Galaxy Note 8.0 tablet: Beating the iPad mini with features (review)

Summary:Samsung has a winner in the Galaxy Note 8.0. It competes directly with the iPad mini by adding features that Apple can't duplicate.

Note 8 iPad mini
Left: Note 8.0; Right: iPad mini-- Image credit: James Kendrick/ZDNet

I love my iPad mini but after I borrowed a friend's Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 recently I had to buy one. The Note 8.0 has a similar size to that of the iPad mini but the resemblance ends there. Samsung has added features that are unique to the Note 8.0 that makes it stand out from the crowd.

The Galaxy Note 2 has similar features but the extra 2.5 inches (diagonally) of screen size on the Note 8.0 brings them to life. The Samsung S Pen made famous on both the Note phones and the bigger Note 10.1 tablet really comes into full usefulness on the perfectly sized Note 8.0. Taking notes on this tablet with the pen is such a good experience it could easily make its way into conference rooms at the office.

Hardware specs:

  • Processor: Samsung Exynos 4412, 1.6GHz quad-core
  • Display: 8-inch, 1280x800, 189 ppi, touch + pen digitizer
  • Memory: 2GB
  • Storage: 16GB, microSD up to 64GB
  • Cameras: Front- 1.3MP, Back- 5MP
  • OS: Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean)
  • Battery: 4,600 mAh
  • Connectivity: wi-fi a/b/g/n, 2.4 and 5 GHz
  • Dimensions: 210.8x135.9x7.95 mm, 8.29x5.35x0.31 inches; 340g, 0.74lb

Some folks don't like Samsung's special flavor of Android but as it does on the Note 2 phone it shines on the Note 8.0. There is the right combination of features that take advantage of the hardware and standard Android functionality that makes it work well.

Notes 8 and 2
Similar style of Note 8.0 tablet and Note 2 phone- Image credit: James Kendrick/ZDNet

The 8-inch display makes the Note 8.0 the perfect size to use comfortably in the hand. The tablet is thin and light and it is nice to use in either portrait orientation or landscape. While the build quality feels "plasticky", it is durable and can handle light bumps.

The front of the Note 8.0 has a large physical Home button flanked by two touch buttons (Menu and Return). There is a web cam (1.3MP) above the display in the normal portrait orientation. The top of the unit has a headphone jack and the right side finds the power button and volume rockers. There is also an infrared transmitter on the right for use as a remote control for entertainment devices with an included app.

Two features that beat the iPad mini

The Galaxy Note 8.0 compares favorably with the iPad mini in size and function. Both are solid tablets that handle apps well and are fun to use. Samsung has included some special hardware and apps that beat the iPad mini in functionality.

Note 8 pen note

The S Pen rests in a silo on the lower right of the Note 8.0. Removing the pen from the garage optionally makes a confirmation noise and fires up the S Note app for taking notes. The pen has a hover mode that works like a mouse on a PC, information is displayed by holding the pen above screen controls. Windows can be scrolled by hovering the pen over screen edges which is very useful.

Taking notes in ink on the screen works very well on the Note 8.0 The tablet is a good size for using as a notepad and the pen smoothly flows over the screen when writing. While the included S Note app is a nice simple note-taking app, there are a number of third-party apps in the Play Store that turn the Note 8.0 into a real notepad.

The second feature that leaves the iPad mini behind is the multi-view mode that allows displaying two apps on the screen at once. I discovered the usefulness of multi-view on the Note 2 phone, and the larger display of the Note 8.0 makes it really shine.

Note 8 multiview
Tweetings and Chrome browser in multi-view

Multi-view allows doing things like having Gmail in a window on the left and working on an Office document using the included Polaris Office app on the right. This is only one use for multi-view, you can have any two supported apps (and there are quite a few of them) side-by-side on the screen at once. I like having the Chrome browser on half the screen and the Papyrus note-taking app on the other to take notes from reference sites in the browser.

Big bang for the buck

The Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 is an outstanding tablet for the price of $399. While some feel that's too expensive, when you factor in the outstanding hardware and features not available on any other tablet it is a reasonable price.

The price is already coming down for the Note 8.0 as Amazon has it for $379.99 at the time of this review. There are cheaper Android tablets out there but none offer the total package as does the Galaxy Note 8.0. I am very happy with this purchase.

Topics: Mobility, Bring Your Own Device, Reviews, Samsung, Tablets

About

James Kendrick has been using mobile devices since they weighed 30 pounds, and has been sharing his insights on mobile technology for almost that long. Prior to joining ZDNet, James was the Founding Editor of jkOnTheRun, a CNET Top 100 Tech Blog that was acquired by GigaOM in 2008 and is now part of that prestigious tech network. James' w... Full Bio

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