What an interesting tablet the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 is. Not only is it stacked chocka-full of Samsung’s smart features and a lovely pressure sensitive S Pen, it’s also a phone; an 8-inch, larger than hand phone. Say waa? Yes, you heard right, you can stick this thing to your ear, have a good old chin-wag. Then, when you’re done, you can hang-up and marvel at the ergonomic challenge of it all.
The Galaxy Note 8.0 shouldn’t be viewed just as a big phone though; there’s a lot of bang on board as we’ve suggested. The screen is an HD PLS panel, the processor a 1.6GHz quad-core chip and the interface is loaded up with Samsung’s S Note and a previously unseen app, Awesome Note HD, helping differentiate it from the Galaxy Note 2 and Note 10.1.
Available with or without phone functionality, the question is: is the Note 8.0 good, and if so – which is the right version for you?
Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 review: Design
Thin, white and plastic. Those were the three words that immediately sprung to mind when we got our mitts on the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0. Packing a girth of just 8mm, the Note 8.0 feels positively waif like, but manages to avoid being cheap and hollow. Instead, it’s a sturdy, curvaceous and comfortable tablet.
It is a tablet though, not a phone, with dimensions coming in at 211mm tall, 136mm wide and as mentioned, just shy of 8mm thick.
Ports include a microUSB port at the base, micro SD card slot to the left, an IR port to the right and a 3.5mm audio jack up at the top. The power button and volume rocker lie along the right side, with these buttons and ports decorating a silver plastic banding around the tablet’s edge.
The back of the Note 8.0 is where you’ll find the 5-megapixel rear-facing camera and on the front, the front-facing camera, home, menu and back buttons as well as the 8-inch WXGA display.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 review: Screen
If you buy an 8-inch screened device, odds are you’ll want the screen to impress; and the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 screen almost does. Why almost?
For starters, it’s too low resolution. While it doesn’t crumble to the same extent as the Galaxy Note 10.1, it is noticeably bittier than the cheaper, jaw dropping, Samsung made Google Nexus 10. If you’ll argue that the better than HD Nexus 10 is an anomaly, even the altogether budget Nexus 7 is sharper than the Note 8.0.
So what’s to like? The brightness, viewing angles, S Pen integration and colour reproduction. Being a PLS display, expect fantastic viewing angles off the bat. Whites are pure, saturation is on-point and the S Pen really does add another dimension to the interaction.
Thanks to the processor and optimisation, everything visually zips along smoothly, so with sharpness being the only drawback, what you have on the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 is a good screen that falls short of greatness.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 review: User interface
Love Android, hate TouchWiz? We can sort of see why you might say that. Samsung Galaxy Note devices are perhaps the strongest case for TouchWiz out there though, and the Note 8.0 is no exception.
The reason for this is the incredible integration with Samsung’s pen input device, the S Pen. But we get ahead of ourselves – lets kick off by talking about Android.
Version 4.1.2 of Google’s mobile operating system sits aboard the Note 8.0. This means you get apps galore through the Google Play Store, you get Google Now, the big G’s smart search service and you get a pretty up to date Android experience.
TouchWiz is Samsung’s heavy interface that sits on top of Android. Heavy it may feel, but more than anything, it brings some really neat, enhanced functionality to the Note 8.0’s S Pen.
If for example, you want to send a friend a snippet of your calendar, a simple trace over the portion with the S Pen will do the trick. If you need to take a note or draw a sketch, the S Pen will do it, complete with 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity. This means the harder you press, the thicker the stroke, making for an incredibly natural experience.
The S P
len dour doesn’t stop there though. AirView is an awesome way to preview gallery contents, emails and app folders with nothing more than a hover. The Wacom digitizer on the Note 8.0’s screen senses when you’re floating the S Pen above it and displays a tiny dot on screen to let you know, it knows you’re hovering.
The only real areas the Note 8.0 differentiates from the Note 2 aside from screen size are the infrared blaster, which is coupled with the Peel app as per the Note 10.1, and the Awesome Note app, exclusive to this tab.
Awesome Note is indeed a nice addition, delivering organisation by numbers. Tightly integrating with your calendar, it pulls appointments to your attention, along with a journal style interface. Perfect for the Galaxy Note 8.0’s folio sized screen, it also lets you enrich entries with hand drawn notes, images and map content.
Our favourite aspect of the app is the multi-faceted approach to organisation – there’s enough utility here to keep you organised with work, life, travel and self indulgent pursuits like cooking and journaling. Our main gripe is the lack of auto-backup or easy sync.
With all this software and functionality loaded out of the box to take full advantage of the S Pen, the added value the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 packs shouldn’t be underestimated, or taken for granted. This value is only valuable if you’re the type who’ll make use of it though.
