Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review

Summary: The 8-inch Galaxy Note 8 is reasonably comfortable to hold one-handed in portrait mode to make jottings with its pressure-sensitive pen, and is a delight to use. Still, you'll need to really want the added features that pen input brings to the device, because it's relatively expensive.

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  • Editors' rating:
    7.9
  • User rating:
    7.2
  • RRP:
    £282.50

Pros

  • Good size for pen-based input
  • Fast and capable
  • Handy split-screen system for note-taking
  • Pressure-sensitive stylus

Cons

  • Could benefit from a higher-resolution screen
  • App bundle reduces the headline 16GB of storage
  • Plasticky build quality
  • Expensive

Samsung has arguably done more than any other manufacturer to push the limits of the tablet format. Its Galaxy Note, a 5-inch smartphone/pen-based tablet, now on its second iteration, has established the "phablet" form factor, for example, while the 10.1-inch Galaxy Note 10.1 also supports pen input and sits alongside the standard touch-only Galaxy Tab.

Samsung has now added an intermediate device to the Note range, the 8-inch Galaxy Note 8. It comes in two versions, one with wi-fi and mobile (3G) broadband and the other with wi-fi only. We were sent the wi-fi-only model, which costs £282.50 (ex. VAT; £339 inc. VAT).

Design
Samsung could be accused of confusing the market with its wide array of different sized smartphones, tablets and "phablets" and the use of pen input on some of these devices. Alternatively, you could say that this diversity of products reflects the wide range of user requirements.

One thing you can't accuse Samsung of is lacking a strong brand image. For a while now, the physical design of devices like the Galaxy Note has been very similar. That consistency continues with the Galaxy Note 8.

galaxy-note-8-main
Samsung's 8-inch Galaxy Note 8 runs a 1.6GHz Exynos Quad 4 processor, has 2GB of RAM and comes with 16GB of internal storage — although a good chunk of this is occupied by an extensive software bundle. (Image: Samsung)

The Galaxy Note 8 has a distinctive bright white chassis and a shiny backplate. It feels good in the hand, but the backplate's shininess makes the device a little slippery to hold. It's secure if your hands are big enough to cradle it one-handed in portrait mode, but the fingers can slide around a little when you're holding it in landscape mode. That said, it's nothing we haven't come across before with Samsung's larger devices, and isn't a deal breaker.

The physical home button that's so familiar from the Galaxy S4 smartphone and its predecessors is here, as are the two touch-sensitive Menu and Back buttons that flank it. The Note 8's edges have a silver trim, which houses its various buttons and connectors.

The build is reasonably solid, though the all-plastic chassis does bend if you exert a bit of pressure. The weight of 340g makes the Galaxy Note 8 an easy device to hold for extended periods. Its overall dimensions of 135.9mm wide by 210.8mm deep by 7.95mm thick make the Galaxy Note 8 slightly too large for most coat pockets, but it compares well with the competition. For example, it's only slightly bigger than the iPad mini, whose dimensions are 134.7mm by 200 by 7.2mm.

Measuring 8-inches across the diagonal, the Galaxy Note 8's screen delivers a shade more viewing area than the 7.9-inch iPad mini, and betters Apple's device on resolution too, with 1,280 by 800 pixels compared to the iPad mini's 1,024 by 768. We may hanker for higher resolution, and would prefer more pixels in this case, but found the screen perfectly usable for a range of activities from web browsing and e-book reading to the all-important pen-based note-taking that's a key feature of this device.

Features
Running a 1.6GHz quad-core Samsung Exynos 4 Quad processor with 2GB of RAM, the Galaxy Note 8 is an extremely smooth performer. The touchscreen is also responsive. With GPS, Bluetooth 4.0, DLNA, MHL, dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n, Wi-Fi Direct, 5-megapixel and 1.3-megapixel cameras at the rear and front respectively, along with stereo speakers, the technical features are generally impressive. There's no flash on either camera, and no NFC (Samsung prefers its own S-Beam), but these are minor niggles. Moreover, the 4,600mAh battery got us through a day's worth of fairly intensive use that involved streaming, GPS and browsing.

