The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is the safest smartphone you can buy. Compared to the Galaxy Note 7 and its unfortunate tendency to catch fire, that’s a very good thing. Sadly, in its quest to create a phone that doesn’t spontaneously set ablaze, Samsung forgot to make a phone that has any fire at all.
The new Note 8, while technically impressive, reeks of a company unwilling to rock the boat. What could have been 2017’s most exciting phone is an exercise in restraint, and a letdown. Lucky for you, competition to take the Note 8’s spot is just heating up.
Nothing new to see here
The Galaxy S8 is a great phone, and one of our favorites in 2017. It’s beautiful, capable, and selling in great numbers. On arrival, the Infinity screen stood out as its big new feature, which was a good thing because otherwise the Galaxy S8 wasn’t a big technological leap forward in smartphone history.
The Note 8 is basically a slightly less pretty Galaxy S8 Plus with a stylus.
That’s because Samsung was saving itself for the Galaxy Note 8, right? After all, the Galaxy Note 7 introduced several exciting features to the range and the line-up, including iris scanning, water resistance, and an even more sensitive S Pen stylus. Now the Galaxy Note 8 is here, we know the answer: No.
The Note 8 is basically a slightly less pretty Galaxy S8 Plus with a stylus. Samsung got the formula right with the Galaxy S8, the sales proved it, and because the Note 7’s advancements caused problems, it appears Samsung decided to play it really safe with the Galaxy Note 8. Even the designers seem to have held back, giving the Note 8 squared off corners, fewer curves, and flatter sides. “Careful,” it seems like they thought, “let’s not push our luck.”
The one feature that does separate the Note 8 from the S8 Plus is the dual-lens camera. It’s a lot like the Apple iPhone 7 Plus’s dual-lens camera, and pretty much all the other dual-lens cameras out there. It’s a safe, established feature Samsung thought up by watching other phone makers do it first. Yes, there are other new features, mostly software, but nothing that would make you want to buy this phone over a Galaxy S8 Plus, unless you absolutely must have a stylus.
The Galaxy S8 could be forgiven for not having masses of new features, because the design is gorgeous, the screen is great, and it has the fastest processor out there. Seeing Samsung try to pull the same trick with the Note 8, but with a less attractive design, isn’t exciting.
All safety, no fun
Without a doubt, the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 will be the safest, least-likely-to-explode smartphone you’ll hold in your hand this year. Samsung top brass must have acted like hypochondriacs, requesting test after test on the Note 8, eliminating all possibility of an explosion caused by battery failure, suspect design choices, or internal overheating. If it could legitimately label the Note 8 as fireproof, we’re sure it would.
It’s a natural reaction to tragedy. If our homes are burgled, we buy better locks and an alarm system to minimize the chances of it happening again. The Note 7’s name will forever be synonymous with exploding batteries, and Samsung will want to ensure it’s only that model number that suffers. The estimated $17 billion the company may have lost due to the accidents, recalls, and PR disasters are also strong encouragement to get the Note 8 exactly right.
For the Galaxy S8, Samsung introduced an 8-point battery test, which includes everything from visual checks to x-ray tests, along with voltage and charging assessments. Just in case you’re still worried, Samsung states in big bold letters “Safety is our priority,” at the bottom of the webpage detailing its battery safety checks. The same level of diligence has been used on the Note 8.
Making such a big deal about its phones not being fire hazards is probably not what Samsung wants to spend its marketing budget on, and the only way to stop that from happening with the Galaxy S9 is to make sure no more phones explode. Samsung knows the reasons why the Note 7 failed — it has told us several times — and isn’t going to make the same mistake again. It’s also putting the right measures in place ensuring it doesn’t end up making a different mistake, that has the same fiery outcome. Outside of owners dowsing it in gasoline and dropping a match on it, the Galaxy Note 8 almost certainly won’t catch fire.
But as much as we like Samsung’s new “Safety first” stance, the Galaxy Note 8 is too frightened to stand out.
Before you buy a Note 8, check out these phones
The Galaxy Note 8 is a Galaxy S8 Plus with a stylus, and a dual-lens camera thrown in. It is going to be a good phone, no doubt. But it hasn’t caused our hearts to flutter, our pupils to widen, or our wallets to open. It shouldn’t open your wallet either, at least not yet. There are a few phones coming very soon that could generate the excitement the Galaxy Note 8 lacks.
The LG V30 is shaping up very nicely. It has a beautiful screen just like the LG G6 (only OLED and even bigger this time), a revised wide-angle dual-lens camera (which really does do something different than all the other dual-lens cameras out there), and great audio. LG’s phones are usually cheaper than Samsung devices, and the V30’s design looks like a winner, so far.
Google is expected to launch a successor to the Pixel in October. It’s still one of our favorite Android phones, and the Pixel 2 leaks have us excited.
Huawei will also launch what we expect is the Mate 10 in October. It may be the company’s first phone with a bezel-less screen, and a new, more powerful processor. Huawei’s Leica-tuned cameras have been consistently excellent, so we’re hoping for more of the same.
Finally, Apple will arrive with up to three phones in September or October, one of which may be very special indeed.
There are plenty more phones that have been released in 2017 that are all worthy contenders, including the HTC U11, and the OnePlus 5. You can check out our best smartphones guide here.
There are a few phones coming very soon that could generate the excitement the Galaxy Note 8 lacks.
LG, Huawei, Google, and Apple all have direct challengers to the Galaxy Note 8 and, on paper, they’re all more exciting than Samsung’s safe baby. If you’re tempted by the Note 8, our advice is to wait and see what comes out with this autumn, and then pick the best.
The Galaxy Note 8 is not going anywhere. It can’t get any safer, outside of Samsung encasing it in yards of bubble wrap. There probably won’t be a recall happening between now and October either.
If you’re in the market for a big phone, you should see this as an opportunity. There has never been a better time to look around at the competition. There are a lot of fantastic smartphones out right now, and some good cheap phones, too.