Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 Review

The Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 is Samsung’s newest device in the famous Note series. Sporting an 8 inch display at 1280×800, a 1.6GHz quad core Exynos 4 processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage with a microSD expansion slot, a 4,600 mAh battery, dual cameras (5MP rear and 1.3MP front), and a slim 8mm body, it offers some pretty nice specs. It may not be cutting edge, but it is still high end and modern.

The S Pen is the defining feature of this tablet, and it shares most of its features with the Galaxy Note II. In fact, the entire device is like a big Note II. However, as we all know by now, the S Pen is infinitely useful and an awesome feature to have. But with a suggested retail price of $399, are you getting what you pay for?

Video Review

Hardware

Looking at the Galaxy Note 8.0, you can see inspiration from the Galaxy Note II. In fact, it looks exactly like the Galaxy Note II stretched out a bit. However, it takes some design elements from the Galaxy S 4 too, having the faux metal rim and the flat back. On the front, you get the 8 inch display with fairly small bezels around it. Above the display are a front facing camera and a light sensor. There is no speaker grill, as this is the WiFi only mode.

Below the display, you get the familiar three button setup from all Galaxy devices. A physical home button is in the center, with a capacitive menu button to the left and a back button to the right. This button layout will try your patience until you get used to it, as holding the device in landscape will have your thumb right on the capacitive buttons. However, on the positive side, the two buttons now respond to the S Pen! This is a new feature in the Note 8.0, and is simple but extremely useful.

On the top is a lone 3.5mm jack.

On the right, you’ll see the standard power button and volume rocker. There is also an IR blaster for controlling your TV.

On the left is a lone flap covering the microSD slot. It’s great to see one of these on a tablet, as 16GB is often just not enough memory.

On the bottom are two speakers, a micro USB port, and of course, the S Pen silo.

Around back, there is only the Galaxy S 4-like camera hump, a Samsung logo, and some labeling at the bottom. It’s clean, and in my opinion, a bit too empty. But it’s a tablet, so it doesn’t really matter.

With a design that doesn’t depart from Samsung’s standards, you won’t find any surprises here. It’s basic, functional, thin, light, and not all that attractive. Plus, physical buttons on a tablet should not be a thing. However, aside from the buttons, the design is extremely functional and usable, which in the end, is most important. Plus, it’s really comfortable to hold for a long time, which is really important.

The internal hardware, aside from specs, is good. The WiFi antenna is pretty strong, Bluetooth and GPS work, and the speakers are fairly loud (but very tinny). Plus, after the Nexus 7, I’m happy to finally have a vibe motor in a tablet.

Display

The display on the Galaxy Note 8.0 is by no means incredible, but it’s a lot better than the (fairly nice) display on the Nexus 7. It’s large, decently sharp, really really bright, has good color reproduction, and some decent blacks. But about brightness, it’s really shocking how bright this thing gets. They nailed it in that respect. However, it also gets pretty dark for when you’re in dark rooms.

Colors are good on the display, very vibrant, but not extraordinary. Viewing angles are pretty great, with distortion only coming in at the very end of tilting it to the side. Blacks were a bit gray, which is expected from LCDs, but they get the job done. Touch responsiveness is fantastic, as it is on most Samsung products.

I do wish they bumped up the resolution. Having a 1280×800 panel in anything but a 7 inch tablet is a bit upsetting when paying a high end price. The least they could have done is bumped it up to something more, like 1440×900 or even 1080p, though that’s asking a bit much.

This review model had a strange issue where the image on the screen would visually bend when scrolling, but others have said their models did not have this issue. It’s probably this specific device, but I thought it was worth pointing out.

Build Quality

Build quality is typical Samsung, for the new generation anyway. Their build quality for the previous generation was not very great, as my Note II creaks in the back, but they improved the quality with the Note 8.0 and Galaxy S 4. This device is rock solid, with no creaking. There is bending in the plastic on the rear, which is expected from Samsung products, but overall it’s solid. We do wish they made it a bit more solid, and that wish spans across all Samsung mobile products, but it is by no means bad.

Software

The Galaxy Note 8.0 is an interesting tablet, because Samsung’s own software is based off of a phone. The home screen, notification shade, and all look like they came off of a phone and were enlarged. It’s an interesting approach, and I’m not sure I like it. However, all third party apps use the tablet interface, so it is barely noticeable.

At first glance, you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between the software on this Galaxy Note 8.0 and the Galaxy Note II. There are minor differences though. The lock screen is the same, with the ripple water effect, but the effect has been smoothed out. It’s no longer rough, and has far better lighting. Otherwise, it’s the same lockscreen you have come to know and love (seriously, this is the best unlock method out there).

Aside from having a bigger grid, the home screen is the same too. It even includes the giant AccuWeather widget from the Note II, which was obviously not adjusted for the large size. I’m not complaining though, as it does the job. The TouchWiz launcher is definitely nice, and I find myself using it over other launchers a lot of the time.

Here is where things get funny. Instead of using the hybrid UI pull down that is used on the Nexus 7, Samsung decided to toss in a full size notification pull down. Yes, it’s hilariously huge, but it works fine. Plus, there is more room for all the toggles. I wonder how they will change it in the 4.2 update, but the current method has no real faults. Except for that ugly white color.

Speaking of white, Samsung went with their classic tablet styling and made all of the menus white. While I dislike the white in the notification shade, the menus look fine in white. It suits Samsung’s TouchWiz skin. The settings menu uses the split tablet layout, which is quite convenient compared to the standard settings on the Nexus 7. Plus, there are a ton of settings in this device.

