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A few weeks ago at MWC, Samsung unveiled its Galaxy Note 8.0 tablet, a device that features its famous S Pen alongside unique features such as Multi Window and AirView.

Basically the 8-inch form factor featuring the S Pen is what the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 brings to the table in the Samsung tablet lineup. Except for the size, the device gets a similar product design to the Galaxy Note 2 and comparable hardware features, such as the HD screen resolution and the Exynos 4412 quad-core processor.

On the software side, the Note 8.0 provides similar features as well: the S Pen with its S Note app allows users to scribble notes or draw, AirView provides users with contextual information when hovering above specific elements, and the famous Multi Window / multi tasking feature is there as well.

The few additions include an IR Blaster with the Smart Remote app, which provides a remote control for your TV and set-top box alongside an interactive TV Guide, and Awesome Note, a new note taking application specifically developed for the Note 8.0.

The Galaxy Note 8.0 will be available in white for $399.99 MSRP, (I presume for the 16GB version). No word on availability except that accessories will be available beginning mid-April. The US model will only feature Wifi, other markets will get 3G and 4G connectivity.

Technical Highlights

  • Display size 8″
  • Display resolution 1280 x 800, 189pp
  • Display type LCD TFT
  • Processor Exynos 4412 1.6 GHz Quad Core
  • RAM 2 GB
  • Storage GB 16/32 GB
  • MicroSD yes > up to 64GB
  • Battery capacity 4.600 mAh
  • Camera back  5MP
  • Camera front  1.3MP
  • Weight 345g (3G/LTE) / 340g (WiFi)
  • Dimensions 210.8 x 135.9 x 7.95 mm

More specifications on the product website.

Context

We all use tablets differently, so it’s important that I tell you what I do with my tablets: I typically check email often with the built-in email app (via Microsoft Exchange), and reply moderately because typing on the virtual keyboard is tedious. I browse the web several times a day to check on news sites, but rarely watch movies or play music. Some of them have become a favorite smart remote for the TV, but most of the time, I’m mostly interested by their long battery life, which I can use to offset my laptop use.

On the “apps” side, I have a couple of social networks (FB, G+), a receipts manager and random apps (<20), but I rarely play games or do something super-intensive like video editing. This usage pattern will affect battery life and the perception of what features are useful. Now you know where we’re coming from.

Industrial design

When it comes to the design of the Galaxy Note 8.0, Samsung is not surprising us at all.The new 8-incher looks like a large Galaxy Note 2 but thinner (7.95 mm vs 9.4 mm), and it will only be available in white. Just like its smaller sibling, a silver metal frame runs around the edge of  the chassis made of  white plastic .

The power button, the volume rocker and the IR blaster are located on the right side and there is nothing on the left side except for the MicroSD slot placed at the top. Unlike the international version we saw at MWC, there is not micro-SIM tray there since the US model will not provide data connectivity.

The USB connector is located at the center on the bottom side with the two speakers grid on each side.

You will find the 3.5 mm audio jack at the top, slightly off the center.

On the back, the 5MP camera lens is placed at the top, right in the center. The Samsung logo is printed in gray just below.

Display (good)

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There is nothing exceptional about the HD display on the Galaxy Note 8 as I found its resolution to be a bit low for an 8-inch screen size at 1280×800. It delivers the same resolution as the Galaxy Note 2 which has a significantly smaller screen (5.5 inch). The consequence is a rather low pixel density of about 189 pp, however, in that department, the iPad Mini does not do better with only 169 ppi. The Nexus 7 features the exact same resolution for a slightly smaller 7-inch screen, setting its pixel density at 216 ppi.

Image quality is not all about resolution, and in fact, pictures and videos look great on the Galaxy Note 8.0: the contrasts are deep and the color are bright.

As we wrote in our hands-on, we suspect that the S Pen is a costly feature, and considering a tablet’s display is one of the most pricey components, Samsung might save money with a lower resolution that is still good enough for consuming content.

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left: Galaxy Note 8.0 – right: Google Nexus 10

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Top: Google Nexus 10 (very high resolution display) – Bottom: Galaxy Note 8.0

Samsung Custom features

As the success of the Galaxy Note 2 illustrates, Samsung found a great way to differentiate itself by adding a great stylus, a.k.a the S Pen, that is able of performing much more tasks than just writing or drawing. I personally appreciate the multitasking feature, which is unique to the Korean manufacturer and was introduced with the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1.

You can check the features described below in the video demo above.

