The Galaxy Note 8 is the best Android phone you can buy, if you can afford it

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The Galaxy Note 8 is the best Android phone you can buy, if you can afford it

  • The Galaxy Note 8 is the best Android smartphone you can buy.
  • It's expensive, though, and you should consider a Galaxy S8 or Galaxy S8+.
  • Still, it packs plenty of high-end hardware that most folks will really like.

The Galaxy Note 8 is the best Android smartphone you can buy right now.

That doesn't mean you necessarily should. Its price tag makes it a couple of hundred dollars more expensive than the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+, both of which are fantastic phones.

If you want everything Samsung could think of, and the popular S Pen stylus that lets you jot notes on your screen, then this is the phone for you.

Wait ... doesn't the Galaxy Note catch fire?

CNBC Tech: Note 8 review
Todd Haselton | CNBC

You probably remember the Galaxy Note brand. Last year Samsung recalled the Galaxy Note 7 twice before eventually killing manufacturing altogether. Units with defective batteries were bursting into flames on airplanes and nightstands around the country.

It seemed unlikely that Samsung would try to revive the brand, but Samsung told CNBC that as of last spring, a survey revealed that its customer base still wanted another such phone. So here we are, in 2017, with the Galaxy Note 8.

Samsung promises it's safer thanks to more advanced battery checks, but only the passing of time will prove just how true those claims are. Our review unit didn't catch fire, so we're off on the right foot.

The best of the best ingredients 

CNBC Tech: Note 8 review 3

If a smartphone were a meal, then the Galaxy Note 8 would feature only the best ingredients available to the chef. It sports a large curved OLED display that appears to melt over the sides of the screen, providing an immersive experience for watching movies or just browsing the web. It doesn't get any better than this. Apple is expected to adopt the same kind of screen for its high-end iPhone 8.

There's also the latest and fastest processor from Qualcomm, which means the phone runs quick (or smooth) but also supports the newest and fastest wireless networks. That's important, because it means being able to download data quickly no matter where you are.

A brand new camera

CNBC Tech: Note 8 review 7
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Samsung opted for a brand new camera this time. In fact, like the iPhone 7 Plus, there are two lenses on the back of the Galaxy Note 8. One is a telephoto lens that provides 2 times optical zoom, like Apple's larger phone; the other is a standard sensor.

You can snap photos using both sensors to create a "portrait" effect, which is exactly what Apple offers on the iPhone 7 Plus. This is where the subject is in focus and the background is blurred with a "bokeh" effect that's typically reserved for digital single-lens reflex cameras and nicer lenses.

Todd Haselton | CNBC

It works fine, the shots are impressive on the phone but don't have that real creamy bokeh you get with a high-end DSLR. It's fun nonetheless, and the Note 8 easily has one of the best smartphone cameras on the market.

Take some notes

CNBC Tech: Note 8 review 6
Todd Haselton | CNBC

True to its name, the Galaxy Note 8 allows you to jot down notes just like on a notepad. The pen and display have more than 4,000 levels of sensitivity, so writing feels more natural — drawing lightly will leave fine lines while a hard-pressed hand will create darker ones.

CNBC Tech: Note 8 review 5
Todd Haselton | CNBC

My favorite S Pen feature allows you to jot notes while the phone is asleep. Just remove the pen and you can start writing up to 100 pages of notes on the display. Notes are automatically saved into a notebook for viewing later. The S Pen has other new functions, too, like the ability to jot down a note that's automatically saved as an animated GIF for sharing, but that felt more like a gimmick to me.

Should you buy it?

CNBC Tech: Note 8 review 4
Todd Haselton | CNBC

This is a tough call.

The Galaxy Note 8 packs in every single feature you can imagine: water and dust resistance, wireless charging, fast charging, a great camera, the S Pen, a superb display, support for Samsung's Gear VR platform, expandable storage and more. It's hard to think of something it doesn't have.

The Galaxy S8+ and Galaxy S8 can be had for less than $600 and under $700, respectively. The Galaxy Note 8, unlocked, costs almost $1,000. Those phones are nearly identical in specs but lack the S Pen and the telephoto camera. I'm not sure the S Pen is worth more than $200.

If you want the very best Android phone on the market, or you're one of Samsung's dedicated Note fans (I am), then you won't be disappointed with the Galaxy Note 8. I think most folks should at least seriously consider saving some dough and checking out the Galaxy S8 or Galaxy S8+ first