Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review

The best big smartphone with a stylus

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Specs and performance

  • Impossible to slow down thanks to the new 6GB of RAM
  • The Snapdragon 835 chip is fast. The Exynos chip is faster
  • 64GB, but includes a microSD card slot for extra storage

The Galaxy Note 8 is the fastest Samsung phone you can buy thanks to its souped-up internal specs, including the all-new 6GB of RAM and latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chipset. In the UK and other regions it’s even faster, courtesy of Samsung’s Exynos chipsets.

We couldn’t slow this phone down if we tried – and we did try. Running Geekbench software, the Note 8 CPU averaged a 6,524 multi-core score under normal use.

We couldn’t even get below the 6,000 mark when weighing it down by downloading a ridiculous number of apps, running Google Maps and playing music in the background all at the same time (6,164 was the lowest we hit).

This is much faster than our S8 Plus tests, which finally did break the 6,000 barrier, but under ideal conditions.

All of this is awesome news for multitaskers and power-users who want to fully take advantage of this S Pen-equipped device and harness the productivity benefits of the plug-and-play DeX docking station. And while the Note 8 comes with just the one storage option – 64GB of internal storage – it includes a microSD card slot for expansion. It’s not lacking in any way productivity-wise.

Interface and apps

  • Streamlined menus make for the best Samsung interface yet
  • App Pairing opens up multitasking windows more quickly
  • Android 8.0 Oreo has landed

Google’s Android Oreo update has now arrived on the Galaxy Note 8 and a further update to Android 9 Pie is expected before too long, which should help keep the phone feeling fresh. 

But Samsung’s software was great even before the update. The company has steadily been burying its TouchWiz menu complexities and app bloatware; you shouldn’t dismiss Samsung anymore for its past software mistakes.

The Note 8 showcases the best of its ‘Samsung Experience’ software, touting a finely balanced interface that’s streamlined, yet has more options than stock Android 7.0 Nougat. Its menus are laid out logically and, when you can’t find something, there’s always a helpful suggestion.

Our favorite new feature is App Pairing. Its a new custom slide out menu that removes a step to multitasking, launching two apps at the same time. Real-life examples where this has helped included being on a video call, and needing to constantly reference emails (Hangouts + Gmail). Likewise, if you're constantly cross-references who's looking at your LinkedIn profile with Facebook, you can immediately launch both, one on top one of bottom, with App Pairing.

Bixby was great that one time it worked right

  • Bixby could be better than Siri and Assistant, but isn't
  • It can fully execute commands, replacing the need for touch 
  • The biggest problem? It'll have trouble understanding you
  • Bixby 2.0 is on the way

“Blow the pooper app” is what Bixby heard. What we actually said was “Download the Uber app”, on a New York City street that wasn’t particularly loud. We were 80% amused and 20% annoyed at its mistake, but, since we were carrying heavy stuff and clutching a large phone, those percentages flipped after about five ill-fated attempts.

This is Samsung’s voice-powered virtual assistant in a nutshell. It has a lot of potential, and is leagues smarter than the company’s S Voice software, but the execution isn’t as smooth as Apple’s Siri or Google’s Assistant just yet. It would be better than its rivals if it could just understand us.

When it did finally nail “Download the Uber app”, it fulfilled Samsung’s promise of “Anything you can do with touch, you can do with Bixby.” How? It navigated to Google’s app store, downloaded the Uber app and I was ready to go. Siri and Assistant both were a stop short by comparison, requiring you to hit buttons to install the app.

Samsung is so invested in Bixby that it’s included a ‘Bixby button’ on the left side of Note 8, below the volume rocker. It can’t be remapped and, oddly, you have to press and hold this button in while talking to Bixby, as if this was the world’s most expensive walkie talkie. Worrying about holding in this button is a difficult ask when you’re on foot or in a car. By comparison, the Google Pixel 3 XL and Pixel 3 launch Google Assistant by squeezing the sides of the phone, resulting in far fewer accidental presses, or squeezes.

Bixby doesn’t have trouble hearing – just hearing things correctly. While running our battery life test, it constantly interrupted (forcing a do-over), thinking the news channel I was watching was talking about Bixby every minute. Sorry, Bixby, you’re not that popular or newsworthy just yet.

Thankfully, Samsung has now launched the improved Bixby 2.0 on some devices and it's likely to land on the Note 8 alongside Android 9. It's still not perfect but it's an improvement, as you can see in our Samsung Galaxy Note 9 review, where it's already available.

Matt Swider