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The Galaxy Note Is Back And Samsung Swears Its Battery Is Safe

Samsung’s phablet is back, with a dual-lens camera and curved “Infinity” display.

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Samsung’s Note — yes, the Note that shipped with exploding batteries last year and was recalled twice before finally being discontinued — is back.

Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed News

The Korean tech conglomerate debuted its newest device, the Note 8, a follow-up to last year’s Note 7, on Wednesday.

In many ways, the Note 8 is the Note 7 that never was. The newer model has the same pressure-sensitive S-Pen, the same water-resistance rating, and a similarly curved-edge screen. Its two key changes are that its battery has slightly less capacity, which poses less of an explosion risk, and that it now has a dual-camera system that rivals that of the iPhone 7 Plus.

I got an early hands-on with the new Note 8 — and here’s what you need to know.

Let’s get to the elephant in the room: those exploding batteries.

Samsung really needs to get it right this time around to regain customers’ trust. While the company didn't directly address the past Note's battery problems, it says that it’s “committed to quality” now more than ever, with an 8-point battery safety check that includes extreme testing and X-ray inspection, plus additional testing by a third-party company, Underwriters Laboratories.

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The Note 8 is nearly identical in shape and size to the Galaxy S8+.

Samsung

The Note 8's display is 6.3 inches diagonally, while the S8+'s is 6.2 inches. The main difference between the Galaxy Note and Galaxy lines is the Note’s “S-Pen,” a built-in stylus with special features (like quick screen capture or translation). The Note 8 also has a much better dual-lens camera.

The dual-lens rear camera includes a telephoto lens for close-ups and a “portrait mode” feature that lets you change the photo’s depth of field.

Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed News

Last year, Apple introduced a dual-lens camera in the iPhone 7 Plus, which offered twice the optical zoom (instead of digital zoom, which lowers a photo’s resolution) compared to iPhones without the second telephoto lens. For the Note 8, Samsung is introducing a similar concept: one 12MP wide-angle lens with f/1.7 aperture, and one 12MP telephoto lens with f/2.4 aperture.

The difference with the Note 8’s camera is that both lenses have optical image stabilization, or OIS. Optical image stabilization makes photos taken with shaky hands look clear. That means even if you’re zooming in at 2x with Note 8, your photos won’t look blurry. Only the iPhone 7 Plus’s wide-angle lens has OIS, and Samsung claims the Note 8 is the first smartphone to have OIS in both lenses.

Because of its dual-lens camera, the Note 8 also has a new feature called Live Focus, which works in a similar way to the iPhone 7 Plus’s Portrait Mode.

Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed News

Live Focus adds a gauzy, out-of-focus effect to a photo’s background. But unlike on the iPhone, you can adjust the strength of the effect after the photo has been taken, in Samsung’s preview mode.

Like the Galaxy S8, the Note 8 has a “dual pixel sensor” for fast autofocus.

The Note 8’s wide-angle lens has a sensor that uses all available pixels to obtain focus for objects in frame faster and more accurately. Many phone camera sensors only use 5% to 10% of pixels to focus.

The Note 8 has a 6.3-inch AMOLED “Infinity” display.

Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed News

Last year’s Note 7 had a smaller 5.7-inch display. But the Note 8 doesn’t feel significantly larger, because of its wraparound, curved screen and taller height (the Note 7 is 153.5mm whereas the 8 is 162.5mm). It’s the same display “Infinity” concept introduced in this year’s Galaxy S8.

There are also smaller, more incremental changes to productivity features.

Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed News

“App Pair” allows Samsung users to open any two apps (including non-Samsung apps) at the same time in multi-window mode, like calendar and messaging, or phone and contacts.

“Screen off memo” allows you to take notes quickly. As soon as the S Pen is removed, you can immediately start writing on the screen without unlocking the phone, and the app will save the note. And previously, you could only write one page at a time. The new version supports up to 100 memo pages.

“Live message” turns video captures of handwritten notes into a GIF.

You can also translate full sentences with the S-Pen by hovering the pen over text and clicking on the S-Pen’s button, then selecting translate, instead of just individual words as with last year’s Note.

The Note also gets other Samsung-y features, like water resistance and wireless charging.

Like many Galaxy devices before it, the Note 8 and its S-Pen are rated IP68, which means it can sustain being underwater for up to 30 minutes and a depth of 1 meter without sustaining permanent damage. It also supports fast wireless charging, biometric security (iris, fingerprint scanning, and face recognition), 6GB RAM with 64GB of upgradable storage (mini SD cards up to 256GB), and compatibility with DeX, which is a dock, sold separately, that allows you to connect the phone to a monitor and use keyboard and mouse input.

Preorder starts Aug. 24, and it ships Sept. 15.

Samsung

Preorders for the unlocked version start at $929 at Samsung.com. Former Note 7 owners can trade in their phone for up to $425 value if they decide to upgrade to the Note 8.

At Verizon, the Note 8 will cost $960 retail or $40 a month for two years. AT&T is offering $31.67 a month for 30 months ($950 total) through its Next leasing plan, which lets customers upgrade every two years by trading in an eligible device.

AT&T, C Spire, Cricket Wireless, Sprint, Straight Talk Wireless, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, Verizon Wireless, and Xfinity Mobile will be the first to carry the device in midnight black and orchid gray, along with unlocked versions at Samsung.com, Best Buy, Target, and Walmart.

The Note — when it’s not catching fire — is a great device for people who spend a lot of time on their phone annotating PDFs, working with multiple windows, and watching videos.

When I first reviewed Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 last year, I thought that, at the time, the device was the best Android phablet you could buy. That was before Note 7s around the world started exploding. Samsung has pointed to corrections to the way it approaches manufacturing and assembly, in order to prevent what happened last time around. Here’s hoping they’ll deliver.

Nicole Nguyen covers products and personal technology for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.

Contact Nicole Nguyen at nicole.nguyen@buzzfeed.com.

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