If accessorizing is your thing, the Note8 will hardly leave you disappointed. Its box is packed to the brim (literally) with all sorts of goodies. As for the packaging itself, it is traditional Samsung - a two-piece, all black, soft-touch cardboard box, complete with glossy blue lettering on the front.
Opening the inner lid reveals a plastic cradle for the Note8 itself. Everything else is neatly organized underneath. For starters, you get one of Samsung's Adaptive Fast chargers, rated at 5V at 2A or 9V at 1.67A. Interestingly enough, the same charger can also power the DeX dock, which is rated at 12V and doesn't work with other regular phone chargers. There is also a SIM ejector in the bundle.
You'll also find a USB 3.1 Type-C to Type A cable for data transfer and charging, as well as a pair of converters. One is a microUSB, while the other a simple Type-A unit, for compatibility and potentially, data migration.
The S-Pen gets some love as well, namely a set of five spare tips with the relevant replacement tool. Three of these are black, the other two white. As far as shape, size, and sharpness goes, they look identical.
Other than a clear case for the Note8, Samsung have included a pair of wired earbuds. These come courtesy of AKG and have a retail value of $99 on their own. But pricing is not indicative of quality, and we are happy to report the headphones sound really good - we got deep bass and nice and clear mids. These are the same headphones which came bundled with the S8 and S8+, complete with a dual-driver (8mm and 11mm) setup and a microphone for phone calls.
Dissecting the design of the Galaxy Note8 is hardly a daunting task. Everything is centered around Samsung's new Infinity Display. At 6.3-inches in diagonal, the unit in the Note8 is the most impressive of its kind to date - even more so than the one on the Galaxy S8.
The basic construction is unchanged as well - there is a polished aluminum frame all around and Gorilla Glass 5 on both the front and rear. All sealed together well enough to guarantee IP68 water and dust resistance. This is quite a feat on a Note device considering the sizable slot for the S-Pen.
There are quite a few distinct features in the Note8 design as well, and the S-Pen might be partially responsible for at least some of them. The struggle for space is real in every modern smartphone, so accommodating a stylus inside the body isn't exactly an easy task. The Note8 is slightly bigger than its S8+ sibling in every dimension, but surprisingly not much thicker. Still enough to affect the width of the side bezels to some extent.
The Note8 has a distinctly boxier feel to it, and it comes down to more than just the extra half millimeter of depth. Samsung went for a less curved front and rear, making for a simpler, more streamlined design. The change is also just enough to have some effect on handling. We think it helps since the Note8 has a bit more room on the side to comfortably place your thumb and grab.
Color options also differ a bit on the Note8. You still get the standard Midnight Black, as well as the familiar Orchid Grey and Maple Gold. The blue variety, named Deep Sea Blue, is slightly different, and there is a Star Pink option, only limited to Taiwan at the moment. Oddly enough, there is no Arctic Silver.
Just like the Galaxy S8 and S8+, the symmetry is strong with the Note8. Since the home button no longer has a physical manifestation, you can easily grab the Note8 from either side. But, complaining about such things is kind of impossible once you lay eyes on the virtually borderless display within a subtle yet solid frame.
Despite what is clearly a strong effort in design though, Samsung is yet to get rid of the top and bottom bezels around the Infinity display. Speaking of, there is more than enough gadgetry perhaps to justify the size of the top bezel. For one, a dedicated RGB status LED makes sure you won't miss an incoming event, even if you don't like Samsung's AOD solution. Right next to that is the illuminator for the Iris scanner. The scanner itself is on the far right. This dual setup is necessary since this biometric sensor operates with IR light - invisible to the naked eye, but necessary for capturing the retina pattern. It's a familiar arrangement, dating back to the Note7.
Going back to the left side of the earpiece, we also find the traditional proximity and ambient light sensors. Lastly, the 8MP autofocus selfie camera also plays a part in the new facial recognition system.
The bottom bezel (or the tiny bit that's left of it) holds absolutely nothing. We presume Samsung still needed to reserve some space underneath for components. Plus, the home button and navigation keys are positioned low enough as it is.
