Samsung certainly doesn’t seem to want to rest as of late, given how much they’re funneling their efforts into recent product launches such as the Galaxy S4. But while the smartphone wars rage on, one of Samsung’s other devices makes its debut in the spotlight, in the form of the Galaxy Note 8. This 8” tablet is a direct competitor to the likes of the iPad mini and the Google Nexus 7, and I was interested to see just how good it was.
Build quality & design
While this may not be the best description of the Note 8, it certainly does look very much like an oversized Galaxy S III or Note II. The same white bezel and plastic exterior is present on the Note 8, with hardly any difference from its smaller counterpart. While the Note 8 is a decent size in your hand, I did feel that it’s plastic back could have maybe been made of a different material with slightly better traction, as I was often under the impression that it might slip out of my hands at any moment.
Design quips aside, you’ll find the usual buttons as you tour around the device. There’s a 3.5mm headphone jack at the top, a power button, volume rocker and IR blaster on the right, and ports for the microSD and micro SIM on the left. At the bottom you’ll find the charging port, which thankfully uses a microUSB slot rather than a proprietary tablet connector. Here’s also where you’ll find the devices two small speaker grilles. The rear-facing camera is slightly raised at the back, which makes me wonder if the device is resting directly on the camera when you place it on a flat surface.
Since this belongs to the Note series, Samsung have also made it a point to include a stylus, hidden away at the bottom right of the device. I’ll talk about it in more detail a bit later, but for the most part it’s quite an ordinary stylus that fits comfortably in your hand.
Powering this beast is a 1.6GHz quad-core processor with 2GB of RAM. And that’s no laughing matter – the Note 8 obliterated anything that I threw at it, from multi-column spreadsheets to graphically intensive 3D games, the Note 8 tackled them all with ease. And if you really want to get a kick out of it, you can run certain apps side by side, or even have a video running while you tot about doing other things on your tablet. It’s a feature that Samsung has touted on its other devices as well, and it shines here without any issues.
UI and Apps
Being a Samsung device, the company’s TouchWiz interface sits on top of the Android experience. It’s a UI that takes a little bit of getting used to, but anyone familiar with other devices in Samsung’s lineup with have no issue adjusting at all. I still find it a bit too fancy for my taste, and I wish there was a way to make things a bit simpler.
Along with the TouchWiz interface are a host of Samsung applications. There’s AllShare Play, aNote HD, ChatON, Group Play, Learning Hub, Paper Artist, Reader’s Hub, S Note, S Planner, S Voice, Smart Remote, and Samsung’s own App store. That’s quite a lot of things to cram into one device, but there are a few things in there that are worth looking at. One of them happens to be the Smart Remote app, which lets you use the IR blaster on the side of the device to control most TV and hi-fi equipment. Simply select your manufacturer and you’ll be given some basic remote control functions, such as playback as well as channel or input selection. It’s unique feature that other tablets can’t quite boast, so kudos to Samsung for slipping this little nugget in.
Screen, Camera, and S Pen
The screen on the Note 8 is a bit of a mixed bag. The 8” form factor gives you a resolution of 1,280 x 800 at about 189ppi, which beats the iPad mini but falls short of the Nexus 7. Uber geeks may cry afoul of this, but 99% of people won’t really notice the difference. The screen itself is quite bright, but the reduced resolution means that text won’t be quite as sharp, but video still plays back flawlessly.
I’m not one to go around advocating the use of tablets to take photos, and it seems that Samsung agrees with me. Slapped onto the back of the Note 8 is a 5-megapixel camera with no flash. The photos certainly won’t match the quality you’ll see from some recent smartphones, but for a quick photo outdoors or what you’ve rustled up for dinner, the Note 8 does just fine. Anywhere else and you’re just going to end up with an over-exposed noisy photo.
One of the prominent features of the Note 8 is the use of it’s S Pen to write on the tablet itself. If you’re a fan of writing your notes by hand or you prefer doodling or sketching on the Metro ride to work, then this will certainly come in handy. As soon as you slide out the S Pen, the Note 8 pans over to a hidden desktop containing shortcuts to all of the pen applications; slide the stylus back in and the apps disappear.
Creative apps like Paper Artist are great ways to experience the fun you can have with the Note 8, as it quickly turns images in your gallery or taken with your camera into digital works of art. More importantly, the Note 8 automatically detects when the stylus is near the screen, and this allows you to preview images and video quickly in apps, rather than selecting them multiple times to flip through them all. Handwriting recognition is also available across the tablet wherever text input is required. Simply choose the handwriting option and you’ll be able to write on a lines yellow section at the bottom of the screen, which will transcribe your writing nearly instantly – even if your handwriting is as awful as mine.
Sound & Call Quality
Like the original Galaxy Tab, the Note 8 can also double as a phone, thanks to the inclusion of a microSIM slot. If you don’t want to make phone calls on the Note 8, just enable data only on your SIM and you’re all set. But if you are using the Note 8 for phone calls, I highly recommend using a headset – holding a device as huge as this up against your face is just downright stupid.
Sound quality for phone calls on speakerphone was quite poor – the device does give you an option for ‘Extra Sound’ which boosts the volume and clarity a bit, but it goes without saying that you’ll need a headset for making phone calls. When watching multimedia or listening to music, the speakers were a bit better and were certainly louder, but their placement means that if you’ve propped up the Note 8 or you’re covering the speaker unintentionally with your hand, then you’ll get very poor audio quality.
Heat levels & Battery Life
Despite packing some serious power under the hood, the Note 8 didn’t get uncomfortably warm during use. Battery life on the Note 8 was about two days for me, with moderate use of the device for email, browsing, and watching media from my network drives. That’s better than most smartphones which require an almost daily boost from a recharge, thanks in part to the Note 8’s 4,600mAh battery.
So why would anyone choose the Note 8 over the likes of the iPad mini or the Nexus 7? Well honestly speaking, the Note 8’s most attractive feature has to be the S Pen, so if you fancy using a tablet with a stylus pretty much most of the time, then the Note 8 is for you. For the rest of us, we have the luxury of choosing whatever tablet we’d like, since the Note 8 does things that most other tablets can do, apart of course from a few rather neat tricks like controlling a TV. If you’re an artist or designer, then this is a great tablet for you to sketch ideas and edit drawings comfortably on the go. For anyone else, there are far more affordable options on the market.