With Note 8, Samsung moves on from its recall
The Galaxy Note 7 was one of the biggest disasters in consumer electronics history. A series of battery fires triggered a recall, followed by a relaunch and second recall, then the ultimate decision to discontinue the phone.
Around 2.5 million Note 7's were sold, including 50,000 across Australia and NZ, before the sorry 2016 episode came to an end.
After an internal review, Samsung introduced a new eight-point battery check for production of all its handsets.
Can the Korean company move on from such a debacle? It seems it can.
The recently-released Galaxy 8 garnered excellent reviews, helping to pave the way for the Note 8, which was previewed to media this week — also to glowing notices and few mentions of its "firephone" predecessor.
And, from a brief hands on session on Wednesday, the Note 8 does seem like a winner. It's well worth checking out if you're in the Android camp, and like a "phablet" with a pen stylus.
As part of its post Note 7 reset, Samsung promised its future phones would leave a bigger space around their batteries. This pledge is borne out with the Note 8 which has a slightly smaller battery (3300mAh) than the Note7 (3500mAh) despite being slightly larger than its predecessor.
There are a number of incremental hardware upgrades for the Note 8; the display is boosted to 6.3-inches from its predecessor's 6.2, and RAM is upgraded from 4GB to a beefy 6GB.
But the signature improvement is the new camera setup.
The Note 8 with two 12-megapixel cameras: a regular/wide-angle lens has an aperture of f/1.7 and a f/2.4 telephoto lens.
In what Samsung claims to be an industry first, both sensors offer optical image stabilisation (Apple's iPhone 7 Plus’ zoom lens doesn’t have OIS, but its primary camera does.) That should allow the Note to utilise its telephoto camera more often instead of defaulting to the regular camera in low-light conditions, as the iPhone often does.
The dual camera setup is accompanied by new software modes, including Samsung's own take on Apple's portrait mode, which blurs the background behind your subject to mimic what photography professionals call "bokeh."
You’re able to dial the effect up or down to your liking instead of being stuck with just on/off modes. You also have the option of adding (or removing) the effect after a photo is taken.
There's also a “Dual Capture” mode that stitches together photos from both lenses and saves them individually.
Right-handers won't be happy that the Note 8 retains the same awkward position for the fingerprint scanner as the Galaxy S8. It’s a little easier to feel and distinguish from the camera lens, thanks to the flash being inbetween, but it’s still a stretch if you're a righty.
There are also extra smarts on the software side, including a new feature that lets you group two icons together in the shortcut menu, such as GPS mapping and music, an ideal driving combo, with the two apps opening together in split screen (as pictured above and below).
The S Pen stylus is also smarter, and you can now pin not just one note (such as a shopping list) to the phone's home screen but up to 100.
And like all recent Galaxy handsets (thanks to a software upgrade this week), the Note 8 features Samsung's intelligent assistant, Bixby. Point the Note 8's camera at a well-known landmark, and it should be able to tell you want it is (in NBR's mid-week demo, Bixby correctly identified the Beehive). You can also capture text with the camera, then get Bixby to translate.
You also get all the mod-cons that came with the short-lived Note 7, including eye-recognition logon and IP68-standard dust and water-proofing (that is, to 1.5m for 30 minutes). See full tech specs here.
The Galaxy Note 8 goes on sale in New Zealand, priced from $1599, on September 22, with pre-orders available from September 8.