Display and S Pen
The Note 8.0 has a 1280 x 800 display (likely PLS, it is not Super AMOLED like Samsung phones), and though some have bemoaned the low resolution, it's a decent resolution for an 8" panel. It doesn't look grainy or fuzzy in the least, and I suspect the resolution is limited by the current constraints of Wacom technology. The S Pen works very well for drawing and note taking with good tracking and smooth lines--it's a joy to use compared to a capacitive stylus and it allows for palm rejection, so you can rest your hand on the screen while writing and drawing.
Wacom digitizers support hovering (the pointer appears on the screen even if the pen is a few millimeters above the glass), and Samsung uses this to add features like pen gesture navigation through photos and videos in the Gallery application. Is this a gimmick or a feature? You decide. We do like that the Note 8.0 knows when you've removed the pen from its silo and it can automatically open a palette of pen-centric apps when the pen is pulled from the silo. Samsung's custom pen apps are on board, just as with the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 smartphone and Note 10.1 tablet: S Note, a new Awesome Note HD app, a handwriting input panel option (you can use this instead of the on-screen keyboard), split window mode so you can take notes while viewing a web page, email or Office document and more. Not all apps are supported, but core apps like the web browser, gmail, S Note and the Polaris Office suite work with this feature.
Android supports pen input most anywhere, so you can use it in place of your finger to navigate the device and other apps like Adobe Reader support the pen for highlighting and signing documents. Art apps like Sketchbook Pro and Layer Paint work with pressure sensitivity (though some brushes seem to be pressure sensitive while others don't in Sketchbook Pro) and the many note-taking apps available on Google Play like Lecture Notes work well. In fact, since Samsung's Android pen-based tablets are the biggest mainstream sellers on the market, most pen-aware apps on the Android market do support the Note 8.0 along with the Galaxy Note 10.1 and Samsung Galaxy Note phones.
As with other Samsung devices, you can choose from a few color modes (dynamic, standard and movie) for different levels of color saturation, and there's a new Reading mode that's a little easier on the eyes when reading ebooks. As with the Note II smartphone, the tablet features Smart Stay, which uses the front camera to see if you're looking at the display and thus won't turn it off when you're reading. I love this feature and wish every tablet and phone had it! Viewing angles are excellent and are on par with IPS displays: even off angle colors are strong as is contrast. As we've noted with other Galaxy devices, the ambient light sensor delivers less than optimal brightness that sets the display too dim for our liking, so we opted for manual brightness instead.
Horsepower and Performance
The Galaxy Note 8.0 is a very fast tablet; in fact it's faster than the larger Galaxy Note 10.1. It runs on a quad core Samsung Exynos 4412 CPU with Mali 400 graphics and 2 gigs of RAM. The tablet scored an impressive 7054 on Quadrant, 16,214 on the Antutu benchmark and 2133 in Geekbench 2. For the money, you're getting one of the fastest Android tablets currently on the market and the fastest tablet measuring 8" or smaller. It feels responsive and fluid with no lag; you're getting your money's worth here. That said, hardcore gamers who love Nvidia Tegra 3 CPU and GPU optimized games can't count on them here since this is an Exynos CPU. It's not that the Exynos can't handle extremely demanding loads (it can) bur rather some games offer additional visual effects for the Tegra 3.
Geekbench 2: 2127
AV Remote and WatchOn
We were both pleased and disappointed with Samsung's new WatchOn app that handles basic home theatre control via the IR port to replace your many remotes and acts as a TV programming guide. In the past, Samsung included Peel, and this is the first time we've seen WatchOn in addition to Peel included with a Samsung tablet. It did a good job as a programming guide, but it offered only a subset of the cable providers in our area, and we live in a large metropolitan area (subsequent updates added Time Warrner, our cable provider). WatchOn is easy to set up and it walks you through the steps of choosing your cable provider and setting up your TV and cable box. Peel offers strong programming discovery tools and it allows you to control additional home theatre gear like your AV receiver and Blu-ray.
7 and 8 inch tablets often have good battery life given their relatively smaller displays compared to their 10" counterparts, but the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 delivers unimpressive runtimes with WiFi on and brightness set to 50%. We got just 5.5 hours of continuous video playback from the 4600 mAh Lithium Ion battery that's sealed inside. That's 3 hours short of the average for tablets in this size range and significantly shorter than our WiFi iPad mini and Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9 that ran for over 10 hours in the same test. The Exynos is fast, but power frugal it's not.
The tablet has a decent 1.3 megapixel front camera that's good enough for video chat and a distinctly average 5 megapixel rear camera. For the price, we expect a better rear camera with features like HDR, 1080p video recording and perhaps an LED flash. The camera app does offer a healthy dose of settings including many scene modes, 2 focus modes (auto and macro), GPS tagging, panorama, Samsung Buddy Share, metering (matrix, center and spot) and exposure control. The camera's maximum video recording resolution is 1280 x 720 (720p).
Much as you might guess, the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 offers a more portable and compact experience compared to the company's 10" Galaxy Note 10.1. Which one should you choose? That's a matter of your size preference: if you loved the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 but felt it was too large, this is your tablet. The Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 is also faster, though both tablets have more than enough speed for most users, and it uses a standard micro USB port for charging, syncing and USB host for greater convenience. If you're trying to decide between the iPad mini and the surprisingly more expensive Note 8.0, the decision comes down to the S Pen and Android vs. iOS. If you're a serious note taker or an artist, the choice is obvious.
Price: $399 for 16 gig WiFi model
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