The internet is flooded with information about the Samsung Galaxy Note 8; in this review, I’ll try talk about something a bit different. For the last couple of years or so, I’ve been looking for powerful electronics to aid me with my photography, along a long distance hike in Northern America.
I own a Sony a7rII i.e. a dedicated camera, and my goal is to have a setup that is lightweight (laptops aren’t an option for long hikes > 500 miles), powerful and pragmatic. The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 compliments my setup really well, and I think it’s an extremely well rounded product for photographers and people who’re heavily invested in other technology.
Speaking of photography: my apologies for a diabolical photograph. I am too lazy to get my acrylic and my flashes to take a decent photograph, haha :). I have great admiration to people like Krystal Key who put in so much time and effort into their reviews. I will expand this review in time but for now I just want to get something uploaded. I digress…
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Unboxing the Samsung Galaxy Note 8
Upon opening the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 box, you’re faced with a typical line of accessories, with one exception, the headphones–these are very good. I mean they aren’t as good as a set of £1,000 Shure headphones, don’t get me wrong, but they’re still good in my opinion. The USB-OTG adaptors included in the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 box are small but they do not play well with most cases; for example, the Spigen Neo-Hybrid case I own doesn’t have much room for a USB plug; therefore, you cannot fit the adaptor into the phone. It also doesn’t work with Samsung Dex. I don’t know who to be most mad at, Samsung or Spigen? I told Spigen about this last year but they won’t listen. Apparently allowing an extra 2mm either side for official accessories is too much trouble. Hopefully a more famous person than I will start to comment on this at some point. I bought a Google USB type C cable and it fits in the hole, thank God–said the bishop to the actress.
What struck me quite hard when I powered on the device is how graphically busy the phone is when it’s first set up. The Always On Display has all these annoying little graphics and animations, the wallpaper moves about and stuff. Don’t get me wrong, it’s well made, you’re not faced with lag, and the effects look kind of pretty in a roundabout way–especially considering how beautiful the display is. But I’m a bit of a minimalist guy. There’s a couple of things I think of when using an OLED device too–battery life and screen burn. OLEDs only draw current to the pixels that’re illuminated, so if you disable half of this stuff you don’t really need, your battery life will be improved. I really love the always on display, but I don’t need stars orbiting the device. The clock moves about a bit on purpose; smart move, Samsung. I chose a black theme so that I can cram even more juice out of the battery. Speaking of which, the battery life is very good. 3,300 mAh is a COMPLETELY meaningless figure if you do not know how much current a device draws.
I actually quite like it when a device has certain options enabled by default that drive me up the wall. It’s always fun customising a new device. As long as it can be customised, I’m happy. It’s only when something doesn’t allow customisation that we’re gonna have a problem. For example, the bixby button you’re forced into having as your best buddy. Bixby is very strange; I watched the release of the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 thinking, “yeah yeah, it looks good here” but I’m going to say “open settings” and it’s going to take a photograph with the phone accidentally pointed towards my crotch, and email it to the local news. I was surprised by how well it works. Bixby doesn’t seem to officially support “British Accents” but in “USA” mode, it works surprisingly, and extremely, well. If you say longish commands like “disable the always on display” it will do as you ask. It works so well in fact that I haven’t bothered to install a third party app to disable it.
One strange quirk I noticed upon customisation is that if you uninstall the default “Email” app (it’s literally called “Email”), “Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync” will vanish from Calendar options. It’s annoying, but by setting “Email” to manually sync emails, I was able to set it up in a way that doesn’t seem to create duplicates of emails (I currently use “Outlook” as my main email app.) I suspect you can blame Google for this and not Samsung. Other than this little quirk, I didn’t notice anything particularly odd or alarming. For example, every time I watch a YouTube video of the Samsung Galaxy Note 8, I see someone demonstrating how bad they think the fingerprint reader is by holding the phone with their right hand and crossing their finger over the device.
I am right handed, and I hold the phone with my left hand. The fingerprint reader is in a fine position for me as my finger goes straight up to the sensor, rather than using my right hand and having my finger go across. I really don’t have an issue with its position. I never get along that well with fingerprint readers in general but that’s not Samsung specific. I scanned the same finger in a couple of times, and that’s helped recognition a lot. You can also place your right hand above the phone so your finger goes downwards and unlock it that way. The iris technology works really well but if you’re in a hot environment, you’ll want to use the fingerprint reader.
Why the Samsung Galaxy Note 8
I’m a bit of a “niche” customer but perhaps some of this will resonate with a few of you. I have multiple computers in multiple rooms, a server computer and various devices I like to control. These devices all use different operating systems–windows and linux. The android software is brilliant for controlling both windows and linux based machines.
