Samsung was so excited about the Galaxy Note 8.0, the latest addition to its ever-expanding Galaxy Note lineup, that it couldn’t even wait until MWC 2013 had officially started here in Barcelona to announce it. But it appears that the company had good reason to want to spill the beans early. We got to spend some time with the device at the show and so far, it looks more than promising.
The first thing we noticed about the Galaxy Note 8.0 was how light it was when we picked it up: weighing in at a mere 338 grams (less than 12 ounces), the Galaxy Note 8.0 was feather-light. This works especially well in Samsung’s favor in this case, because this makes it all the easier for users to hold it with one hand while holding the S Pen in their other hand. Unfortunately, a big part of what made it so light is that it has a slightly cheap-feeling plastic build all around, which also gives it a shiny white sheen that is just asking to get covered in fingerprints.
Equally comfortable was how it felt in the hand, since the build of the Galaxy Note 8.0 is still quite thin — despite being thick enough to sport a slot that houses the S Pen — and it’s only marginally longer and wider than the 7-inch Tab devices. To put things in perspective, the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus measures 193.6 x 122.3 x 9.9mm, while the Galaxy Note 8.0 comes in at 210.8 x 135.9 x 7.95. In other words, if you could hold the Tab comfortably, you can hold the Galaxy Note 8.0 comfortably.
Essentially, the added inch when compared to Samsung’s 7-inch tab line is negligible enough that it doesn’t compromise the compact footprint of the device, but in terms of screen size, that means a decent amount of extra on-screen real estate. That being said, the display quality, while bright, wasn’t particularly impressive otherwise and may leave some users wanting with its 189 ppi density. Nevertheless, it was a smart way for Samsung to strike a balance (though they were bound to hit it eventually, what with all the different size tablets they offer).
But while it is a sleek device, there’s quite a bit happening on the outside of the tablet. Dual cameras adorn the device, with the 1.3 megapixel front-facing shooter located in the upper right above the display, next to the earpiece (yes, it can make calls, but that doesn’t mean it should be considered a smartphone), and the 5 megapixel rear-facing camera centered towards the top of the back.
In addition to the standard power switch and volume rocker on the right side, there’s also an IR blaster, giving the Galaxy Note 8.0 universal remote capabilities. Samsung is also working on a “Video Discovery” app that will launch under a different name sometime after the release of the Galaxy Note 8.0, bringing users features like personalized recommendations and the ability to stream or download videos on demand. Other aspects of the service include taking live programs from users’ TVs and displaying them on their mobile devices as well as the ability to share what they’re viewing with their friends. The app will work with both the IR blaster or over Wi-Fi.
And finally, the left side has covered slots for both microSD cards and micro SIM cards, while the bottom is host to the micro USB charging port, twin speakers, and the aforementioned S Pen holster.
The S Pen, the star of the show, slides right into the corner of the device so it sits flush with the edges; if you weren’t looking for it, you probably wouldn’t even know it was there. In a convenient design choice, when we pulled out the stylus, the tablet immediately recognized that it had been removed and took us to a page of all compatible S Pen apps.
This was where one of the only differences (size aside) between this model and previous Galaxy Notes resided. The major addition with the Galaxy Note 8.0 is that of the Awesome Note app, which is a big get for Android users since it was previously an iOS-only app. Awesome Note provides users with a sort of S Note/S Planner app on steroids, allowing them to organize their notes into folders, connect them to their calendars, add tags to them, sort them by category, etc.
Aside from this, the only other confirmed S Pen-related upgrade that we could get out of the Samsung reps was that it can now be used to tap the capacitive navigation buttons below the screen. This is isn’t even that great of an upgrade, since the physical home button still remains and is a little awkward to press with the tip of the stylus.
We were told, however, that a new “reader mode” for the display will launch first on the Galaxy Note 8.0. Meant to ease strain on readers’ eyes, toggling reader mode — which is engrained in the TouchWiz UI and can therefore be accessed anytime from the top pull-down menu — dims the screen brightness, adjusts the contrast, and softens colors. Its ideal use is in low-light situations, so unfortunately we couldn’t really enjoy the benefits of the reader mode much while we were in such a brightly lit room. But it’s a good way for Samsung to make an LCD screen device at least somewhat more appealing for use as an eReader in comparison to an eInk display.
Everything else that we were shown, as far as S Pen functionality is concerned, has been carried over from previous Galaxy Note models, many of them features that were introduced with the Premium Suite upgrade. So users will still get to enjoy highlights like multi-window functionality for multitasking, the ability to hover with the S Pen over different elements to either see tips or previews, and being able to select any portion of the display by simply holding down the S Pen’s button and circling it.
As mentioned, Samsung’s TouchWiz UI is still around, laid over the Galaxy Note 8.0’s Android 4.1.2 OS. As far as navigation is concerned, it’s relatively unobtrusive. In fact, it’s downright handy when it comes to using the S Pen, as a small tab with compatible apps for multi-window use can be pulled in from the side whenever the stylus is in use.
It was a little disconcerting, however, how long it took to launch certain apps and/or services at times, and we’re hoping that the problems weren’t caused by the skin slowing down the performance of the OS. We were assured that it was simply because this was a “prototype build” and hopefully that really is the case because taps occasionally didn’t register, and when he attempted to pull up the S Pen app section of the Samsung Apps store, it took quite a while for it to load.
We’re absolutely willing to give Samsung the benefit of the doubt though, because they have yet to lead us astray with their Note models so far. And though we only got to spend a limited amount of time with the device, the Galaxy Note 8.0 looks to continue that trend.