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Samsung Galaxy Note 8 hands-on review: Slick and beautiful but with one very big problem

Aatif Sulleyman

Samsung has just unleashed the Galaxy Note 8, its newest flagship smartphone.

It’s one of the best-looking and most capable mobiles on the market, but its size might be a problem for some consumers.

On the whole though, our first impressions are very positive indeed.

The new Note looks fantastic. In terms of design, Samsung hit the nail on the head with the S8 and S8+ that came out earlier this year, and it’s rightly chosen not to mess around with the formula.

The front of the Note 8 is dominated by glass, with the curved “Infinity” screen stretching almost from the very top edge to the very bottom edge of the phone.

I’m still not convinced a curved screen offers any practical advantages over a flat screen, but it contributes to a stunning look, which we fully expect rival phone manufacturers to imitate in the very near future.

The screen itself, a Quad HD+ Super AMOLED number, isn’t bad either. It’s bright, sharp and, of course, large, ideal for watching films and TV shows on.

The Note 8 comes in black, blue, gold and grey colour schemes, but only the black and gold options are available in the UK. That’s a slight shame, because the blue model is the pick of the bunch.

Thanks to the screen and slim bezels, the handset’s fingerprint scanner sits around the back.

It’s more recessed and sits slightly further away from the camera lens than the S8’s heavily criticised version, making it much easier to find without turning the phone over and actually looking.

The fingerprint scanner was by far the S8’s worst feature, and though the Note 8’s isn’t perfect – it could be larger and is still positioned higher up on the back of the handset than I think it should be – it’s a big improvement.

You can also unlock the Note 8 by scanning your iris or face, or entering a PIN, password or pattern, but in general fingerprints feel fastest and therefore most convenient right now.

So far, so good, but it’s when you first pick it up that you’ll know whether or not the Note 8 is right for you.

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It’s a very big phone, one of the largest on the market, measuring 162.5 x 74.8 x 8.6mm and featuring a huge 6.3-inch screen.

Unless you happen to have particularly long fingers, it’s too big for one-handed use. In my time with it, I had to keep adjusting my grip in order to reach all areas of the screen, with the top-left corner proving especially difficult to get to.

Fortunately, the Note 8 comes with the S-Pen stylus. It’s essentially a digital pen, which you can use to write and draw on the phone’s screen, much better than you’d be able to manage with your finger.

It clicks in and out of a hole in the phone’s bottom edge and works really well, feeling both smooth and reliable.

One of the Note 8’s most pleasing features is the ability to write memos with the stylus, without turning the phone's display on first. You can pin these to the lock screen too, ideal for maintaining shopping lists.

It’s a slick bit of kit – it even has a clicky button at the top, just to feel more like a regular pen – but if you’ve never used a stylus before, it could take a little while before using it begins to feel like second nature. Also, be careful not to lose it.

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Samsung has also included special software features to help you make the most of the screen’s immense size.

App Pair lets you group two apps together and open them both at the same time, in a split-screen view, with a single tap of your finger.

It’s really useful, allowing you to do things like watch a YouTube video and follow directions on Maps at the same time. It also makes it really easy to attach documents to emails. In split-screen, just drag and drop the right file into the email window.

What isn’t quite as easy to get your head around is the new camera. The Note 8 uses a dual-camera setup, which combines a 12-megapixel telephoto lens with an f2.4 aperture with a 12-megapixel wide-angle sensor with an f1.7 aperture.

The biggest talking point here is a feature called Live Focus, which lets you tinker with depth of field and adjust bokeh both within the camera app and after you’ve taken a photo.

When it works, it’s a very fun feature, allowing you to play around with your pictures.

Unfortunately when I tried to use it, a message kept appearing on-screen just as I was about to tap the Capture button, telling me that Live Focus was not available.

That meant I ended up accidentally snapping a lot of non-Live Focus pictures. I’m not exactly sure why this was the case as, per the phone’s instructions, I took care to hold the phone quite close to (or at least no more than 1.2m away from) my subject while trying to use it.

With a little more time spent with the phone, however, I’m sure Live Focus will prove easy to get to grips with.

I have no complaints about image quality, with pictures consistently coming out sharp and clear, with no noticeable blur thanks to the inclusion of optical image stabilisation.

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The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is, without a doubt, one of the most impressive and visually appealing smartphones around.

It's feature-packed, looks terrific and has a very promising camera, but its sheer size could turn a significant number of prospective buyers off.

£869 is a hell of a lot to spend on a phone too, though you can pay monthly with a deal from the likes of EE, O2, Three, Sky Mobile and Vodafone.

If you're tempted by it but aren't completely sure it's right for you, we'd recommend popping into your local phone shop and actually handling one in person before parting with your cash.

If, however, you're a big fan of large phones, this one's a belter. Hopefully its batteries are safe.