If you aren’t going to take advantage of the S Pen and its app suite, it’s worth bearing in mind, Note devices are notoriously pricier than the S Pen free competition.
The Note 8.0 costs around £350 for the Wi-Fi version, £460 for the 3G version. Worth it? For some users, it will be. For everyone? Definitely not.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 review: Camera and multimedia
The 5-megapixel camera sensor on the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 looks okay from the offset, but with a lack of flash, our expectations were relatively curbed.
The results look pretty in line with our expectations. In good lighting, the Note 8.0 delivers good amounts of detail, decent dynamic range and attractive saturation levels. Drop the lights and everything starts to dwindle, especially detail.
One of the better elements of the shooting experience is the camera UI. It’s easy to get your head around, customisable and comprehensive to boot. Fortunately, this UI is carried over to video, which records at 720p resolution and delivers the same results as photos; respectable in good lighting, weak in poor lighting.
What other multimedia highlights can you expect out of the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0? If you’ve got a Samsung Galaxy S3 or Note 2, as well as an AllShare Cast Dongle, it’ll work with that. For the uninitiated, An AllShare Dongle enables select Galaxy devices to wirelessly fire content to an HD TV.
You’ll also be able to use your Note 8.0 as a TV remote control. The IR blaster works with virtually all TVs and is powered along by the Peel app, just like the HTC One. It works wonderfully, making the Note 8.0 the perfect companion for a night in with the telly.
Thanks to the quad-core power, playing back full HD video is a doddle and streaming video through apps like Netflix a pleasure. The tablet also offers the same floating video window as found on the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 and S3, as well as multi-window for some multitasking multimedia mayhem. Thankfully, the middling screen resolution isn’t really noticeable with video.
There’s a reading contrast mode and the device is perfectly sized to deliver eBook content. Unlike with video though, the resolution lets the Note 8.0 down when used for this, resulting in a good, but not great experience.
Finally, gaming, and that’s one of the tablet’s real fortes. At 8-inches, the screen’s a great size when coupled with the curvaceous ergonomics and light weight body. The speaker position at the base is unfortunate, being easily covered up when holding the tab like a gamepad, though all-in-all, for gaming it’s a big thumbs up.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 review: Storage and connectivity
With 16 and 32GB variants available, as well as microSD expandability up to an additional 64GB, you can expect plenty of room for those movies, videos and games on the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0.
The device also comes with 50GB of Dropbox storage for two years, a great utility on the tablet, your smartphone and on your desktop.
Available either as a Wi-Fi tablet or an oversized phone, other connectivity features of the Note 8.0 include GPS and Bluetooth. There’s no NFC on board and no S Beam though, strange omissions if you ask us.
The bright, white LCD makes web browsing a treat, but it’s also hampered by the display resolution. Text looks good, not great, though nothing detracts from the tablet’s ability to whizz through pages.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 review: Performance and battery
With quad-core power and 2GB of RAM, unsurprisingly, there’s no want for performance on the Galaxy Note 8.0. Clocked at 1.6GHz, the Exynos 4 processor means thumbing through the altogether heavy TouchWizz UI is feels surprisingly light, gaming is brilliant and HD video playback is a breeze.
This smoothness is hugely important to ensure pen interaction is as natural and delay free as possible, especially when sketching.
With strong battery life on the Wi-Fi version, giving you a comfortable two to three days usage, we’ve little else to dwell on. It’ll be interesting to get the 3G and voice enabled Galaxy Note 8.0 in for a battery test, but in the Wi-Fi form, it gets our seal of approval.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 review: Conclusion
If you’re a Samsung Galaxy S3 or iPhone owner, jealous of all the S Pen prodding Note 2 folk out there, the Note 8.0 could be the perfect tablet for you. If you’re a student or doodler, in need of a pen-based device, the Note 8.0 could suit you down to a t. If indeed you’re none of the above and just want 8-inches of powerful tablet with a pen, we’d still quite happily recommend the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0, it’s a good bit of kit.
We append one or two disclaimers to our recommendation though.
The first: we wouldn’t recommend you opt for the phone version, at least not if it’s going to be your primary device. Ergonomics are stacked against using the tablet for voice calls, and with Bluetooth headsets not always being viable, the extra £110 could be put to better use, in our opinion.
The second disclaimer, make sure, if you’re going to buy it, you intend on using the S Pen. With the S Pen and its 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity, there’s just about enough here to make it worth the pennies. If you don’t use it though, the Google Nexus 7 is about £200 less, and the iPad mini £100 less. While neither is expandable, both offer comparable performance to the Note 8.0 sans S Pen.
So there you have it, our unadulterated verdict on the Note 8.0. What do you think? Is Samsung’s latest Note over-priced and under-performing, or do you, like us, get a lot of bang out of your S Pen? Opinions in the comments section below.