We are entering the golden age of smartphones. That could be construed as a redundant statement given how smartphones have been refined so much over the past few years—isn’t every year the golden age?—but there are big improvements happening this year that’s leading toward genuine excitement.
Displays are gorgeous, designs are pristine and cameras are otherworldly. The thing is, every phone largely offers the same experience—except the Galaxy Note 8. The device features a major and important differentiator: S Pen.
Over the years, Samsung has been slowly improving the S Pen’s abilities. It’s gotten slimmer, more agile and more responsive. This particular generation, Samsung included a finer tip and greater pressure sensitivity to provide the most responsive experience yet.
The S Pen is 108 millimeters in length—the size of a real pen—and equipped with 4,096 points of pressure. Its 0.7 millimeter tip is the same you’d find in a normal pen tip for the most real-life experience.
This year, Samsung even made the S Pen water and dust resistant with an IP68 certification, matching the rest of the phone.
You can see Samsung’s commitment to the S Pen with the overall design of the Note 8. It also molded the Infinity Display for better integration with the S Pen. It minimized the curved edges that were quite pronounced in the S8, flattening them for for more writing space.
Where the S Pen truly comes to life is with the Note’s software features. It can obviously write, and for that task, Samsung brought back its “screen off memo” feature that activates as soon as the pen is ejected from its slot. You can start jotting notes without ever unlocking the phone. Samsung this year included the ability to scroll through up to 100 sets of notes with the phone locked.
Notes can also be pinned to the Always On display for quick information. It’s a sweet trick in case you need info at a glance.
The two major features Samsung added this year is Live Messages and a translation feature. Live Messages is similar to the fluid text you can send with iMessage—and save as a GIF—while the translating feature lets you hover over foreign language text with the pen, translating it instantly.
Samsung is touting the S Pen as “a tool for self expression,” meant to simplify yet enhance the power user’s life. Having instant access to jot down quick notes, create a to-do list and write down a new idea is a level of interaction no other phone can match.
One of the most underrated functionalities of the S Pen is its ability to act as an external mouse. This makes interacting with the display infinitely more intuitive. The chore of jumping through screens to achieve a singular task is eased by the pen.
This is the functionality that Note series and S Pen fans love, and Samsung is continuing to let the feature flourish with refinements.
You won’t find such fluid functionality in the Pixel, Essential Phone or iPhone. If you buy the Note 8, you get a nice display and the new dual camera, but its coolest and most important feature is the S Pen. In the end, it’s the feature keeping the Note series relevant.