A big recent introduction to this new 'mini-tablet' range was the iPad Mini, offering all the functionality of the larger iPad but with a new 7.9" screen and at a significantly lower price. This opened the door on many buyers that wanted a tablet but couldn't afford the higher premium that the 10" tablets demanded. Today most of the major manufacturers offer tablets in the mini 7-8" size range. From the likes of the extremely cheap Google Nexus and Amazon Kindle Fire HD tablets, to a comically larger 'phablet' from Acer, the popular iPad Mini and our tablet for review today, the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.
Building on the excellent Galaxy Note range of phones and tablets, this 8" version aims to offer all the features and specification of the larger 10.1" tablet in a smaller, more affordable package. It includes a very fast 1.6Ghz Quad-Core CPU, 2GB Ram, Multi-core GPU and 16GB of internal storage together with the fabulous S-Pen stylus for increased accuracy with photo editing, drawing or just taking hand written notes. So let's start taking notes and see how the new Samsung measures up.
Design and Build Quality
This smaller 8" tablet keeps the 1280 x 800 resolution and the 16:10 aspect ratio of it's 10.1" bigger brother and unfortunately it also retains the same cheap feel. For a tablet at this price there is far too much plastic and, whilst it doesn't have as much flexing as the 10.1 version, the back cover still presses in slightly and still isn't as solid a device as the iPad. Which is disappointing for £339. The few external buttons it has are all solid and responsive although the mini USB/power connection at the bottom does feel rather loose. For a tablet in this 7-8" size range, weight is very important and the Note 8 sits in the mid range here. The non 3G version weighs 341g, the iPad mini is significantly lighter at 308g, whilst the Kindle Fire HD 7" is a hefty 395g and the Asus Fonepad clocks in at 340g.
Features and Specification
During our testing, going from the home screen to fully loading the AVForums homepage took just 9.1 seconds which is just marginally slower than the iPad 3 and Toshiba's AT300, but not significantly so. Benefiting from the fast 1.6Ghz CPU, loading Angry Birds took just 6.9 seconds, beating the Toshiba AT300's 7.5 seconds and significantly faster than the iPad3 at 11.5 seconds. Whilst the Galaxy Note 8 doesn't feature Nvidia's excellent Tegra 3 graphics processor, the ARM GPU is just as impressive. Tegra 3 titles such as Heroes Call and Air Attack HD ran flawlessly on our tablet with no frame rate issues or stuttering and the gameplay felt very smooth.
We then tested with non Tegra 3 optimised games such as Soulcraft and Six Guns both gave similar positive experiences with no major performance issues. Only Six Guns with it's large open landscape resulted in a very tiny load stutter during the first level, but only for a brief moment, the rest of the time it was flawless. With these tests we could see what a high performing tablet this is, thanks to its very impressive specification. The Galaxy Note 8.0 should offer everything you need for mobile gaming or intensive applications on the move.
The tablet comes with a rear 5MP camera with autofocus but unfortunately no LED flash. It 's also capable of 720p HD video recording at 30fps. As with the 10" version it has a 4x digital zoom which, as with most digital zooms, degrades the picture quality to such an extent that they may as well just leave it out altogether. The front camera is a basic 1.3MP which is a step down from the 10" versions 1.9MP. The front camera is capable of average pictures which are particularly grainy in anything but the brightest of conditions and we wouldn't use it for anything special but it's fine for video conferencing. The usual camera features are present here including panoramic mode plus a feature called Smile shot whereby the camera automatically takes a photo when it detects a smile from your subject along with options for instantly sharing photos.
The camera specifications are a touch lower than we've come to expect from Samsung. Their 10" version has the LED flash which is missing in this 8" version. It's particularly important in anything but optimal conditions as a few test shots with the rear 5MP camera show a lot of grain and it's difficult to take a perfect shot with it. It's not a terrible camera by any means and if you are using this as your sole camera then it should be able to take reasonable looking pictures. Just don't expect to be the next David Bailey with it. The reduced size of the 8" tablet does help slightly with regards to looking rather odd taking photos with a full size tablet, especially at a concert when all you can see is someone's iPad screen blocking your view of the stage!
