The Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 is a tablet that was showcased earlier this year at Mobile World Congress 2013, presumably in direct competition with other mid-range tablets like the Apple iPad Mini and the significantly cheaper, yet comparable Google Nexus 7. While the device did receive some flack for also serving as what seemed like the world’s largest phone (international version only), the specifications of the device made it seem like it would also serve as a good contender for a mid-range tablet otherwise. I decided to pick one up for myself to see how it worked, so let's go ahead and see just how well the middle Note child turned out, shall we?
Design and Features
The overall design of the Galaxy Note 8.0 is just as you would expect it to be - plastic and smooth. The device felt slippery as neither the back nor the sides feature any type of grip. I would highly recommend purchasing a case with any device, but even more so with devices like this that don’t feature the grip.
Slipperyness aside, I do think that the device is a convenient size and have found that 8 inches makes for a delightful mid-size tablet. It was comfortable to hold whether I was sitting down and rested my hands in my lap, or dangerously holding it above my face while laying down and watching a couple of episodes of Scrubs; the device also felt light enough to be held above my head in such a fashion for a lengthy amount of time, which I should credit to the lightweight plastic that I love to bash Samsung for using - at least it's good for something, right?
While we're on the subject of devices that are primarily made out of plastic, I will also say that with a larger device it seems to be more convenient to be made out of plastic in the end. The device does have a little bit of heft to it, but is still lightweight enough to be comfortable to hold in one hand if necessary, which was something that I had trouble with when using my iPad (1st generation) which had a lot of bulk and metal housing.
So now that we know how the device feels, let's take a peek at what the device looks like.
When facing the device front and center you'll see the 8-inch 1280 x 800 resolution screen - when turned on, the screen is bright and crisp. Directly under the screen you have two capacitive buttons: one for menu and one for back, both of which surround the single physical home button right under the screen. If you're familiar with Samsung products, you’ll notice that the layout of the buttons are identical to several other Samsung mobile devices, such as the relative Note and Note II. However, one difference that you might want to make "note" of (ha ha ha!) is that the capacitive buttons on the Galaxy Note 8.0 are compatible with the S Pen; the other Note devices are not.
Shift your gaze to just above the screen and you'll find the front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera and the proximity sensor, along with a Samsung logo. On the right side of the device are the microphone, power button, volume rocker, and IR blaster (which means you can use the Note 8.0 as a remote control provided you use relatively up-to-date electronics). The bottom of the device is where you will find your micro USB port for charging, two stereo speakers, and the S Pen/S Pen dock. The left side is where the microSD card slot is, which can support up to 64 GB of expandable memory. On top is your 3.5 mm headphone jack.
The back of the device features a 5-megapixel camera, which is something that most tablets neglect to include. Unfortunately the tablet has no flash, but nonetheless having a 5 MP camera on the back of the device certainly can't hurt the sales.
Overall the design of the device is fairly common, but one thing I would have changed and one problem I did come across is that while watching any sort of video in landscape mode I found that my hands would cover the stereo speakers, which otherwise sounded clear and loud if my hand was not unfortunately placed over them from time to time. If I could change one thing about the hardware I would have chosen to put the speakers in a less "congested" location. Other than that I found the device easy to navigate and (mostly) pleasant to hold.
Usability & Performance
Currently you'll find that the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 is running on Android 4.1.2 (Jelly Bean, but not the latest version) and the latest version of Samsung’s TouchWiz interface. It's been a while since I have used Android, and even longer since I have used TouchWiz. While I had never really been impressed with TouchWiz before, it is a nice breath of fresh air from iOS. I still prefer Sense compared to it, but my opinions on TouchWiz aren't as important as how well the actual device runs.
The Galaxy Note 8.0 runs on a snappy 1.6 GHz quad-core Exynos processor, which is rather powerful and among the top processors you can find in mobile devices today (at least it is here in the States). As I continued to use the device over the past week and flipping between my phone and my tablet, it was easy to notice just how much quicker the Galaxy Note 8.0 would respond compared to my iPhone 4S - and while it's practically a given that this would happen, it's still nice to actually experience. The fact that it has 2 GB of RAM also helps speed things along.
While a smooth running tablet is certainly one of those things that you want out of an expensive tablet like this one, the main reason I decided to go with the Galaxy Note 8.0 was, of course, for the S Pen functionality. I'm one of those people that thoroughly enjoy writing everything by hand, and I am also a casual sketch artist in my free time. While there are other great mid-size tablets on the market to choose from, those who are more "handy" would probably benefit from the overall functionality that the Galaxy Note 8.0 can give you with S Pen.
