The new Galaxy Note 8 has incredible hardware performance and design.
But the phone still has the same flaws as its predecessors.
Samsung needs to fix its clunky phone software if it wants to be the best of the best.
It’s the same old story from Samsung.
For the last few years, Samsung has nailed it when it comes to hardware, performance, and design of its phones. 2015’s Galaxy S6 was a great start, 2016’s Galaxy S7 was a stunner, and this year’s Galaxy S8 perfected everything.
The Galaxy Note 8, which Samsung announced on Wednesday, builds on that design legacy, but it also suffers from the same critical flaw as its predecessors: As good as the hardware and design are, the software and services still feel clunky and bloated compared to the streamlined versions of Android running on Google’s Pixel phone and the new Essential phone.
Because Samsung likes to pack its phones with its own apps and services, that means you’re presented with a confusing array of options to perform the same basic tasks, from both Google and Samsung: two web browsers, two app stores, two email apps, and so on.
There are even two digital assistants: Google Assistant, and Samsung’s Bixby.
Bixby is the most curious new service from Samsung. After months of delays, the assistant had a weak launch on the Galaxy S8 this summer. It’s just not as capable and useful as its rival assistants. It will get better, sure, but Bixby has a long way to go. When I first texted Bixby, I found it couldn’t do basic tasks we’ve come to expect from assistants like answering basic questions. Plus, it encourages you to use your voice for options that are easier to control the old-fashioned way, like adjusting brightness or connecting to WiFi. Tech reviewer Marques Brownlee posted a really good digital assistant comparison with Bixby that breaks it all down very well.
Finally, Samsung’s bloated software means fewer updates for you when new versions of Android arrive. Samsung has a terrible track record of keeping its older devices up to date, even with Samsung-only features like Bixby. There’s no guarantee buying a Samsung phone today gets you the latest software features a year from now.
None of this means the Galaxy Note 8 will be a dud. I think it will be a great phone, and there are plenty of Galaxy Note loyalists out there who have been pining for a new model after last year’s Note 7 debacle. But if Samsung wants perfection, it needs to fix its software problem, either through guaranteed updates or shipping a more streamlined version of Android.