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

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.

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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, Reviews, Samsung, Tablets, Bring Your Own Device

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72 comments
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  • iOS has no features

    The device is just... apps. You need an app to do one thing and then an app to do another. There are no "features" in the iOS. Apple needs to change gears or people will start slapping a PALM PILOT sticker on these iPads and iPhones.

    Android is a full Linux OS, the interface limits terminal access, but put it this way, NASA is using Nexus S phones to control satellites. The iOS requires full user interaction. And the other great feature, I have access to my files!
    Maarek
    • you are right

      about iPad just being about apps. iOS is not in a position to continue advancing without a full redesign, but then app compatibility may be affected.
      The 'fixed' iOS design gave it an early performance advantage but now its becomming a limitation as the competition pulls ahead.
      deathjazz
      • Other problem with Apple

        The other problem I have with Apple is the very fact that they have an ecosystem so closed that it gives Apple management veto power over what apps may be made available. As far as I'm concerned, I bought it, I get to decide what I want to do with it and if it offends some corporatist hippie's sensibilities back in Cupertino, well, tough (you know what).
        rocket ride
        • right, but then

          you become like android which has a "malware problem". (Note its only a problem for those who consciously choose to do dumb things like sideloading apk's from Russian porn sites, ignoring the fact that the app requests SMS and phone permissions)
          deathjazz
          • Yeah, right. Perhaps you should

            do a bing search for malware in the google app store.
            baggins_z
    • NASA may be using it but Android has been panned for security reasons

      There have been a few articles on this so you can Google it. I also have a friend who's a scientist for the Navy and after some exhaustive testing - they chose iOS for security because Google isn't making security a priority with Android - Updates are handled by the manufacturer of the device instead of Google (unlike iOS, Windows, Linux, MacOS, etc.) and Google's continuos capture of data they use for marketing reasons, etc.

      The air force just started acquiring iPads as well.

      As someone who's owned devices with both iOS and Android. I think Google chose the wrong model for Android updates. Making the manufacturer push updates is like putting the fox in charge of the hen house. It's not in their best interest. Furthermore, forcing people to root (like I did) to update their device means they are using someone else's code instead of Google's. I've gone through a lot of kernels on my Nexus 7 till I found a stable one, for example.

      Google ultimately didn't want the responsibility of patching Android for each device. Microsoft manages to do this with Windows that runs on far more possible GPU/CPU/hardware than all the Android devices in existence. Linux, is also updated to run on ARM/Intel/PowerPC, and a myriad of hardware... There is no excuse for Google not to choose a model that separates the drivers (that can be updated by the manufacturer) from the OS - This would allow them to update and patch Android all the time.

      I would love to see people taking Google up on this as it's gonna just keep getting worse...
      dragnn
      • Auto-update for Android

        I bought a Samsung Galaxy S3 just before Christmas 2012. It came with Ice Cream Sandwich. Within 3 weeks, it had auto-upgraded (with a bit of help from me when it asked for it) to Jelly Bean. It was about this time that I started having problems with th S3 going occasionally going into continual reboot which could be stopped by suitable simultaneous presing of the power, volume down and home buttons (if I remember correctly). This situation lasted maybe 12 weeks and since mid-April the continual reboot has never recurred. I suspect an auto-update has corrected the bug but I am now very happy with the S3.
        Why have I written this? Because it shows that at least one Android device does auto-update its firmware. It also shows that Android doesn't always get it right first time, but when it doesn't, it does get it right next time.
        I also have an iPod touch with which I was delighted when I bought it, but since getting the S3, the only use the iPod gets is providing music in the car via USB, that is when I'm not using the S3 via Bluetooth. ;)
        JohnOfStony
        • How can you be sure...

          ...that it was an Android update, and not a Samsung update?
          jaykayess
        • I wish that was the case for all Android devices...

          "Because it shows that at least one Android device does auto-update its firmware. It also shows that Android doesn't always get it right first time, but when it doesn't, it does get it right next time."

          Not on the Nexus, Wifi wasn't right the first time, yes the second, and it's back to broken on 4.2.2.

          Bluetooth was supposed to be corrected in 4.2>4.2.1 but it wasn't. It was 4.2.2 that came out months later that corrected it.

          The point is Samsung may be doing this and HUGE kudos to them for doing so. 38% of the Android devices are using 2.3.3 - 2.3.7, and 28% using 4.0.3 -4.0.4 for a reason.(http://developer.android.com/about/dashboards/index.html)

          Google didn't do it's job when designing the Android update system. They didn't sperate the hardware from the OS (like Windows, Linux). You're not getting updates from Dell for your Windows machine, you're getting them from Microsoft. Google should have done the same. They are actually acknowledging it but realize it's now a gargantuan task.

          Rooting shouldn't be an answer - HUGE kudos to the guys and gals that make that possible.

