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A Hands-On Report About Samsung's Galaxy Note 8.0


A Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 tablet at the 2013 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona

Photograph by Angel Navarrete/Bloomberg

A Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 tablet at the 2013 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona

Samsung’s (005930:KS) Galaxy Note 8.0 arrived on store shelves this weekend. After spending a few minutes with one, I paid $399 to walk out with the new tablet. That price gets you a 16 GB version of the 8-inch tablet running Android 4.1.2, which doesn’t have any mobile broadband connectivity. This is a Wi-Fi only model that, unlike the international version, has the cellular voice capabilities stripped out. This means the Galaxy Note 8.0 competes squarely with Apple’s (AAPL) $329 iPad mini.

The Galaxy Note 8.0 does have some features and hardware components that the iPad mini lacks, so I understand the higher price. Is it worth the $70 premium? It’s too early to say, as I’ve really only had a solid day to use it. I’ll follow up with an answer to that question. For now, here are my first impressions, in no particular order.

• The look and feel is definitely more like a super-sized Galaxy S 4 than a Note 2.
• I can grab the device one-handed from the back; it’s not too wide, even with my small hands. In fact, the Note 8.0 is nearly the same width as the iPad mini: just a scant 1.2 millimeters wide. It is thicker than the iPad mini, at 7.95 millimeters vs. 7.2 millimeters.
• It’s too early to provide actual battery run-time results, but with limited testing of the integrated 4600 mAh battery, I’m expecting at least 10 hours of moderate use.
• Samsung’s 1.6 GHz quad-core Exynos, paired with 2 GB of RAM, keeps the device moving along nicely. This isn’t the fastest Android device I’ve experienced, but there’s no noticeable lag.
• There’s little new here with Samsung’s TouchWiz user interface. If you’ve used a Galaxy S 3, Note 2, or any other recent Samsung phones, the UI is the mostly the same. A few new UI tweaks I saw in the brief hands-on I got with Galaxy S 4 have made their way to the Note 8.0, however: You can configure what settings appear in the Notification pane, for example. The Smart Stay feature—keeping the display on when the tablet detects your face—is also here.
• I like the rectangular aspect ration of the 1280 x 800 display. As far as the display itself, it has a slightly higher pixel density than the iPad mini, but generally looks the same—maybe a smidge better. Samsung has some nice options to change the fonts and add clarity to text. Running two apps on a display of this size is excellent; better than on my Note 2.0.
• Like the Galaxy S 4, the Note 8.0 includes a IR-blaster to control your television or set-top box. I haven’t tested this yet. Also included is WatchOn for your local television guide, which correctly showed both my local and FiOS TV stations.
• Video playback is quite good. Over the weekend I watched the Masters golf tournament, YouTube (GOOG) HD movie trailers, and an NHL game.
• The 5-megapixel rear camera won’t likely replace your smartphone camera, but it’s handy in a pinch. It captures images and 1080p video. There aren’t many scene modes, however. I haven’t tested the forward-facing 1.2 megapixel camera for video chatting yet.
• Two speakers at the bottom of the tablet—when held in portrait—are acceptable, though not great.
• Although the device comes with 16 GB of storage, around 6 are used by the system. Good thing the Note 8.0 has a microSD slot, so you can add up to 64 GB of further storage.
• The S-Pen for the Note 8.0 is barely longer than the one included with the Note 2.0. I like taking notes on the tablet more than on my phone because of the larger screen; I can fit far more information on the screen and the writing surface is more like a small notebook. The back and menu button work with the S-Pen.
• Although the device is designed to be used in portrait mode, the home screen does rotate to landscape.

Overall, I like the device—not surprising, given my long-standing preference for small slates. But I’m already wondering where this device would fit into my life. Since it doesn’t have integrated 3G/4G or cellular voice, it can’t take the place of my Note 2.0. However, it does provide a better note-taking experience than my phone and it replaces all of the functions of my iPad mini. It has even more functionality, thanks to the S-Pen and IR blaster.

Still, part of me feels this is more of the same from Samsung. I wish the display had a higher resolution of 1920 x 1080 to make it really stand out against the iPad mini. Again, I’ll follow up with additional thoughts as I spend more time with it. Then I’ll decide if the Galaxy Note 8.0 has a place in my device rotation—or if it’s going back to the store.

Also from GigaOM:

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Tofel is a writer for the GigaOm Network.

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