There's no AMOLED technology here; Samsung gave its tablet an 8-inch display made from a PLS panel, the company's own take on IPS. Pry the tablet apart and what you'd find is a Samsung Exynos 4412 quad-core processor clocked at 1.6 GHz with 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of storage—which actually means 10 GB (9.78 to be exact) for storing files and content. Luckily, the memory is expandable via microSD for up to 64 GB more. On the outside is a micro-USB port for charging and file transfers, a 3.5 mm headphone jack and an infrared port that allows the slate to double as a Universal Remote.
Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean is the operating system, but naturally, it's Samsung's TouchWiz that does all the heavy lifting. TouchWiz is a graphical user interface that adds the Seoul-based company's apps and services to the standard Android ecosystem, including several designed specifically to make use of the stylus.
The Galaxy Note 8.0 currently sells for around £340.
DESIGN & HANDLING
Somewhere in Samsung's R&D offices I'm sure this conversation took place: "Yo, what if we took a Galaxy Note 2, made it bigger and called it a tablet?" "Hell yeah! Let's do that." I think that's just about the amount of thought that went into the Galaxy Note 8.0, visually speaking. Fortunately, the Note 2 was a good-looking device. As it turns out, the Galaxy Note 10.1 is really the odd one in the "Galaxy Note" bunch; the design is completely different from both the 5.3-inch and 5.5-inch smartphones and this 8-inch tablet. Like the Galaxy Note 2, the Galaxy Note 8.0 has a physical button in the bottom-centre of the screen (press for home, hold for the task manager) with two touch-sensitive buttons on either side: menu and back.
Samsung didn't joke around with the manufacturing. The body is all plastic, but it's quality plastic and well-built. It's too large to hold in one hand, so you have to use your fingers wisely, but as two-hand slates go, it's still relatively compact, and it's lightweight. That said, we're disappointed Samsung didn't make the borders thinner the way it did on the Galaxy Note smartphones. That would have made the Galaxy Note 8.0 as easy to handle as the Nexus 7.
And it's a shame they still haven't included neutral contact point recognition on the screen. On the iPad Mini, for example, you can leave your thumb resting on the screen while you hold the slate and still use your other hand to navigate; the iPad Mini knows not to recognise your thumb as a command. Too bad Samsung hasn't followed suit.
The S Pen sits in a little slot in the bottom right corner of the slate and it's easy to pull out. It's even easier if you have long fingernails, but once you've slid it in and out a few times the stylus and slot sort of get used to the motion.
As a new addition, the S Pen can interact with the touch-sensitive buttons.
Unlike the Galaxy Tab 7.7, which has an AMOLED display, Samsung decided to use PLS/LCD instead. It's one of the company's strong points, combining extra-high screen brightness (445 cd/m², one of the best on the market) and satisfactory contrast (800:1). That said, since the screen is so glossy you don't get all the benefits that high brightness brings to outdoor use—the brightness makes the picture easier to see, but the glossy surface reflects sunlight and causes glare. Fortunately, there's an outdoor mode for video playback that jacks the contrast and colours up ridiculously high, but it comes in handy when you're outside.
And speaking of colours, Samsung completely misses its mark for colour purists and high fidelity aficionados. With a Delta E of 6.5, colours on the Galaxy Note 8.0's screen, especially primary colours, are not very accurate (three and below is considered ideal). But that's nothing the average user is likely to notice. The colour temperature stays consistent across the spectrum at 7,560 kelvins, thereby avoiding blue overtones.
The 28 ms response time is slow for a PLS/IPS panel. It's 10 ms slower than the iPad Mini's IPS screen. The touch response time is also slower than the iPad Mini, at 134 ms compared to the Mini's 81 ms.
All in all, the Galaxy Note 8.0's PLS panel is semi-identical to the iPad Mini's, except that the Apple has better response times and the Samsung has better brightness. Oh, and Samsung wins in terms of legibility, as it has higher resolution.
INTERFACE & NAVIGATION
As usual, Samsung slapped its TouchWiz overlay on top of the standard Android 4.1 Jelly Bean interface, giving it the typical Samsung visual style, as well as its own apps and software designed to get the most fun and functionality out of the S Pen.
There are three dedicated apps for the stylus: S Note, S Calendar and Paper Artist. But several other apps have integrated stylus functions as well, such as Google Maps, the photo editor, the e-book reader and the web browser. There's also a shortcut function where you can scribble a picture or symbol in a mini-window and the Galaxy Note 8.0 recognises that as a command to open the app of your choice. For instance, you can draw a spiral to open Maps, or an exclamation mark to open the Google home page.
