For all of its success with smartphones, Samsung is yet to really have a hit with tablets. It's Galaxy Tab range so far has lacked the desirability of Apple's iPad and the price tag of the Google Nexus 7, leaving these devices in a gadget limbo. Is the recipe right with the Galaxy Note 8.0?
As you might expect from a company that is now painfully conscious of its corporate branding, the Galaxy Note 8.0 looks very familiar. Like a Galaxy S3 that has had a disagreement with a cement roller, the Note 8.0 is predictably larger than recent Galaxy phones, but almost identical in appearance. It has the same pearly white colour, the same button placement (both physical and virtual buttons) and Samsung's logo across the top.
It looks nice -- not iPad drool-worthy -- but clean and professional. The problem is, that Samsung use the same glossy white plastic across the back of the tablet as well as the front, and it isn't the best material for grip, especially after your greasy fingerprints cover the surface is a fine, slick sheen (that's right, I'm talking about your greasy paws).
The all-important 8-inch screen isn't an AMOLED screen like all of Samsung's high-end phones, but a TFT LCD display with a resolution of 1280x800 pixels. For those of you playing at home, this is a pixel density far lower than on the Galaxy S4 or, more importantly, on Apple's latest iPad. Not that this makes it a bad screen, but it certainly doesn't 'pop' the way we've come to expect Samsung screens to 'pop'. Text and images aren't quite as sharp, though it will be up to you how much this impacts on your enjoyment of use.
While many think that the S-Pen accessory is probably named after Samsung themselves, it is equally likely that S-Pen actual is an homage to actor Sean Penn. Sure, there is an 'n' missing, but let's not get bogged down in the details.
The S-Pen is the key differentiator for Samsung's Galaxy Note line and it is the same here as the stylus included with the Note 2. It's a comfortable weight and length, though we do wish the button was a little lower down.
It is a handy tool to have. Detaching the pen can wake-up and unlock the tablet, for example, and now that Samsung has increased the sensitivity of the how the screen recognises the input of the stylus, it is good for handwritten notes.
It is a feature with limited appeal, though. If you can draw excellent pictures, you will love it, or, if you find it easiest to remember things from a meeting after writing them down, this could be the tablet for you. Samsung's S Note app has a number of great templates (recipes, charts, graphs, travel diaries) to help inspire you, but it will boil down to whether you find using these tools faster than the numerous other ways you can take notes and draw pictures with apps on tablets.
Blog NotAnalog has an example of some of the awesome thing awesome people have been able to achieve with the Note 8.0, if you're interested.
If we thought the physical design was similar to a Samsung phone, wait until you see the UI. This is the same TouchWiz experience found in all Samsung phones, and as such, it has its pros and cons.
On the plus side, it is a pretty easy system to pick up and learn. Samsung put most of the important shortcuts on a static toolbar across the bottom of the home screens, including a link to the main settings menu. There are also numerous tooltips that appear for the first time you access the numerous screens on the Note 8.0, helping to speed up the learning time.
There are a few weird inconsistencies the system design that hinder this learning, though. For example, if you hold down on an icon in the application drawer, you can drag and drop the shortcut for this app to the home screen. But, if you hold down the same shortcut on the home screen you can't move it around again. To do this, you have to go into the menu and select 'Edit' before you can rearrange the shortcuts on these screens. Blergh.
No one has ever expected much from the camera in a tablet computer, which is lucky because it is rare to get a nice photo from a slate.
The rear-facing camera on the Note 8.0 should be fine for when you have no other camera on hand, but it shouldn't replace a dedicated camera for special events.
Our test images came out reasonably well. The auto-focus was fast, though not perfectly accurate. Likewise, the colour reproduction of the image sensor is passable, but expect a majority of your photos to look a little washed out.
Examples photos taken with the Galaxy Note 8.0
Samsung has built a reputation on being technology-first when it comes to its smartphones. The Galaxy S phones have all included the best hardware of the year in which they where released, with the latest in this line -- the Galaxy S4 -- including a blazing fast quad-core 1.9GHz processor.
For some reason, Samsung decides not to include its best processing prowess in this tablet, and the effect of the (slightly) lower-powered hardware is noticeable. The Note 8.0 runs a quad-core 1.6GHz chipset with a Mali-400 GPU, and though this sounds like a beefy combination, there is still a 'stickiness' about the operation and performance of the tablet. Animations are a little jaggy, and some seemingly simple processes take a moment longer than we'd expect, breaking the illusion of this as a sleek and high-performance machine.
This is especially true when several of Samsung's large widgets are on display on the home screens, in fact, performance is improved if you remove them.
Battery life is excellent though, with the Note 8.0 lasting a solid 6-hours in our endurance video test (brightness at 100%, 720p video loop). Stand by battery life is really outstanding, mostly thanks to it being a Wi-Fi only tablet. With little use other than syncing email and apps, the tablet lasted for a week between charges.
Like a big, Wi-Fi only Samsung Galaxy Note phone, the Note 8.0 could certain find a home in the handbag of someone with creative leanings and solid penmanship. If this doesn't describe you, the Note 8.0 might have a lesser appeal, especially with the iPad available at the same price, and other big name Android tablets for much cheaper.
Having the S-Pen does add something to the tablet experience, but we can't help but feel it takes something away too. This accessory, and all of its specially designed apps, surely plays a hand in slowly down the performance of the Note 8.0 to a point where its doesn't impinge on the daily use of the tablet, but it still feels sluggish.