Multi Window (multi-tasking with split screen)

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Multi Window, which was introduced with the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, is a great tool for tablets. Thanks to the large display, it is easy to operate two applications on the same screen. I wish it would be more obvious to access it than having to hold the back key (on my unit, it only worked after a few attempts) to see the tray where the 20 applications that supports the feature are available. During our briefing with Samsung at MWC, we were told more applications will support their multitasking API to create apps that are compatible with Multi Window.
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AirView with S Pen

Introduced with the Galaxy Note 2, AirView allows user to access contextual information just by hovering the S Pen above a function. For example, you can see what is next in a video by hovering on the timeline. When you do it over an incoming email, you can see more information without clicking on it.
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Built-in IR blaster and Peel Smart Remote application

This is one of the new feature exclusive to the Galaxy Note 8.0. I was able to try it with a Samsung HDTV and the Comcast Xfinity set-top box. Setup was easy, but not seamless. I was able to have the Smart Remote app turn my TV on in my first attempt, but had to restart the app three times for its interactive TV guide to work properly. Once the initial configuration is done, this is a very cool application.

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The second screen experience is becoming an important trend and the whole TV industry wants to jump on the band wagon, which is why we have seen IR blasters integrated in the latest smartphones alongside interactive TV guides.

The regular TV guide provided by Comcast on their set-top-boxes is awful in terms of user experience, although the company does provide its Xfinity application for major mobile OSes which I find to be a much more enjoyable experience to use.

It is very easy to find the content you want to watch with the Smart Remote app because it is categorized by genre and time and not by channel. Additionally, the user interface is highly visual, and you can recognize your favorite shows right away. Once you have selected a live show, you can simply click on the “Watch on TV” button to switch to that channel on the TV. From there you can also start recording with your DVR.

Awesome Note new application
This is a new note-taking application that has been developed for the Galaxy Nte 8.0. It allows user to organize their notes in folder, customize the fonts and the backgrounds.

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Killer apps

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Virtual keyboard (good): 
Ironically, despite having hundreds of thousands of apps at their disposal, most users still refer to text-based communication as being the “critical” application for them. That’s why you must not underestimate the importance of a virtual keyboard. The more productive you want to be, and the more likely this element may get in the way.  What we usually like with the Samsung keyboard is the fact that the numbers are displayed on the first screen in the top row, which allows for greater productivity. We found the Galaxy Note 8 to be more comfortable to type with two thumbs while in portrait mode than typing with all of your fingers in landscape mode. By default, the Samsung keyboard supports two languages simultaneously, if you need to handle three, you can download Swiftkey free trial in the Google Play store.

Polaris (good): When it comes to editing Office documents on Android tablets, there is no silver bullet as all the alternate applications do not offer the same complexity and flexibility as the original Office for Windows. However, I was agreeably surprised by Polaris, the pre-loaded document editing app offered by Samsung. I opened a quite large Powerpoint file loaded with large graphics, and it was quite easy to add text or even handwritten notes on top of it. Samsung promotes the use of the S Pen with Polaris for writing notes on documents.

Facebook (meh): The Facebook Android app is not optimized at all for tablet usage. It is basically a blown-up version of the smartphone application and does not take advantage of the large display. Facebook would argue that users should use the browser on a tablet, but I disagree as I find the browser is significantly slower on a tablet than it is on a PC, so a Facebook app optimized for tablets would be the best solution. The larger photos are the only thing that is better on the tablet. Finally, I really like the Facebook widget to quickly post a status or check-in. When used properly, widgets are powerful accelerators.

Google Maps (excellent): Even though the Galaxy Note 8.0 is mostly designed for “couch usage”, it is worth mentioning Google Maps, the best mapping system out there. The ability to download maps to be used offline remains a great time and data usage saver. Google Maps remains the king of the hill – by far.

Entertainment (very good)

Video playback (very good): Although the resolution is not full HD, every movie that we tried looked fantastic. The sound quality is great so even if you do not use a headset, watching a video is really enjoyable on this device.

Gaming (very good): I tried playing Riptide GP on the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0, and the experience was fluid with a very reactive user interface (see the video).

Speaker-quality (very good): Although the speakers’ placement is not optimal (at the bottom, not on the front), the sound is powerful while remaining crisp. It is comfortable to watch a video without the need of a headset.

Digital Imaging (good)

Most high-end smartphones now offer 8 MP or even 13 MP cameras, so the 5MP rear camera is not really top of the shelf. However, high resolution is not related to image quality at all, it just allows people to print pictures at a larger size, a feature that is not really used that much. Additionally, only a select few of people choose to shoot photos with their tablets as the great majority prefer to use their cellphones.

Camera application (regular)
The camera application is almost the same as the one featured in the Galaxy Note 2 with slightly less features. For instance, the ISO only goes up to 400, while in the Note 2 you will get access to 800. The number of effects (accessible from the magic wand icon) is also reduced in the Note 8.0. Unlike the Galaxy Note 2, there is no LED flash. The shooting mode menu offers a more limited number of features, for example there is no HDR or low-light options in the Note 8.0.

