Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 Review
For the last three years, Apple has dominated the tablet space. And for the majority of that time, true iPad competitors seemed bleak. Dozens of Android tablets were released between 2010 and 2012, yet, collectively, they barely made a dent in Apple’s strong lead. In fact, in August 2012, the Cupertino-based firm held a mind-blowing 69.6 percent of the tablet (brand) market share versus the 9.2 percent, 4.2 percent and 2.8 percent by Samsung, Amazon and ASUS, respectively.
Collectively, however, Android tablets are poised to overcome Apple’s tablet market share in 2013, according to IDC – 48.8 percent to Apple’s still respectable 46 percent.
The Android manufacturer on the forefront of that battle is none other than Samsung, of course, imposing the very same tactics it has been known to use in the smartphone market: brand saturation. Samsung has released a number of Galaxy Tab models in varying sizes – from 7-inches to 10.1-inches – for the last two and a half years. Now it is beginning to do the very same thing with the Galaxy Note brand, starting with a 5.3-inch phone, followed by a 10.1-inch tablet and another phone at 5.5-inches.
Now Samsung has its latest tablet to boast, the Galaxy Note 8.0. Strength in numbers has worked for Samsung so far, and there’s no reason to believe it won’t work in the tablet space, as its devices target a broad demographic and perform just as well as the competition on almost every front.
The question is: should the Galaxy Note 8.0 be on your radar? If you’re in the market for a mid-sized tablet, should you consider the Galaxy Note 8.0? Better yet, should you get it over something like the iPad mini? We spent four days putting the Note 8.0 under the microscope. Read on for our verdict!
Video Review · Specs · Hardware · UI · Camera · Performance · Battery Life · Pricing/Availability · Conclusion · Scored For Me
One area the Galaxy Note 8.0 has room to gloat is with specifications. No, the specifications are not mind-blowing or the best we’ve ever seen. But the Note 8.0 has exactly the same advantage that every Samsung Galaxy device has – flexibility.
Under the hood, the Note 8.0 has a 1.6GHz quad-core Exynos chip, the same chip found in the Galaxy Note II. It also has either 16GB or 32GB of built-in storage with a microSD card slot for expansion up to 64GB, 2GB RAM, a 5-megapixel rear camera, 1.3-megapixel front-facing shooter and a 4,600mAh battery.
On a device like the Galaxy Note 8.0, which is primarily geared towards productivity and/or multimedia consumption on the go, the quality of the display is incredibly important.
Although the panel is TFT, not AMOLED, it offers saturation levels just shy of Samsung’s famed super-saturated Super AMOLED panels. (And for some user fine-tuning, there are some software options for changing the saturation levels.) Colors pop with vivid color, but contrast levels aren’t nearly as high as AMOLED, leaving blacks to be more of a dark gray than an inky black.
Like every last one of its like-sized competitors, however, the Galaxy Note 8.0 suffers from being an odd size … at least for display manufacturers.
To put it one way, smartphones at anywhere from 4.7-inches to 5.5-inches feature 1080p displays for a ranged of density from just shy of 470ppi to 400ppi; the third- and fourth-fen iPads offer a display resolution of 2,048 by 1,536 pixels at 9.7-inches for a density of 264ppi; and the Nexus 10, also by Samsung, has a 10.055-inch display with a resolution of 2,560 by 1,600 pixels for a density of 300ppi. In regards to smartphones, 1080p is still excessive, but there’s no denying how beautiful and crisp some of those displays are. For the full-sized iPads and Nexus 10, these display densities are fantastic, and the displays themselves are great – some of the best we have ever laid our eyes on.
The Galaxy Note 8.0 has an 8-inch display at WXGA resolution, or 1,280 by 800 pixels. That results in a pixel density of about 189 pixels per inch. And this is impossible to overlook. From the minute the device booted up for the first time, individual pixels were noticeable. The corners of letters and icons are noticeably jagged. Even when holding the Galaxy Note 8.0 with arms fully extended, the icons and various interface elements appear fuzzy, rather than the crisp, sharp graphics we’re used to seeing on higher-density displays.
It simply doesn’t make sense for a device this size to have anything short of a 1080p display, which would put the density at roughly 275 pixels per inch, well above the acceptable range for a mid-sized device.
