There are two ways to look at Infinix’s most important smartphone this year: as a follow-up to a very worthy flagship as the next best thing or as a deserved update to the Infinix Note lineup.
Given that it’s under half a year since we saw its predecessor, the Infinix Note 7, I chose the former outlook following my weeks-long interaction with the device.
The Infinix Note 8 is bigger than the Note series it represents. If you are out to buy a smartphone today and are on a budget but not willing to compromise on a lot of the features and the specifications, it will likely be high up your radar. Competing devices from rival brands like, say, Samsung, at the same price range offer much less and are heavily reliant on the big names of their makers to get them through the door.
The Infinix Zero 8 is a very impressive device. The best that Infinix has made this year and one that takes the competition to the doorsteps of rivals with a standout design, good performance and cameras that deliver whether it is during the day or during the night. But, the Infinix Zero 8 costs nearly Kshs 30,000. While it is worth every one of those shillings that Infinix is asking for, you don’t have to stretch to afford it when the Infinix Note 8 exists.
It’s just as big (even a little bigger), close enough performance-wise (the Zero 8, obviously, has a more powerful chipset to give it the extra oomph), cameras that go as far as the Zero 8 is willing to go and matches its elderly sibling with the standard software experience that Infinix offers.
Now, that is a quick summary so, as you will see below, some of the things require a lengthier explanation and aren’t as clear-cut.
For starters, the display is a HD+ panel, not the Full HD one that one gets on the Zero 8. Here is my favourite thing, though: so what? It’s large, it’s bright, it’s vivid and is, all-round, a pleasure to use. For anyone who is not like yours truly, spoilt by high-refresh-rate displays, they won’t even realize there’s more that it could’ve been. It’s seemingly perfect and you have to give it to Infinix for these kinds of optimizations over the years that have gotten us here. Elsewhere, there’s a clear distinction of what one gets on a 720p panel. Not here.
There is not much to say about the Infinix Note 8’s back since it is the same design that we saw on the Note 7. It’s shiny, plasticky and won’t hide all your paw prints. Still, it doesn’t cry for a case, like the one included in the box, to be snapped on to it for better handling. It’s a big device, yes, but you get used to that pretty quickly and, as we’ll see later, Infinix does a good job of optimizing the software for the kind of use-cases that might have you pulling out your hair trying to get things done using one hand.
At the bottom of the device is one big addition: USB Type-C, finally. Need I say more?
As is the case on the Infinix Zero 8, the Infinix Note 8’s fingerprint sensor stays on the power button. It is always on and just a gentle tap will have it respond accordingly. In my experience, it is faster than the face unlock mechanism and I preferred it over that.
Still, on the front, there is something worth mentioning that we usually don’t pay any attention to since it, literally, is on the margins of the device and mostly not worth a second look or even a mention as it just does the one thing it’s supposed to do: connect you with your callers. The earpiece on the Infinix Note 8 also doubles up as the missing piece in the stereo speaker setup on the device. It combines with the bottom-firing speaker to provide the best sound I’ve heard from an Infinix smartphone this year. Yes, not even the Zero 8 tops that, in my opinion.
The 6 cameras on the Infinix Note 8 combine to produce some very good results regardless of the time of day you use them and whether you are indoors or outdoors. In short, the kind of cameras that I like: I reach for my pants pocket to get my phone out, unlock it, take a snap and are guaranteed a good result. No need for Olympic-style gymnastics, staged appearances and whatnot. That is usually not an easy thing to accomplish at the price range that the Infinix Note 8 is playing at. Huawei has been my favourite there with several similarly-priced Y-series smartphones and Infinix has now joined that club. Good company.
I had a few complaints to make when using the camera, though. In some instances, as you can probably see in the sample photos shared here, the shade of blue captured when the sky is clear is off and not quite what one would see with the naked eye and could use some correction. Also, even with no beauty filters applied, some of my selfies still came off soft.
The performance in low-light is good but…
… the camera’s inferiority to its flagship cousin’s does show in some results – especially when the super night mode kicks in. After all, there has to be some incentive to move up the ladder, no?
For videos, the Infinix Note 8 can shoot up to 2K and it has features like “ultra steady shot” and “video beauty” in addition to letting users take advantage of the convenient placement of the fingerprint sensor to use it as a shutter button when recording videos. That frees up the usual suspects, the volume keys, to be shutter keys for good ol’ snaps.
Performance-wise, the Infinix Note 8 is fantastic. It handles everything well. Of course that MediaTek Helio G80 chipset is paired with 6 gigabytes of memory so what do you expect?
XOS 7, which is what one still gets on Infinix’s latest smartphones in the absence of Android 11, as we have seen before on other Infinix devices, is well-optimized to play nice with the hardware that is available. As such, as far as performance goes, it seems like a perfect match.
What I didn’t like about it on the Infinix Zero 8 is also what I don’t like about it on the Infinix Note 8. The added apps and services that Infinix bundles end up cluttering the notification shade making it look like an Instagram feed: an ad after every step. It’s the price we have to pay as consumers for getting so much bang for our buck but it still leaves a bad taste in our mouths, regardless. However, ask me if I would take some of the devices from rivals that I have referred to earlier on in this review over the software experience on a device like the Infinix Note 8 and my answer will be very clear: I’ll take this and learn to live with my problem since personally, the add-on apps and services barely work for me.
I mean, have you seen how Infinix is handling multi-tasking on the Infinix Note 8? It’s fantastic. They weren’t even doing this on the Zero 8 when I last used it! For oversharers like yours truly, it’s quite a joy to not be forced to move from the app that you are sharing from directly to the app that you are sharing to. It’s why we “open in new tab” all the time when browsing. The opposite? It’s also something we don’t like. So Infinix came up with a nice workaround: when you’re sharing something or an action in one app leads you to another, the second application gets opened in a floating window, the same size as what would be your display working area when using the device in one-handed mode. It’s fantastic! You don’t need to switch to another app and you don’t need to hold your device with two hands, if you were using it with one hand without the one-handed mode, like most of us are likely to be doing.
With the Infinix Note 8 not bringing along a stylus like some previous generations of the Infinix Note have, and its overall excellence as an “all round phone”, it is very easy to forget the legacy it carries with it: it is still a “Note”. The only evidence beyond the name that that is still the case? A note-taking app that you are unlikely to ditch your current one for but which we don’t usually see on Infinix devices in other lineups so it is worth pointing out.
The last thing anyone needs to worry about on the Infinix Note 8 is the battery. You will get at least a day and a half. Guaranteed. My only quarrel? Patience is needed when charging. It took me just over 2 hours to charge it to completion (100%) from the single digits every time.
When all is said and done, if you are in the market for a new smartphone for about Kshs 20,000, the Infinix Note 8 is hard to ignore and, as outlined in this review, makes a very good case about why you should consider it. I personally vouch for it. It is one of the most impressive budget smartphones I have had the pleasure of using this year.