          The Google snooping issue is also the other reason they are not getting chosen. I don't care as much for my stuff on my Android devices but people in security do and they aren't going to reengineer an OS when there are other choices... Simple economy
          dragnn
          • But they are choosing it

            Government departments, defence departments, equipment for units on the ground, they're starting to accept android as sufficiently secure to include on accepted h/w lists.
            I think it was earlier this month that it was reported the US DOD had authorised SAMSUNG devices to be used by units on the ground. I doubt it was the basic knox upgrade but it does show that the underlying OS is considered acceptable, with similar tweaks as needed by IOS etc.
            Little Old Man
          • Reference, please :)

            Please link to the article you're referencing.

            I'll get my friend who works in Navy research to reference a few reasons why his department reported that Android is not good for security sensitive applications.
            dragnn
          • Just for you then

            This is the most recent I remember, and there have been others both UK and US government depts.:

            http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-22395602
            Little Old Man
          • Rooting shouldn't be an answer - HUGE kudos to the guys and gals that make

            well IMHO rooting should not be needed at all.

            unlike a single purpose device the phones used to be, nowadays this are a full fledge multitasking computers. and should not be locked from the user/owner.

            I bought it, I won it, I do what I want with it.

            the model should be just like linux/unix systems.
            you are running as user and provide a permission to use root as needed on case per case basis.
            vl1969
      • Problem with Android

        The flip side of my above comment is exactly what dragnn is talking about. (Especially the Google snooping.)
        At this point I have sufficient philosophical problems with both of the major tablet/smartphone OS players that I don't see myself getting a smartphone or a general-purpose tablet anytime soon.

        So I'm still using my old dumb phone (at least I'm saving on data fees), and a Nook Simple Touch (which I just found out can handle .PDFs. and generic EPUB books-- that would have been useful to know when I got it). Yes, I know there's Android buried under there somewhere and Google's presumably spying on my book purchases, but what the hey, B&N already knows what I'm buying e-book-wise, anyway.

        And I use real computers (Win7) for everything else.
        rocket ride
      • You confuse the reason

        I think the reason there is customisation by h/w makers is to differentiate their product from everything else. It's the manufacturers that have taken the control away from google. They don't want their product being too similar to the competition. While some people loathe the touchwiz that samsung use, I think it brings valuable extras to the equipment that helps separate them from HTC's etc. While some itards think split screen apps ruin the viewing area, they fail to understand YOU CAN TURN IT ON AND OFF (not aimed at you) and it's surprising how useful it can be. However, the trade-off is much slower updates than the nexus' get. It's this customised overlay that creates the update delays where manufacturers have an added test layer to make sure it doesn't conflict with their custom code. There's no denying however that h/w makers aren't going to rush out to provide updates if they think holding back will push sales of the newer devices. Samsung do however appear to be ahead of the game in that respect though, something else that will differentiate them from HTC and Sony et al as people expect more speedy updates from them.
        Little Old Man
        • Maybe I need to elaborate my point

          Yes, the overlays and enhancements are ways to differentiate but Android OS is the OS - It along with bug and security updates should be independent of hardware driver enhancements and overlays. Windows machines regularly get the "DELL" or "LENOVO" treatment with additional *bloat* software to "enhance" the user experience yet they are regularly (one Tuesday every month) updated by Microsoft.

          Linux comes in sooooo many flavors with different desktops, programs, yet the base OS is updated regardless of all the fancy stuff..


          Google picked the wrong model when launching Android. They decided to make it so the manufacturers had control instead of designing the OS to separate the "enhancements" from the base OS.

          Does that make more sense?
          dragnn
          • Yes actually

            I do see where your coming from now. I misunderstood what you were saying in the earlier post.

            However, while we call them overlays, they're more embedded than the usual bloatware that you see on pc's and for that reason, I'm not sure it would be simple to separate them completely from the basic OS. People already question whether samsung have forked android, touchwiz is more than just a bit of fancy bloatware. That's the trade-off for the h/w maker and the user.
            Little Old Man
          • You make a great point!

            I think you're right, it's a little deeper but that isn't Samsung's fault. It's the design of the OS and the update model they chose when launching Android.

            I don't want to malign Google but I question the logic of making this OS unlike every other flavor of Linux (which it's based on) update by manufacturer instead of designing the OS in a way that allow the manufactures such low level manipulation that makes updates impossible.

            Every OS has security issues and requires regular bug patches... It shows either a lack of concern (which I doubt as people working for Google are quite brilliant) or the decision that they don't want the burden/risk of updating (insert millions) of android devices. If MS can do it, and Linux distros can do it, Apple can do it... Google should be doing it.
            dragnn
          • Although Touchwiz

            is the default app, it can be replaced with another app. You don't have to use it. In fact, until Jelly Bean, I didn't use it. I used Launcher Pro as my GUI. I only starting using touchwiz again because with Jelly Bean you can have folders, which allows me to cut down on the number of windows I need.
            sgtm8
    • iOS has features Android doesn't yet have

      Granted, Android has some iOS probably never will have--because they make the device harder to use.
      What Android doesn't have is the ability to automatically synch data across devices. Photographs, word-processing and others. Taking a picture on your phone and emailing it is simple, no matter the device. Taking that picture on your phone, proofing it on your tablet with your client and then editing, fine-tuning and publishing that picture from your PC--without ever 'sending' it to any other device? Show me that feature in Android. That's not just an 'app'.
      Vulpinemac