Samsung’s Note 8 feels as fast as the Pixel 2, and that’s a big deal


One of the most common complaints levied at Samsung’s Note 8 is that it doesn’t do enough to differentiate itself over the Galaxy S8+. But after testing the device for about six weeks, there’s one clear advantage: the Note 8 is a lot smoother than the S8 in the long run – and it even compares favorably to the Pixel 2.

Samsung has been admonished for its heavy Android skins ever since the early days of TouchWiz, and though it’s tidied up in recent years – especially with the introduction of the ‘Samsung Experience’ UI with the S8 – it had never quite nailed making a phone whose performance holds up over time. In my experience, usually all it takes is a couple of weeks and a couple dozen apps to start to feel a device slowing down significantly.

Six weeks in, that’s not the case with the Note 8.

With the disclaimer that this is just one reporter’s anecdote, the Note 8 is noticeably faster than any Samsung device I’ve used for an extended period of time – at least without micromanaging software.

When I compare it to a months-old S8, the difference is significant. My S8 isn’t bad by any means – and there’s much more to a phone than perfect smoothness – but it’s prone to hiccups and dropped frames when things get busy. Yes the Note 8 has an additional 2GB of RAM, but more RAM has rarely been an accurate indicator of smoothness on Android. The bigger difference almost certainly lies in the software.

The Note 8 is running version 8.5 of the Samsung Experience UI and Android 7.1.1, while the S8 runs 8.1 and 7.0, respectively. Though Samsung touted a redesigned camera app and better multitasking on version 8.5, it also claims to have worked to eliminate dropped frames and overall responsiveness. Manufacturers claim speed improvements all the time, but for once, it’s actually noticeable.

I’ve seen other Note 8 users make similar remarks so decided to do some more testing. I loaded both phones with the exact same selection of about 25 extra apps, and matched system settings as close as I could. I tried using each as my primary phone for a few days, and took both phones with me everywhere. The Note 8 was consistently smoother.

There was almost never a moment where the Note 8 dropped frames or its performance hung up significantly. Again, the S8 was still ‘good’, but it occasionally suffered from some janky scrolling, delays switching between apps, and, in a couple of instances, would be unresponsive for a few seconds. Turning off animations in developer settings made the differences even more apparent.

They’re all running a Snapdragon 835, and I still don’t think the RAM was the sole explanation, because the difference was noticeable only running a handful of apps. The only other variable I could think of was that my Note 8 was an unlocked model, and my S8 was a T-Mobile phone, although I disabled all the carrier apps. So for good measure, I compared it to a Verizon S8 as well, and found the same results.