Apple's iPad mini and Google's Nexus 7 are two of the most popular tablets on the market right now. Samsung is aiming to replicate similar success with its latest Android tablet, the Galaxy Note 8.0. It boasts an 8in screen and includes a Wacom-powered 'S Pen' stylus which can be genuinely useful, but the Galaxy Note 8.0 is let down by a expensive price tag and a design that's starting to show its age. See also What's the best tablet PC?
The design of the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 doesn't break any new ground. It uses the same glossy, plastic finish already set by the company's Galaxy S4 and Galaxy Note II smartphones, along with the larger Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet. The Galaxy Note 8.0 has smooth, rounded edges and a much thicker bezel than the iPad mini, in what appears to be a genuine attempt to distinguish it from that device in light of previous legal stoushes between the two companies. See all tablet reviews.
There are both advantages and disadvantages to the Galaxy Note 8.0's design. On the plus side, it's lighter than the Nexus 7 and only slightly heavier than the iPad mini. The weight is well balanced, so the Galaxy Note 8.0 is largely a comfortable tablet to hold and use. The tablet doesn't feel too poorly built despite its plastic construction, though we wouldn't recommend applying too much force to the hollow feeling back cover.
On a negative note, the glossy white plastic on the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 makes it slippery to hold and prevents you from getting a real good grip. It attracts way too many fingerprints so it quickly becomes near impossible to keep clean. We also dislike the rear camera placement, which protrudes out from the body and therefore comes into contact with a surface when laying flat on a desk or table.
Below the screen is Samsung's almost iconic physical home button, flanked by a back button on the right and a menu button on the left. There's a power/lock screen button, a volume rocker and an Infrared port on the right, a microSD card slot on the left and a headphone jack on the top, towards the right side. The Galaxy Note 8.0 sold in Australia has 16GB of internal memory.
The S Pen is integrated into the bottom right of the Galaxy Note 8.0's rear casing, with two speakers and a microSD port for charging lining the bottom of the tablet. The speakers are poor, even by tablet standards. They lack bass and they aren't very loud, even when turned up to the maximum volume level.
The Galaxy Note 8.0 has an 8in screen with a resolution of 1280x800. The screen has excellent viewing angles, vivid colours and is bright and clear. It's pixel density of 189ppi betters the iPad mini's 163ppi display, but text displayed isn't as crisp as bigger tablets like the 4th Generation iPad or the Google Nexus 10, which are equipped with very high resolution screens. Even most high-end smartphones feature better displays, so the Galaxy Note 8.0's screen, while serviceable, isn't overly impressive.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 runs the Android 4.1 Jelly Bean operating system but it's completely skinned with Samsung's own TouchWIZ interface. There are plenty of features, so much so that using the Galaxy Note 8.0 can be overwhelming for first time users.
Undoubtedly the best of these features is multi-window, which allows you to run two apps simultaneously, side-by-side. Unlike previous iterations, the feature works fantastically well on the Galaxy Note 8.0. It's only compatible with a selected range of apps but the likes of Google Chrome, Facebook, Gmail and Twitter are all compatible, so we found it genuinely useful.
There's no evident lag or slowdown and the multi-window feature can be quickly activated by holding down the back button to display a pull-out drawer on the left side of the screen. You can easily make one window larger or smaller than the other, and there's also a button to flip the app from top to bottom (or left to right if you're using the Galaxy Note 8.0 horizontally).
There are a few other appreciated features, too. We like the pop-out video player, which allows you to open a video in a floating window that can be dragged anywhere on the screen. The idea is that you can perform another task, such as check your email or browse the web, while still watching uninterrupted video. It's a feature we've seen before on Samsung devices, but it makes the most sense on a tablet.
Then there's the S Pen, Samsung's fancy name for stylus. It's stored in a compartment on the bottom right of the Galaxy Note 8.0. It's shorter and thinner than an ordinary pen, but it feels more like a pen than most other stylus products we've used. The S Pen is responsive and there's not too much lag when you're drawing or writing on the screen, except for when using it with Samsung's S Note application. For most other uses, including handwriting recognition and basic drawing, it works effectively.
The S Pen has a few nifty touches, mostly centered around the Air View feature. An on-screen pointer can be set to appear whenever the S Pen hovers close to the screen without actually touching it and an information preview can display extra information on compatible apps. List scrolling enables you to scroll up or down lists in any app by holding the pen towards the edge of the screen, where an up or down arrow will appear and the page will begin scrolling. The main benefit of this feature is that it works in any app, including third-party apps.
Samsung has also built-in palm rejection support into the tablet, so when you're using the pen you can rest your palm on the screen without accidentally bumping anything. It works as advertised. We also love Samsung's Reading mode setting, which improves the legibility of text in certain apps by using an off-white background in a bid to make text clearer.
The Galaxy Note 8.0 comes with a range of extra software, most of which you'll never use. Among the more useful are 'AllShare Play', which can send music photos and documents to multiple devices, the Awesome Note HD notetaking app and Paper Artist, a sketching app designed to work with the S Pen.
Perhaps the best feature of the Galaxy Note 8.0 is the built-in infrared port and a pre-loaded remote control app called Peel Smart Remote. This is an excellent feature which enables users to use the tablet as a universal remote control for other devices, like televisions, Blu-ray players and other home entertainment products. It's also very easy to set up and immediately worked with all TV's we tested it with.
The worst "feature" of the Galaxy Note 8.0 is the inability to edit the four home screen dock shortcuts, by default set to Email, S Planner, S Note and Internet. We can't understand this downright ridiculous limitation, which is also an issue on the Galaxy S4 smartphone. It seems to be an issue that only affects devices running Australian firmware but Samsung has refused to offer an explanation.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 is generally a fast and responsive tablet. It's powered by a 1.6GHz quad-core Samsung Exynos 4 processor and 2GB of RAM and both keep things ticking over nicely.
Samsung seems to have ironed out performance issues that we experienced in the larger Galaxy Note 10.1, so you'll find that most tasks are smooth and zippy. The tablet runs even the most graphically intense games, like Real Racing 3, without so much as a stutter and most apps open almost instantly. Some commonly used apps like the gallery and the default browser do exhibit some annoying lag, but most users shouldn't notice these too much.
Perhaps the biggest annoyance of the Galaxy Note 8.0 is how many apps Samsung has preloaded, most of which you'll never use. The list includes ChatOn, Game Hub, Learning Hub, Music Hub and the Samsung Apps store. In most cases, there are far better Google or third-party services out there that simply do a better job.
The Galaxy Note 8.0 has two cameras, but both are rather uneventful. There's a 5-megapixel rear camera on the back that doesn't have a flash, while a front-facing 1.2-megapixel camera handles video calls. Both still images and videos captured with the rear camera are of a poor quality, with excessive image noise and a lack of detail particular issues. The front-camera works fine for video calling apps like Skype, but the quality of still photos is predictably poor.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 has slightly disappointing battery life. It lasted an average of a day and a half during our testing, sometimes pushing almost two days depending on use. Compared to both the iPad mini and the Google Nexus 7, both of which can easily last up to three days, the result is below par.
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