There's room for more than one premium small tablet in the world. Finally announced here at Mobile World Congress, the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 counters Apple's iPad mini at the top of the small tablet market by focusing on unique strengths: multitasking, note taking, drawing, and a TV remote control. I got to spend some time with it before MWC. It's pretty nice, but I still think the Note's S Pen functionality works best on as large a tablet as possible.
The Galaxy Note 8 is a spectacularly slim tablet, clad in typical white Samsung plastic, measuring 135 by 211 by 07.6mm (HWD) and weighing 337g. Just like the iPad mini, it's a little too wide to hold comfortably in one hand, which is especially comical here because the international version of the Galaxy Note 8 will be usable as a phone. Yes, you can hold it up to your head, in theory, although that's really silly. We tried. It was silly.
Rather, you're supposed to slip the S Pen out of the recessed area in a lower corner and get to work. The Galaxy Note 8 zips along, carried by a quad-core, 1.6-GHz Samsung Exynos processor on Android 4.1.2. The speed trick here is that the super-processor is driving a relatively low-res 1,280-by-800 screen (at 189ppi, with similar pixel density to the iPad mini and Nexus 7 , but no Retina) so it doesn't have that many pixels to push.
Other specs include 2GB of RAM, a 4,600 mAh non-removable battery, either 16GB or 32GB of memory, a MicroSD card slot, Bluetooth 4 and Wi-Fi a/b/g/n. If you're keeping score, that's a bigger battery than the Nexus 7 (4325 mAh) and iPad mini (4440 mAh), although there are enough other differences (like the processor) that you can't just use that to predict battery life. Specs of the final UK models may vary from these international specs, Samsung reps warned.
The Nexus 7 has pretty much stuck the price of a small, generic Android tablet at £199, so if you're going to charge more, you need a real reason to do so. With its Galaxy Tab 7.7 , Samsung tossed out a super-saturated OLED screen and TV remote capabilities as a reason to pay more.
The Galaxy Note 8 switches back to a standard LCD screen - bright enough, but nothing to write home about - keeps the Peel Remote TV remote and IR blaster functions, and adds in all the cool multi-windowing and pen features from the Galaxy Note and Galaxy Note 10.1.
That means you can now open 20 different apps in multiple windows. Facebook can be open in one window, for instance, and your photo gallery in another, or a browser and the S Pen note-taking app right next to each other. Note taking gets a further boost here from the Awesome Note app, a popular iOS note-and-organisational app which will be a Samsung exclusive on Android for the next year. There are a load of other exclusive apps here, too.
That quad-core processor made writing in S Note smoother than on the Galaxy Note 10.1, which had a bit of lag sometimes. I also tried out the new version of Flipboard, which previews news stories when you hover your pen over them, a nice trick. The quad-core processor had zero trouble handling multiple windows.
Samsung seems to improve the S Pen experience on a weekly basis. This time, I was really impressed by the hand rejection; if you lean your hand on the screen while using the pen (in a pen-aware app) the touch screen pays attention to the pen, not your hand. That's what makes active pens like this more useful than dumb styli.
The TV functions have been taken up a notch, too. Samsung's "TV Discovery," announced earlier this week, will fold content from Netflix, Blockbuster, and other streaming services into the TV programme guide, which Peel provides. If you have a Samsung smart TV, you'll be able to tap on an Internet programme and start streaming it on the TV. It remains to be seen how truly seamless this is, though, and Peel still can't catalogue the content on local DVRs.
The only noticeable down side here came from the cameras. The 5-megapixel rear camera wasn't great. Not awful, but a bit slow and dim. The 1.3-megapixel front camera was appalling, slow and noisy in a well-lit room.
The Galaxy Note 8 is extremely capable, slim and well-designed. I think I just don't love 8in tablets (the iPad mini included!) To me, they aren't as convenient for media consumption as the little one-handed 7-inchers, and they aren't as functional for creative tasks as a roomy 10-incher. If there's one thing Samsung has proven from the success of the Galaxy Note line, though, there's a huge market for these "tweener" sizes.
The Galaxy Note 8 will initially be available in a Wi-Fi model in the U.S. and an HSPA+ 21 3G model in the rest of the world, Samsung reps said. It'll come in the second quarter of this year. They didn't give a price.