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Summary:

Is the power of the digital pen mightier than the sword? We may find out next month, when Samsung is reportedly launching the Galaxy Note 8.0, an Android 4.2 tablet similar in size to Apple’s iPad mini.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7

By this time next month, there could be another Galaxy Note in Samsung’s arsenal of mobile devices. SamMobile claims to have uncovered specifications for an announced Android tablet called the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0. The alleged 8-inch slate would be extremely similar in size to Apple’s iPad mini, have a slightly higher resolution, and offer one key differentiation: an included S-Pen for digital ink activities.

The reported specifications don’t include one key piece of information: There’s no indication which chip will power the Galaxy Note 8.0. It’s a very safe bet that a Samsung processor will be inside and I’d hope for one of the company’s new quad-core Exynos chips to be present, paired with the reported 2 GB of memory. The display is expected to be a Super Clear LCD running at 1280 x 800 resolution, which is slightly higher than the 1024 x 768 panel used on Apple’s iPad mini. Android 4.2 is expected and the tablet is rumored to be available in both a Wi-Fi and a GSM 3G version.

grey-galaxy-note-2I owned a similar slate prior: the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7. I liked the size of it but find the actual tablet app experience to be slightly better on iOS. That’s arguable, of course, but I’m not seeing as many developers as I expected truly taking advantage of the larger screens and higher resolutions found on Android tablets. But as I learned with my Galaxy Note 2 smartphone, there’s more value in a digital pen than I had expected as well. That’s something that could sway some small tablet buyers to the Galaxy Note 8.0 if such a device does arrive.

Before dismissing the idea of a digital pen, consider that when I bought the Galaxy Note 2, I really had no intention of using the S-Pen. I quickly found a number of valuable uses for the stylus, mainly because Samsung has developed some excellent mobile apps that are pen-friendly. If the company continues to mature and add to those apps — and I see no reason for them to abandon that strategy — a Galaxy Note 8.0 could give some potential iPad mini buyers a reason to consider Samsung’s slate.

I’m not suggesting that such a device will outsell the iPad mini; a pen alone won’t do that. However, Samsung appears to be the only Android manufacturer really trying to differentiate its Android tablets with innovative hardware and software — it also supports multi-window app usage — which I think gives it a better chance than its peers to compete against Apple’s mobile products.

  1. I also personally take advantage of using the stylus and like Kevin said, Samsung is doing a great job by adding apps that make the stylus very useful and be productive. I will sure buy one and give my iPad Mini I just got 2 days ago to my wife.

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    1. HG, I think you’re finally spending more money on gadgets than me. ;)

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    2. HR you mean you love your wife so much :)

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  2. Andreas Ødegård Thursday, January 17, 2013

    Yeah, no. I use a stylus on my iPad all the time, both for handwritten notes, grading papers, and other things that would benefit MASSIVELY from the S Pen. Problem is, Android on tablets is shit. I love it on my phone, and I had a 7″ Android tablet for a year, but the more I forced myself to try to replace my iPad (then an iPad 2) with the Android tablet in the areas I use it, the more annoyed I became at Android. Both as a student, and a teacher (I’m both), Android sets a new record in being useless, because it’s missing every single app that allows me to be completely paperless on the iPad; Either it’s missing it altogether, or the Android alternative is crap.

    Thing is though, many iOS apps have a zoom mode that changes the game drastically. It works by zooming part of the screen, allowing you to write big with a stylus, but end up with tiny text. Once you get used to the auto-advance method and actually writing this way, you realize that there are alternatives to a proper pen. Heck, the zoom mode is actually more accurate in some cases, as you can shrink text further than what you can realistically write (zoom-less) with the S Pen (I’ve tried all three current Note models’ S Pens).

    I was really looking forward to seeing what the new S Note sotware would do for the Note 10.1, but was massively disappointed when I actually tried it in practice. Yes, it takes a bit of time to get used to zoom writing on iOS, but at least it’s possible- the lack of software on Android is not user-fixable.

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    1. Andreas, I understand your point about the stylus on iPad, but a digital stylus with digitizer > a capacitive stylus in nearly every use case. And I hear you on the Android tablet experience in general; I noted that in the article. Thanks!

