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Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 review

TabletsReviews
8/10
by Stuart Andrews, 05 Jun 2013Reviews
Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 review

Simply categorising the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 is a bit of a challenge. We could describe it as a mini tablet, going up against the Nexus 7, iPad mini and Kindle Fire HD, but where these are all the most wallet-friendly members of a family, the Galaxy Note 8.0 comes in at an eye-watering £339 in its most basic Wi-Fi version. That makes it roughly the same price as the larger Galaxy Note 10.1.

We could also describe the Note 8.0 as a scaled-up Galaxy Note 2, but then that doesn’t quite work either, for the simple reason that it doesn’t come with 3G or 4G connectivity as standard. This leaves us with a bit of a quandary. What exactly is the Galaxy Note 8.0, and who is Samsung trying to flog it to?

Design

Well, we can say one thing for the Note 8.0 straight away: It’s a beautifully designed and well-constructed tablet. Its design cues are closer to the Galaxy Note 2 than any existing Samsung tablet, even if it shares its chrome surround and rounded corners with the Galaxy Note 10.1.

The front is tough Gorilla Glass and the rear a glossy white plastic, which curves slightly to surround the camera lens protruding from the back. There’s a little flex in the plastic, but not much, and it all feels very solid and sturdy. At 136 x 210mm it’s a good size for shoving in a backpack, briefcase or satchel, and the 340 gram weight is fine for holding one or two-handed.

Physical controls are limited to an on switch and volume rocker on the right-hand side, plus a home button dead centre below the screen. This is surrounded by touch-sensitive back and menu buttons. There’s a slot for a microSD card on the left, supporting SDXC cards of up to 64GB in capacity, while there’s a micro-USB port at the bottom used for PC connectivity and charging.

Look at the right hand-side and you’ll spot an infrared emitter, and the headphone socket can be found at the top. In short, connectivity is pretty standard for a sub-10.1in tablet.

Display and sound

The screen is good, albeit ever-so-slightly disappointing. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the 8in display or its 1280 x 800 resolution; it’s very bright and very clear with lovely vibrant colours, and the resolution matches the Nexus 7 and the Kindle Fire HD. However, this is a premium tablet, and you can’t help feeling that the extra size over the Galaxy Note 2 should have been reflected in a jump in pixel density, taking it somewhere in the region of the Kindle Fire HD 8.9’s 254ppi. Where the Note 2’s 1280 x 720 screen crammed in 267ppi, the Note 8.0 drops down to 189ppi.

Couple this with the design of Samsung’s love-it-or-loathe-it Touchwiz interface, and the Note’s screen sometimes has a chunky look. Get over this, however, and it’s a fine display for doing anything you might want to do on a tablet, handling work tasks, HD video, games and photos with equal panache.

Sound is decent by tablet standards, with reasonable clarity and a semblance of tonal depth, but if you’re looking for immersion in films and music while on the go, then you’ll really need to plug in a set of headphones.

Software

As with most Samsung Android products, the OS – Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean in this case – has been smothered by Samsung’s own Touchwiz interface, with its own core apps, its own icons and very distinctive look and feel. This is something you’ll probably get used to, but it’s still irritating that in many cases the Note 8.0 replaces standard Android apps that work perfectly well with Samsung versions that – to my mind – don’t always work so effectively, the email and contacts apps being a case in point.

Samsung has also added a mass of additional apps, covering everything from remote control functions for your home entertainment setup to Game and Music Hubs along with Samsung’s ChatON messaging service. Sadly, nice as the WatchOn TV control and guide app looked, I couldn’t get it to work with my Panasonic TV and Sony PVR.

In the end, the extent to which you’ll consider all these apps useful will depend on what other Samsung devices and equipment you own, and how keen you are on its hardware/software ecosystem, but the Note 8.0 certainly isn’t short of things it can do out of the box.

There are some less controversial apps pre-installed, including Flipboard to collate your news and social network postings, and the ever-handy Polaris Office. Finally, Samsung’s S-Voice app enables you to control a range of tablet functions, including web search, email, calendar and Google Navigation, with Siri-style speech recognition. Inevitably results are mixed, but S-Voice coped better than expected with town names in my local rural area, and delivered accurate answers to a range of general knowledge questions.

