Is the Galaxy Note 8 the New Aspirational Android Smartphone?

Counterpoint Research attended the Samsung Unpacked Note 8 launch event held in New York City. Typical of recent Samsung events, the launch was emceed by mobile chief DJ Koh, witnessed a lot of bling, and was well attended by both media and partners of Samsung. Key question for Samsung: Will the company turn the page from last year’s safety and battery issues with a product that will bring back flagship consumers?
One change right out the gate for Samsung is the target audience. Last year, the Note 7 was clearly targeted at B2B power users emphasizing its KNOX mobile security, silos of business – personal usage, and authentication (iris, fingerprint, password). B2B was not uttered this year as the target audience is a simpler one, ‘those who want to do more, do bigger things’. As B2B continues to trend towards favorite flagships, the marketing switch seems safe and appropriate.

Simplified, Samsung is attempting to separate itself from the crowded field of large display options. Samsung’s twist is improving users’ communication and ‘power usage’ by merging a best-in-class S Pen with its best-in-class ‘infinity’ display.

The Display: Impressive 6.3” Quad HD+ Super AMOLED ‘infinity’ display. Other stats include 2960×1440 resolution making for 521ppi. The aspect ratio is 18.5 : 9. No doubt, the display is beautiful. Impressive engineering feat getting the 6.3” display into a 162.5×74.8×8.6mm body. But, Samsung has done it before getting the 6.2” GS8 Plus into a 159.5×73.4×8.1mm frame. The look and feel of the two are different as the Note 8 has a flat top & bottom, which actually helps keep the large device comfortable in-hand.

The S Pen: The usability has come a long way since the original Note—did anyone use the S Pen version 1 outside of marketing demos, I wonder? Today’s S Pen use cases are much more compelling and the hardware’s pressure sensitivity has come a long way. The company boasts of 2.7m Pen Up artists using the S Pen. A series of customizable ‘air commands’ are available to users which make the S Pen an instrument more like a mouse. A few include:

Translate & convert: Hover above and translate words or paragraphs or currencies
Live message: Add an animated GIF to any message—this was a front and center S Pen demo which will certainly get a lot of use
Screen write: Add text to any screen shot—great for directions or special details
Off-Screen Memo: Need a quick reminder? Jot it down without needing to unlock the device; keep up to 100 pages saved or pinned to home screen

The Camera: A lot of what was introduced is in the market today. However, improvements never stop in areas such as low light photography, image stabilization, and pre/post photo editing. What is new on the Note 8 is that both rear 12Mpix cameras have OIS capabilities. This should help on both still shots and video. Demos were impressive of the combination use of the wide-angle auto focus ‘dual pixel’ sensor and the telephoto auto focus sensor. In practice, this means the device snaps two photos with two focal points. Thus, giving the user the ability to zoom in on a segment of the photo or pan out to a wide angle. Samsung has its own ‘bokeh’ effect, which can be adjusted pre & post shot. Time will tell just how good the low-light and overall performance is, but it appears the Note 8 will be heralded as a top or near the top shooter.
The blocking and tackling needs of current flagships was covered. Though glossed over quickly in the event, the Note 8 uses the home-grown 10nm Exynos 8895 engine, as well as the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 in US variants. Samsung took no chances on a battery mishap this year. By this we mean the company chose a smaller battery, 3300mAh vs. Note 7 3500mAh. In addition, the device is .7mm thicker. No doubt, the battery is well-protected. Also included:

IP68 water resistant—good for the beach or pool or the quick drop into water
6GB RAM / 64GB (128GB, 256GB variants also available outside of the US) memory configuration; Micro SD support—offering carriers some accessory up sell potential
KNOX security as well as finger, face, iris unlock
3.5mm headset jack for those opposed to using the USB C port(!)
• Body: Sticking with trend of front & back glass. The Note 8 uses Gorilla Glass 5 from Corning. The back-cover glass adds a bit of weight (195g), but will certainly help with GB LTE / MIMO antenna RF transmission and wireless charging—both PMA and WPC are supported
• There will be multiple colors including black and gray available a launch
• Hard keys: Power button hit twice launches the camera (impressively quickly). Left button under volume keys launches Bixby
App Pair: Often use two apps simultaneously? Pin them together and one touch to launch both. For example, YouTube & Google maps. Music and anything. Nice coordinated software which takes advantage of a dual screen on a massive 6.3” display
• Other: For Garmin & fitness junkies there is ANT+ support and a heart rate monitor sensor. If barometer or pressure sensors are deal breakers—the Note 8 has them both
• Nothing was discussed formally during the launch event, but CAT 16 & GB LTE is supported

What is not included?
Fingerprint sensor under the glass. Rumored but not in the cards this go-round. The fingerprint sensor is located on the back next to the dual cameras. For right-handed use, that will be a long stretch.
AR VR improvements: For gamers and AR-VR fans, there is nothing new to see here. The display resolution does not drastically improve the performance. In fact, the larger size Note 8 will not fit older headsets. There was not a compelling game or use case demoed, which will be a disappointment for AR-VR development.
Samsung DeX, using your Note 8 as you PC, has seen limited improvements. There are new partner apps continually being added. One, being the zoom app for video conferencing. One can now use without the need to take out of its case while docked, too. However, if you were not a believer in its use case before, you will not be enticed (yet).
Bixby (AI assistant): The short answer is Bixby is improving but behind. It is available in select countries, for starters. Two good demos showed potential use cases: ‘Good night’ can be programed to set device in ‘do not disturb mode’, turn on blue light filter, and set an alarm. Or, ‘Food photo’ can be used to program device to launch the camera, take a photo, move photo to a food folder.
Price & availability: Pre-orders begin August 24th and first availability September 15th. US carriers have announced pricing between $930 and $960. T-Mobile has an interesting twist of $210 down payment and then $30 monthly installments. This may be a way to bring down monthly EIP sticker shock. Or, carriers may just tack on longer payoff periods, which is not a terrible option as it keeps users on the hook and less likely to churn for a few more months. With the endless rumors of (high) iPhone pricing, $950 sounds, almost, like a value??

The GS 8 family has shipped over 20m devices after a somewhat slow start—partially stunted due to component shortages. The Note 8 has a very different marketing message despite specs being quite similar to the GS8 Plus:

The Note 8 will benefit from a launch during a large Q4. In addition, Samsung may be handing out more marketing dollars for this large upgrade quarter. Samsung will attempt to take the fight to Apple during their launch period and not allow the company to run unopposed through Q4.
Previous Note series have performed well averaging almost 20m lifetime units. There certainly remains a loyal fan base. In addition, we remain in an era where it is hard for OEMs to clearly differentiate themselves. The Note 8 does as much as we have seen to move the hardware / software needles. The Note 8 does enough to finally allow Samsung to turn the page on last year’s safety issues as the Note 8 is the new Android aspirational smartphone.