I hereby present you my non-comprehensive non-review of the iPhone 8 Plus (and X) and the Samsung Galaxy Note 8. Why? Because I’ve been thinking a lot about technology lately (and where it’s going) and because my current iPhone 6s is bound for replacement (meaning I still have a year or so with it, but I started flirting around).
It’s untouched because I had not seen either phone in person. I’m going by the reviews (many, many, many, many, many reviews) I’ve read and watched. And it isn’t a review at all. This is a collection of my thoughts around:
- buying a new smartphone
- the perils (and joys!) of using technology as a crucial part of my lifestyle
- the state of technology and its future
Let us do the thing.
X marks the spot (to avoid)
Ok, so why not address the elephant in the room upfront?
I consider the iPhone X as a less desirable variant of the 8 Plus.
Without TouchID, an unnecessarily (and kind of weird, especially when thinking about landscape media) weird screen setup, and a premium pricetag that cannot be justified.
If you’d like to know what I think about the fail that was the quest to create an iPhone ‘X’, read this:
When I say “iPhone” I mean the iPhone 8 Plus here, and it applies to the iPhone X as well.
I don’t think there’s much to say about the price. Both phones are priced roughly the same. One thing people can’t accuse Apple of anymore is the overpricedness (that’s not a word).
Let’s just say both phones cost $1000. Maybe less, maybe more, YMMV. Factor in the accessories and you’ll run to even more, but $1k is a nice round number.
That’s a draw.
The eye of the beholder
(In which the proverbial beauty is supposed to be.)
Both phones are stunningly beautiful. This much is evident from the photos and videos that are out there. For me, the Note looks more appealing, but that’s because I’ve been using iPhones for the last 3 years. I love the iPhone’s aesthetic, and the Note is simply a novel thing that appears more beautiful because of its novelty. Given prolonged usage, that novelty fades away.
Even without the jolt of the newness of either, both phones are a work of art. This is 2017, and it’s expected. Personal preferences aside, from an aesthetic standpoint that’s a draw. (Again)
Smartphones and me
I’ve written — somewhat briefly — about my relationship to technology, and smartphones in particular.
My smartphone is my second (or extended) brain. I don’t think of this as a bad thing, quite the opposite, but I do readily admit the downside(s) of this dependence.
On paper the Note 8 is more powerful, hands down. You can’t argue that. Problem is, you don’t use the specs on a paper. You use the phone, and that’s where Apple has been historically beating the shit out of Samsung — and Android in general — for years. Why?
Apple has the advantage of fine-tuning their software to get the most out of their hardware, and that gives them a scary edge.
Yes, my 6s has only 2GB memory. So what? It still does things faster than any Android with twice as much memory. Same thing with processing power.
Because of this equalizing effect of the foundational difference between Android and Apple, and because in day-to-day operation only the most outrageous differences are apparent (if that), I’d say both phones are equal when it comes to hardware. (I’ll talk about the S-Pen later.)
Both are their respective flagships of 2017. There aren’t any leaps in innovation any more, only small improvements. The curve of technological evolution is getting steeper.
A moment of silence for Blackberry, if you would please
I use an iPhone 6s, the last iPhone that had a physical home button. The 7 and 7 Plus have haptic feedback attached to a fake button that feels weird to me. (I can get used to it, and prolonged usage can pretty much wash away that novelty as well, so…)
And the Note isn’t any different, only they got rid of the button concept in its entirety. There’s a virtual button on the screen. In a way I think that’s better: when Apple gives you the illusion of a physical button, that’s different than mentally disposing of the thing entirely. You don’t expect a virtual button to behave like a real one, and even if you do know it’s not real, the iPhone’s fake button still disappoints.
But I’m an old fart.
As much as I enjoy huge screens and as much as I’m fine with on-screen keyboards — I do miss hardware keys. And with my brain I do know that marrying a proper screen with a hardware keyboard is next to — if not outright — impossible, I wish it wasn’t. I want my Blackberry Bold’s keyboard back. I want to type on a real keyboard.
Platform a.k.a. iOS vs. Android
Android has a problem with fragmentation. I love open source software as a concept, but not as an end-user. Respect to the exceptions, but open source solutions — including Android and its apps — can never exit their paradigms of having to be able to run on an extreme wide variety of hardware.
iOS and its apps only need to run on one single set of hardware. Even with differing screen sizes and backward compatibility that’s orders of magnitude better than whatever Android can ever hope doing.
There’s no good answer here. Or, rather, there’s no wrong answer. Pitting against iOS and Android is comparing apples (😜) and oranges.
That said, I do think we can compare underlying philosophies. And although it’s still up to personal preferences, I feel Apple’s approach to fit my own needs better. I’ve spent 15+ years tinkering with Linux systems and Android phones. Now I’d just like to get my work done, fast.
