Last year at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Samsung took the wraps off of the Galaxy Note 10.1, its first proper tablet with S Pen support. We weren't terribly fond of the Note 10.1 when we eventually reviewed it, but Samsung is back this year with the Galaxy Note 8.0. Already leaked numerous times before its official reveal, the Note 8.0 is Samsung's mid-size, S Pen enabled tablet that slots in between the 5.5-inch Note II smartphone and the larger 10.1-inch Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet.
When it comes to specs, the Note 8.0 is similarly mid-range: its 8-inch display features a 1280 x 800 pixel resolution, it's powered by a quad-core Samsung Exynos processor clocked at 1.6GHz and paired with 2GB of RAM, it has 16GB or 32GB of internal storage with support for microSD cards, and it has a 5-megapixel rear camera and 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera. The tablet is pretty thin at 7.95mm, and its 338g weight is just a hair heavier than the iPad mini. The Note 8.0 doesn't deviate from Samsung's recent design ethos — it looks like a super-sized Galaxy S III or Note II — and it still uses the relatively cheap feeling glossy plastic that dominates the rest of the company's line.
For the Note 8.0, Samsung has expanded the S Pen functionality to support control of the device's capacitive hardware keys — a first for the Note line, believe it or not — and it has enabled the S Pen's hover feature to work with third party apps. A special version of Flipboard for Android is the first third-party app to have this feature and will be shipping on the Note 8.0. The Note 8.0 runs Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean, not the latest Android 4.2, with the latest version of Samsung's TouchWiz software. And, even though the Note 8.0 is a rather massive 210.8mm x 135.9mm device, you can indeed make and receive calls on it (the international 3G model, at least) with its integrated earpiece and microphone and phone app.
Yes, you can place phone calls on the Note 8.0
Other new software features include Samsung's TV Discovery app that lets you control your TV and entertainment center with the Note 8.0's IR blaster. TV Discovery provides schedules and show listings, and lets you search for live TV and other video content. It's powered by Peel, the same software behind HTC's recently announced Sense TV app for the One smartphone. Samsung has also beefed up its Reading Hub with a mode that optimizes the display's contrast for easier reading when you view ebooks. The company says that this feature will work with third-party apps like Kindle and Nook if users enable them in the main Settings app of the device.
We spent some brief time with the Note 8.0, and for the most part, performance was pretty good. The MultiView feature that lets you use two apps at the same time is greatly improved over the Note 10.1, and the browser was speedy and responsive even with a rather slow internet connection and loading our image heavy website. The biggest disappointment was actually in the camera app — the camera was slow to focus and images were blown out and generally not good. The Note 8.0 might be able to match the iPad mini in some features, but it can't really touch the camera.
Will the Note 8.0 go toe to toe with the iPad mini?
Samsung plans to launch the Note 8.0 globally by the end of the second quarter. It will have Wi-Fi, HSPA+, and LTE versions eventually, but Samsung has not announced US launch plans just yet. The company also hasn't nailed down pricing for the Note 8.0, though company reps did tell us that it would vary by region. Between the Nexus 7 and the iPad mini, it's hard for companies to make a compelling play in this size range, and we're not quite sure the Note 8.0's added S Pen do enough to give the two most popular tablets a run for their money.