With the Galaxy Note 8, Samsung tried to capitalize on the growing popularity of its stylus-equipped series. The Note 8 aims to strike a balance between the (relative) portability of the 5.5-inch Note 2 and the display real estate offered by the Note 10.1. For some, the 8-inch device, with its thin profile and easy to hold form factor may be the ideal Note, a device that unlocks the true potential of the S Pen.
Regardless on which side of the debate you position yourself, the Note 8 is an interesting device, that is worth your attention. Let’s take a closer look at the Galaxy Note 8’s design, build quality, specifications, features, and software. In a hurry? Jump straight to the video review.
On the 8-inch bandwagon
It is fairly clear that Samsung targeted Apple’s iPad mini with the new Galaxy Note 8. At 8-inch, the Note is slightly wider than 7-inchers such as the Nexus 7 or the Galaxy Tab 7, but the device is still narrow enough to be hold with one hand, although many will find it unruly. The fact that the device is just eight millimeters thick certainly helps with the handling.
Design-wise, the Note 8 is a typical product of Samsung’s design language that was first exemplified in the Galaxy S3. In fact, the tablet looks a bit like someone at Samsung took a Galaxy S3 and flattened it with a roller. The bezels surrounding the 8-inch display are relatively narrow, and, on the bottom, we find the typical Samsung button setup, with a central physical Home button flanked by two capacitive keys. The presence and placement of this button setup indicates that the Note 8 was primarily designed to be used in portrait mode.
On the back, Samsung opted for the typical plastic back cover, which helps with keeping the weight of the device low at 338 grams. The plastic is, however, prone to collecting fingerprints and becoming a little slick to the touch. The sides of the Note 8 are rounded, but not rounded enough to make the grip of the device uncomfortable.
Display: you get what you pay for
With the barrage of full HD devices coming our way, it’s easy to become spoiled and look down at new devices that don’t belong to the full HD club. The Note 8 features a TFT display of 1280 x 800 resolution, which will certainly not blow your mind, but might be just good enough to offer an enjoyable experience.
The TFT panels boasts a 189 ppi density, well below the level of 300 ppi at which pixels become indistinguishable for all but the most eagle-eyed of users. This means that, while the images and text will look decent at a normal (for a tablet) viewing distance, the pixels will be distinct once you bring the tablet closer.
Contrast levels are reasonably good, but if you’re used with AMOLED screens, such as that of the Note 2, the TFT will look a little dull to you.
Ultimately, the display of the Note 8 will do just fine for reading, and is likely you will find it enjoyable for other activities, but don’t set your expectations too high.
Quad-core performance and an S Pen
Swiping through the colorful TouchWiz, it’s visible that the Exynos 4 Quad processor that powers the Note 8 does a great job. The 1.6GHz CPU has no trouble powering the system with little to no stutter and the Note 8 got an adequate 18,000 score in the AnTuTu benchmark. For reference, the newest devices out there, powered by the Snapdragon 600 processor, go over 25,000 points, while devices from last year hover between 15,000 and 20,000. Assisting the CPU in graphics-intensive and multitasking applications are the Mali-400MP GPU and 2GB of RAM. Overall, the setup ensures a snappy user experience.
The Galaxy Note 8 offers two versions of storage, 16GB and 32GB, which can be expanded thanks to the SD card slot on the side. The device we tested didn’t have phone capability like international versions have, but we think that few users will really miss it. (For a discussion of the pros and cons of having a tablet that can make phone calls, check out our Asus Fonepad review.) Another absent feature is NFC, probably removed to minimize costs.
Of course, the defining feature of any Note device is the presence of the S Pen stylus, which lets users write, diagram, or simply navigate through the interface of the Note 8. The S Pen is slotted in the bottom right corner of the device, and removing it awakes the tablet, a handy ability for quick note taking. The S Pen is one of the unique benefits of the Note 8 and it doesn’t take too much for it to become an extension of your hand.
Battery and camera: move along folks
The Galaxy Note 8 is equipped with a non-removable 4600mAh battery, which, in theory, should get most “average” users through two days of moderate usage. In our tests, the Note 8 endured a full day of moderate to heavy usage, which is certainly important with a device designed for productivity. However, power users should be cautioned that several hours of intensive use can deplete the Note 8, leaving them scrambling for an outlet. Overall, we rate the battery of the Note 8 as decent, but not spectacular.
Tablet cameras are notorious for their poor optics (not to mention the ridicule you will be exposed to for using them). The Note 8 is no exception – the 5 megapixel back camera lacks a flash, and we feel that Samsung put it in there to cross a point off a checklist, rather than as a true selling point. The shooter can take some decent images in adequate conditions, but don’t think of it as anything more than an emergency/backup camera for the times your primary camera is out for some reason.
Camera sample – click to enlarge
TouchWiz and S Pen apps
The Galaxy Note 8 runs Samsung’s colorful TouchWiz Android 4.1.2 implementation, with a few modifications made to accommodate the S Pen. Some of the tweaks include power widgets in the notification dropdown and a couple of navigation additions like palm motions.
The most appealing and potentially useful software features of the Note 8 are related to the S Pen, which gives you many new ways of performing otherwise unwieldy little tasks, such as taking notes or annotating documents. Like the S Pen on the Note 2, the stylus on the Note 8 features Air View functionality, which shows previews when the users hovers the tip of the stylus over certain elements. For instance, you can read a message without opening it or preview an image folder by hovering the S Pen over it.
The S Pen also enables gestures, made in conjunction with the button, such as the cut out, the ability to capture a portion of the screen for scrapbooking or for quick messaging.
Quick Commands lets you flick with the stylus on the screen to open a customizable menu of various little tasks, which can be a useful ability for multitaskers.
Speaking of which, Multi-window, the ability to use several apps at once on the 8-inch screen of the Note, is present.
The 16GB, Wi-Fi only version of the Galaxy Note 8 is available in the United States for $399, a price that isn’t exactly cheap, but not unreasonably high either. It’s clear that Samsung made some compromises in the specs and features department to be able to offer the Note 8 at that price point, but does the end result justify the financial effort?
The answer boils down to one point – do you care about the S Pen, and if so, how much are you willing to pay to have it? The stylus is the biggest selling factor of a device that is in most regards average. The camera is lackluster, the battery life is only decent, and the software is standard fare if you don’t care about the S Pen features. On the plus side, the Galaxy Note 8 offers great performance and the display is relatively good, making it a good option for media consumption and gaming.
In the end, the price of the Note 8 may be justified by the presence of the S Pen and the functionality it brings to the table. If you are not impressed with it, or if digital scribing isn’t your thing, you may be better off with a cheaper competitor of a similar size.
What do you make of the Samsung Galaxy Note 8? Is it worth the price? Vote in our poll and let us know in the comments.