Samsung includes an Easy Mode, which has been a standard feature on many of their newer devices. This makes the homescreen all big, with big widgets to assist those who don’t know how to use “smart” products. It might be useful to some, but obviously it’s not for the every day user. Samsung also includes Blocking Mode, which allows you to set times where notifications are muted, like at night. It’s a pretty nifty feature.

Then comes all of Samsung’s smart features. Smart Stay keeps the screen on while you’re staring at it, so the time out is paused. This is useful for when you’re reading and not touching the screen, but it has to be bright enough for the front facing camera to see you. Reading mode will optimize the screen for reading, and can be auto enabled only in the apps of your choosing. It adds a yellowed tint to the screen to reduce eye strain and fatigue.

Motion features are more limited than what you would find on the Galaxy S 4 or S III. You only get “palm swipe to capture,” which allows you to swipe your palm across the display to take a screenshot, and “palm touch to mute/pause,” which will pause media when you put your hand on the display when it’s on. They are quite nice features, but I wonder why other motion features are disabled on this device.

Then comes the S Pen. This is the star of the show for any Note product, and it never disappoints. The S Pen is a stylus, but not the crappy kind you can buy from Walmart. It’s a Wacom stylus, and the device has a Wacom digitizer in the display. This is the same technology used in professional art tablets for computers. This means that the S Pen has a really thin tip, a functional button on the side, and the ability to hover over the display and still be recognized.

Despite the S Pen being useful just as a nice, accurate stylus, Samsung made sure to include a bunch of software features to go with it. The S Note app, which syncs between Samsung devices using your Samsung account, is a bit barebones but is pretty well designed, allowing you to draw, type, and insert photos. And with the superb accuracy, you can really draw some beautiful things. Unfortunately, I suck at drawing, so this is all you get:


I’m no artist, as you can tell

You can open the popup note feature by holding the button on the S Pen and tapping the screen twice. This creates a popup which allows you to write a note and save it to S Note. It’s really useful.

Multi-window comes on this device in the same implementation as the Note II. You can set two different apps on top of each other (or side by side in landscape), and the switch between using them is instant. It’s a fantastic feature that allows for true multitasking, and unlike some Samsung features, is not a gimmick. I use multi-window quite often, and I’m sure you’ll find some use for it.

Multi-window on the Galaxy Note 10.1 is a little more functional, allowing apps to open like windows and be dragged around and resized. This is not available on the Note 8.0, probably because of the smaller display size. But hey, I hear that there are ways to enable it with a bit of root and patience.

Samsung has also including various apps with the tablet. aNote HD is a direct iOS port, evident by the way it works. It seems to be nice, but I had it crash a few times. There is a help app explaining how to use some of the features, which is genuinely useful. Polaris Office is pre-loaded for all of your office suite needs. S Voice, a voice-based assistant, is much improved from previous iterations and is actually somewhat useful now. And of course, there is the Smart Remote feature to take advantage of the IR Blaster. I couldn’t get it to work with my old TV, but it works just fine with a new Samsung smart TV. It’s a cool feature, more useful to a smartphone than a tablet, but still useful. The Note 8.0 does not come with Galaxy S 4 features like Optical Reader, S Translator, S Health, and the such.

Performance

Because it uses the same specs as the Galaxy Note II, performance was assumed to be very good. However, this thing performs better than the Galaxy Note II, despite sharing its 1.6GHz quad core Exynos 4412. In the end, this tablet just flies. Load it up with a lot of running apps, and it simply doesn’t slow down. It makes the Nexus 7 feel very sluggish.

When I first started using the device, it seemed laggy to me. After a factory reset, and a software update, my issues were completely fixed. This tablet is smooth, fast, and very enjoyable to use. Apps launch really fast, there are no crashes or freezes, and I don’t feel like it could be faster. This is quite an accomplishment on Samsung’s part, as the Note II could be a bit faster in my opinion. It’s all software optimization here.

Battery Life


Before I removed Google Maps

At first, I was quite disappointed in battery life. The battery died after two to three days of use, and the use was nowhere near constant. However, here is a tip to better battery life on any device: disable Google Maps in settings. Doing this made battery life much better, lasting much longer than before with heavier use. Same deal worked on the Galaxy S 4, too.

Overall, I was happy with how long the battery lasted. It was what I expected from a tablet of this size, maybe a bit more considering how thin it is. The standby with WiFi off is fantastic, draining maybe 10% in 5 days of no use and WiFi off. However, with WiFi connected, it’s very reasonable.

Camera

Let me get this out of the way: tablets rarely need cameras. Maybe some apps use the rear camera, but for photography, a camera on a tablet is worthless. There are bad tablet cameras, and then there are not so bad tablet cameras. The 5MP shooter on this tablet happens to be fairly decent for a tablet camera.

The user interface is standard fare for older Samsung devices; it does not have the new user interface from the Galaxy S 4. The photos it takes are grainy and not very good, but it’s far better than many tablet camera sensors. Please, if you own a tablet, don’t use it as a camera unless you absolutely need to.

Conclusion

The Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 is a great high end tablet with some shortcomings. While the performance is amazing, the buttons at the bottom occasionally interfere. Plus, neither the design nor the interface is too pretty. However, the functionality is unrivaled. Multi-window, the S Pen, the IR blaster, and more make this one of the most useful tablets on the market.

But is it worth the $400 price tag? That depends. Are you a fan of the S Pen? To me, the S Pen is an incredible feature and easily makes this tablet worth the money. However, for those who may never use the S Pen, that $400 will be harder to justify. The performance is top notch, and you can’t find anything like it in the 8 inch category.

So I say yes, this tablet is worth $400. It is the best tablet I’ve used so far, which is quite impressive. While I would change a few things about it, I still love it. I suggest you go visit a Samsung Experience store inside a Best Buy and try it for yourself. Maybe you’ll end up leaving with a new toy.

Tags: , , , ,