If you're confused and overwhelmed by Samsung's ever-increasing range of Galaxy devices then don't worry, you're not alone. A handy hint to identify the Note range though -- they all pack styluses.
At the smaller end of the range is the Note 2, which with its SIM-card slot and 5.5-inch screen make it more phone than tablet. The Note 8 doesn't have a SIM card slot, so, like the larger Note 10.1, it's an out and out tablet.
It comes with an 8-inch display, a quad-core processor, Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and of course the all-important stylus. With an asking price of £340 in Samsung's Westfield Stratford City store (it's not yet available online), does it do enough to steal sales from the cheaper iPad mini?
Should I buy the Samsung Galaxy Note 8?
Do you love writing all your notes by hand? Fancy yourself as a bit of a sketch artist? Crave overpriced 8-inch tablets? If your answer to all those questions is "yes, yes, oh good Lord, yes!" then the Galaxy Note 8 is probably for you.
Spec-wise, it's not a bad piece of kit. Its screen is bright, it's very powerful and the stylus makes writing and drawing a breeze. It's let down, though, by its cheap, plastic design and its high price.
The iPad mini is a similarly sized slate and its metal construction feels infinitely more luxurious than the Note. Its screen is similar and, although it's not a quad-core beast, it's powerful enough for anything you're likely to throw at it. Most importantly though, the mini can be had for £70 less than the Note 8.
If the stylus is an absolute must, or if you've already spent a small fortune on Android apps, the Note 8 is worth a look. Otherwise, plump for the mini.
Design and build quality
It's not difficult to spot the Note 8 as being part of the Note range. Like its siblings, it sports a crisp white, plastic construction, with silver edging around the sides and physical home button. If you're keen on the plastic design of the other Notes you'll feel right at home with this tablet in your hands. If you prefer the metal body of the iPad mini then you won't be impressed.
It feels fairly well put together, but there's no escaping the fact that the expanse of plastic on the back doesn't offer the same luxurious feel of the mini. There's a little flex in the casing too, which again detracts from its overall feel. I found the same thing on the bigger Note 10.1, which also looked very cheap next to its Apple equivalent.
That's a pretty big problem for the Note 8, as the equivalent iPad mini costs £70 less. If you want the most stylish, elegant and sturdy tablet, your money is definitely more wisely spent on the mini.
At 8mm thick, 210mm long and 136mm wide, it's easy to hold in one hand and its 340g weight won't snap your wrist either. Those dimensions are basically the same as the iPad mini's, just in case you're debating between the two on size alone. The glossy plastic back of the Note does however make it a little slippery to hold and shows up greasy marks easily too. If you want to hold it up as an ebook reader, you might want to grab some sort of case to get a good grip.
Around the edges you'll spy a 3.5mm headphone jack, a micro-USB port, power button and volume rocker. You'll also spy a small black blotch -- that's an infrared sensor for controlling your TV, which I'll come to later.
The basic model of the Note 8 will come with 16GB of internal storage. Samsung does explain that a 32GB model will also be available, however, a Samsung store representative told our buddies at ZDNet that the higher-capacity model won't be coming to UK stores. Certainly none of the retailers offering pre-orders list the 32GB variant.
Annoyingly though, Samsung doesn't allow you to install apps on external storage. You'll need to be careful what big games you install -- high definition titles like Real Racing 3 need multiple gigabytes of space. If you're a keen mobile gamer then 16GB isn't going to last too long. You'll need to make sure all your music, videos and photos are stored on the card, to save as much internal space as you can for apps.
You'll find the microSD card slot on the left-hand edge under a small flap. That makes it much easier to get to than on the Note 2, where you're forced to rip open the plastic back to get at it. The iPad mini doesn't allow you to expand the storage, so that's one point in favour of the Note. If you want more video space on Apple's slate, you'll have to pony up some extra cash.
The 8-inch screen comes with a 1,280x800-pixel resolution, which isn't differing much from the iPad mini's 1,024x768-pixel display. The Note's handful of extra pixels gives it a marginally sharper pixel density of 189 pixels per inch (ppi), slightly beating out the 153ppi of the mini. I'd bet money that you won't see much difference if you compare them side by side though.
