Take Note: Samsung’s back

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Take Note: Samsung’s back

Published: Mon 11 Sep 2017, 8:07 PM

Last updated: Tue 12 Sep 2017, 4:10 PM

Has Samsung done enough to extinguish the firestorm that engulfed them last year?
Pound-for-pound, with the Galaxy Note 8, it seems they have.
Last night, the company finally gave Dubai and the UAE its first glimpse of one of the most anticipated smartphones in recent history.
And all because it was indeed a tough past year for Samsung, bannered by the doomed Galaxy Note 7. And how exactly did Samsung respond to that debacle?

"This, the Galaxy Note 8, is our response to that," Tarek Sabbagh, head of IT and mobile division at Samsung Gulf Electronics, told Khaleej Times.
"We believe that we've done a very good job at giving customers the most powerful device... and we thank those who have kept their faith in us."
Also, Sabbagh confirmed that Note 8s will be flying off UAE shelves on September 22. He is also confident that those who pre-ordered will get them this week. Its price tag is Dh3,399.
Some have described the Note 8 to be just an enlarged Galaxy S8/S8+ with a dual camera and a stylus. However, it may not be fair to compare a Note to an S: you have to stack a new Note against the old Note.
So let's forget about everything else we know about the Note 8, because we probably already know all about that. Let's focus on the opportunity accorded to us by Samsung for making us among the privileged few here to get a headstart in reviewing it.
Well, that Infinity Display thing did make quite an impression in the S8 series, so it was expected that that edge-to-edge screen would make a splash with the Note 8.
Anyway, as always, this Samsung device doesn't fall short in the screen area. It's silky-smooth and it really complements the Infinity Display.
And while indeed the taller form does make it look slimmer, it could be an issue for those who already have a beef with big phones.
The Note 8 has an 83 per cent screen-to-body ratio, compared to the iPhones' 67 per cent. Let's put that in layman's terms: the Note 8 is slimmer and a practically a hairline taller than the iPhone 7 Plus - but it gives 16 per cent more display. Insane.
Samsung has held back slapping on a dual-lens shooter into its devices when others have tried to make it a standard. They sure came out with all guns blazing when they finally did.
They decided to bless both lenses - one a wide-angle, the other a telephoto, just like the rest - with optical image stabilisation in each, a first on a smartphone. That means both lenses will help cancel out the effects of those shaky hands, especially when taking a video.
I spoke to some folks at Samsung and they said that the Note 8's camera is the best out there right now. So, to prove that, I took some head-to-head shots with the latest device of their biggest frenemy, the iPhone 7 Plus.
The results, I should say, give the win to the Note 8. Snaps are clearer and significantly brighter.
And Samsung has its own answer to Apple's Portrait Mode: Live Focus. Simply put, it allows you to add a bokeh (AKA blur) effect to your subject before and after you've taken the shot.
To be fair, the iPhone 7 Plus - strictly speaking in the fast-paced world of tech - is "old". But how could I forget, the next iPhone is coming out... so looks like we'll have a rematch pretty soon.
'S' in the S Pen is for 'souped-up'
Aside from its usual Air View and doodling capabilities, Samsung decided to add some more stuff that'll entice to you do more with it.
With Translate, you can simply hover over words and sentences and translate them. Similarly, using this same function allows you to convert currencies into the one used in the country you've selected as your location.
There's also this Smart Select feature, which allows you to select a portion of the screen and save it using Photoshop-esque options including rectangle, oval and lasso -even up to 15-second GIFs.
Fact: both Translate and GIF capture both debuted in the ill-fated Note 7. But since we all know how that device "flamed" out, we won't be surprised if most of would-be Note 8 users will see this as something new.
Live Message, meanwhile, allows you to jot down some animated stuff on screenshots and everything else. It's more of an aesthetic for me, but hey, the social-media buffs would like this one.
And for good measure, you can take down offline notes - also first introduced in the Note 7. How? From the lock screen, simply bring out the S Pen and start scribbling; you can then save what you've written afterwards - all without having to unlock the screen.
That dedicated button on the right is for Bixby, Siri and Google Assistant's newest playmate (Alexa and Cortana may have something to say about that). However, you can't reassign that button to anything else.
Bixby finally speaks English and is available in a lot of markets and regions already. You can put multiple commands together, or make a long command easier for it to understand by adding a quick command.
You can also unlock your phone with Bixby with a specific voice password.
If you swipe from the left on the home screen, it'll reveal the Hello Bixby area, in which you can view your schedules, reminders, activities, most visited Web pages and so on.
Here's a little added bonus: on the My Bixby tab, you'll notice that the Note 8 is rewarding you XP (experience points, in gaming parlance, for the uninitiated) each time you use it. More XP means you'll level-up, and the higher you go, the more features will apparently be unlocked.
The only thing I've noticed is that there are times that even if you know that you've spoken correctly, Bixby still seems to miss sometimes.

The rest of it
Here's something interesting: the Note 8 comes with a 3300mAh battery, smaller than the Note 7's 3500mAh. Looks like Samsung played it safe here by shaving off that much capability in its battery, though there should be nothing to worry about: Samsung has guaranteed that its eight-point battery check will ensure the safety of its batteries on all devices.
The Note 8, just like its recent predecessors in the Note and S series, comes with wireless charging, though apparently it's slower compared to the Note 7
As for how long it lasts, it's still good for a a whole day's worth of mixed heavy use, though you will save a lot if you hold back on watching videos and playing games.

The fingerprint scanner is - again - at an odd place just like the S8s, at the rear to the right of the camera window. While it does work well, this means that arguably the most comfortable option for you to use it is your index finger (on either hand). The iris scanner is a bit inconsistent, though maybe with good reason: in bright conditions you may not even see your eyes on the screen because it unlocks immediately (that fast), but if the lights go down a bit or more, you could end up having eyes wide open as if saying I'm here!. Finally, about face recognition, let's just put what's written on the disclaimer: "Your phone could be unlocked by someone or something that looks like your image. Face recognition is less secure than pattern, PIN or password." I'm not looking at that, er, touching that.

And so...
Technically speaking, the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is the South Korean giant's most powerful device so far. Its design combined with top-of-the-line features - and guarantee that it won't explode - make it the perfect in-your-face, back-from-the-infernos-of-tech-hell offering for its loyal fans and is sure to shut up the naysayers. Going back to the earlier argument though, some people may just opt for the cheaper, practically-the-same Galaxy S8+ - but that S Pen should be enough to sway those decisions. I still question parts of the biometrics, and at least the Bixby button should've been given the option to be remapped. And the price tag is also welcome; looks like we're not ready yet for that dreaded $1,000 threshold - unless some other company decides to do so. Editor Rating - 9.0/10. — alvin@khaleejtimes.com

By Alvin R Cabral

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