Beyond a shadow of a doubt, there are a lot of tablets out there. You can find one that fits any type of niche you may be looking for, whether that's basically to consume content or create it, or just a little bit of both, there's a tablet out there for you. iOS-, Android-, and even Windows-based tablets come in all shapes and flavors, with different specs, features, and hardware design cues that will either speak to you or make you run away screaming.
Coincidentally, if you're a fan of Android tablets and Samsung-branded things, then luckily the company has you covered in just about every tablet category possible. They've got a wide range of sizes, specifications, and features -- all in the hopes that at least *one* of them speaks to you and your wallet. With so many options, it could be hard to pick one.
So, in the hopes of making it a bit easier, I've had my hands on the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 from Samsung for the last several days, and I put it through its paces. How does TouchWiz work on a tablet? How does the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 stack up to the iPad Mini? And, how does the tablet perform day-in and day-out?
Let's find out.
Design and Features
You could probably have guessed this, but the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 looks like any other Samsung product that's been released this year (or even the year before, really). You get a plastic tablet, with a glossy back panel that absolutely loves your fingerprints. And so does the display, but that's not different from any other tablet.
The front of the device is dominated by the 8-inch display. It's a big display, and the resolution is set at 800x1280. That makes the pixel per inch count at 189. Comparatively, the iPad Mini's 7.9-inch display has a resolution of 768x1024, and a pixel per inch count of 162. I only bring up this direct comparison to reflect that the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0's display isn't great, but compared to the major competition, it's similar.
Above the 8-inch display you'll find Samsung's regular brand placement. Right next to Samsung's self-promotion, you'll find the 1.3-megapixel camera. Below the touchscreen, there's the physical Home button, similar to what you'd find on a Galaxy S 4 or a Galaxy Note II. The physical button is flanked by two capacitive keys: On the left, the Menu button, and on the right the Back option. They're all just as responsive as they are on the smaller iterations of the Galaxy-branded device, and the physical Home key offers plenty of travel and feedback when pressed.
On the right side of the tablet, you'll find both the volume rocker and the Power button. This is probably my only real gripe with the physical design cue for the device. While this button layout may work on the Galaxy S 4, or even the Galaxy Note II, I found it to be ridiculously annoying on the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0. It's just too high, and in no way shape or form did I ever want to hold the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 like I would hold a phone. It's not so much of an issue while holding the tablet in landscape mode, but I believe the placement could have been better at the top (or even the bottom) of the tablet.
The top of the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 features the 3.5mm headphone jack, and that's it. The left side boasts the microSD card slot, which thankfully makes accessing the expanded memory slot a lot easier than previous tablet models. And finally, on the bottom, the microUSB port, which is flanked by the pair of stereo speakers.
On the back, you'll probably notice Samsung's brand first, which is near the center-top of the case. However, there's a 5MP camera near the top-left corner, which has a noticeable silver outline. There's no flash. Near the bottom of the back plate, you'll find the WiFi label, FCC ID, and other pieces of information that you'll probably never pay any attention to. But it's there, just in case you're into that sort of thing.
All in all, the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 is an uninspiring tablet to look at, and it admittedly felt awkward in the hand while in portrait mode. That complaint goes right out the window when using it in landscape fashion, though, as the taller display works well for consuming content, like video, or scrolling through social networking mediums. It's not as light as I'd like, but it's obviously not too heavy to use with one hand, either.
Usability and Performance
The Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 is running Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean out of the box, which was great for when it was originally launched back in July. It's still great, as long as you aren't expecting to have the newest mobile OS on your device right out of the box. On the obvious plus side, with Android 4.2.2 on board, you get all the great features that Google included, like lock screen widgets.
TouchWiz is all grown up on the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0. I'm not talking about features that may have been "adolescent" on smaller devices or anything. No, I just mean everything looks bigger. It's the first thing I noticed when I turned on the Galaxy Tab 3, and it's something that I couldn't stop noticing the more I used it. The icons just look *huge*.