It doesn't have the pin-sharp crispness of the Retina display iPad or Google's Nexus 10, but it's perfectly clear nonetheless. Icons are rendered well with none of the fuzzy edging you'll see on cheaper screens. Small text on Web pages is also handled fine, making reading lengthy articles or skimming through your ebook collection perfectly comfortable.
It doesn't share the Super AMOLED Plus screens of some of Samsung's smart phones, which isn't necessarily a bad thing as they sometimes come across as a little over-saturated. Instead, the Note 8's screen opts for a less garish colour palette. Photos and videos still looked vivid though, and it's bright enough to scorch your eyes out.
Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean
The Note 8 comes running Android 4.1.2 Jelly, which is almost the most recent version of Google's operating system. Android 4.2 Jelly Bean is the freshest version, which would have been nice to see -- particularly as the next major update, dubbed Key Lime Pie, is supposed to be landing in the coming few months.
Samsung has thrown in a few software tweaks, mostly involving the S Pen stylus and related S Pen software. The overall Android experience isn't particularly different to other 'droid devices though. If you're at all familiar with Android you won't struggle too much to get to grips with the Note.
You get a total of five homescreens, on which you can plop down your apps and live widgets. Along the bottom are five app icons (you can choose which go on here) that give you quick access to your essentials. Any apps you don't want on the homescreen will appear in a grid of app icons, similar to the layout you'll see on the iPhone.
As an Android device, you'll have full access to the hundreds of thousands of apps and games from the Google Play store. From there, you're also able to buy books, magazines, music and rent or buy movies. Apple offers basically the same services from iTunes and Newsstand and prices are roughly comparable.
S Pen and Samsung software
Tucked into the bottom of the Note 8 you'll find the S Pen stylus. Styluses may not be the coolest thing to whip out on the bus, but they certainly come in useful. If you're used to just poking and swiping at apps on the iPad then you might not find it too handy. If, however, you're into your graphics and sketching then you should at least give it a try.
Most third-party styluses designed to retrofit any touchscreen are fat, spongy things that don't give much accuracy. The S Pen however is designed for Samsung's slates and has a solid tip that's as fine and accurate as a regular Biro. It's brilliant for drawing in apps like Sketchbook, as there's very little difference to using actual pencils and pens on paper.
The stylus itself is small and narrow, so isn't particularly easy to hold properly. If you want to write a bunch of notes on the screen, you might want to buy one of Samsung's S Pens with the eraser -- it's the same size as a normal pen, making it comfortable to use for long periods. For quick sketches though, the S Pen will do fine.
The S Pen also allows for something called AirView. When you hover the nib above a video timeline or calendar entry -- but don't actually touch it to the screen -- it will sense the stylus and bring up a preview of a section of the video or of the calendar item. It saves you from having to click in and out of different things to find what you need and I found it to be fairly helpful -- when I remembered to use it.
To help get the most from the stylus, Samsung has chucked in a load of software treats. You'll find most of them on the Note 2 and 10.1, like the note taking app S Note. S Note lets you hand write all kinds of notes, as well as import photos, maps and screenshots to annotate to your heart's content. It's a little complicated to use if you don't know what all the icons mean, but a short time spent playing around will get you up to speed.
Press the little button on the stylus and draw a line up on the screen and you'll bring up the Quick Command box. It lets you perform tasks like sending an email or doing a Web search by drawing an icon and writing your words. It worked well on the Note 8, doing a good job of recognising my handwriting. I doubt the tool's usefulness though -- you really have to remind yourself the feature even exists.
More handy, however, is the ability to have two apps open, side by side, on the screen at once. If you've brought up an address in Gmail, for example, you can open Maps and type the address in, reading it from the email. It's perhaps not a headline feature of the Note series, but it's undeniably useful at times.
Popup play is on board too. This allows you to view your video in a hovering window above the rest of the interface. Rather than having to exit a video to check an email, you can pop the video out, and carry on moving around the phone with the video still playing above. You can re-size the window to make it less obtrusive, and double tap it to return to full-screen mode.
