With a 1.6 GHz Exynos quad-core processor under the hood, the Galaxy Note 8.0 does not by any stretch of the imagination lack for speed. In Quadrant Standard benchmarks, it averaged a score of 6551 over four runs, handily beating even other quad-core devices like the Galaxy Nexus 7. That’s also enough to beat Samsung’s own Galaxy S3, Galaxy Note 2, and HTC’s One X, all pretty recent high-end smartphones.
Its memory doesn’t disappoint either, coming loaded with 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of storage — although in practice the pre-loaded apps and a few other things take up a lot of that storage, leaving the user with about 8 and a half gigs out of the box. That’s not too bad though, because it also comes with a microSD card slot useful for adding up to another 64 GB of storage, something that many of its competitors can’t do.
Overall, the Note 8.0 is a wonder to use. It’s a fast, sleek, reliable, little powerhouse, and you never even have to think about whether it’s capable of doing something before you do it. Even a dedicated speed-monger shouldn’t have a complaint with it.
Samsung and S-Pen apps
When it comes to the software side, Samsung has added quite a bit of its “secret sauce” on top of the regular Android 4.1. User interface changes, power saving mode, reading mode, blocking mode, multi-window… unfortunately, a lot of these aren’t well explained unless you dig for the information.
For instance, the Settings screen describes “Reading mode” as optimizing the screen for reading, but not how. Turns out it’s for adjusting the screen brightness down and the background to a more paper-like look. “Smart stay” is a little simpler and easier: the front camera watches your face, and keeps the screen on as long as you’re looking at the tablet. Set it down or turn away, and it’ll turn off. Which is impressive, and to be honest perhaps a bit creepy. Especially because it works, at least in good light. “Blocking mode” allows you to turn off alarms and/or notifications, either manually or for set schedules, and “multi-window” is to let you have multiple apps on-screen at once.
Multitasking on a tablet may sound superfluous, but it’s actually really useful — possibly even more useful than the S-Pen feature which is the main attraction on the Note 8.0. You can, for example, run Google Maps on one half of your screen to look up an address, while the other half is occupied by your web browser, or Google Talk, significantly simplifying any situation where you have to reference information from different apps together, like planning a trip or providing directions. Samsung’s PR materials talk about running up to 20 apps at once, but only two are actually visibile. Still, that’s twice as many as you can run on most tablets at once.
Of course what gets the most attention on the Galaxy Note line is the functions of the stylus, called the S-Pen. For those who haven’t used one, the S-Pen isn’t like your average stylus; it can be sensed by the screen from a short distance away, though it won’t start writing until you actually put it down. The biggest benefit of using this type of stylus is that it’s much more precise than most, letting you sketch, write, and take notes with much more ease. It even comes with an app featuring built-in handwriting recognition, allowing you to convert what you write down to editable text. Unlike other styli, it’s also capable of ignoring inputs other than the pen itself, so that you can rest your hand on the tablet while writing without triggering the touchscreen.
Samsung includes a few specialty apps to help you take advantage of the stylus, although its software package is a lot smaller than the one bundled with the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1. Photoshop Touch isn’t included, nor is Adobe Ideas, and the original S Memo app is now replaced by the slightly less powerful S Note, which doesn’t allow for the pop-up-anywhere feature that let you take notes from inside other apps. You can, however, use the pen to “cut out” a section of the screen as a screenshot, then share it via other apps, making it easy to show others exactly what you’re looking at. In general I’d rate the S-Pen software package on this model as decent, but clearly not as impressive as what shipped on the Galaxy Note 10.1.
Besides Samsung’s OS customizations and S-Pen apps, there’s not a whole lot of other software to speak of on the Note. Which isn’t a bad thing, mind you, since you it means you don’t have to wade through a bunch of unremovable apps the manufacturer thought you should have. Most of the rest are Google’s standard complement: Google Books, Music, TV & Movies, Talk, etcetera.
Dropbox comes pre-loaded, and buying the Note 8.0 entitles you to 50 GB of Dropbox space for two years. This works even if you have an existing Dropbox account; just log in, and you’ll be credited the extra space. Also pre-loaded is Flipboard, which was a nice surprise: I’ve recently become a huge fan of it as a customizable news magazine for tablets.
Pretty much the only other major app falls into the “entertainment” category, and goes with one of the minor hardware features of the Note 8.0: a universal remote control. One side of the device has an IR port that lets you use it as a universal remote for your TV, set top box, and stereo. The Peel Smart Remote app to control it comes preprogrammed with all the most common codes for TVs, set top boxes, stereos, etcetera — it managed to set up all my equipment pretty fast, even with a very obscure stereo receiver. I’m not sure an 8-inch tablet is the ideal remote control, but it’s a nifty function that might come in handy now and then.
Given this is a mid-range tablet, I’m more than a little disappointed in the camera performance. Photos taken with the Galaxy Note 8.0 tend to be grainy and quite noisy, even in good lighting, and in low light the quality drops off as quickly as any inexpensive smartphone. Granted that the Note’s camera isn’t really focused on as an important feature, but a cut corner like this feels rather out of place on anything but any entry-level device.
One of the definite highlights of the Galaxy Note 8.0 is battery life. While under normal usage, you probably won’t see the 14 hours of battery life that Samsung claims, that’s also true of the 10-hour claims of the competing tablets. Realistically, the Note should be good for 9 or 10 hours of average use, outpacing much of the competition.
Of particular notability is the tablet’s standby time. The battery drain while it’s turned off is incredibly small, even for a Wi-Fi-only tablet, letting you set it down somewhere for a few days and not have to worry that you’re going to come back to a dead battery — or even one that’s near dead. In fact, Samsung advertises a whopping thirty days — one whole month–of standby time on a full battery. The iPad Mini delivers only 10 days, and the Nexus 7 just 12.5. It might not be the most useful of features, but it’s definitely good to know that your tablet isn’t going to be seriously inconvenienced by you forgetting to charge it for a few days.
Page 3 is our conclusion, as well as pros and cons.