Otherwise, past that initial aesthetic detail, nothing much has changed from previous devices running TouchWiz. You still get plenty of color, and if you're one who believes that TouchWiz makes Android look like iOS, then you'll get it all on a bigger stage.
As far as performance goes, the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 has to fall back on a dual-core processor clocked at 1.5GHz, along with 1.5GB of RAM. For the most part, the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 worked well enough. I wouldn't say that, at any time, it was overly snappy or exceptionally responsive, but it also didn't lag as often as I have seen other devices.
That doesn't mean, though, that there weren't some hiccups from time to time, and they were certainly noticeable when they happened. For instance, opening apps, ranging from DropBox to Jetpack Joyride had a wide range of load times, but they had one thing in common: none of them were quick. Just opening Facebook took upwards of seven seconds. This was a common thread from one app to another, and it grew increasingly frustrating as time went on.
As far as performance while playing games, I wasn't surprised when I had a lot of lag, stuttering, and even a force close. Getting games to run wasn't an issue, as long as you don't mind waiting for the app to load for the first time (or even after switching to another app for a little while). While playing Jetpack Joyride, for instance, there was a noticeable amount of separation between me touching the display, and the jetpack's response. It made playing a reactionary game like that very frustrating.
You probably won't hear Samsung talking up the cameras on the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0, and for good reason. Neither one of them are all that great. While I, personally, don't think the rear camera on a tablet has to be all that great, I was surprised by how much I didn't want to use the 5MP shooter on the Galaxy Tab 3. The images just weren't that great, even in good lighting conditions. The front-facing 1.3MP camera is just as lackluster.
The software keyboard on the Galax Tab 3 8.0 isn't anything to write home about, but it's also not the most terrible keyboard I've used, especially not on a tablet. I noticed some lag between what I pressed, the haptic feedback and what appeared on the screen at first, but as soon as I turned haptic feedback off, the issue seemed to fix itself. There was some separation between a key tap and the sound feedback, though, which can get pretty distracting if you're a quick typist.
Lastly, the battery. It's got a pretty short battery life, especially if you're someone who likes to consume a lot of content in short bursts, especially in video format. While I was busy browsing the Web, sorting through social networking tools, or reading via an app like Amazon's Kindle, the battery lasted the majority of the day. However, the moment I added movies to the mix, whether from ones I downloaded onto the device or through YouTube, the battery took a significant hit. Either way, there's no doubt in my mind that if you use your tablet with any kind of usage nearing "heavy," charging it at the end of the day will be a necessity.
Through my time with the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0, I couldn't help but think one thing: Why isn't this a Note device? The Galaxy Note 8.0 exists, which makes me wonder why this device exists at all. The features that the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 is missing when compared to the Galaxy Note relatives is practically depressing, especially considering those additional features really make the Galaxy Note lineup stand out. As it is now, the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 simply feels like a really, really big Galaxy S 4, minus the power behind the scenes, or other impressive hardware features.
The Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 exists to simply fill a niche. As of the time of this writing, Best Buy is selling this particular tablet for $299.99. Compare that to the Galaxy Note 8.0's $399.99 price tag, then you see that the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 is simply meant to speak to those who don't want to spend more money. However, what you are missing with that $100 price cut makes it arguably not worth it. Plus, the steep decline in hardware specifications under the hood, where it really counts, also makes for some disappointing usage.
The Good: The Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 isn't too heavy, and feels great when in landscape mode. The battery charges quickly while plugged into the wall. microSD card support. The screen is good enough for its size.
The Bad: Power button and/or volume rocker button placement isn't ideal. Battery doesn't last long enough to make consuming content worthwhile while on the go. No Note-inspired features. No S Pen.
The Verdict: In the end, the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 exists simply to offer more choices under the Samsung banner, all for a different price point, and offering a different set of features -- or lack thereof. The Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 isn't the best tablet to hit the market, but it's not positioned to be, either. If you're looking to spend less for relatively the same size tablet, then the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 is certainly an option. Just keep in mind what you can get from the same company, with spending just a bit more money.