To be honest, I thought that I would only ever use the S Pen for sketching and perhaps creating grocery lists. As it turns out I use it a lot more often than I thought. I find that the inclusion of a stylus dock makes it very handy accessibility-wise and creates a lot smaller risk of losing the stylus – something that mobile phones used to incorporate all of the time but seems to be a lost feature as of late. The S Pen makes for a great precision tool when dealing with other elements of the tablet as well. Samsung makes it easy to want to use your stylus by providing a lot of interesting apps and shortcuts that incorporates its usage: S Note, Paper Artist, and Photo Editor are the most obvious ones, but other applications also allow the use of your S Pen as well (my favorite is Quick Command, which is when you push the button on the side of your S Pen and draw an upwards line on the tablet – from there you can write in little quick commands to check the weather, send e-mails, etc.). On a final note regarding the S Pen, it’s worth noting that applications like S Note are pressure sensitive to the S Pen, which is always a cool feature for artists and doodlers.
A couple of cool features that are less talked about are the implementations of Multiview and Pop up Play video. These features allow for a much easier multitasking experience if you need it. Multiview allows you to use multiple applications at the same time with a split screen, and Pop up Play video allows you to watch videos while simultaneously doing other tasks with your device as well. While I probably won’t use these features regularly, I have found it to be handy for some occasions already (i.e. getting an address from an e-mail or website and typing it into maps, watching a video that you need to take notes on, etc.)
There isn’t a whole lot to say regarding the 5-megapixel camera on the back of the device. It’s probably not the best camera you’ve ever owned, but it is most likely the best camera you ever had on a tablet. It does a fairly good job of taking pictures in well-lit situations, so at least if you forgot your phone and camera to an important event but just so happened to remember to bring your tablet, Samsung has your back – unless, of course, said important event is happening in the dark, because there is no flash. Then you’re out of luck.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 has the best photo editing software that’s included on a device that I have ever experienced, hands down. You have a lot of options directly from your camera itself, but they also including Photo Editing software to enhance a photo even more, which offers a lot of options when it comes to sprucing up your photo gallery: filters, frames, text, etc. You can use the S Pen to write in phrases or even draw on your own face if you want.
With all of these features in play and more, you’re probably wondering what the battery life is like on the Galaxy Note 8.0. My experience with the battery life has been amazing thus far. When it comes to casual multitasking throughout the day (e-mail, messaging, a couple of YouTube videos and website browsing, and the occasional music listening) it only seems to take my battery down about 20-25% a day. I admit my good luck with battery life probably has something to do with turning all of my power saving modes on and turning off features I would never use like Air view, Hand motions, and Smart Stay. Those who opt to use these features will likely have a different experience than I do. My battery is currently in the middle of its third day of usage and its still going strong at 70%, but keep in mind this is still with what I would deem casual usage with a lot of the “always on” features turned off.
So far I am impressed by the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0. I knew I didn’t want the Galaxy Note 2 as a phone due to the fact that I would not be able to comfortably hold that monster up to my ear for a lengthy phone conversation, but I was intrigued by the S Pen functionality. I was happy to hear that Samsung announced an 8-inch variant of its Note line and can happily say that I am pleased with this purchase as a mid-size tablet was just what I was in the market for.
So now you may be wondering if this tablet is the one for you. The Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 is in a peculiar position in the tablet market where it’s actually pricier than most tablets in this size category; the 16 GB WiFi only model (which is the model I carry) sells at $399.99 retail price. That puts it at roughly $70 more than the 16GB WiFi only iPad Mini, but in my mind it’s for a good reason. You do get a lot more with this device, including the expandable memory, higher resolution, and S Pen functionality. It’s certainly at a much higher price point than the Nexus 7, which can also be seen as a proper competitor, but again – as hard as it might be to realize, the S Pen really is a game changer. Without it, the Note line would just be another Samsung product. In the end, it comes down to budget vs. functionality. What makes the device worth the bigger dent in my bank account is the expandable memory and the S Pen. I’ve been on such a long search for that one tablet that fits my every need, and this one happens to fit them all – compact, good for sketching and note-taking, and reliably responsive.
The Good: S Pen, S Pen, S Pen! (Who knew that a stylus could be such an important element in a device?) Good battery life is always a plus in any device. The stereo speakers are loud and clear. The screen is bright and crisp. Multitasking is a properly addressed feature. The rear-facing camera is something that a lot of tablets don’t have, especially at 5-megapixels. External memory card slot makes paying such a high price not as bad.
The Bad: High price point – although I myself can justify spending the extra cash for the features, many people disagree given the plastic design of the device and the small-ish size of the device. The speakers should have been placed somewhere other than the bottom of the device; hands easily cover up one or both speakers and have to be strategically placed around them to get the full sound effects. Flash on the camera would have been nice, but you can’t have everything.
The Verdict: The Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 is definitely one of the better mid-range tablets on the market both in features and specs. The biggest thing holding it back is putting it at such a dangerously high price point for this type of tablet – many 10-inch tablets go for this price or even less. If S Pen functionality and expandable memory aren’t a “must have” for you, you could easily save some money by going with the iPad Mini, but I would be more inclined to say that you would be happier using the Nexus 7 – especially if you’re in the market for an Android tablet. If price isn’t an issue and you’re just looking for a great mid-size Android tablet, I would definitely recommend the Samsung Galaxy 8.0 to anybody, even if you don’t think you would use the S Pen – you would be surprised how often you might find yourself using it once you have it.