Samsung's Galaxy Note 8 is a gambit, and the stakes are high for the company. The company needs the Note 8 to elevate its competitive profile and keep up with Google, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft. And the device delivers. Mostly.
True, the company needs to bury last year's Note 7 battery debacle. But for Samsung the new device represents the consumerization of business technology and IT, and the Note 8 is the fulcrum of Samsung's cloud ecosystem, which includes mobile devices, IoT, and artificial intelligence.
SEE: Ebook—Reducing the risks of BYOD in the enterprise (TechRepublic)
The Note 8's specs are undeniably top-of-the-line: The 6.3" AMOLED capacitive touchscreen Infinity Display is driven by an Adreno GPU riding on an Exynos Octa-core processor and 6 GB of RAM, twice the memory of Apple's iPhone 6 Plus. The device offers fast wireless charging, and during TechRepublic's testing window the 3,300 mAh battery performed well without overheating. According to Samsung, the Note 8's battery underwent an 8-point battery safety check and was evaluated by third-party expert Underwriters Laboratories.
The 12MP rear cameras feature Optical Image Stabilization on both the wide-angle and telephoto lenses, and the numerous capture modes are sure to fill the device's 64 GB of internal storage quickly. Fortunately, Samsung has made significant improvements to its microSD storage devices. The company's EVO Plus reads and writes at nearly 100 MB/s, making it nearly impossible to differentiate between data stored internally and data stored on the SD card.
SEE: Lunch and learn: BYOD rules and responsibilities (Tech Pro Research)
Hiding under the glossy display is the Note 8's best and most understated feature: Knox 2.9. For CISOs and cybersecurity professionals, Knox—Samsung's defense-grade hardware and software module that protects critical local data like encryption keys—is an essential feature. The new framework provides deep packet monitoring and real-time permission tracking to users and IT managers, including the IP address and DNS of accessed sites, bytes transferred, and the name and hash of app processes generating traffic. Knox 2.9 also adds memory layout isolation and randomization, which partitions RAM usage between system and non-system apps.
Additionally, the Note 8 provides a secure folder to separate work and personal applications, and multiple biometric authentication options, including iris and fingerprint scanning. Granular control of device activity will help the device succeed in the enterprise and business environments.
Samsung is making a big bet on AI and needs Bixby, the company's in-house digital assistant, to shine. Bixby can do some neat contextually aware stuff, such as opening and controlling apps and organizing photos automatically. Like the Galaxy S8, the phone has a dedicated Bixby button to launch the personal assistant, which users will either love or find totally annoying. Bixby is tied to Samsung smartwatches, and later this year the company will release a connected speaker to compete with Amazon's Echo and Google Home. Note 8 fans might love the personal assistant, but Bixby is unlikely to dethrone Siri, Google Assistant, or Alexa any time soon.
SEE: Mobile Device Computing Policy (Tech Pro Research)
The Note 8 is a powerful productivity device. A new feature called App Pair allows users to couple apps on the Edge panel and simultaneously launch two apps in Multi Window mode. Switching between the paired apps is fluid, and multitasking is a zippy experience. The updated S Pen is dust and rain resistant, and the stylus is quite handy when used with screen off memo, a new feature that allows for jotting handwritten notes directly on the screen. The feature is incredibly useful.
Perhaps no feature of the Note 8 demonstrates the consumerization of the enterprise like DeX, an optional accessory sold separately that allows the phone to be docked and used like a workstation. When connected to the unobtrusive dock, the phone displays a Windows-like environment on a monitor. Power-hungry creation applications like Photoshop run just as well as productivity tools like Slack and Office. It's easy to imagine a corporate office loaded with DeX stations, as opposed to kludgy workstations.
SEE: Samsung announces AI assistant for Galaxy S8 smartphone (TechRepublic)
The device ships with Android 7.1, but you'd never know it. Samsung's customization of Android has always been a weakness, and the Note 8's hardware is crippled by a lackluster operating system. The onboarding experience is long and bloated with wizards, annoying tips, and pop-up windows. Long and forced application updates frequently interrupt common actions like opening the email application. Syncing between the personal and work profile often forced a logout. Samsung's software competes with native Android features, often resulting in application permission and functionality conflict.
The out-of-the-box pain is the result of Samsung's new cloud ecosystem and is typical of the company's "everything and the kitchen sink" strategy. Samsung is seeding a future competitive mobile operating system, and growing pains are to be expected. No doubt the company will eventually fuse its myriad features, and future devices will benefit from cloud cross-pollination.
The Galaxy Note 8 is the best mobile device Samsung has ever released, but for now the initial software experience undersells the hardware's potential.
More Samsung business technology stories
- The complete business user's guide to Samsung's Galaxy Note 8 (TechRepublic)
- Samsung's Note 8: Everything business needs to know about the new device (TechRepublic)
- Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus: The smart person's guide (TechRepublic)
- Samsung's Bixby: The smart person's guide (TechRepublic)
- Video: Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus: The 3 most important features (TechRepublic)
- How Gazelle will turn 3.5 million recycled smartphones into quick cash this year (TechRepublic)
- Samsung launches new cloud tool to help vendors make money on IoT data (TechRepublic)
- 6 of the most useful Bixby Voice commands (CNET)
- 9 tips and tricks for getting started with Bixby Voice (CNET)
- Hands-on with Samsung Bixby Voice beta: 3,000 reasons to finally use the button (ZDNet)
- Samsung's Galaxy Note 8 could get squeezed by other Android rivals (ZDNet)
- Video: Samsung unveils Galaxy S8 (CBS News)
- Top Samsung exec on new battery safety check, rebuilding trust with consumers (CBS News)
Dan Patterson has nothing to disclose. He does not hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Dan is a Senior Writer for TechRepublic. He covers cybersecurity and the intersection of technology, politics and government.