For the Wi-Fi on this tablet, it's good to see Samsung have kept with the high specification of their 10" version - with both the 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz bands. This is really a feature that should be a standard on all tablets these day so it's good that Samsung have included it here. The 5Ghz band is very useful if you are in a Wi-Fi signal heavy area that is likely to be congested across the usual 2.4Ghz band. You can usually obtain faster speeds with the 5Ghz band too but the range is a lot shorter and it doesn't work as effectively if the signal has to come through several walls. The full specification of the Wi-Fi is 802.11 a/b/g/n with Wi-Fi Direct and Wi-Fi Channel Bonding.
We had no issues with the Wi-Fi during testing and the signal strength and speed was consistent with other devices we have tested such as the Samsung 10" Note and the iPad. As an example with the 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz band, on the 5Ghz band we were able to achieve top speeds of 35720kbps next to the router, whereas on the 2.4Ghz band we only achieved 18750kbps. It was also noticeable that the signal strength dropped a lot quicker on the 5Ghz band compared to the 2.4Ghz. Our review sample is Wi-Fi only, but a 3G version is also available, if you are lucky enough to live anywhere near a 3G signal of course.
An excellent feature that was present in the larger 10" tablet and follows in a similar but not identical guise in this 8" version is the split screen multitasking. A innovative feature that allows you to have two applications open on the screen at the same time. Via the multi window tray, which you access by touching the '>' icon on the far left side of the screen, you open the first app then open the tray again and touch and drag another app onto the screen. This results in both apps being open with the screen split in half. You are also able to change the ratio of each app, so you could have some music playing on YouTube and have the window dragged right to the bottom, whilst having most of the screen open on a webpage. Both apps are fully running rather than having one frozen with the other working for example. Some parts of each app are restricted in split screen mode as the app is basically open to fill the whole screen with the other app just sitting on top of it. It's slightly different to the 10" Note's floating window feature but it does seem to work with more apps than that one. This doesn't work with every app but for those that it does, it works very well. A feature I'm sure we may see on the next iPad!
Another features that are worthy of a mention are Samsung Smart Stay which via the front camera detects whether you are looking at the screen and keeps the screen on if you are. There's also a reading mode which optimises the screen to provide the best illumination and tone which makes it a lot more comfortable to use as a reading device and with the ability to make notes on eBooks whilst you are reading them. One last feature is the buttons just below the bottom of the screen, especially the back button - it's amazing how much this gets used - and when going back to an iPad you certainly miss it. The menu button is also surprisingly useful and you soon realise how those who just have a home button are missing out and finally the middle button to take you back to the home screen.
Once the S-Pen is removed it brings up a shortcut list of the specially optimised pre-installed applications. From the basic Note, Idea Note and Meeting Note applications which enable you to make and save handwritten notes, a Birthday app for making your own birthday cards and a Recipe app for creating your own recipes cards together with photos and hand written notes. These are all pretty basic applications but do show just what the S-Pen is capable of. One disappointing omission with the Note 8 and an app which really shows off the full potential of the S-Pen is Adobe PS Touch. This app came free with the 10.1" version but for some reason is not included here. It is available on the Google Play store for £6.99, however, and if you do a lot of photo editing then it may be worth it. Going back to our 10.1" Note review we commented how easy it was to edit photos with excellent accuracy compared to a PC with a mouse. It's just a shame it doesn't come free here. Other S-Pen compatible apps are also available to buy and the S-Pen certainly appears to redefine what you can do with a tablet.
Home Screen, Interface and Pre-installed Apps
The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 comes out of the box with a customised version of Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean, although version 4.2 is the latest release but hasn't yet been pushed to this device. The next version, imaginatively titled Key Lime Pie, is due out later this year. The custom skin that greets you on the home screen is Samsung's TouchWiz, which is their own user interface which sits on top of the Android OS. This TouchWiz interface is what brings us the excellent split screen multitasking along with a few other less useful features such as swiping the side of your hand from left to right to take a screenshot and pausing an audio or video file by putting the whole of your palm on the screen. These last two are questionable at best and seem to fail to work correctly more often than not. But as you can see from the screenshot below, it's the usual customisable layout that Android users have come to expect.
Onto the customisation and this is where Android has a clear lead over Apple's iOS, you can position apps wherever you want on the screen, group them together in folders or add the compatible ones to the multi-window tray. Various interactive widgets can also be added to the main screen such as the latest live weather information, notes or browser bookmarks, although due to the size of the screen you are only likely to have room for one on the home screen. The list of apps along the bottom of the screen can also be changed to include your favourite ones. Along the top of the screen we have the battery life, Wi-Fi strength and various notifications. With this tablet further settings can be found by dragging down from the top of the screen giving you quick access to turning on or off the Wi-Fi, GPS, Audio, fixing the screen rotation and various other settings. The main tablet settings can be found at the top of this quick access screen or by pressing the menu button.