The Galaxy Note 8 runs Android 4.1, putting it just behind the leading edge, and there are two models, one with wi-fi and mobile (3G) broadband and one with wi-fi only. If you get the 3G model you can use Android's phone features — we'd have liked to test this, but Samsung sent us the wi-fi-only version to review.

Don't be fooled by that headline 16GB of internal storage. Much of it is occupied out of the box, and our review sample reported just 9.7GB free. The device supports microSD cards, and the covered slot is on the left edge where it's easily accessible. A key reason for the difference between the headline and available storage is the huge amount of bundled software Samsung has crammed in.

First off, Samsung has included its TouchWiz Android skin and a range of the add ons we have come to associate with its top end devices. So, for example, there's Samsung's Smart Stay feature which uses the front-facing camera to detect whether you're looking at the device and keeps the screen on if you are, as well as a range of palm-based gestures such sweeping the screen to take a screen grab. There's also a "reading mode" screen setting that helps make the screen less harsh when reading an e-book, and more.

The familiar dual app display system is here too, although it only works for a small number of apps. One useful implementation of this feature is the ability to be in an app and make jottings at the same time — taking notes from a web page, for example.

galaxy-note-8-flat
The Galaxy Note runs Android 4.1 and comes in Wi-Fi-plus-mobile broadband or Wi-Fi-only models. (Image: Samsung)

There's also a variety of apps for use with the pen, plus a number of other extras. The latter include Dropbox, with a generous 50GB of cloud-based storage, Flipboard, Samsung's Music Hub, Music Player, WatchON and Polaris Office. There's even built-in infrared support, plus an app to help you control various devices with it.

Pen-based apps include S Planner for diary management, S Note for brief notes — both written and drawn — and Paper Artist, a rather nice drawing app. That's a lot of apps — but it doesn't cover everything that consumes the headline 16GB of storage out of the box.

The pen input is the star of the show. The Wacom digitiser stylus lives in a housing on the edge of the chassis. It's pressure sensitive, so that while ordinary handwriting recognition is possible (and works well), you can also use it to good effect for freehand drawing. It can even hover over items to call up more information. The bundled apps are only the start, and Samsung's app store highlights plenty more available for download.

We found that it quickly became quite intuitive to pull out the stylus and start taking notes for all manner of things — in fact, we preferred using the Galaxy Note 8 to the 5-inch Galaxy Note II.

Conclusion
The Galaxy Note 8 is a delight to use. It feels the perfect size for a pen-based tablet, simply because it's so close to an A5 paper notebook. If anything, it betters the 5-inch Samsung Galaxy Note in this respect. It's reasonably comfortable to hold one-handed in portrait mode to make jottings, while the pen input benefits from pressure sensitivity.

Still, you'll need to really want the added features that pen input brings to the Galaxy Note 8, because it's relatively expensive at £339 (inc. VAT; £282.50 ex. VAT) for the wi-fi-only model. Compare that to £269 for the 16GB wi-fi-only iPad mini or the similarly-specified Google Nexus 7 at £159.

Specifications

General
Dimensions (W x H x D) 210.8x7.95x135.9 mm
Weight 345 g
OS & software
Software included Android 4.1
Processor & memory
Clock speed 1.6 GHz
Processor model Samsung Exynos Quad 4
RAM 2048 MB
Display
Display size 8 in
Native resolution 1280x800 pixels
Connections
Ports USB 2.0, Micro-USB
Slots MicroSD
Wireless
Wi-Fi 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n
Short range Bluetooth 4.0
GPS technology
Accuracy enhancement system A-GPS
Antenna built in
GPS receiver + GLONASS support
Input devices
Navigation button/wheel Yes
Stylus Yes
Touchscreen Yes
Camera
2nd camera front
Main camera front
2nd camera resolution 1.3 megapixels
Main camera resolution 5 megapixels
Power
Removable battery No
Battery capacity 4600 mAh
Talk time 27 h
Miscellaneous
Accessories AC adapter
Solid-state drive
Capacity 16 GB
Expand

