Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review

January 5, 2018 | Amy Davies |
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Introduction

The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is Samsung’s flagship smartphone. It features a dual-camera setup, offering two different focal lengths. It’s an update to the controversial Note 7, which you may recall as being notorious for its exploding battery problem - Samsung is of course promising this problem has been completely fixed for the Note 8.

One of the cameras has a 12 megapixel sensor, with a wide angle f/1.7 lens, while the other, also 12 megapixel sensor, has a 2x optical zoom lens with an f/2.4 aperture. An additional function of having two lenses is “Live Focus”, which allows you to create the popular shallow depth of field effect which is common amongst many current smartphones.

Other specifications which may be of interest to photographers include a 6.3-inch, 16 megapixel screen, a micro SD card slot which allows you to expand the Note 8’s internal memory, raw format shooting, 4K video recording and a front-facing 8 megapixel f/1.7 camera.

We have been loaned the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 by Vodafone for the purposes of this review, which offers the device on a number of different packages. The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 retails for around £869 / $900.

Ease of Use

The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is one of the largest phones currently on the market, but as it’s quite narrow, it manages to stay just on the right side of ridiculously large. The design itself is also pretty classy, with a sleek finish and curved edges. Still, you’ll probably find two hands come in very handy when using the camera - especially if you want to change any settings. You’ll also probably find you need both hands when typing messages and so on.

There are a few different ways to unlock the phone. You can draw a pattern or enter a PIN on the home screen, use the fingerprint scanner on the back of the phone, or set up the phone to recognise your face and unlock it that way. Sometimes, unfortunately, the phone seems unable to recognise my face if I’m wearing my glasses - just something to be wary of. The fingerprint scanner is dangerously close to the camera lenses, so you might want to try and be careful not to touch the lenses when unlocking the phone.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8
Front

You don’t actually have to unlock the phone to access the camera. A double tap of the power button on the right hand side of the phone will automatically launch it, or you can swipe up from the bottom right hand corner of the screen from the lock screen. Note that if you launch the camera in either of these ways that you won’t be able to look at any older pictures until you unlock the phone.

The native camera app is very well featured. By default it will open in the fully automatic configuration, leaving you to concentrate on composition. You can tap around the screen to set the autofocus point and change the metering point to adjust exposure. You can switch between the two different lenses (wide angle and telephoto) by tapping 1x and 2x - which you’ll see either on the bottom of the screen or the right hand side, depending on how you’re holding the phone. If you would like to take more control, you can switch to a Pro mode, which is accessed by swiping left from the main camera screen. You’ll now see that you’re able to adjust parameters such as shutter speed and ISO - as is common for mobile phones, it’s not possible to set your own aperture value.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8
Rear

Other shooting modes are also available if you swipe left from the main screen. As well as Auto and Pro, there’s Panorama, Slow Motion (video), Hyperlapse (time-lapse), Food mode, and Virtual Shot. It’s also possible to download extra modes, such as Sports Shot and Rear-cam selfie.

Along the top of the screen you’ll see a few different options. The cog icon gives you access to various advanced settings, including changing the picture size, video resolution, timer and so on. If you tap the image size option, you’ll be able to switch on raw format shooting - which will give you a raw format version of each JPEG, but only if you’re shooting in “Pro” mode. The other options you’ll see at the top of the screen change depending on the shooting mode you’re in. So, for example, in Pro mode, you can change AF area and metering, but these options will not be displayed when shooting in Auto.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8
In-hand

In both modes, you’ll have the option to switch the flash on and off, or turn to “full view”. The latter is primarily aimed at those capturing shots to use with Instagram Stories or Snapchat, as it’ll make use of the 18:9 aspect ratio of the Note 8’s screen, rather than whatever aspect ratio you’ve already been shooting in.

At the bottom of the screen, you’ll see the option to switch “Live Focus” on. This mode makes use of both the lenses to create a shallow depth of field effect. You need to move the camera at least 1.2 metres away from your subject for it to work, and there are some other caveats - such as you can’t have too much light in the shot either. Once you’ve taken the shot, you can adjust the amount of background blur when you’re looking at the shot in playback too, lessening or adding the amount depending your tastes.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8
Camera Mode

In order to take a picture, you have a couple of options. There’s a virtual shutter release button found at the bottom of the screen (or to the right if you’re shooting in landscape format). Alternatively, you can use the volume up or down physical button on the left hand side of the camera. You can hold the phone so that these buttons are positioned on the top right hand corner of the device, making it a little more akin to shooting with a “normal” camera. If you want to record video, there’s a dedicated virtual video record button just next to the standard shutter button. As soon as you press this, video will start to record - this is a bit frustrating as it means you can’t frame up your video first. You can change video resolution from the settings menu, with resolutions up to 4K available.