Should You Buy Samsung's Galaxy Note8 Or Wait For The New iPhone?

The 2017 smartphone showdown is on: Within the span of three weeks, we'll have at least two strong contenders for your texting needs. Samsung has announced the impressive new Galaxy Note8, a larger smartphone with an infinity display and built-in stylus. A week from today, Apple is expected to announce the newest iPhone(s).

If you've been a loyal iPhone user, you might be tempted to disregard the Note8 altogether. However, the Note8 is worth a look if you tend to draw on Snaps and Instagram Stories often (that stylus comes in handy).

Ahead, a look how the Galaxy Note8 stacked up to the competition over a Labor Day weekend of testing.

The Basics

Like other phones in Samsung's Galaxy Note lineup, the Note8 stands out for its size. Compared to the iPhone 7 Plus, the Galaxy Note8 is slightly longer (162.5 mm compared to the iPhone's 158.2 mm) and thicker (8.6 mm compared to 7.3 mm). It's also a bit heavier, at 6.87 ounces.

That being said, the Galaxy Note8 still fits comfortably in one hand and while I wouldn't want it sticking out of my pocket, it fits just fine in a small bag. Besides the length, the differences in weight and thickness between the Note8 and the iPhone 7 Plus feel negligible.

What you do get with the Note8 is a much larger screen. The 6.3-inch infinity display is bigger than the iPhone 7 Plus's 5.5-inch display, and makes for a far more immersive streaming experience.

There is, however, a noticeable price difference. The Note8 rings in at $929.99, which you can split into 24 monthly payments of $38.75. There are freebie offerings for anyone who preorders the phone, including your choice of a Gear 360 camera or 128 GB memory card and a fast wireless charging pad, but I'd rather have a cheaper sticker price on the phone than the extras. The iPhone 7 Plus, by comparison, starts at a more reasonable $769, although there are rumors that the new iPhone 8 will also come close to $1000.
Power Up

The battery life on the Galaxy Note8 was slightly better for me than the Galaxy S8. While I wasn't pushing this phone to the limits at a crowded festival, I was using it to take lots of photos and posting to Instagram and Snapchat while on vacation. A full day of snapping shots, watching Instagram Stories, and looking up directions on Google Maps, tended to leave me with between 40% and 50% battery life. When I streamed shows, that percentage dropped further. There are also additional power savers — a mid and max mode — that you can activate in Settings to extend battery life.

To go from an almost dead battery to 100% took me a little over three hours. However, like other Samsung phones, the Note8 comes equipped with fast wireless charging capabilities, so you can invest in a fast wireless charging pad to power up more quickly.
Face Forward

First things first: Unlocking the phone. Your options include using a pin, an iris scanner, a fingerprint scanner, or face recognition. Like the Galaxy S8, the fingerprint scanner is very poorly placed. It's located on the back of the phone, right next to the camera lens, making it almost impossible not to smudge the lens in the process of unlocking the phone.

For this reason, the iris scanner and face recognition are by far the preferred options. You can only have one enabled at a time, so I opted for face recognition. After a quick set-up involving looking at the phone as it registered my face, I was good to go.

I had about a 70% success rate with using facial recognition, though I liked it better than the iris scanner I tried with the S8 (the iris scanner often had trouble identifying me in poor light and when I wore my glasses). But at times the phone still had trouble recognizing me; I entered my pin to unlock the Note8 far more often than I would have liked.

Alternatively, you can also set up a voice password with Bixby, Samsung's virtual assistant. This seemed to work fairly well, though if you're unlocking your phone in public, you'll want to be careful about what word you choose or enter your pin instead.
Pair Up

As with the Galaxy S8, you access the main menu settings and apps by swiping up from the bottom of the screen. You also have a side panel, the Edge screen, where you can put your favorites for easier access. The best part of this Edge screen on the Note8 is the ability to pair apps: Pick two apps you tend to use together, pair them, and they'll open in split-screen view.

I paired Google Maps and Messages, since I usually find myself looking up new restaurants locations while making plans over text. It's convenient to use, and easy to minimize Maps when I've finished using it — simply swipe up from the bottom of the screen.
Got A Pen?

