After the disastrous launch of the Galaxy Note 7, which saw explosive sales until the moment it started exploding, Samsung considered dropping the Note altogether. It surveyed thousands of Note owners to see just how sullied the name had become—and found nothing but love. Some people hated giving up their Note, even after all those ominous airline announcements. Others knew Samsung had screwed up, but wanted the next Note anyway.
And now here’s the next one. Samsung just announced the Galaxy Note 8 at a typically exuberant event in New York. Like all Note devices, this huge hyper-powered phone combines a massive display with a suite of productivity features and a stylus that pops out of a slot in the corner. It also sports a dual-camera rig that, at least in the demo I saw, crushes the iPhone 7 Plus. It hits stores September 15. No word yet on price, but you know it’ll be hefty.
On paper, this is Samsung’s most impressive device ever. That explains its massive confidence as it launches the phone just a year after the Note 7 debacle. Critics raved about the Galaxy S8, which sold in record numbers, and the company’s newfound quality control seems to have figured out how to keep batteries from blowing up. And according to the company, a massive audience of current and former Note owners has been waiting a long time for this device.
The many accessories for the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.
We’ll get to the hand-wavey What It All Means stuff in a second, but first, a rundown of what you need to know: The Note 8 is, to use a technical term, stupid powerful. It runs the same Samsung Exynos 8895 processor as the Galaxy S8, along with 6 gigs of RAM and 64 gigs of built-in storage. (You get an SD card slot, too, in case you decide to download all of YouTube to your phone.) The 3300mAh battery, which Samsung execs swear up and down has gone through internal testing, external testing, and work with Underwriters’ Laboratory, provides more juice than most phones. The phone also supports wireless charging, Samsung’s latest security features, and two-apps-at-a-time multitasking. It even features a new multitasking mode that lets you save pairs of apps—calendar and email, Chrome and Evernote, Netflix and Excel—and quickly open them together.
Two cameras peek out the back, each one 12 megapixels. Samsung’s first dual-camera smartphone is a doozy. The Note 8 lets you re-focus photos after you capture them, essentially taking the iPhone 7 Plus’s Portrait Mode and dialing it up a notch. You also can take a separate photo with each lens and decide later whether you want the wide or zoomed shot. Samsung wrapped each camera in an optical image stabilization rig, which makes for remarkably stable photos. As ever, Samsung offers a truckload of bizarre filters, photo modes, and features, but the Note 8 takes Samsung’s already formidable photography skills up another notch.
All that hardware lives behind a 6.3-inch, 2960×1440 screen, another of Samsung’s nearly bezel-free Infinity Displays. It’s tall and narrow, and feels smaller in my hand than an iPhone 7 Plus despite providing nearly an inch of extra screen. The display looks fantastic. The whole body is water- and dust-proof, though the Note 8 will likely prove just as fragile as the Galaxy S8. Fine in the shower, not on the sidewalk.
The most material difference between the Note and the Galaxy S8+ is the S Pen. This one provides greater sensitivity and a slightly finer tip, Samsung says, designed to more closely evoke a ballpoint pen. But that’s compared to the Note 5—this is the same great pen from a year ago. Pen support extends to software too: You can write on your screen without unlocking your phone, quickly select text to translate it, or handwrite a text message and send it as a GIF.
I’ve only had a brief chance to use the Note 8, but it looks terrific. Of course, you’d be smart to be cautious, given the last model. But so far, the S8 suggests that Samsung fixed its problem. I’ve never loved the Note and other phablets based on their size alone, but the Note 8 doesn’t feel preposterously large. The phone is fast, the camera appears to take spectacular photos (at least in Samsung’s controlled demo), and in general it feels like Samsung successfully shoved All The Things into a phone and made it work.
You can’t overstate how much the Note 8 launch matters to Samsung. It provides a chance to bury the memory of the Note 7, for one thing, but it also offers the clearest example yet of how Samsung sees the smartphone evolving. The Note 8 is more than a phone; it’s the center of your whole product universe—all of which Samsung hopes you’ll buy from Samsung. You’ll drop your phone into a DeX dock and use it like a desktop PC. You’ll drop it into a VR headset and disappear into another dimension. You’ll use it to control all your smart-home gadgets. Samsung’s found that Note users are particularly demanding and high-functioning smartphone owners, so it built every feature it could think of into a single device that can be anything. And it’s not even that huge.