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      1. Andreas Ødegård Thursday, January 17, 2013

        That depends on your definition of “nearly every use case”. Try grading a paper that a student has handed in with font size 12 and normal line spacing using a digitizer pen. You can’t, because that’s so small that even an actual pen would have trouble. That leaves you having to zoom and pan, and as soon as that happens, the much superior partial zoom systems used in many iPad apps (but no Android apps that I’ve seen) suddenly make that approach easier, since that method doesn’t care if you’re writing a novel around the dot over an i. Here’s the kind of zoom mode I’m talking about: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=y7A8U6wGGLw

        I realize that’s a niche use, but this one is less so: My hand writing is actually better with the partial zoom system than it is on paper. Writing big simply makes me write prettier, and way more readable, even if it’s still far from nice. My experience from the Note 10.1 in particular was that it’s easier to just write something down, but the resulting handwriting looks like crap in comparison to what I can do even on the iPad mini.

        Don’t get me wrong, I would LOVE an iPad mini with a digitizer pen. That being said, I think it’s very far from the night and day experience that people make it out to be. Then again, it takes practice getting used to writing in zoom mode. Like I said though, that’s something I can do as a user, getting more software on Android is not :)

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    2. In the video you’re showing, that handwriting seems way too accurate to me for a capacitive stylus. It’s clearly the work of someone who has used capacitive styluses on touchscreens for a long time. I’ve bought one of those Targus styluses, which at the time was supposed to be one of the best for iPad for drawing and such, and I was very disappointed with it, as I thought the accuracy is only slightly better than using my fingers – that means it’s not very good.

      That specific app also seems to make the text too small. Why bother reading text that small and handwritten? I believe the Note can also use zooming like that, though, and it can also convert the handwriting to regular fonts, which is probably better in most cases, unless you really need some digital “paper” handwritten. But for notes and such, I don’t see why you would want to read handwritten stuff over digital fonts.

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      1. Andreas Ødegård Thursday, January 17, 2013

        That video is made by me. You’re right, I do have experience using capacitive styli, however the stylus also matters. Targus only sells rebranded generic styli, of which I’ve had a couple, and they are absolute shit. I don’t remember which stylus I used in the video, but it was probably the Maglus, which is my daily driver.

        Also, the text isn’t too small. I don’t know if you’re referring to physical size or what, but remember that seeing this as a screen recording on a computer doesn’t represent how it looks on an iPad. I do this on the iPad mini, all the time, and can read it just fine. The page also has a higher resolution than the iPad 2 & mini’s screens, meaning that even if you were to write smaller, you can always zoom in.

        If you’ve seen an Android app with that sort of zoom mode, I’d love to know which. Assuming that it’s capable of annotating PDFs as well.

        As for handwriting over machine text, it’s faster and requires less setup. I can leave for a lecture with only my iPad mini and a stylus, and that’s all I need; no keyboard. I can annotate on top of PDF files, or create lecture notes using a combination of everything from paper documents scanned using Scanner Pro and the mini’s camera, to pictures of projector screens, to downloaded slideshows. I can write just as freestyle as I want, on top of pictures, in circles, draw arrows, write formulas, columns, etc. The moment you pick up a keyboard, you’re in a hell of moving around cursors and text boxes, looking for special characters (for formulas etc), and so on.

        I’m all for a keyboard to type on, but there’s a time and place for everything. Unless I’m sitting down to write a document from A to Z, I prefer the (imho) much more dynamic system of handwriting.

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  3. Vaporware.
    Digital pen is a gimmick. i didn’t help the poorly made 10 inch Tab that even Android sites panned.
    But this is all about putting Apple and Samsung in the same headline to get page views.

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    1. The digital pen doesn’t seem to be hurting the Galaxy Note 2 sales; the device is selling 3x as fast as the prior model. Bear in mind that the Galaxy Note 10 didn’t have all of the innovative features that the newer Note 2 has.

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  4. Tab 8.0 thats so innovative, and not a copying at all.