If you tend to draw on your Snaps or Instagram Stories, or like to mark up PDFs or Notes, or enjoy winding down with a coloring book — the Note8 has the thing for you. Stored in the bottom of the phone is the S Pen, a slim stylus that is comfortable to hold and extremely precise when scribbling on screen — it is way better than using your finger.

I like that you can change the pen's width and brush type in Notes, Messages, and other apps. I don't usually draw on my Snaps precisely because my finger drawing looks like it's been done by a two-year-old, but the S Pen's accuracy makes me want to change my ways.

It's also potentially helpful for those who travel: You can also use the S Pen as a translation tool, highlighting one paragraph at a time and selecting the language you're looking to translate to.
Go Live

One of the newer features of the S Pen is Live Message, a "handwritten" texting tool that's similar to the iPhone's digital touch feature. Draw on photos, or write against a black background, and your handcrafted masterpiece will replay as a GIF-like text.

It's fun, and it works in messages sent to both Android and iOS phones. However, it's not necessarily something I picture myself using much once the novelty of it wears away. (I rarely use my iPhone 7 Plus's digital touch tool anymore.)
Don't Forget

My favorite S Pen feature is the Screen Off memo, which lets you leave reminders on the Note8's Always On Display. The Display is exactly what it sounds like — always on. Even when you haven't touched your phone for 30 minutes, you'll still see the time, date, and remaining battery without touching it. When you remove the S Pen from the bottom of the phone, you can personalize the Display with ease — adding any notes or writing a to do list, and deleting them when you're done.

I found the Screen off memo helpful for bill paying and Venmo reminders (I'm sure my friends appreciated it, too).
Shots Fired

Samsung has put an emphasis on the camera in the Galaxy Note8 and it shows: The phone has a dual camera and each lens has optical image stabilization, meaning that your shaky hand won't get in the way of a crisp shot. There are also 2x and 10x zoom options for capturing a sign or adorable dog from far off.

I'm a fan of one new camera feature, called Live Focus. This does essentially the same thing as the iPhone 7 Plus's portrait mode, which lets you focus on a close object or person in the foreground and blurs the background for a sense of depth. Here, you can see the photo I took using my iPhone 7 Plus's portrait mode on the left and the Galaxy Note8's Live Capture on the right.

I prefer the photo taken with the Note8. The colors are more representative of what I shot — pleasantly blue water with a dark brown railing in the front — and the entire wooden structure is kept in focus. In the iPhone photo, the wooden rail starts to blur with the background instead of staying in focus.

You can also turn on Dual Capture when taking a Live Focus photo, which will save two photos: One zoomed in image and one wide-angle shot that shows the entire scene. I liked that I could go back and pick which of the two I liked best, instead of only having the one option or having to take the two photos separately in the moment. It's also easy to adjust the Live Focus blur effect in your camera roll, so I could make the water more or less blurry after the fact.
Selfie Action

When you flip the camera to front-facing, you activate selfie mode. The Note8 comes with a few new editing tools that subtly adjust your skin tone, enlarge your eyes, or slim your face. I found all of these a bit odd and fake-looking, and didn't like using any.

The selfie on left was taken with my iPhone 7 Plus, while the photo on the right was taken with the Note8. In this case, I preferred the iPhone shot: My skin color looks more realistic, and my sunglasses and jacket are less washed out.
The most impressive features in the Galaxy Note8 are the phone's infinity display, dual camera, and S Pen capabilities. If you don't mind carrying around a slightly larger phone, it might be worth it — especially if you plan on using the stylus, which is the Note8's main edge over other smartphones.

However, because the price tag is so high, it's probably worth it to wait a week until Apple's iPhone announcement on September 12. While the new iPhone is unlikely to have a built-in stylus, there are rumors of camera and display upgrades that could rival those of the Note8.

We've waited all year for a glimpse at the new iPhone, so it can't hurt to wait one more week. Once it's unveiled, you'll be able to make a more well-informed decision about which smartphone best meets your Story-ing, Selfie-ing, and texting demands.
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