In the left picture, you can see an RDP connection to my server, it’s a very simple to use app and it works well. Using the S-Pen, you can control the cursor, and for simple tasks like maintenance, it’s very good. Naturally I don’t agree with the claim that the Galaxy Note 8 is just an S8+ with an S-Pen, it’s a too simplistic statement. It’s like saying a wacom tablet is just a mouse that moves around a pad or if my grandmother had two wheels, she’d be a bicycle.
In the middle picture, you can see two SD cards (a microSD and a large SD card in the same reader) connected via USB-OTG. The files can easily be browsed in a file-browser; I like to use “Solid Explorer.” In the right photograph, you can see a Linux terminal connected via SSH; I like to use JuiceSSH.
In other words, if I want to access my Sony a7rII camera files while in the middle of nowhere, and I want to backup these 82MB RAW photographs to a MicroSD card, it’s not a problem. If I’m away and I’m in a hotel room or whatnot, and I quickly want to change a server setting, again, it’s not a problem.
There is one caveat to mention; the USB 3.1 port is not always USB 3.1. I wrote a separate blog post about this, but to summarise, when multiple devices are connected (a dual card reader seems to count as multiple devices e.g. a MicroSD Card and an SD card) it will slow to USB 2.0 speeds.
So long as you’re smart about it, you can use the device as a portable backup solution, but I suspect Samsung have limited the USB port slightly to prevent a natural disaster.
I would love to get my hands on a Samsung T5 SSD and see what kind of bandwidth you get. Samsung have emailed and stated the USB 3.1 port will give the full specification when only one device is connected, but I’d like to prove it to myself. If it is amazingly fast, then I can just copy my photographs to the MicroSD card in the phone and move those photographs back onto the Samsung T5 SSD.
Photoshop, Lightroom and Painting Apps using the S-Pen
The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is extremely powerful. You can load raw photographs from a Sony a7rII (42mp camera) and they render at a similar speed to a lot of desktop computers. Part of this is because lightroom for windows is coded by the incompetent and the android software has been optimised far more, but whatever the reasons, it’s great. You can literally insert the SD card into your phone like you would a normal computer, copy the file wherever, do some slight edits, export it as a JPG and send to Instagram or whatnot. A lot of professional photographers will probably laugh at this, but social media is more popular than ever.
I’ve tried out a few painting apps. The amount of lag differs depending on the application but none lag to any great extent unless your brushes are really large. Autodesk Sketchbook is very, very good. Interestingly Samsung Notes seems to lag a tiny bit more than Microsoft OneNote, but none of them really lag worth mentioning. It’s something I was curious about though and I’m impressed to say the least. The pressure sensitivity works well. It just feels like using an expensive wacom basically, but it feels better than the wacom Intuos tablets because you’re writing on the screen. Despite my comment about Samsung Notes, when you pull out the pen (when the phone has been locked) and draw on the black screen, there’s no lag. The very minor lag I noticed was only when I unlock the phone and access notes that way.
The painting applications are impressive, especially for how small they are. They remind me of Paint Tool Sai. You can blend paint and do all sorts with them. It seems that Autodesk Sketchbook is the best app all around so far. It took me a few minutes to figure out how to export the files as .PSDs; it’s pretty simple though–click gallery and save from there.
You can find better reviews than this one about the cameras. I’m interested in photography but as I have a good mirrorless camera, I won’t be using these cameras an awful lot. I have a few points to mention though, firstly the bokeh effect isn’t really as good as claimed. It might look fine in a small instagram photograph but when you zoom in, there’s artefacts around it. The fact of the matter is, if you want a photograph that looks like it was taken by a £2,000 lens, you buy a £2,000 lens. It’s still good for small photographs though and it’s neat technology. Interestingly, it’s been in Samsung devices for ages but it’s only recently been advertised; I bet if I were to view internet forums, people would be making the claim Samsung stole from Apple.
The video camera is crazy. The optical image stabilisation is amazing, and you can get extremely close to the subject. I can see this being extremely useful for a lot of people who do video reviews and whatnot.
The dual camera setup is a bit weird. Some applications don’t seem to allow you to pick which rear camera you want to use e.g. Snapchat. That’s just a software problem though and I’m sure it’ll get fixed in time.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 and the Garmin Fenix 5x are great together. I don’t notice any significant battery decrease and the application is well made.
It looks really quite beautiful on the device itself. Past problems with touchwizz and whatnot seem to have been resolved. I’m glad I bought it. I can’t see anything particularly onerous to complain about. The USB-OTG port is my biggest gripe, but it’s minor as I can get around the issue in a pragmatic way.