Prices

Price
Price GBP 282.5

Topics: Tablets, Mobility, Reviews, Samsung

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Talkback

31 comments
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  • Yep

    4.0

    Was playing with this the other day. As the Note 2, this setup worked great, changing the screen size and using cheaper build materials makes for an average device all around.
    slickjim
  • Tired of the "cheap build materials" meme

    8.0

    I get so weary of reviews mimicking one another with the "cheap build materials" line when speaking of Samsung. Having owned a GS3 and a Note 2 that I use for international travel, I have thoroughly enjoyed both of these devices. I love the "build." Samsung has chosen to go with polycarbonate for their backs and some of you just can't seem to get over that decision. When I have dropped it, I have been glad for the "plastic" back as it comes away unscathed. One other thing. I am constantly changing Sim cards in my Note 2 and I am grateful for the ease of removing the back and yet the solid snap that I get when I put the back on again. If you don't like it, that's ok, but I kind of get tired of your calling it "cheap." Just say you don't like Samsung's decision and get on with life. With what I've experienced of the stylus, I think it is worth the extra money. I have the Ipad 2 and would have paid 100 extra to get a decent stylus (one that does not feel like a primary school crayon). The stylus on my note 2 is elegant and the handwriting recognition works great. If I get a larger tablet, the Note 8 will be one of my top contenders (also considering a surface pro)
    larsonjs
    • thou dost protest too much

      maybe the reason you keep hearing 'cheap build materials' and 'plasticky' with Samsung is because of the bic lighter feeling people get when picking up a Galaxy Note.
      clerd
      • Knock knock

        9.0

        Or perhaps its the sound of you hitting your head against the wall while attempting to change the batter in your iPad. Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.........................
        ryork272
    • Re: Tired of the "cheap build materials" meme

      Yeah. That polycarbonate plastic is so "cheap", what's the first thing buyers of a certain metal-covered competitor do? Why, hide its expensive shininess in a polycarbonate plastic case, of course.
      ldo17
      • RE: Cheap build

        Not only do they hide the expensive 'gorgeous art form' of the metal phone in cheap plastic, they also bulk up the 'slim, elegant' design....oh and btw, didn't some godhead suggest that they hold it a certain way or 'use a case' (in fact I think they offered free cases....to fix some 'elegant' design issue?
        thevorlonspeaks
      • I own iPad Air and Note 8

        9.0

        I can tell you first hand the iPad with its case is at least 3 times as heavy as the Note 8 in its case. The metal casing in iPad is very heavy so if you drop it the weight itself will destroy the unit. I have dropped my Note 8 several times while in its case. Nothing. It just acts like nothing happened. In addition, apps on my iPad Air crash constantly. Its good for watching movies/tv shows but that's about it.
        ryork272
    • Samsung's So-called cheap build

      Yes , I agree with you. It seems they have to always comment on Samsung's build quality. It is not the only maker using plastic , but it seems to be the only one they like to put down . All these people writing these reviews are merely playing follow the leader . They are disgusting.
      Jillxz
      • Plastic = cheap ???

        7.0

        I believe the rear covers of Samsung phones and tablets are made of polycarbonate. If so, it's hardly "cheap plastic". After all, it's what crash helmets are made of! Think how useful an aluminium crash helmet would be!
        JohnOfStony
    • You just don't understand

      8.0

      The easier it is to break, obviously the higher quality the material.

      That's why the iPhone with the shatter-happy edge to edge glass on both sides is clearly the higher quality build material.


      I like function. I don't really care what it looks like for that brief moment before I put the case on the phone.
      SlithyTove
      • omg...

