Samsung Galaxy Note 8 for Travel Photography – Phone Review

The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is a highly capable device and judging by reviews of the Samsung Galaxy Note 9, there’s not huge differences between them. I have owned this since release and it’s served me well. Prior to buying this, I had spent a while looking at various electronics powerful enough to aid me with my photography, travelling in in Northern America for an extensive period.

I own a dedicated mirrorless full frame camera (Sony a7rII) and my goal was to to create a lightweight portable setup (laptops aren’t an option for long hikes > 500 miles), that is both powerful and pragmatical enough to be used when hiking and camping. The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 completed my travel setup really well, and I think it’s an extremely well rounded, well designed product in general, especially for photographers like myself 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.

Unboxing the Samsung Galaxy Note 8

Upon opening the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 box, you’ll notice a fairly typical line of accessories, with one exception, the headphones–these are very good. Sure they’re not as good as a set of £1,000 Shure headphones, but they’re very good for what they are. 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; quite often you’ll find you cannot fit the adaptor into the phone. The non official cases also prevent the Samsung Dex working. 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. It’s a higher quality cable and it supports faster read/write speeds, so perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise.

What struck me quite hard when I powered on the phone for the first time is how graphically busy the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is is when it’s first set up. The Always On Display has annoying 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 so given 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–it avoids screen burn. 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. That said, the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 almost certainly has better battery life.

I 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 phone like the Samsung Galaxy Note 8. As long as it can be customised, I’m happy. It’s only when something doesn’t allow customisation it should be a problem, in my opinion. For example, the bixby feature and specifically the bixy button button forces itself on you like a new best buddy you don’t want. Bixby is very strange; I watched the release of the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 thinking, “yeah yeah, it looks good in the marketing videos but I’m going to say ‘open settings’ and it’s going to take a photograph and email it to the local news without my permission.” or something like that. 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 e.g. “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. That said, it is pretty much the best email app I have found, especially given how it works with my Garmin Fenix 5x watch. I suspect you can blame Google for this and not Samsung. Other than this little quirk, I there’s nothing particularly odd or alarming.

The fingerprint reader has received a few complains. YouTube videos demonstrate people holding the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 phone with their right hand and crossing their finger over the device… I don’t see why you’d do that, unless you’re left handed. The fingerprint reader works 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 and sunny environment, you’ll occasionally notice issues. In those conditions, you almost certainly won’t be wearing gloves though so you can 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 page 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), in some cases it will slow to USB 2.0 speeds. If the USB HUB doesn’t have an HDMI port, and you have two memory card readers, you’ll be fine.

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 in certain configurations to prevent a natural disaster.

Samsung contacted me and stated the USB 3.1 port will give the full specification only when one device is connected, but this is not true. It can do this even when multiple devices are connected.

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 in some respects 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.

The Cameras

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; Samsung did not steal this idea 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 ultra slow mo they’ve added is really cool too :).

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. The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 suffers the same problems by all accounts.

These are a few items worth taking a look at if you own or plan to own this phone. The google adaptor I bought from their UK store, as it’s superior to the Samsung one but I don’t know if the link will work for Americans.

Note about the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 S Pen Not Working Correctly

If your Samsung Galaxy Note 8 S Pen or Samsung Galaxy Note 9 pen, stylus or whatever you like to call it doesn’t work correctly, it’s probably due to magnetism. On the Samsung community forums, a few people returned their Samsung Galaxy Note 8 phones because their S Pen didn’t work correctly, and they experienced trouble afterwards. I recommended they check to see if their case has a magnet in it e.g. a magnetic clasp, and sure enough it was the culprit. Unfortunately it is quite common for folding cases to include a magnetic clasp, and it does prevent the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 S Pen and Samsung Galaxy Note 9 S Pen from working correctly, but this is a simple fix and I hope it helps a few people.

It would be nice if Samsung could include an FAQ with this solution, so that people with S Pen troubles don’t try and send their Samsung Galaxy Note 8 or Samsung Galaxy Note 9 back as faulty.

I don’t really like Samsung hugely as a company, in terms of customer service and whatnot. I’ve emailed them a few times and have saved them a lot of money in one way or another, but their products are really good.

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