Apple is slowly catching up with this, but they are still behind compared to Android with regards to the automatic updating of apps and downloading of free apps. With Android for example the first time you download an app and agree to automatic updates, you never need to do anything again, it will keep itself updated and just give you a notification message whenever it has done so. A much better system than with iOS where you have to manually update apps. Wtih free apps no password is required with Android and can be installed straight away.
The Galaxy Note 8 comes pre-installed with all the apps you would expect such as a browser, camera, YouTube, Maps, Book Reader and many more including a Beta version of Google's Navigation app which gave some rather amusing but totally wrong suggestions when using the 'speak destination' feature. As with previous Samsung tablets we get Polaris Office included, which offers an equivalent to Word, Excel and Powerpoint. We also get both the Google Play store and Samsung's version, Samsung Apps. The Google Play store has the most apps with a lot also available on the Samsung Apps store and a few exclusive to each. It's a good idea to check both prior to making a purchase as you will often find price differences and special offers on each store. It's not such an issue with the smaller screen size with this tablet, but one negative with the Android apps is that there is still no easy way to see whether you are downloading a phone or tablet optimised version.
The app is slightly Americanised unfortunately as in the Sport category you only really get Soccer, hidden amongst Baseball, Basketball and Football, but this is just one app. The IR emitter isn't restricted only to the Peel app, it will work with any other app designed for it which sadly are few and far between. One that stands out is the very pricey but highly regarded 'Samsung Remote Touchsquid' (£13.00 for the Home version and £31.40 for the Pro). The free Samsung Remote/Peel app should have enough features to keep you happy.
With a decent wireless network in your home and the latest generation of TVs, Blu-ray players or Receivers for example, you will find many manufacturer specific apps on the Google Play store to control all of these devices. Samsung, LG and Sony for example all have free apps to control their TVs and in Sony's and Samsung's case, you can control their Blu-ray players too. Apps are also available for other devices such as Logitech's Squeezebox and AV amplifiers such as Onkyo, Denon and Marantz.
- Excellent, fast performance
- Superb S Pen stylus
- Split screen multitasking
- IR emitter
- Expensive compared to competition
- Build quality could be better
- Previous gen screen resolution
Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 Tablet Review
It may seem odd for a tablet to feature a stylus in 2013 especially as using your finger has become so common place but, for those who have never tried it, the S-Pen in the Galaxy Note tablet really is a very welcome feature. For the artists and photo editors out there it offers a very fine level of accuracy along with numerous other uses such as taking a screenshot of the tablet by just holding the side button on the S-Pen and then touching the screen. Another welcome feature is the very useful split screen multi-tasking which, whilst lightly different to the floating window style on the larger 10" tablet, allows you to have two apps open and fully working simultaneously (rather than one being frozen). An excellent feature if you want to play some music on YouTube whilst browsing the web for example.
Yet another welcome feature is the IR Emitter, which along with the Samsung Remote app, will turn the tablet into a fully functioning universal controller for your home cinema. We also get an average 5MP rear camera (with no LED flash), decent battery life and just about average sound quality from the pair of stereo speakers. We did have a particular bugbear with the price though. At £339 the build quality and feel of the tablet should be considerably higher and it just feels slightly plasticy. Compared with the iPad Mini at £269, the ludicrously cheap Amazon Kindle Fire HD 7" at just £159.00 and the Google Nexus 7 at £229 it is considerably higher in price. In this new and now highly competitive mini 7-8" tablet marketplace, Samsung need to stand out from the crowd and overpricing their 8" tablet is not the best way to do it.
If recent price reductions are anything to go by, it appears Samsung are realising this 8" tablet is slightly expensive and in the last few days one major online retailer has dropped the price to just £300. Whilst still more expensive than the competition, it does perhaps show a sign of things to come. Overall the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is an excellent proposition for those users wanting a tablet in the mini 7-8" range, particularly if you are looking to make the best use of the excellent S-Pen. Minor complaints about the screen resolution, build quality and price aside, we have no reservations in awarding the Galaxy Note 8 our AVForums Recommended badge.
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