And in case you are still not familiar with Samsung's current solution, YES, indeed the Note8 does technically have a home button. In the absence of a physical button, there is now an area in its place which is specifically designated to detect a home command when pressed hard enough. There are some dedicated pressure sensors underneath it, so it continues to function even when the screen is off. Plus, there is even haptic feedback, which tries to emulate the tactile feedback you get when pressing a physical button. Samsung also lets you adjust the pressure sensitivity of the control, which is convenient.
The rest of the Android navigation controls - Back and Task switcher - are available on-screen too, identical to the S8 approach. By default, these are using the more traditional pattern, back key on the right, but you can rearrange them. Since it is a software solution, the entire navigation area gets out of the away when you are enjoying some full-screen content or playing games, for instance. The Note8 also has an optional pin toggle which, when turned on, places a dot near the left corner of the navigation bar. Double-tapping it pins the bar or auto-hides it.
Once again, we do appreciate the extra grip the less-curvy Note offers over its S8 and S8+ siblings. You wouldn't think a gentler slope can be that much of a factor, but it is. Hand positioning on the Note8 doesn't have to be as awkward. Resting your thumb on the right-hand side of the device is a lot more comfortable than on the S8.
Other than making it a better resting place, Samsung hasn't done anything new to this area. The solitary power button occupies it, arguably positioned a little too high. That, however, is part of a bigger handling issue with the Note8. At 162.6mm, it sits even taller than the already hard to manage S8+. Adopting a sort of grip re-position maneuver is a necessity for one-handed use, especially if you want to reach the fingerprint reader on the back.
However, this is arguably a much smaller issue on the Note8, since the Note line has always been geared towards two-handed use in more ways than one.
On the left-side, Samsung's Bixby button is arguably even harder to reach with an index finger. However, we think that this is not necessarily a bad thing. Bixby has come a long way, which we will elaborate on further up in the software section, but its overall usefulness is still questionable. This time it's harder to hit the button by accident.
We do understand Samsung's desire to not rely too much on third-party or industry-standard solutions as somewhat of a contingency plan for the future. This is likely the same logic that is currently powering Tizen development. However, it seems like a good bet right now that most users would've appreciated being able to remap the key. Having a key just sit around and go unused on a device with such a high premium on space doesn't make much sense.
Moving on to the top side of the Note8, we find another familiar hardware setup: a SIM/memory card tray and a hole for a secondary microphone. The tray has a rubber seal to protect the internals from water ingress. There are dual-SIM versions of the Note8, which can take two Nano-SIM cards in this slot. Sadly, it is a hybrid setup, so you have to make a choice between a second line and extra storage.
Despite being a tad wider, the bottom side of the Note8 looks and is arranged in pretty much the same way as on the Galaxy S8 pair. A USB 3.1, Type-C jack in the middle, flanked by a single speaker on one side and the 3.5mm audio jack on the other. Samsung still managed to find enough space to house the S-Pen - great job!
The pen detection and ejection mechanism work pretty much like on the Note7 and the Note5 before that. The S-Pen itself is familiar as well. You get an addictive clicky button on one end for grabbing and pulling in out, or...you know...annoying everyone at your next work meeting.
The other button on the S-Pen triggers actions and menus, just like always. The way it works hasn't changed since the original Note. It's still a passive control, which is convenient since you don't have to charge it or worry about getting wet.
If you happen to have an older S-Pen laying around that you like better, we did verify backward compatibility all the way back to the Note 4. The latest iteration does come with a few new software tricks, but more on that later.
The digitizer built into the phone's touchscreen can recognize up to 4096 different pressure levels when you are using the S Pen, so you can change the line thickness just by varying the pressure you apply - just like you do when pencil-sketching on a piece of paper.
Before we complete the hardware tour, there are a few things to note about the back of the device, other than its sloping Gorilla Glass 5 design. It has to do with the fingerprint reader. Its placement on the Note8 is arguably even higher, making it even more inconvenient than on the S8+. At least it's a bit further to the side, so it's not as easy to smudge your camera lens when you send your index finger searching for the fingerprint reader. Apparently, Samsung has pretty much given up on improving usability for the sensor, at least in this generation. The shift in focus to other trendier biometric authentication methods is obvious as well.
Still, if we circle back to the two-hand usage scenario argument, reaching the sensor does become less of a chore. As far as performance goes, it is just as quick and dependable as that on the S8. That is to say - we've seen quicker scanners, but not by much.