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    1. Are you suggesting an 8-inch Galaxy Note is a copy of the iPad mini? You realize the 7.7 Galaxy Tab arrived 8 months before iPad mini and the Galaxy Tab 7 launched in 2010…

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  5. Go write for someone else Kevin. I’m going to stop reading articles from this Apple blog if you’re just going to write about android. Android Police or Phandroid would provably hire you, go write for them instead.

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    1. I assume you haven’t visited Gigaom that long, as it’s not really an “Apple blog” other than perhaps a couple of writers who write specifically about Apple news, but Kevin has mainly written about Android.

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    2. Don’t let the door hit you on the a$$ on the way out. Great article Kevin, everyone except Jobs knows the value a stylus adds to a tablet.

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  6. I really like the S-pen, it was the main reason I bought the Note 2.

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    1. Karl Gingerich Sunday, January 20, 2013

      Yup, me too (Samsung Note), and I came from the Apple world. I said all along that I need a stylus on the iPad. Like others I find iPad apps much more refined and you dontnhave to wade thru junk to find a good one – as much.

      Samsung just may bring me out of the iPad Mini camp too!? I love my stylus!

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  7. The stylus is definitely a nice touch, but if they plan to sell this one for $300 or more then it will need to have at least a 1080p (well 1920×1200 resolution, and a more powerful processor, considering there’s a very high chance Apple will upgrade the iPad mini to A6X and the retina resolution this spring.

    Otherwise, it would be pretty decent for $200. But something tells me Samsung will not go that low on pricing.

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  8. YAWN !!

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  9. Nicholas Paredes Thursday, January 17, 2013

    Having used a stylus since Windows released the Tablet PC, I have a difficult time seeing how this is revolutionary. These companies keep trying to solve the problem of using a pen, and nobody seems to adopt them.

    Are you seeing behavior that I am missing? Frankly, I see piles of iPads in the office, and the developers have as many Android tablets as they would like, and yet I see next to zero usage of either the Nexus tablets or any sort of stylus. A pen input mechanism is something I have never seen in a corporate environment outside of me bringing one along to test.

    But, after a month or two of me pulling an iPad Mini out of the back pocket of my jeans, people still ask me to hold it. One thing I learned as a mobile UX designer is to pay attention to actual usage and data.

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    1. Andreas Ødegård Thursday, January 17, 2013

      Not arguing with your “usefulness of a pen” thought process here, but just wanted to point out that a stylus on a resistive screen is very far away from the kind of digitizer pen we’re talking about here

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    2. Totally understand your point. Part of the issue is definitely a lack of good software solutions that take advantage of a pen. And another part is the lack of active digitizers in mobile devices. Samsung’s Galaxy Note / Note 2 is probably the first real attempt in a while at addressing both of these. When I show the digital pen / software for these, most seem impressed but no, there hasn’t yet been a widespread mindset change on pens yet.

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      1. Nicholas Paredes Friday, January 18, 2013

        I definitely understand the type of pen being discussed. People have been trying to solve this problem well before tablet PCs hit the market. I’ve played with them, and they have never been anything but less than useful. At some point the people have to question the product concept not just the software.

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    3. Karl Gingerich Sunday, January 20, 2013

      Well I use mine all the time (as a directory if info sys). Diagrams, mock ups, meeting notes… Totally useful! That said, I am a drawer – whiteboards and paper, but having it electronic and ‘sendable’ is very useful.

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  10. I have carried a Wacom pen for my tablets for ages and I really don’t see the need for it as you can pretty much do whatever you want with the tablet OS’s and a few finger gestures.

    For art based programs that is a different story as I have seen some amazing stuff with Autodesk SketchBook Pro and a Wacom pen.

    If you wanta see a really bad stylus pen I was forced to try for a client look no further than the plug into the headphone jack doceri goodPoint!. It looks like it has two of the Morrie’s Wig Shop wigs on either end.

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    1. Opps I forgot a stylus can be great when you are working on a tablet with a Bluetooth keyboard when you are using RDP or Citrix Receiver on a tablet. That is when it can really come in handy to have a stylus for sure to touch those none tablet designed interface icons.

      Or with Citrix Reciver you can pair your phone and use it as a touchpad in most cases.

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