The first thing you will notice about the Galaxy Note 8.0 is how its design and build are virtually identical to the Galaxy S 4. The device, in hand, feels much like the Galaxy Note II, simply on a larger scale. It is, effectively, a mash-up of the Galaxy S 4 design and Galaxy Note II specifications, stretched to 8-inches.
The rear of the device is composed of the same hyperglaze polycarbonate with a light textured appearance, and the edges are finished with a faux-brushed metal trim.
The face of the device consists of the very same elements every Galaxy device does, an expansive display with two capacitive buttons to the left and right of the physical Home button, Menu and Back, respectively. The physical Home button is ever-so-slightly raised as to make the button easier to find blindly and easier to fully depress, both of which are great.
The one thing that threw us for a loop was the button placement for volume and power. Seeing as the Galaxy Note 8.0 shares its design with the Galaxy S 4 and practically feels like a larger Note II, we kept searching for the volume rocker on the left edge while in portrait mode. However, that would put the volume rocker on the bottom edge in landscape, so the rocker is located on the right edge, just below the power button.
In the hand, the Galaxy Note 8.0 feels nice. At 135.9mm across, it’s just small enough to grip with one hand. And it’s relatively lightweight at 338g – the 7-inch Nexus 7 is just slightly heavier at 340g, and the 7.9-inch iPad mini is 30g lighter. For portability, its size does make it a tad awkward, however. It’s just large enough to not fit in the rear pocket in our jeans, and just barely too wide to fit in the pockets of a jacket. This means you will either have to carry it like a notebook or toss it in a bag. We did find it will fit in a cargo pocket on shorts or pants, even enough to close the button flap on the pocket, but rest assured, there is nothing comfortable about carrying an 8-inch tablet in a cargo pocket.
One annoyance we constantly found ourselves struggling with, particularly when gaming, streaming music or watching video without headphones, was how easily the two speakers are accidentally covered up. Placed along the bottom edge and separated, you would think it would be difficult to fully cover up both unintentionally. However, swing the tablet around into landscape and the speakers rest just beneath the base of your index finger and the palm. Even if you cover only one of the speakers up, it’s quite noticeable. With front-facing speakers that are virtually impossible to completely cover (on accident, that is) on the Samsung-made Nexus 10, it’s disappointing to see speakers that are so easily covered on the Note 8.0, though it’s certainly not a deal-breaker. We find ourselves using headphones more often than not, unless we’re in the confines of our own home.
Found on the bottom right corner of the display is the infamous S Pen, which is now larger, flattened and (somewhat) easier to hold and use. More on the S Pen in a bit, but one new hardware-centric feature of the S Pen is that it works – flawlessly – with the capacitive Back and Menu buttons, a long-requested feature for S Pen users. We must note, however, that the S Pen still doesn’t mesh well with a physical home button, so you’ll still have to succumb to using your precious, fleshy digit to press that button when you intend to pay a visit to your home screen.
One of our favorite features included on the Galaxy Note 8.0 is the IR blaster, located along the right edge, just below the volume rocker. Using the provided Smart Remote application, you can control your entertainment system, provided you have current, (relatively) name brand electronics in your center. Unfortunately, the Smart Remote app only worked part of the time with our televisions.
The last bit worth mentioning is found around back. There is a camera hump that is impossible to overlook. It’s like an inexplicable abscess, and we can’t for the life of us, wrap our heads around why its there. It’s a 5-megapixel camera. There are much smaller, much thinner devices with much larger sensors that don’t have such a large camera hump. On a tablet, something that certainly has more free space inside, there is no excuse for a camera hump, certainly not one the size of the on the Galaxy Note 8.0.
Overall, the hardware of the Note 8.0 isn’t … bad. But it’s nothing to drool over either. It’s not a spectacle, it’s not a highlight of the device. It’s simply … there, sort of like every other recent Galaxy device.
The Galaxy Note 8.0 comes pre-installed with Android 4.1.2 with TouchWiz atop.
If you have ever used a Galaxy device in the past, particularly one of the Note models, Galaxy S III or Galaxy S 4, you will feel right at home with the software. If you have never used a device with TouchWiz installed, it may feel a tad overwhelming at the start, though Samsung has included a bevy of quick pop-up tips that appear the first time you open the application (and every subsequent time, if you do not check the “Do not show again” check box before dismissing.)
