Samsung's Galaxy Note 8: The High Price Of Near Perfection

This is the year of the high priced handset. Sure, previous generation Galaxy Notes were in the $700 price range, but this year you're going to pay at least $930 for the latest generation Note 8, Samsung's flagship phablet. And though this is the handset which put phablets on the map, the question on many a consumer's mind is, "is it worth almost $1k?" Let's dig in and see if we can't answer that question for you.

Is it worth it? If you're asking that question, you're probably not a Note loyalist. For fans of the device, the answer is probably a resounding, "Yes!" For those on the fence, looking at other flagship phones and wondering if the premium is worth the hit to their wallet, the answer is a bit more complex. Up front, you should know that you are getting a device which is full of everything, including the kitchen sink. The screen, processor and battery life are all top notch. This is every bit a premium phone. In the box you'll get adapters to help you with your transition to USB-C, even though Samsung kept the 3.5mm headphone port in tact. You'll also get a quality pair of AKG earbuds and rapid travel charger. And then there's the phone.

The Note 8 is a great looking phone with almost no bezel. There isn't a whole lot of ground to cover where making slab style smartphones are concerned, but the phone is gorgeous. Its an obelisk of museum caliber quality. It's a showpiece only overshadowed when its display illuminates and reveals a 6.3" Super AMOLED 2960 x 1440 resolution screen with a density of 521 ppi that is one of the best on the market. No, seriously, it is gorgeous. A glass front and rear makes the phone appear to have no edges, thus the name of the screen tech, Infinity Display. Colors pop and it is bright and very easily readable outdoors. Photos taken from the rear cameras look great and video is a joy to watch. The screen is even one of a small handful which are HDR compatible which means that you'll be able to watch Netflix and other streaming or cinematic content in HDR on your phone now.

Hidden under that front side Gorilla glass are a bevy of sensors. You get the usual array but you'll also get some technology which allows you to unlock your phone with either facial recognition or iris recognition. This is not new, but it works very well unless you're in bright sunlight. Facial recognition doesn't work quite as well for me with the beard but the iris recognition has been rock solid for me.

There are three buttons on the phone. You'll get a power button, volume rocker and the much ballyhooed Bixby button. More on that later. Around the edges, you'll see a headphone jack, USB-C, microphone, mono speaker and the S-Pen.

Around the rear, you'll find the piece de resistance, the dual camera setup. Samsung has already been making excellent mobile shooters but they took it one step further and gave you a wide angle telephoto lens which Samsung uses to great effect. Not only can you now take wider angle shots without having to back up 50' from a subject but the two cameras will work in tandem to produce shots where the subject is crisp and sharp, while the background has that beautiful blur, a camera trick called bokeh.

The camera app allows you to go manual and control ISO, aperture and more. A feature which has been with Samsung for a minute, but definitely helps you get the most out of your use of the phone's cameras.

Let's get into the user experience though! Samsung's latest version of Touchwiz does a better job than previous iterations of getting out of Android's way and letting you get to that Nougaty 7.0 goodness. Swipe up or down to get in and out of the app drawer. The home button which vanishes now, allows you to access Google Assistant. Speaking of the vanishing home button, you can set the navigation bar to auto-hide which allows you to enjoy more of the screen and that's largely the tale of the tape for the Note 8. Not a lot new, but a lot of refinements which take advantage of the screen real estate and S-Pen. The new App Pairing feature allows you to take two apps you use together frequently and create a shortcut for them which launches them in multiwindow mode. You can throw that shortcut on your home screen or in the Apps Edge. For me professionally, I love the Dual Messenger feature. If you're like me and work with personal and professional social media accounts, or use messaging apps tied to different phone numbers like WhatsApp, the Note 8 will allow you to run two instances of the same app, say one for your personal and one for your brand page.

In terms of the hardware user experience, it's good to know that you still get a standard headphone jack and the S-Pen has plenty of options for those who want to be alerted if you drop your S-Pen or walk away from it with it not inside its housing. For the music lover, you're only going to get one speaker at the bottom of the phone. It gets plenty loud, but audio output has never been the strong suit of these devices. The fingerprint scanner is still somewhat awkward as it is off-center on the back but placing it further away from the camera means less smudges on that lens.

When talking about the hardware experience we can't forget the S-Pen, which though it is hardware, is primarily about the software enhancement which come with it. A couple items of note with the S-Pen are the new Live Messages and the expansion of Screen Off Memo functionality. Now you're able to write somewhere in the area of 100 notes and pin them to the Always on Display. If you haven't used the feature yet, Screen off Memo does exactly what it sounds like and allows you to write, edit and save handwritten notes with the screen off. Then there's Live Messages. The feature allows you to write messages with the S-Pen, embellish them then send them via messaging services to contacts. Only, when you send them, they animate like gifs. I've been having a blast sending handwritten, animated messages to my wife and children, personally. Productive? Not necessarily. Effective and fun. Absolutely.

Ultimately, Samsung's Galaxy Note 8 is one of the best premium Android smartphones on the market. With its mix of high end features, beautiful hardware design and battery-life, this is definitely the one to beat. What may be hard for some to beat is the price tag though and it will be interesting to see, down the road, just how solid demand for this phone is despite the steep cost. I know the die hard fans have already run out and purchased the phone, but for those on the fence, is the strong feature set and the good looks enough to get them to buy? Time will tell. You can pick up the phone on most major carriers and unlocked direct from Samsung, right now.

Disclosure: Samsung and AT&T provided me with demo units of the Note 8 for the purpose of this review.