A new feature you won't find on the other Notes is the infrared sensor on the side. It gives you the ability to control your TV, making use of a built-in TV guide service called WatchOn.
Setup was initially fairly straightforward. Supported TVs include a vast array of brands, not just Samsung's, some of which I hadn't even heard of. Follow a few steps and choose your model and you should be good to go. I found that, after numerous times of trying, however, it just didn't work.
After waiting many moments for it to connect, the tablet kept on insisting that I had no network connection (I did) and thus couldn't continue. No matter what I did, I couldn't get it to properly connect.
I had similarly bad luck with the WatchOn app. Every time I loaded it, I was met with an error saying to try again later. I did, and it still didn't work. In theory, these features could be handy additions for those of you who rarely take your tablets away from the sofa anyway. They're not much of a selling point for the slate though if they simply don't work.
Power and performance
The white, shiny jacket plays home to a quad-core processor clocked at 1.6GHz, along with 2GB of RAM. Those hearty specs are exactly the same as what you'll get in the Note 2. Unsurprisingly then, it gave a very similar performance on the Geekbench benchmark test, achieving 2,075 against the Note 2's 1,998 -- both are extremely good scores.
General use of the Note 8 was every bit as nippy as you'd expect. There was no unpleasant delay when swiping between homescreens and opening menus and apps was immediate and free of depressing lag. There's no lag to be seen when using the S Pen either, which is particularly helpful when you're sketching.
It handles high-definition gaming perfectly well, delivering smooth frame rates and crisp graphics on Real Racing 3 and Riptide GP. The 2GB of RAM comes in handy with multi-tasking too -- I found no noticeable slowdown when a Popup Play video was playing and I continued navigating around the Jelly Bean interface.
Tucked into that white plastic back is a 5-megapixel camera. That's a step down from the 8-megapixel camera you'll find on the Note 2, but you're perhaps less likely to be using a bigger slate for photography on the move. It's therefore a less essential feature.
Still, you'll probably want to snap the odd shot of a well-cooked home dinner, or your child doing something only you'll find cute, and it will at least be quality worthy of Facebook.
Thankfully then, that's pretty much what you'll get. My test image showed a decent exposure overall -- only the bright window at the back was overexposed. General image quality was about what I'd expect and colours were fairly neutral. The shadowy areas on the right displayed a bit of image noise, but I've seen much worse.
I saw similar results in the second shot. Again, the bright window was overexposed, but the rest of the scene was captured reasonably well. If you're looking for a brilliant camera to edit and upload on an Android interface, this isn't it -- take a look at the Samsung Galaxy Camera. If you just want to upload some snaps to Twitter, it'll do fine.
The Note 8 packs in a capacious 4,600mAh battery into its white coat. That's a considerable amount of juice -- by comparison, the Note 2 has a 3,100mAh cell. It might seem like a generous battery, but with a super-bright screen and quad-core processor, don't expect the battery life to go on forever.
Samsung quotes around 14 hours of use with the S Pen, which I feel is a little ambitious. In my own use, the battery level had dropped to around 60 per cent after a full charge when sketching for about four hours with the S Pen. I had Wi-Fi networks connected and the screen set to full brightness which is of course a much bigger drain.
You won't struggle to get a full day's use out of it, but you will need to be careful what you do. If you spend the whole time playing Real Racing 3 at max brightness, you won't have any juice left at the end of the day. Keep the brightness down, disconnect from networks when you don't need them and only settle in for a marathon gaming session when you're in reach of a plug and you won't need to live in fear of an early battery death.
With its bright, bold screen, powerful processor and handy stylus, the Galaxy Note 8 has a lot going for it. If you don't need the phone features of its little brother, the Note 8 is the best option if you're looking for a portable slate you can sketch on.
The iPad mini, however, provides almost the same screen resolution, has a considerably more luxurious design and costs a good deal less. If you absolutely crave a stylus -- and have already spent a fortune on Android apps -- go for the Note 8, otherwise, the iPad mini is a better option.