Changes from the stock build of Android are visible on literally every view of the operating system, from the notification shade and lock screen down to the Settings application. This is meant to make the interface not only consisted across Samsung devices, but also to add functionality and simplicity to the mix. For example, quick settings are accessible from the notification shade in stock Android, but have a dedicated page. The TouchWiz notification shade appends toggles directly to the top of the notification shade, as well as a brightness slider and, if you have the S Pen detached, suggested applications appear, as well.
Speaking of, the S Pen is the main focal point of the Galaxy Note 8.0, and what makes the collective Galaxy Note series such a serious competitor in the tablet space. It’s easy to dismiss the S Pen as “just a stylus”, but it’s not. It’s much, much more. You can purchase a capacitive stylus for any mobile device – the Cosmonaut is great. But even the best of the best capacitive styli are nowhere near as useful, accurate or integrated as the S Pen is with the Note 8.0.
The S Pen comes with a horde of software features, like pop-up S Notes that are activated by pressing the button on the side of the S Pen and double-tapping. Press the S Pen button and long-press on the display to take a screen capture, which immediately throws you into the editor/annotation menu. If and when you remove the S Pen from the lower right corner of the device, there is a distinct haptic and audio feedback, followed by S Pen-specific optimizations, such as Page Buddy and a pen detection mode in the stock keyboard.
These S Pen-centric applications make the utility of the S Pen itself stand out, and make for an exceptional multitasking experience. On the topic of multitasking, the Note 8.0 implements some of TouchWiz’s most notable multitasking software, such as the Multi-Window feature, which allows the user to open two applications side by side (or stacked vertically in portrait mode).
The keyboard, which appears to be fairly standard, comes with gesture input (called continuous input in the keyboard settings) and predictive software. Although there has been no official documentation, we imagine this is SwiftKey’s natural language technology (seeing as the Galaxy S 4 and some Galaxy Note II models were confirmed to have SwiftKey technology in their keyboards). But the neatest feature of the keyboard is not only the ability to split it down the middle for better thumb typing, but to make it free-floating, which is best for continuous input with the index finger or S Pen.
It’s worth noting that since our unit is the WiFi-only model, it comes bearing only Samsung’s own bloatware, which is relatively minimal. It ships with Samsun’g usual applications: Samsung Apps, S Voice, WatchOn, AllShare Play, ChatOn, Flipboard, Paper Artist, etc. And it comes with a few additional apps, such as Polaris Office and Awesome Note pre-installed, none of which can be uninstalled.
Some of Samsung’s newer features, such as Group Play are also present, though it’s worth noting that the very newest features, those announced with the Galaxy S 4, are not included. There is no Smart Scroll, Smart Pause, S Health, S Translator or any of the most recent TouchWiz features included on this device’s software. That said, there’s nothing keeping Samsung from including them in a future update, as the company said it would with many newer Galaxy devices.
The software, overall, is great. Samsung has done a great job of capitalizing on software features that improve the tablet experience, that take full advantage of the extra display real estate. Unfortunately, there is still a shortage of tablet-optimized applications on Android. Some still default to the phone UI versus an optimized tablet UI, which take from the experience – a tick on the sheet that’s out of Samsung’s control.
The Galaxy Note 8.0 has a 5-megapixel sensor housed in the eyesore of a camera hump. But don’t let the accentuation of the camera fool you. It’s nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, there is nothing particularly amazing about it – it’s no better or no worse than other 5-megapixel cameras from recent years.
The color reproduction is mediocre, though most images appear to have a slight haze to them. The contrast is a tad low, and details are lacking. And whites tend to over-expose and blowout easily. Low light performance isn’t exactly notable either, producing images that lack detail and feature incredible amounts of noise and artifacts. In all, though, it’s a tablet, and how often are you going to reach for it to snap a picture?
The camera software, while it looks similar to the camera interface on the Galaxy S 3 or Note II, is lacking some features. It is missing some of the scenes and shooting modes. Again, not a major loss as this is a … tablet, after all.
The front-facing shooter, at 1.3-megapixels, isn’t going to blow your mind either. In most circumstances a tablet is a last resort for taking pictures, or for video calls, and this pair of cameras work just fine in that regard.
