Samsung’s Galaxy Note brand is synonymous with phablets: the smartphone-tablet hybrids that are blurring the line between smart devices as never before.
Teaming the S-Pen stylus with expansive screens and some novel, exclusive apps optimised for the range's pen-like peripheral, the Note 1 and Note 2 singlehandedly invented the market for phablets, racking up estimated sales of around 30 million in the process.
The arrival of the Note 8.0 and Note 10.1 sees the brand extended to tablets. It’s an area where Samsung has yet to make a real impact, as borne out by the lukewarm reception afforded to the suite of slates that made up the Galaxy Tab range.
But what’s really in the Note brand name? Is this more than a mere cosmetic rebranding exercise? And is the result worth your hard-earned? Read on for the answers. And much more besides.
Like other Galaxy devices, the Note 8.0’s lightweight plastic build might deter people who prefer ostensibly higher-grade iPhone-style build materials and who equate heft in their hand with quality.
But there’s actually much here to admire. At 8mm thick, the Note 8.0 is appealingly slim for an eight-inch screen-toting tablet. It’s also easy to hold in one hand and feels great. Support for the S-Pen stylus is a welcome addition to a Samsung tablet too.
Samsung Galaxy devices don't differ too much from each other - to the extent that it can be hard to tell them apart. And so it is for the Note 8.0.
Adhering fairly fast to the nature-inspired approach that Samsung introduced with the Galaxy S3, the Note 8.0’s features rounded edges and comes in black, white, silver and brown colour options.
While the front offers a mostly matte finish, the backplate is shinier and there’s a silver strip around the middle section which is, of course, where you’ll find all your ports.
Also in evidence is the familiar rectangular home button that’s a staple feature of Galaxy kits. As are ‘home’ and menu’ buttons, in a layout that you’ll recognise if you’ve ever used pretty much any Android device.
As with the comparably sized iPad mini, the battery isn’t removable. That won't bother many, but could be a bugbear for power users.
The very best parts of Note phablets are arguably even better on the Note 8.0. Not least the excellent split screen, dual-app multi-tasking mode, which is much more practical on a display this size. Although we have deduced points for the fact that this feature is only supported by a limited number of apps.
The stylus makes more sense on the larger screen too, which is why we think you’ll make much more use of the S-PEN with this device than you might with its more pocketable forbears.
Apps created for the S-PEN that you’ll find pre-installed include S Note that lets you scribe and draw little memos and the S Planner diary tool. And to prove it’s not all work, work, work with the Note 8.0 there’s also Paper Artist that lets you work up convincing-looking pencil sketches.
That’s before you get to other proprietary apps. These take in Samsung Music Hub, Dropbox for cloud storage, video streaming app WatchON and, perhaps coolest of all, a built-in infra-red remote control.
As with the Galaxy S4, there’s a price to pay for all these pre-installed applications, though. They take up an awful lot of storage out of the box, with 10-11GB remaining on the entry-level 16GB model (this depends on your carrier) available to use. For that reason you may want to invest in a microSD card, with which you can boost capacity by up to 64GB.
Rounding things off is the Note 8.0's eight-megapixel camera which won’t win any awards, but is perfectly serviceable for most people’s needs.
The Note 8.0 runs Android 4.1.2 (Jelly Bean) out of the box, offering five homescreens to fill with the hundreds of thousands of free and paid-for apps on offer at the Android Market.
An update to the newer 4.2 edition of Google’s software is due along soon to bring the Note right up to speed in the OS stakes. But thanks to all the TouchWiz customisations and apps (see above) and the delays this can cause to updates, you probably shouldn't hold your breath waiting for this to arrive.
If you're used a Samsung Galaxy-branded device of any sort over the last few years, you'll be right at home here. The stylus apps are also intuitive, while the beefy quad-core processor and responsive touchscreen means touch and S-PEN responses register smoothly, adding a sensation of real zip.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 is more expensive than the similarly proportioned iPad mini. And while that’s not likely to win it too many floating voters, the Note 8.0’s raw power under the bonnet, S-PEN stylus and bright screen means it’s got plenty of USPs of its own to justify the extra outlay.