Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 review
The best compact tablet on the market, but it comes with a rather hefty price tag
We first caught sight of the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 earlier in the year, right at the start of Europe’s big mobile technology show. The market for compact tablets was already heating up then, but in the interim it’s become positively red hot, with Amazon launching its Kindle Fire 8.9in, Asus unleashing its 7in Fonepad, HP coming out with the Slate 7, and Acer with its 7.9in Iconia A1.
It’s tough to stand out in such a crowded space, but the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 has no trouble at all, and that’s principally due to its Wacom-based S Pen technology. Its stylus, which stows neatly in a slot in the bottom-right corner of the tablet, is pressure-sensitive and far more accurate than a capacitive stylus, making the Note 8.0 ideal for writing notes, sketching creatively or fine photo-editing tasks.
It’s even possible to enter text via handwriting recognition, using a panel built into the stock Samsung keyboard, something that works surprisingly well. In fact, where the S Pen feels a little gimmicky on the smaller Samsung Galaxy Note II, it’s far more practical here, where the larger screen makes writing on the screen far more comfortable.
Another unusual feature is the ability to use the 3G model as a giant phone, much like the Asus Fonepad. Alas, we weren’t able to test this as Samsung only sent us the Wi-Fi model to review, although at only £40 or so more, it isn’t that much more than the standard version.
Physically, however, the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 treads familiar ground. The rear panel is constructed of glossy plastic – just like on its flagship smartphones for the past couple of years – the trim is silver plastic, and the glass front is smooth under the finger. The whole shebang weighs 340g and, although it flexes a fair bit when twisted, it does feel well put together. In terms of size, it’s taller, wider and thicker than the iPad mini, but we’re not talking huge differences here. In fact, the broader screen surround makes the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 the more comfortable device to hold one-handed.
As with Samsung’s flagship smartphones there’s plenty of practicality, too: there’s a microSD slot for expanding the device’s 16GB of onboard storage, the micro-USB socket on the bottom edge is used for charging the device as well as data transfer, and the tablet is stuffed with software, covering everything from DLNA music streaming to photo editing. The Note runs Samsung’s TouchWiz overlay on top of Android 4.1, and this is packed with tools and features, too, although at first it does feel a little overwhelming.
As this is a premium product, it’s no surprise also to find it has both front- and rear-facing cameras, although there’s no LED flash to help out in low light. The snapper on the rear is a 5-megapixel unit that shoots 720p video, and the one on the front captures 1.3-megapixel images. Quality from the rear camera is surprisingly good, with crisp, well-balanced images produced in good light. Low light performance is much less impressive, though, with photos becoming soft, blurry and lacking in contrast.
The screen is a high point, however. Although the resolution is a mere 800 x 1,280, quality is superlative. Measuring the maximum brightness with our X-Rite i1Display 2 colorimeter returned a luminance of 500cd/m2, significantly brighter than the iPad mini, which we measured at 389cd/m2. Side by side, the Note 8.0 looks noticeably more vivid.
Performance is excellent, too, although there’s less difference between it and the iPad mini in this department. The iPad mini produced a better time in SunSpider (1,445ms versus 1,780ms) and a superior frame rate at native resolution in the GFXBench T-Rex test (6.7fps versus 6.4fps); however, the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 gains higher scores in the CPU-intensive Geekbench (2,113 vs 764) and the HTML5 Peacekeeper test (736 versus 508).
In real-world use, the Note 8.0’s 1.6GHz quad-core Exynos 4412 CPU and Mali-400MP graphics are clearly up to the job, with smooth frame rates in all the games we threw at it. All this power does take its toll on battery life, though. In our looping video test, it lasted 7hrs 44mins, which is still acceptable, but well short of the mini’s 11hrs 26mins.
In all, the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 is a superb compact tablet. Its screen, camera and performance are all superb, and the stylus capability is genuinely useful and usable. However, there is one big problem, and that’s the price. At £340, it’s £71 more than the equivalent iPad mini, and pricier even than the larger Nexus 10. That doesn’t make it particularly good value for money.
|Warranty||1 yr return to base|
|Dimensions||136 x 8 x 211mm (WDH)|
|Resolution screen horizontal||800|
|Resolution screen vertical||1,280|
|Display type||Multitouch, capacitive|
|CPU frequency, MHz||1.6GHz|
|Camera megapixel rating||5.0mp|
|Built-in flash type||N/A|
|Upstream USB ports||0|
|Mobile operating system||Android 4.1|