A new menu bar has made its appearance, replacing the mini-app bar Samsung used on the Galaxy Note 10.1. It contains a number of apps for quick access. It's handy when you're wandering through the OS and annoying when you're watching a movie. But all you have to do is do a long press on the Back button and it goes away; same motion to bring it back up.
Another addition is the "hubs" that group apps together thematically. There's the Readers Hub for e-books, the Game Hub for video games and the Learning Hub for things like learning languages and maths, and each has an associated app store. Only thing is, there isn't much content to choose from. The Music Hub, however, offers unlimited streaming (for a fee), radio and a music store, all with content courtesy of 7Digital.
The Galaxy Note 8.0 is really a responsive device. Never does it falter in TouchWiz (while we're at it, we'd like to thank Samsung for making strides in optimising its interface over the past few months). Whether you use the S Pen or your finger, the tablet runs smoothly and fluidly with almost no hold-ups—the only exception being during games (read on).
Let's talk about touch responsiveness. Samsung and Wacom have really honed the interactions between stylus and slate on the Galaxy Note 8.0. So much so that the touchscreen constantly anticipates the S Pen's movements—when you hover the stylus above the screen (up to 1.5 cm away) you can see a little moving dot on the screen that follows the stylus, really giving you the impression that it's just waiting for you to command the tablet. When you hover over photos in the Gallery it brings up a mini-window of the image, at which point you can select the image; when you hover over certain icons, it brings up a pop-up explanation; or you can just use the dot to see precisely where you're aiming, something that helps immensely with a stylus.
The infrared port allows the Galaxy Note 8.0 to double as a universal remote via the app Smart Remote. Unfortunately, it simply isn't compatible with enough devices and isn't close to as practical as the universal remote function on Sony's devices, the Xperia S and Xperia Tablet S (and coming soon, the Z).
Web browsing falls right in line with the other Galaxy Notes: it's fast, fluid and has no lags (or at least, no major lags). Web pages are easily legible in both portrait and landscape mode. The 1280 x 800 resolution may not be perfect, but it offers perfectly satisfactory comfort on the eyes. You rarely feel the need to zoom in, but when you do it's precise and fluid.
However, we were a little let down to see that the S Pen doesn't perform quite as well when you're web browsing as it does in the rest of the tablet; the tracking is much less effective when you're online.
Do we still need to point out how awesome the media players on Samsung's mobile devices are? The default player reads most of the common file formats and can handle Full HD 1080p (up to High Profile) without flinching once.
But there's something of a tragedy in the Galaxy Note 8.0's story, unfortunately, and that's video games. This tablet just doesn't have enough graphical power to master all types of game. 3D games turn into an aliasing frenzy and textures show up in low detail. Even worse, games like Real Racing 3 get choppy, stuttering through entire sections of the race track.
But the audio is good. The sound through the headphone output is clean, meaning that the signal isn't deformed beyond recognition, the volume level is in the average and there's no distortion. As for the two built-in speakers, we don't see any reason to have put them where Samsung put them, whether you're holding it in portrait mode or landscape mode. But sound itself through the speakers isn't bad in terms of volume and saturation; they hold their own against the competition, although as always with built-in tablet speakers, it would be stretching it to use the word "quality".
With a 4,600 mAh battery used for a system and processor that are known for consuming a lot of power, it's hard for the Galaxy Note 8.0 to compete with the iPad Mini's battery life. Both in practice and when testing the tablet with continuous video playback, the average battery life is 8 hours and 10 minutes. With mixed usage (movies, games, photo editing and web browsing) you get about one hour less than that. Samsung tries to make up for this with a very low-consumption sleep mode (after 10 hours on standby we barely lost 3%). And if you spend time editing photos and working with the stylus in the dedicated apps, plus some power-hungry video games, you'll get less than 6 hours of juice.
The 5-Megapixel camera isn't enough to give the Galaxy Note 8.0 great photo quality. Don't get me wrong, there's a good foundation here—in any type of setting, shots come out generally sharp in the middle of the frame. But it's always disappointing when you look at pictures you've quickly snapped of spreadsheets or class notes. It's also a bit of a drag when you take a picture that you wanted to draw on or edit afterwards with the stylus. When you need a certain amount of detail, the lack of sharpness near the edges and the overall lack of precision become a major drawback to a camera that otherwise could come in real handy.
And the front-facing webcam is just mediocre; it's VGA, whereas the competition all uses 2 Mpx. Videos have a lot of latency, not a lot of detail and bad picture in low lighting. You can forget about doing video chats in low lighting.