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A grateful eight for Note lovers

Published: 
Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Samsung’s new Note 8 is a love song for its fans. Everything about the device has a gentle crooning sweetness about it.

I put my test device up against a Note 4, and the older phone felt distinctly dated. Perceptibly wider and shorter, it seemed like a device from another era, which is a pretty accurate description of the situation in digital years.

The metallic bumpers on the older device looked like Etruscan armor next to the aquiline glass curves of the Note 8’s Infinity screen. Colour reproduction on the screens isn’t just better across that development divide, it’s startling.

Compared with the recently released S8 Plus, the gulf is considerably narrowed (S8 Plus reviewed here -http://ow.ly/1yDZ30gsale).

Seen side by side, the two phones seem almost identical and have many features in common. The Note 8 is just a bit taller, a difference you can readily see when the two phones are stacked, but it isn’t something you would notice, or even miss in daily use.

Both phones are enormous when diagonal measurement of their screens are compared. The iPhone X hits the tape at 5.8 inches, the iPhone 8 Plus at 5.5 inches. The S8 Plus sports a 6.2 inch screen and the Note 8 runs to 6.3 inches.

If you want an ergonomically attractive, large screen device from Samsung with all the currently available bells and whistles, there’s little to argue between the S8 Plus and Note 8.

The slim, widescreen design ensures that the phones are pocketable, but just barely and only if you’re of average height or better.

The picture-making game gets raised on the new Note with the addition of a second rear facing lens.

Samsung has approached the twin lens opportunity from pretty much the same angle that Apple has taken with the iPhone 8 Plus.

Huawei’s Mate and P series used matched optics to pull off their plenoptic wizardry. Samsung and Apple have opted to use one wide lens, typical of the optics that have been in smartphones for more than a decade, and pair it with one longer lens, at twice the focal length.

The second lens typically has a much smaller aperture, the result of packing more optics into a small space to achieve the focal length.

Apple’s iPhone 8 Plus offers a 28mm, f/1.8 and 56mm, f/2.8 lens package. The iPhone X improves slightly on that package with a f/2.4 aperture on the “telephoto” lens - the focal length is actually just a bit longer than normal, the field of view of the average human eye.

The Note 8 introduces dual lens optics to the Samsung line with an 26mm, f/1.7 and 52mm, f/2.4 lens package.

After working with smartphones doing plenoptic focus tricks for a couple of years now, I have to admit it’s a bit of a gimmick compared to the impact of a good fast lens built into the device.

Photographically speaking, being able to get closer by a factor of two without having to crop half the picture out is a good idea, particularly since the sensors in these devices are so tiny.

But Huawei (http://ow.ly/lWlL30gvL0w) does have one feature that keeps them competitive in the twin-lens race, a dedicated grayscale sensor for one of its matched lenses that delivers film quality black and white photos.

But size and a second camera aren’t the only reason why people would consider a Note. It remains the only smartphone I’m aware of that ships with a stylus built neatly into its case.

The thin plastic stick pops its head out of the case with a gentle push and the machining of the eject mechanism is solid and authoritative. Samsung has added the ability to make notes directly on the screen when the device is dozing, allowing users to write quickly on the phone without having to wait for it to wake up.

The Pen-Up application now features a collection of adult colouring pages that are nifty if that sort of thing calms you while waiting for another useless meeting to begin.

The stylus has always been the killer feature of the Note series and Samsung continues to improve the tool and its interaction with the device.

If you aren’t a Note user and the stylus isn’t a deal breaker, the S8 Plus is essentially the same phone, shrunk by an imperceptible fraction.

If you are a Note fan though, this is definitely the phone you’ve been pining for.