Apps & ecosystem
I’ve been using an iPhone (first a 5S, then a 6 Plus, then a 6s, with a few month of going back to a 5S and a Note 4 in between the last two) since mid-2014. I’m coming from years of Android before that. I think my first smartphone was in 2010 or 2011, a Samsung Galaxy Spica.
Three years is a long time. Not only that, but I’ve been using a Macbook Air since 2015, and have been using a Macbook in general since before I got my first iPhone.
I’m invested in Apple’s ecosystem and synergies.
For three years now that has been the number one reason I didn’t want to consider switching to Android. I’ve spent money on apps I spent time learning how to use. I have a somewhat complex web of synchronization set up that makes me feel safe (knowing my data is backed up) and productive (when working across devices).
Why am I considering taking the leap into an Android-powered Note 8, and bring forth the horsemen of the technology apocalypse that is changing platforms? I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m willing to do it at all, if I’m being honest.
But seeing where Apple is seemingly going, I’d say the smarter choice is Android right now. That doesn’t mean I will switch. But for the first time in years I’m thinking — fairly seriously — about going down the rabbit hole.
Long story sh… still long, but a bit shorter
I’m torn. For the first time ever, I’m having a hard time deciding between the two worlds.
On one hand, there’s my investment and level of comfort with Apple hardware. I’m about to buy a pair of AirPods, which are more exciting to me than any other Apple hardware available at this moment. (And, frankly, which are the most impressive devices they’ve put out in quite a while in my opinion.) Do they work with an Android device? Sure, they’re just like a pair of Bluetooth headphones. But to really take advantage of them, you need an Apple device on the other end.
On the other hand, Samsung has caught up to Apple in terms of usage quality. I’m not dazzled about specs on paper or novel aesthetics, but I am intrigued quite a bit by the feel of usage they’re offering. Here are three of those:
1. A note (khm.) on the S-Pen
I’ve had a Note 4, and the S-Pen is a great feature. Given the improvements Samsung made to it, after years of listening to feedback from users, it received considerable updates.
I was also stopped to think about the S-Pen, and generally about interfacing with our devices, by Casey Neistat. He made a video about the Note 8, and it got me thinking: yes! This is why I keep flirting with the Note, because it offers a way of communicating with my device — that, as stated, functions as an extension of myself — no other vendor does.
Sure, in my own current practice the S-Pen is a fun extra, not something I can’t live without. But there’s this nagging at the back of my head saying “what if, given an honest investment into it, it became a crucial part of my workflow?”
That, of course, intrigues me. But it also scares me, because where I can count on Apple being Apple for a long time (certainly long enough to remove this question from consideration entirely) I’m wary of Samsung. Their track record with updates and customer support is spotty at best, and I was genuinely surprised that they came back from the Note 7 battery-fiasco.
2. Split personalities
If there’s a single feature in the Note 8 that I’d consider as something that could substantially tip the scales is the ability for multiple accounts in several apps.
I work with social media for a living (currently, and as much as I’d like to have nothing else but writing as my livelihood, that ain’t happening for a while) and switching between accounts is always a pain. Some apps support it, some don’t, but even those that do have a habit of implementations that suck.
Having the option to easily switch between work and personal is a value I cannot overlook.
Also, somewhat related to this point, is the fact that I like big screens (and I cannot lie… *lalala* I’ll see myself out.) and the split-screen features on the Note 8 — that were, uhm, somewhat unusable on the Note 4 — look really impressive. Multitasking on mobile? Yes please!
3. One device to rule them all?
The third point I really like about Samsung’s vision vs. Apple’s is the “use the Note 8 as a full-fledged computer”.
Quite honestly I’m surprised and disappointed that a mobile device that can be docked and used as a laptop/desktop isn’t the standard in 2017.
People have no idea about the power smartphones have packed inside them. My iPhone 6s is on par, at least, with my Macbook Air. Not capitalizing on this is a huge mistake.
I understand that mobile operating systems and desktop systems still have a lot of gap between them to close. Apple is clearly heading into that direction with iOS, but the iPad is still not usable — for me — as something that extends into more. For one thing, the keyboard is a joke compared to any laptop, let alone my trusty old Macbook Air.
I also understand that getting the dock for the Note 8 is another pricey purchase. And that the implementation of this vision is still leaving a lot to be desired.
But where I see Apple dipping their toes in the water, I see Samsung going into it in earnest. I never thought I’d live to say that Samsung is beating Apple in vision, but that’s where we at right now.
In closing: 🤔
I can’t decide, but that’s okay. It’s not like I have $1k to spend on smartphones. (I don’t have $1k, period.)
But the fact that I’m at a crossroads is interesting by itself. It shows just how equalized the two different technologies became now that innovation can be matched across several barriers.
What phone would you pick?
Cover image source: Lifehacker AU