Video quality is largely middle-of-the-road, as well. It records at a maximum of 720p, and like the stills, video is lacking detail, proper color reproduction, contrast, saturation and errs on the cool side. The audio is fairly dismal, as well. However, the auto-exposure is great during video capture, with almost zero latency when jumping from a very bright scene to a darker one.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t make up for the rest of the rear camera’s shortcomings.
Performance is an area the Galaxy Note 8.0 excels in. Thanks to the 2012 model quad-core Exynos 4412 chip, its performance in synthetic benchmarks is on par with devices from last year, averaging between 16,000 and 17,000 in AnTuTu and in the upper 6,000s in Quadrant Standard.
Running Android 4.1.2, Jelly Bean, the Note 8.0 utilizes Project Butter, meaning its day to day performance is notably better than that of devices prior to Jelly Bean. Everything from scrolling between different home screens to switching applications and opening and closing applications in buttery smooth. The extent of any latency noticeable in mundane tasks can be chalked up to the excessive animations present in TouchWiz.
The one instance of lag we ran into with the Note 8.0 was in the Gallery application, which seems to be a common issue with TouchWiz. From the main albums view in Gallery, the application tends to lag intermittently when selecting a specific album.
Other than that, the performance on the Note 8.0, even during graphic-intensive games, was exceptionally smooth. Though, after several minutes of intense gaming with the display brightness turned up, the device did tend to heat up a bit, but not to the extent the device was uncomfortable to hold.
Keep in mind, we haven’t had the Galaxy Note 8.0 for an extensive amount of time – most of which was spent testing the device quite heavily – and have only been through a couple power cycles, so your mileage may vary.
In the beginning, battery life was questionable. A lightbulb slowly flickered on above our heads and we realized what the eye symbol in the status bar meant – Smart Stay. We disabled this and battery life has been mostly positive since. The standby time is incredible, thanks to no wireless data (3G/4G) sipping away at power when the display is off. Leaving the device, as is, overnight, battery only dropped a few percentage points over a 10-hour period.
We were able to easily last an entire day on a single charge, even with relatively heavy usage – downloading and installing applications, logging into various services, shooting off emails, browsing social media, browsing the Web, playing graphic-intensive games and watching videos via YouTube. With only a 4,600mAh battery inside (we say “only” because the Note II, a much smaller device, packs a 3,100mAh battery and similar specs in a smaller package), we can’t say we’re blown away with the battery life. But it’s definitely nothing to scoff at.
+ Great multitasking software
+ S Pen is great for note taking and annotating
+ IR blaster helps integrate with home entertainment
+ Exceptional performance
+ A microSD card slot for virtually endless storage
– Made mostly of cheap feeling plastic
– The display is low-res and noticeably pixelated
– Speakers are easily covered up
– Mediocre camera and video quality
– There is still a content gap, albeit closing, for Android tablets
Pricing and Availability
Here in the States, the Galaxy Note 8.0 is not yet officially available. But the WiFi-only 16GB model became available in the UK late last week for £339. The device is slated to hit shelves states this Thursday for $399.99, with accessories expected to land shortly after.
No official pricing and availability has been mentioned for the 3G model of the Note 8.0, but there is certainly one on its way, expected to land somewhere in the near future.
The Galaxy Note 8.0 may not exhibit the best hardware we’ve seen in a tablet, it may be made of the very same plastic found on other Galaxy devices that we turn our noses up to and it certainly does not have the best display we’ve seen on a mobile device.
But where the Galaxy Note 8.0 may lack in appropriate, high-end hardware, it makes up for it in horsepower and useful software features that make it great for a portable work companion. It’s not going to make you leave your laptop at home, and it’s too big to totally replace a smartphone, but it makes for a great middleweight addition to your arsenal that is great for travel and lightweight work, collaboration and multimedia consumption.
Is the Galaxy Note 8.0 the best tablet we’ve ever got our hands on? No. The display is a serious miss on Samsung’s part; it’s a vital detail that every manufacturer seems to overlook in their mid-sized tablets. And if Samsung isn’t pushing the envelope here, someone else will (ahem … Apple). That said, this tablet is very nearly the most complete package in a mid-sized tablet to date … especially in regards to Android slabs.
It’s a tablet some of us here at Pocketnow could definitely see ourselves continuing to use.