Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review

  • Editors' rating
    7.9 Very good

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.

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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

Display
Touchscreen Multi-Touch
Multi-Touch Display Yes
Technology TFT active matrix
Diagonal Size 8 in
Diagonal Size (metric) 20.3 cm
Native Resolution 1280 x 800
Pixel Density (ppi) 189
Miscellaneous
Features Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL) 1.2
Color pearl white
Color Category white
Bluetooth Profiles Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP), Audio/Video Remote Control Profile (AVRCP), Generic Access Profile (GAP), Hands-Free Profile (HFP), Headset Profile (HSP), Human Interface Device Profile (HID), Object Push Profile (OPP), Personal Area Networking Profile (PAN), Phonebook Access Profile (PBAP), Serial Port Profile (SPP)
General
Operating System Android 4.1.2 (Jelly Bean)
Processor
Clock Speed 1.6 GHz
Number of Cores Quad-Core
Type Exynos 4412
Memory
Storage 16 GB
Communications
Mobile Broadband Access 3G
Cellular Protocol EDGE, GPRS, GSM, HSPA+, UMTS
Band GSM 850/900/1800/1900 / UMTS 850/900/1900/2100
Wireless Protocol 802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0
Security Protocols & Features DLNA, Wi-Fi Direct
Camera
Focus Adjustment automatic
Networking
Wireless Connectivity Bluetooth 4.0, IEEE 802.11a, IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11g, IEEE 802.11n, IrDA
Location
Navigation Software & Services Google Maps
Multimedia
Audio Microphone, stereo speakers
Battery
Run Time (Up To) 14 hour(s)
Talk Time up to 1620 min
Technology lithium ion
Capacity 4600 mAh
Header
Brand Samsung
Product Line Samsung Galaxy
Model Note 8.0
Packaged Quantity 1
Expansion and Connectivity
Expansion Slots 1 x microSDHC
Interfaces 1 x headset
1 x dock
USB Host yes
System
Platform Android
Handheld Type tablet
RAM
Installed Size 2 GB
Flash Memory
Installed Size 16 GB
Card Reader
Slots (for SD) microSD slot
Supported Flash Memory Cards microSDHC
Flash Memory Cards Max Supported Capacity 64 GB
Digital Camera
Cameras (for SD) rear camera + front camera
Rear-facing Camera Yes
Focus Adjustment automatic
Audio Output
Type stereo speakers
Audio Input
Type microphone
Modem
Mobile Broadband Access 3G
Band GSM 850/900/1800/1900 / UMTS 850/900/1900/2100
Mobile Broadband
Service Activation Yes
Cellular Protocol EDGE, GPRS, GSM, HSPA+, UMTS
GPS System
Navigation A-GPS/GLONASS receiver
Navigation Software & Services Google Maps
Expansion Slots
Type microSDHC
Total Qty 1
Interface Provided
Interface dock, headset
Qty 1
OS Provided
Type Android 4.1.2 (Jelly Bean)
PDA Software
Type ActiveSync, AllShare Cast, AllShare Play, Android Browser, Flipboard, Game Hub, Gmail, Google Chrome, Google Download, Google Latitude, Google Maps Navigation, Google Places, Google Play Books, Google Play Movies & TV, Google Play Store, Google Plus, Google Search, Google Talk, Learning Hub, Multi Window, Music Hub, Paper Artist, Readers Hub, S Note, S Planner, Samsung Apps, Samsung ChatON, Samsung Kies, Samsung Kies air, Samsung Live Panel, Samsung TouchWiz, Smart Stay, Video Hub, YouTube
Power Device
Type power adapter
Dimensions & Weight
Width 8.3 in
Depth 0.3 in
Height 5.4 in
Weight 12.17 oz

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