The Galaxy Note 8.0’s other big bonus is multiple windows. Where most Android tablets can only switch between single app views, the Note 8.0 allows you to open two on the same screen, though it only supports the apps you can drag from Samsung’s apps bar, which you pull in from the left side of the screen. It’s ideal for making notes from a web page or referring to an app while answering an email, and it’s one feature you’ll rapidly wish all Android tablets had.

The S-Pen

Like all previous Galaxy Note devices, the Galaxy Note 8.0 works with an S-Pen stylus, which comes neatly concealed in the bottom right corner of the unit. It feels accurate and responsive on the screen and comfortable in the hand, and in my experience the screen does a good job of tracking the tip even when you’re making contact with the palm of your hand. It can be used in general apps to click links or for precise selections, and there are nifty shortcuts to screen grab the current screen, and then annotate and share the grab, or clip sections from the screen and share them or copy them to the clipboard.

Meanwhile, Samsung bundles its own collection of S-Pen apps, including S-Note, an app for making notes and sketching diagrams, and Paper Artist, which uses the pen as a tool for brushing effects onto and off captured photos. Put it all together, and the S-Pen stuff makes the Galaxy Note 8.0 that little bit more useful than many rival 7in to 9in devices, particularly for business users looking for the equivalent of a digital Filofax or Moleskin.

Cameras

The Note 8.0 has a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera and a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera. 5-megapixels doesn’t sound much, but quality is reasonably good for a tablet with crisp focus and bright colours; shots taken indoors and outdoors were comfortably better than many 8-megapixel tablet snappers we’ve seen, probably because those 5-megapixels aren’t so crammed in. The front-facer is a little noisy, particularly in low light, but will suffice for web conferencing and video chat.

Performance

In everyday use, the Note 8.0 feels speedy and responsive. It uses a Samsung Exynos 4112 quad-core SoC running at 1.5GHz, which integrates four ARM A9 cores and an ARM Mali 400 GPU, alongside 2GB of RAM. The Geekbench score of 2099 puts it below the likes of the Google Nexus 10, but above the Tegra 3-based competition. The Note 8.0 can also cope with a spot of after-hours gaming, and while the off-screen frame rates in the GFXBench T-Rex and Egypt HD benchmarks aren’t anything to write home about at 4.8 fps (frames per second) and 17 fps respectively, current blockbusters like Real Racing 3 will definitely run without a hitch.

Battery life

Samsung claims that the Note 8.0 will last for around fourteen hours, and in practice we’ve managed to get ten to twelve hours of mixed use from each charge, with games and HD video streaming hitting the battery harder than everyday web browsing and email. The Note 8.0 should last most long-haul flights or working days, and a couple of days of light use from a single charge isn’t out of the question.

Verdict

I began this review by questioning the rationale behind the Note 8.0 and its pricing, but the more I’ve used this device, the more I’ve come to understand its value. At £339 for the base 16GB/Wi-Fi model it still feels overpriced in comparison to the iPad mini, the Asus Fonepad and the Google Nexus 7, and if you’re simply looking for an affordable, small screen tablet then you really should look elsewhere. You’re effectively paying a premium for S-Pen and multi-window support.

However, those key features mean that the Note 8.0 is the first small screen tablet to make a case for itself as a useful productivity device. At £250 to £300 it would be an awful lot easier to recommend, but if you can see a case for the S-Pen in your working life, then Samsung’s latest Note is worth that little bit extra.

Specifications

Manufacturer and Model

Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0

Processor

1.5GHz Samsung Exynos 4112

RAM

2GB

Memory

16GB

Memory Expansion

MicroSD up to 64GB

Display

8in, 1280 x 800

Connectors

Micro-USB

Main Camera

5-megapixel

Front-facing camera

1.2-megapixel

Networking

802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0

Software

Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean)

Battery

4600mAh Lithium Ion

Size and weight

211 x 136 x 8mm, 340 grams

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