos naturally, though even then you’ll have to think long and hard if you’ll really maximize that fantastic camera, stylus and curved display when you spring for one.

While some loyal Note users will gladly fork over the cash for the Note 8, many will probably look elsewhere.