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Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Phone review:

Galaxy Note 8 is pricey, powerful and does it all

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The Good The Galaxy Note 8 tops Samsung's already excellent S8 and S8 Plus with dual cameras and a boatload of stylus tricks. It's the most feature-rich Android phone you can buy.

The Bad An expensive phone, the Note 8 has more features than most people will need. Samsung's portrait mode can be finicky. The poorly placed fingerprint reader repeats the Galaxy S8's worst design flaw.

The Bottom Line The Galaxy Note 8 retakes the throne as the ultimate Android phone for now, but some intense competition is just over the horizon.

CNET Editors' Rating

8.9 Overall
  • Design 8.0
  • Features 10.0
  • Performance 9.0
  • Camera 8.0
  • Battery 10.0

Editor's note: The Galaxy Note 8 is now on sale in select markets, including the US.

After testing it from San Francisco to Los Angeles and up to Lake Tahoe, I can confidently say that the Galaxy Note 8 is without a doubt Samsung's best, most feature-packed phone.

But it's also deeply burdened. Does it scrub away the bad taste of last year's disastrous Note 7 double-recall? Is the battery safe? Does it offer enough over the cheaper Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus to make it worth the sky-high price? (See prices below.)

Finally, we have answers. Samsung has amped up its safety testing and reduced the Note 8's battery size to avoid repeating last year's fatal battery mistake, though we won't know if it's truly safe until weeks have gone by without a reported incident.

Buyers of the Galaxy Note 7 -- who had to relinquish their flame-prone phones -- and 2015's Galaxy Note 5 -- until now, the "best" Note phone you could buy -- will find the Note 8 to be the high-end handset they should have gotten last year, and then some. It largely merges the Note 7 with the S8 and S8 Plus. The upshot: It's really good, but feels rehashed instead of truly fresh. Samsung played it safe.

One bright star is the presence of a dual camera setup on the Note 8's back. Samsung's first twin-lens phone can create pretty depth-effect portraits that finally catch it up to the hottest trend in phones. There's also the Note 8's vibrant 6.3-inch OLED screen, and a tall, slim design that goes lean on bezels. Battery life here goes on and on. You'll find a welcome repeat of the Galaxy S8's top-of-the-line processor, water resistance, expandable storage and wireless charging, plus fun ways to create animated GIFs that belong to the Note 8 alone. The S Pen stylus has some real efficiencies you don't get on any other phone.

Everyone who saw me whip out the Note to write down numerous Starbucks orders on the lock screen, create cute animated GIFs of our silly photos, and take depth-effect portraits of wedding guests in their finest was immediately impressed. "Take our picture with the good camera," one friend said. "That pen looks so useful," said another. "I think I want that instead of the iPhone."

Despite the Note 8's undeniable excellence as an Android device, however, I'm split on whether or not it's worth the hefty price, especially when it's so similar to the single-lens Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus. Throw out the stylus, and your key benefit versus the S8 Plus is… portrait mode (which Samsung calls Live Focus). On its own, that's not a very compelling reason to level up.

I need to also point out the Note 8's most grating imperfection. The placement of the fingerprint reader off to the side of those two rear cameras drives me bananas. It's plain inconvenient: too high and too off-centered. Even if muscle memory takes over and you get used to it, and even if you use the hit-or-miss iris scanner instead, there's no good reason it shouldn't be in the center of the Note's back like it is on so many other phones. There's no excuse for the world's dominating Android brand to falter on something the rest of the industry has already mastered.

If you're using a Note 5, feel good taking the Note 8 plunge. If you've never owned a Note but can truly make the S Pen part of your daily life, you won't find any other phone that goes as far.

The GalaxyNote 8's S Pen stylus made this GIF.

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

If you're contemplating the Note 8 for the second camera alone, I say wait to see how the LG V30 and iPhone X perform; they both have dual cameras, too. And there's the dual camera iPhone 8 Plus, whose photos and video performance are pretty evenly matched with the Note 8's. The new Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL buck the trend with just one camera, but Google says it's so good, a second lens is unnecessary. (We'll fact-check that claim once we have a chance to fully review it.)

At the end of the day, dreamy portraits and a pressure-sensitive pen are niceties, not necessities. And that's what the Note 8 is: a beautiful splurge for people who want to do everything they can on an Android phone, or at least have the option.

Everyone but Note die-hards should wait until we see how the forthcoming rival phones fare. The Pixel 2 is available now for preorder and ships Oct. 19. Apple will take preorders for the iPhone X starting Oct. 27 at 12:01 AM PST and make the first deliveries on Nov. 3 (though supplies are rumored to be severely limited). And, of course, the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are available now.  Once we've taken a close look at them all, we'll revisit this review.

Read on for pricing and an in-depth look at the Galaxy Note 8's key features. You'll find a full specs list and a comparison with other top phones at the end.

Read also: iPhone X didn't crush the Galaxy Note 8

This review originally posted September 5 and was updated September 15 to indicate that the phone is now on sale.

Galaxy Note 8 price

Preorders started Aug. 24, and the phone went on sale Sept. 15 in the US, UK, South Korea and other select countries. It'll roll out globally through October.

Until Sept. 30, Samsung will grant original Note 7 owners a discount on the Note 8 as an apology for the hassle of having returned your last phone. The big catch? It's only for US buyers so far and you can only get it through Samsung.com, not through your carrier. There's plenty of fine print; I summarize it here.

All US buyers who preorder the phone will get a fast wireless charger and a 128GB microSD card or a Gear 360. This has nothing to do with being a Note 7 owner, it's available to everyone. More details here.

You'll be able to buy the phone through carriers, Samsung.com and other retailers. Samsung is also doing something different and immediately selling the Galaxy Note 8 unlocked rather than waiting weeks or months to offer an unlocked option.

In the US, you can pick up the Note 8 from Best Buy, Target and Walmart in addition to Samsung.com, where it sells unlocked for $930. As for carriers, AT&T will sell it for $950 and Verizon will sell it for $960. T-Mobile users can nab it for $930 while Sprint offers it for $960. The phone will also be available on US Cellular for the full retail price of $963 ($32 on 30-month plan) or for $900 prepaid.

Is the Note 8's battery safe?

It's too early to truly call the Note 8 a Note 7 redeemer until it's survived weeks on the market without the phone overheating and catching fire. After all, CNET's multiple Note 7 review units remained incident-free even while an unusually high number of handsets around the world charred within just a few weeks of that phone's release.

To keep the Note 8 safe, Samsung has:

  • Instituted an eight-point battery safety check
  • Reduced battery size and capacity from 3,500mAh to 3,300mAh to leave more room in the phone's cavity
  • Partnered with UL, an independent certification organization, to endorse the Note 8

Read more about Samsung's efforts to keep the Note 8 battery from overheating.

For the record, the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus batteries graduated from the same enhanced battery test without reports of widespread problems. However, if you're wary, it doesn't hurt to watch and wait.

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