Hands-on with the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0

Masters on Galaxy Note 8.0

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8.0 arrived on store shelves this weekend and after spending a few minutes with one, I paid $399 and walked out with the new tablet. That price gets you a 16 GB version of the 8-inch tablet running Android 4.1.2, which doesn’t have any mobile broadband connectivity. This is a Wi-Fi only model and unlike the international version, has the cellular voice capabilities stripped out. That means the Galaxy Note 8.0 competes squarely with Apple’s $329 iPad mini.

The Galaxy Note 8.0 does have some features and hardware components that the iPad mini doesn’t, so I understand the higher price. Is it worth the $70 premium? It’s too early to say as I’ve really only had a solid day to use it. I’ll follow up with an answer to that question, but for now, here are my first impressions, in no particular order, followed by some photos.

  • The look and feel is definitely more like a super-sized Galaxy S 4 than a Note 2.
  • I can grab the device one-handed from the back; it’s not too wide, even with my small hands. In fact, the Note 8.0 is nearly the same width as the iPad mini: just a scant 1.2 millimeters wide. It is thicker than the iPad mini: 7.95 millimeters vs 7.2 millimeters.
  • It’s too early to provide actual battery run-time results, but with limited testing of the integrated 4600 mAh battery I’m expecting at least 10 hours of moderate use.
  • Samsung’s 1.6 GHz quad-core Exynos paired with 2 GB of RAM keeps the device moving along nicely. This isn’t the fastest Android device I’ve experienced, but there’s no noticeable lag.
  • There’s little new here with Samsung’s TouchWiz user interface. If you’ve used a Galaxy S 3, Note 2 or any other recent Samsung phones, the UI is the mostly the same. A few new UI tweaks I saw in the brief hands-on I got with Galaxy S 4 have made their way to the Note 8.0, however: You can configure what settings appear in the Notification pane, for example. The Smart Stay feature — keeping the display on when the tablet detects your face — is also here.
  • I like the rectangular aspect ration of the 1280 x 800 display. As far as the display itself, it has a slightly higher pixel density than the iPad mini, but generally looks the same; maybe a smidge better. Samsung has some nice options to change the fonts and add clarity to text. Running two apps on a display of this size is excellent; better than on my Note 2.0.
  • Like the Galaxy S 4, the Note 8.0 includes a IR-blaster to control your television or set-top box. I haven’t tested this yet. Also included is WatchOn for your local television guide, which correctly showed both my local and FiOS TV stations.
  • Video playback is quite good. Over the weekend I watched The Masters golf tournament, YouTube HD movie trailers and an NHL game.
  • The 5 megapixel rear camera won’t likely replace your smartphone camera, however, it’s handy in a pinch. It captures images and 1080p video. There aren’t many scene modes, however. I haven’t tested the forward-facing 1.2 megapixel camera for video chatting yet.
  • Two speakers at the bottom of the tablet — when held in portrait — are acceptable, but not great.
  • Although the device comes with 16 GB of storage, around 6 are used by the system. Good thing the Note 8.0 has a microSD slot so you can add up to another 64 GB of storage.
  • The S-Pen for the Note 8.0 is barely longer than the one included with the Note 2.0. I actually like taking notes on the tablet more than on my phone due to the larger screen. I can fit far more information on the screen and the writing surface is more like a small notebook. The back and menu button work with the S-Pen.
  • Although the device is designed to be used in portrait mode, the home screen does rotate to landscape.

Overall, I like the device; not surprising given my long-standing preference for small slates. But I’m already wondering where this device would fit in my life. Since it doesn’t have integrated 3G / 4G nor cellular voice, it can’t take the place of my Note 2.0. However, it does provide a better note-taking experience than my phone and replaces all of the functions of my iPad mini. It has even more functionality thanks to the S-Pen and IR blaster.

Part of me feels this is more of the same from Samsung, however. I wish the display had a higher resolution of 1920 x 1080 to make it really stand apart from the iPad mini. Again, I’ll follow up with additional thoughts as I spend more time with it. Then I’ll decide if the Galaxy Note 8.0 has a place in my device rotation or if it’s going back to the store.

Meanwhile, if you have questions about Samsung’s newest tablet, drop ’em in the comments and I’ll answer as many as I can.

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