The Galaxy Note 8.0 is made from plastic, but it doesn’t feel flimsy. It’s very tightly built, glossy and white, with chrome trim. The 8-inch, 1,280-by-800 LCD screen is surrounded by a surprisingly large bezel. Considering that the tablet’s software includes an excellent palm-rejection feature, there’s no reason to have such a roomy edge. The display is bright with true colors, although they’re not as hypersaturated as the OLED screen Samsung uses on the Galaxy Tab 7.7, for instance. A 5-megapixel camera sticks out of the back with a slight bulge.
The Galaxy Note 8.0’s S Pen digitizer pen fits into a slot in the corner of the tablet, and there’s also a MicroSD card slot on the side panel. There’s no removable battery or SIM card slot, and I think the lack of a removable battery contributes to the tightness of the build. At 8.3 by 5.35 by 0.30 inches (HWD) and 12 ounces, it’s quite comfortable (if a little slick) when held in one hand. That’s especially important for a tablet like this, where you’re likely to be holding the tablet in one hand and the S Pen in the other.
Android and Performance
The Note 8 supports Wi-Fi on the 2.4Hz and 5GHz bands, and I had no problem connecting to 802.11g and 802.11n routers. The tablet also packs Bluetooth 4.0 and satellite GPS, but not NFC. International versions of this tablet offer cellular connectivity, but that’s not available in the U.S.
There’s a lot of custom software here. I’ll get to two of the key applications below, but Samsung has customized every aspect of Android. We’ve got Awesome Note HD, a note-taking app; ChatOn, Samsung’s chat service, Flipboard, Samsung’s Game Hub game store, Music Hub music store, Paper Artist (a sketching program), Polaris Office, custom note-taking and calendar apps, and S Voice voice commands.
The S Pen, a plastic stylus with a button on it, wakes up the tablet when you slide it out of its slot in the corner. Twiddle some settings, and you can have text input default to handwriting recognition when you’re using the S Pen. I found that Note 8’s pen input to be cleaner and more responsive than the pen input on the Galaxy Note 10.1, probably thanks to that extra processor speed. The pen uses Wacom technology, so it’s pressure-sensitive and has palm rejection. It still missed the occasional tap on the screen when I was trying to draw a lot of little dots, though.
But the presence of the pen really makes the Note live up to its name. Add the support for split-screen multitasking (two apps on one screen), and you can take notes while surfing the Web or doodle a graphic to insert in an office document, for instance. Just as I found on theGalaxy Note 10.1, this tablet is excellent for productivity.
Samsung added some new S Pen features to match the Galaxy Note II and the forthcoming Galaxy S4, most notably AirView, the ability to hover your pen over some types of content to preview it. As that doesn’t work in the Gmail app or Chrome browser, though, I didn’t find it terribly useful.
The more you use (or want to use) the S Pen, the more you’ll like this tablet. My wife is an artist, so I see the appeal immediately; the ability to draw with accurate pressure sensitivity and hand rejection in a range of art apps, or scribble quick notes in S Note, is something no other tablet can match without expensive add-ons. This is the best consumer pen tablet you can buy.
Battery life was disappointing. In our battery test, we play back a video with the screen set to maximum brightness and Wi-Fi switched on, and the Galaxy Note 8.0 got the shortest result in its class, only 5 hours, 35 minutes. Compare that with the Amazon Kindle Fire HD’s7 hours, the iPad mini’s 7:37 and the Nexus 7’s 10:50 and you’ll see the issue.
Cameras and Multimedia
Like with most tablets, the Galaxy Tab 8.0’s two cameras are lackluster. Samsung should have probably omitted the 5-megapixel main camera to cut the high price down. It shoots thoroughly mediocre photos. They’re acceptable in full outdoor light, although there’s visible distortion at the edges of frames. In cloudy conditions, shutter speeds get a bit low, and indoors, shutter speeds are generally always low enough to ensure softness. Dynamic range issues washed out bright backgrounds. The 1-megapixel front camera is grainy and also had very low shutter speeds indoors.
The main camera records 720p video, while the front camera does VGA. Indoors and out, I got washed-out 30-frame-per-second videos on the main camera and 25fps on the front camera.
Media playback is a much happier story. The Galaxy Tab 8.0 comes with 16GB of internal memory plus a MicroSD memory card slot that supports up to 64GB cards. Samsung’s video player has always been top of the line, supporting MP4, H.264, DivX, Xvid and WMV files up to 1080p; you can play them on an HDTV through an MHL cable or DLNA wireless.
Music format support is similarly comprehensive, and Samsung’s music player has a nice multi-pane interface, a bunch of equalizer settings and a fun, silly option called “music square” which attempts to sort your music by mood. Audio through both wired and Bluetooth headphones was fine. The bottom-ported stereo speakers aren’t as punchy as the Galaxy Note 10.1’s front-ported pair, but they’re also fine.
The tablet’s universal remote features are its second big focus. Like the Galaxy Tab 2 7.0, the Galaxy Note 8.0 has an infrared blaster which can control TVs and home theater equipment. It works best with Samsung’s WatchON app; the tabet also comes with Peel Smart Remote, but I couldn’t get it to work properly and Samsung couldn’t figure out why.
WatchOn does a good job of showing you interesting programs you can watch, combined with a more traditional, grid-style electronic program guide with filters and favorites. The program had no problem controlling Samsung or Sharp TVs and Dish and TiVo boxes in our lab.
You can also flip over to lists of movies and TV shows available through Blockbuster or Samsung’s Media Hub app. I’ve heard Netflix support might come soon, too, and that will make it even better. To watch video-on-demand content on your television rather than your tablet, though, your TV needs to support DLNA.
But for DVR owners, WatchON has the the same fatal flaw that similar solutions on Samsung, HTC and Sony devices all do: The contents of your DVR are totally opaque. You can’t schedule recordings; rather, if you tell it you want to watch a show later, it sets a calendar alert. That feels insanely primitive, a 1990s approach for a 2013 tablet.
When Apple launched the iPad mini, I said it inaugurated a new age of premium-priced small tablets. So what should I call a tablet that costs 20 percent more than Apple’s?
The Galaxy Note 8.0 has a bunch of features you don’t see on Apple’s tablets, the Google Nexus 7, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0) or the Amazon Kindle Fire HD, most notably the S Pen and infrared TV remote. While you can duplicate those functions with other tablets, they require costly, clunky accessories.
In a world where you can get a top-notch Android tablet for $200 and an iPad mini for $329, though, it’s just too hard for me to recommend that you spend $400 instead. Artists, especially, will adore the Galaxy Note 8.0. But our Editors’ Choice for small tablets, the best mainstream choice, remains the much less expensive, still very-capable Google Nexus 7.