Photo and video quality (good)
For both still shots or video recording, the Note 8.0 does a very good job. When compared to the Nexus 10, Galaxy Note 2 and the iPhone 5, the photos shot with the Galaxy Note 8.0 deliver a comparable image quality in regular daylight illumination conditions.

The video I shot was a little more over exposed compared to the ones shot with the other devices. Check the images below and head to our Ubergizmo FLICKR account to see full-size untouched images.

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Performance (good+)

In terms of raw performance, the Galaxy Note 8.0 features hardware that is very similar to what can be found in the Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone, so we expected, and measured, very similar performance. This is very respectable, but as you have guessed, this is not cutting-edge since newer and faster hardware like the Samsung Exynos Octa has come out since.

Antutu 3.x is an overall system performance benchmark (CPU, graphics, storage), and what it shows is that overall, most recent phones land in a comparable performance footprint. This means that unless you do something very specific (like “gaming” or “downloads”), those phones should provide a similar overall performance (try it for yourself).
samsung galaxy note 8 antutu bench

Since most tablets of this size don’t come with real edgy hardware, we’ve compared it to a few really popular phones. This isn’t to provide an apples-to-apples comparison, but instead to give you an idea about the Galaxy Note 8.0′s performance level. As you can see, it is fair to say that it should perform like an enthusiast smartphone, but won’t be as fast as the latest generation of handset that were just announced in Q1. We would also like to point out that our Optimus G Pro numbers should be a little higher in theory, but these are the numbers that we got with our test unit.

GLBenchmark 2.5, offscreen 1080p: This test has been designed to “stress” the graphics processor (GPU) by running a game-like demo which features a fight between various characters in many different environments (indoors, outdoors…). Run this benchmark on your device.

 samsung galaxy note 8 glbenchmark 25

The takeaway here is that the graphics performance is very respectable for a sub-10” tablet. However, the bigger tablets are typically equipped with faster graphics processor, partially to offset the higher pixel count. Resolution aside, the actual user performance should feel very close in terms of frames per second when dealing with the user interface.

“Perceived performance”: Synthetic benchmarks can only carry us so far. What they don’t show for example is the user experience is smooth and responsive (responsiveness is not always solved with brute-force processor power). In the end, what good is raw performance if you can’t perceive it?

In terms of user perception, the Galaxy Note 8.0 works well and is relatively fast. You can think of it as a big Galaxy Note 2 if you have seen one of those. Overall, we’re pretty happy with the performance.

Battery (good-)

Regular Usage (good): I used the tablet moderately, but continuously throughout the day as I snapped a few photos, played a video briefly for 5 minutes and a game for another 5 minutes. I also used the Galaxy Note 8.0 as a remote control for my TV and kept its display on for a while during the times I shot photos. According to my measurements, the battery would last for roughly 10 hours, which is good. Knowing that this unit does not have 4G connectivity, I am curious to know how long the international versions with 4G would last on one charge.

Intensive Usage (regular): To test the intensive usage performance of the battery, I streamed an HD video over Wifi for one hour with the display set at 50% of brightness, and the battery depleted by 21%. It means that if you want to watch movies continuously over Wifi, the battery will only last for about 5 hours. Please note that this number could be higher for video playback of locally stored video files. Knowing that the display does not feature that many pixels, I would have expected a bit more longevity. Additionally, since we are used to the 9 to 10 hours of battery life from  some of the high end 10-inch tablets, this was a little disappointing. One can argue that the price is not the same either.

Charging time (very good): When I charged the Note 8.0 for one hour, the battery level increased by 41%, meaning that it will take 2 hours and a half to fully charge it. Some other tablets performed similarly, but it is not the majority, the iPad takes way longer to charge.

Conclusion (good – could use a little more battery life)

The Galaxy Note 8.0 is made for people who loved the experience with the Galaxy Note 2 with the S Pen and who like to take advantage of a larger display without breaking the bank. The Samsung Multi Window feature is perfect for this type of form factor. Knowing that one of the primary use of tablets is movie consumption while travelling, we would have expected a little longer battery longevity for the Galaxy Note 8.0.

Nonetheless, the latest Samsung tablet packs serious performance in a thin and light body that can still be held with one hand. The entertainment experience is great, and the imaging quality is sufficient for a tablet usage.

Overall product rating: 8/10
Filed in Reviews . Tags: Android, galaxy, galaxy note 8.0, Jelly Bean (Android), Samsung, samsung galaxy, Tablet and Tablet Reviews.
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