Depending on where you are, you may not have seen a new Galaxy Note in two or three years (we're not counting the Note That Never Was). And from the skyrocketing pre-order numbers, we can tell there is plenty of pent-up demand.
The S Pen hasn't changed much - that is to say, it's still the heart of the Galaxy Note8 experience. The screen is barely bigger than the S8+ screen, though we do like its flatter shape. Note taking is unrivaled on mobile - there's just no viable alternative on any platform.
This season, the Note comes with another advantage over the S8, the dual camera. It offers 2x optical zoom and improved bokeh effects. It still offers excellent image quality in both good and low light. While a bit late to the party, Samsung was the first to add OIS to the secondary camera, a vital feature for telephoto shots.
The last few Notes had lost their identity - other than the S Pen, they were not clearly better than the Galaxy S of the same vintage. They were bigger, but later the S edge and S Plus models did well to close that gap.
The Galaxy Note8 is once again clearly the top Samsung device of the year. Stylus aside, the dual camera offers a legitimate improvement. The basic feature is to offer 2x optical zoom - from 26mm to 52mm - and you get good quality images (helped by the OIS, which reduces handshake issues). It's also used for Live Focus, a digital bokeh that can be retuned after the photo was taken.
The battery capacity is slightly lower than that of the S8+, though our tests show that Samsung managed to even out the differences. It even fixed a small 3D performance issue with the Snapdragon version.
There used to be quite the size difference between a Galaxy S and a Note. This year it's smaller than ever with the Note8 beating the Galaxy S8+ by a mere 0.1". Plus, that 6.2" Super AMOLED panel has the same resolution, though it is missing support for HDR and (perhaps more importantly) an S Pen.
Of course, not everyone finds an S Pen useful, but the money you save by getting an S8+ is always welcome. You get the same chipsets (though 2 gigs less RAM) and a similar camera image quality. You'll lose the 2x optical zoom, however.
If money is no object, you might consider the Apple iPhone X - one of the very few handsets that cost more than the Note. And it has a bezel-less design too, with an AMOLED display (courtesy of Samsung, by the way).
The new dual camera can record 4K 2160p / 60fps video as well as 1080p / 240fps, which is beyond the reach of the Note8. The dual camera has dual OIS too as well as 2x optical zoom, but it also adds the new studio light feature to make Portrait mode that much more dramatic.
LG was feeling confident that the V30 can take the Galaxy phablet head on. It too has an OLED display (LG's own make), which is nearly as wide as the Note8's, but not quite as tall. The V30 is more compact in general.
Its dual camera zooms out instead of in, offering a wide 120° view of the scene. The LG V30 boasts a brighter aperture, but Samsung has the bigger pixels. The V30 also has more extensive manual controls for video recording.
The Sony Xperia XZ Premium has the world's only mobile 4K screen with HDR support (it measures 5.46"). It would have been perfect for VR, though Sony is not committed to mobile VR the way Samsung is.
Anyway, the single 19MP camera has a trick that even the iPhone can't match - slow-mo video at 960fps. True, it's at a lower resolution, and it only captures less than a second real time.
The Motorola Moto Z2 Force has yet another AMOLED screen (a 5.5" QHD unit), but what makes it special is the ShatterShield - a plastic lens that is much more resistant to cracks than glass (scratching is another matter).
It supports MotoMods, which add new functionality but also rack up costs (to an already expensive phone). The built-in camera is great (and you can add others), but we're not quite fans of the hump. Battery life is average at best, hampered by a tiny battery.
The HTC U11 impressed us with its camera, which offered quality and speed along the same lines as the S8 (and by extension the Note8). It can record 1080p video at 120fps - not quite iPhone X level, but the Note8 drops you to 720p if you want slow-mo.
The U11 has EdgeSense - you squeeze the phone to trigger a certain action, including Amazon Alexa (instead of Bixby or even the Google Assistant). The new Google Pixels may have this same feature too.
Two rivals are yet to come. The Google Pixel XL 2 will be unveiled on October 4, and while we know it won't be cheap, it is said to have a stellar camera. If you care about software, the Google phone has home-field advantage.
The other soon-to-be a competitor is the Huawei Mate 10 (expected October 16). It will have a 5.9" display - LCD on the regular model, AMOLED on the Pro - with the latest Kirin chipset. We'll also likely see a new generation Leica dual camera with an f/1.6 aperture (watch out, V30).
Two flagships a year is always tricky - 6 months is not enough for technology to improve enough to get a definitive update. Exclusive features like the S Pen do help and Samsung also saved up the dual camera, even though the competition had been offering this feature since 2016.
The Samsung Galaxy Note8 is the most expensive phone of the series yet, a fact you can't get around. Fact number two: it's the most versatile smartphone you can currently get. That alone should be enough to give the right users the right motivation. Or, you have to have a use for it to justify the asking price. Either way, the Galaxy Note8 will deliver the goods. And will do so in a way that very few phones, if any, can match.