        8.0

        Apple alone last year made over 6 billion dollars in iphone repairs in america.
        It's giving a kid a bucket of petrol and tell him matches to play with. Of course things are going to go wrong
        b1208
    • cheap build materials

      8.0

      Mate I am in the exact same boat. Bought the gs3 and wanted more from it. So moved to the note 2. The best thing I ever did was move to samsung from the iphone. Yeah iphones a good phone. But very limited. I as well have the ipad 2 and again... very limited.
      As for the cheap material reviewers comment on. When your selling 54 plus million phones in a quarter, it may be cheap but its also the quickest and most efficient way to produce such a quantity in such little time. If thats all people have to criticize samsung about they're "back cover" then I for one think samsung are doing pretty well everywhere else in the phone.
      P.s. the note 10.1 is also a great device to have.
      b1208
    • Tired of the "cheap build materials" meme

      7.0

      @larsonjs. Hear hear! I used to own a Galaxy SII, and currently own a S4 as well as a 10.1" Samsung tablet, and in my opinion the plastic materials do not distract one single bit from the quality of the products. I find the back covers on the phones to be a snap to remove and replace, and once in place, they feel solid and they keep the overall weight of the product down. Plastic may have started out many years ago to be a cheap alternative to metal, but these days plastics are as durable as metals. for example, I also own an Apple ipod 160Gb classic, and within the first week of use its shiny aluminum back cover was already covered in fine scratches - so much for the "durable" finish!
      hansp1
  • Practical and functional features.

    8.0

    If when Apple comes out with the same product with a digitizer stylus it's going to be horribly expensive. But then again Apple doesn't like to copy because they're suppose to have patented it first! LOL I have it's bigger brother the Galaxy Note 10.1 and it's a fantastic tablet.
    kanehi
    • This isn't cheap...

      Not really bothered about brand arguments, but for it's size this is an expensive tablet.

      I'm not saying you don't get the hardware for the money, but there's no escaping the increasing cost of Samsung hardware. Now their name's out there they can charge a profitable amount, unlike google and amazon which are subsidising their offerings against the store revenues.
      MarknWill
      • RE: This isn't cheap

        I am not sure how you call a 8" tablet with a integrated stylus and expandable storage 'expensive' at 379 (US) - expensive compared to what - an 8 inch form factor tablet with no stylus, and no expandable storage?

        When I look on at online, the ipad mini goes for 339 (US) and the Note 8 goes for 379 - give the difference in capability (stylus & expandable storage) that is a reasonable differential.

        How much would Apple increase the cost of the ipad mini by for a stylus - 30 - 40 dollars at least, most likely it would be more - and still no expandable storage.
        thevorlonspeaks
  • It's all about the PEN!

    8.0

    I cannot understand why some reviewers, not Sandra, do not state out at the outset that it's the PEN that is the key differentiator and unique feature. Why buy a pen-enabled device (active digitiser) if one has no need for it?

    Microsoft's first tablet foray never took off due to poor marketing (especially with OneNote), which is why I have gone for the Galaxy series.

    My S2 was stolen while I working abroad in December last year, but as I had been trying out a colleague's Note 1, I had already decided my next phone would be the Note 2. It was waiting for me when I got back home just before Christmas and I have not opened my iPad3 since.

    My Note 2 has replaced my bulky pocketbook.

    I decided to get a Note 10.1 for taking notes at work, it's working fine and has made my Moleskine and other notebooks redundant. I also use if for sofa surfing at home, however I do find the weight a tad heavy when reading it in Kindle mode in the evening.

    I have decided to get a Note 8 not just for reading books, but as a backup and alternative to my 10.1 - I work in developing regions where theft is very common.

    I agree with other commenters about the 'cheap' build NOT being a problem. In any case, who in their right minds does not use a protective cover/shield/sleeve/whatever on their portable devices, unless they work for a company that does not mind forking out for replacements?

    Again: it's all about the PEN!
    AN O'Nymous
  • screen viewing area nitpick

    Minor nitpick- an iPad mini actually has more screen surface area than the Tab 8 due to the 4:3 format.
    NovaDrew
    • Nitpick?

      This isn't about the Tab 8 - it's about the Note 8 which is an entirely different platform.
      thevorlonspeaks
  • Samsung N5100

    7.0

    I have the 3G edition and it is very simple to carry around and usage is great. 3G is not available in USA which I bought one from UK.
    iarslangiray