Last year’s Galaxy Note 7 looked like a winner. It seemed to be the best Android phone. Then we learnt about battery explosions and burning phones.
Yesterday Samsung unveiled this year’s model. The company’s Auckland launch was a tired affair set in a grim industrial bunker.
After drinks the crowd was made to stand in the cold watching a dreary and blurry demonstration of, well, it’s not clear what Samsung intended to show us. Earlier in the week Oppo did a better launch job on a smaller budget.
A lot of people, including me, left at this point.
Solid, not remarkable
The event highlights the problem with the Note 8: it’s not that special, exciting or different. It doesn’t do anything significant that the Note 7 didn’t. You won’t be more productive or have more fun.
On the other hand, you won’t get burnt and you can travel on a plane without being a pariah.
Sure, Note 8 has a bigger screen than last year’s model. The front camera has more megapixels. There are dual lenses. Samsung uses a newer processor. Without hands-on testing it’s hard to tell if that means faster in practice.
The key here is these are all incremental updates. It’s the Note 7 with a safer battery, nicer case and a few specification bumps.
That’s not to say the Note 8 is not a decent phone. It is. Battery issues aside the Note 7 was so far ahead of the curve, that an incremental update is all anyone could realistically expect.
And there are a lot of incremental updates. Together they add up to more than the sum of the parts.
Galaxy Note 8 comeback?
Samsung has a lot riding on the Galaxy Note 8. Almost every technology headline writer on the planet has referred to it as a comeback phone or used words to that effect.
In truth Samsung doesn’t need a comeback phone. The market has been generous to Samsung. If another Samsung phone has a melt-down the company will be in trouble, but its lead in the Android market remains strong. Huawei and Oppo are snapping at Samsung’s heels, but they were there last year too.
The Galaxy Note 8 poses two questions. First, is the latest Note sufficiently different from the Galaxy S8 Plus? As a casual observer at the launch function it felt like the two phones are converging, although I can’t put my finger on why that seems to be the case.
Samsung gave the Note a stylus. The Galaxy S8 doesn’t have one. Otherwise, there’s not much in it.
There’s a sense that Samsung’s Galaxy Note stylus may have run its course. I notice many existing Note users don’t do much with their stylus. There aren’t lots of apps to make use of it, unlike the Apple Pencil.
Samsung’s stylus is like a technological security blanket. This may be different in Asia where people need to use more complex characters to write.
The second question posed by the Note 8 is about the competition from other Android brands. The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 will go on sale in New Zealand next month at $1600. That’s the same price as last year’s model. While it is cheaper than the Apple iPhone 7Plus, you can choose from a dozen or so cheaper Android alternatives including Samsung phones.