For a while, tablet sizes seemed fixed into two categories: 10-ish inches and 7-ish inches with a short foray into 8.9-inches for some manufacturers. Now it looks like companies are getting wise to the 8-inch form factor, partially due to the iPad Mini. The Mini’s first direct and obvious competitor to hit shelves is the Galaxy Note 8.0 from Samsung.
At $50 more than the iPad Mini, the Note has a bit to prove, and sets out to do so with the addition of the S Pen stylus plus apps to back it up. Compared side by side and feature by feature, which tablet comes out on top? More important, which one is best for you? Read on for our full comparison to help you make up your mind.
Display: Galaxy Note 8.0
Technically, the Galaxy Note’s display is larger and has a higher resolution than the iPad Mini’s. The 7.9-inch iPad’s 1024 x 768 pixel resolution gives it a pixel density of 163ppi; the 8.0-inch Note’s 1280 x 800 resolution means a 189ppi density. Looking at them side-by-side you can spot the differences, though overall both look great.
The displays are bright and colorful with deep blacks and wide viewing angles. We did note that there is noticeable pixilation on the iPad’s screen that isn’t present on the Note, possibly to to the slightly higher pixel count. Apple and Samsung use different display technologies, so colors don’t look exactly the same when looking at the same content. In general, we preferred the color cast of the Galaxy Note (though a Retina iPad Mini would take the cake, if it existed).
One other aspect worth mentioning: the Note’s display comes with a Wacom layer for the pen functionality. This doesn’t affect the clarity of the display but does add the ability to receive precise pen input from the S Pen.
Design: iPad Mini
One other difference in the displays is aspect ratio. Android tablets tend to have taller, skinnier screens than iPads, which maintain a 4:3 aspect ratio. Thus, the Note is a bit taller than the Mini even though their screen sizes (measured diagonally) are almost identical. Both tablets are about the same width, though, because the Note has a half inch bezel around the screen, making it as just balanced and easy to hold as the iPad. Overall, the Mini’s metal case feels more solid and sturdy (and premium) than the Galaxy Note. The Note’s advantage is that it feels lighter, even though it has a slightly thicker profile. Both are great for one-handed use and feel comfortable and natural in the hand.
Specs and Hardware: Galaxy Note 8.0
The iPad Mini has just on port beyond the headphone jack: the Lightning connector. Though it can’t connect to some older accessories without an expensive adapter, plenty of new ones are available now. Aside from Wi-Fi for wireless, there are 4G LTE iPad models available.
Galaxy Note 8
|OS||iOS 6||Android 4.1.2 (Jelly Bean)|
|Processor||A5 Chip (dual-core)||1.6GHz A9 quad-core|
|Display||7.9 inches||8 inches|
|Dimensions (WxDxH)||200 x 134 x 7.2 (mm)||210.8 x 135.9 x 7.95 (mm)|
|Weight||308g (WiFi), 312g (4G LTE)||331g|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi, 4G LTE||Wi-Fi, 3G|
|Marketplace||App Store||Google Play store|
|Front Camera||1.2 megapixels||1.3 megapixels|
|Back Camera||5 megapixels||5 megapixels|
|Bluetooth||Yes, 4.0||Yes, 4.0|
|SD card slot||No||Yes|
|Battery Life||10 hours||4,600mAh (8-9 hours)|
Specs don’t tell the whole story, but you can see that both tablets are fairly evenly matched. In the U.S., Samsung is only selling the Wi-Fi version of the Galaxy Note, no LTE available for now. For this model, the company ditched the proprietary connector for a more universal Micro USB port. As the port is MHL enabled, it’s still possible to output to HDTVs and do other fancy connection tricks with the right dongle. Unlike the iPad, owners can expand the Note’s internal storage via a microSD slot that takes cards up to 32GB.
Tablet Apps: iPad Mini
The iPad Mini’s advantage in this category comes from the strength of the App Store. Though there are about as many apps in the Google Play store as are available for iOS, there are more apps for iPad than there are for Android tablets. And iOS apps for the Mini are made to work with its display size. It’s hard to determine which Android apps will look all right on larger screens since Google doesn’t break them out or allow users to search by compatibility. This isn’t as much of a problem on the Galaxy Note 8.0 as it is on 10-inch tablets since phone apps still look okay on the 8-inch display. And Google Play has far more free apps than iTunes. Still, it’s far easier to find compatible apps for the Mini.
Multimedia and Entertainment: Galaxy Note 8.0
As far as content sources, the Mini and Note are evenly matched. Apple’s own music, video, and e-book offerings are extensive, and users can supplement this with apps that open up even more libraries for streaming, rental, and purchase. The same can be said for Android. Google Play isn’t as comprehensive as iTunes, though is on a par when it comes to new releases. Plus, Samsung bundles the company’s own media hubs and stores. Both tablets include the ability to stream to other media devices – HDTV, speakers, etc. – via wired connection or wirelessly; AllShare for the Note and AirPlay for the Mini. Watching content on the tablets themselves is a good experience thanks to the displays. The Mini’s speakers pump more rounded and complex audio and is particularly good for a tablet.
So far, both are pretty evenly matched, but the Galaxy Note’s hardware gives it an advantage: the infrared blaster for controlling TVs, cable boxes, and media centers. With the included TV guide (in the WatchON app), the tablet is an even more useful second screen.
Productivity: Galaxy Note 8.0
The Note 8.0′s major claim to fame is the S Pen stylus included. Coupled with the Wacom technology in the display, it allows owners to write, draw, and navigate the tablet with precision. The S Pen is pressure sensitive and has functionality above and beyond what a capacitive stylus (which works with any tablet) can offer. If you regularly work with documents, like to take handwritten notes, or want mouse-like precision for working with photo editing software like Photoshop Touch, the S Pen makes the Galaxy Note very desirable.
On the software side, Samsung’s bundled apps help make it a good productivity companion right out of the box. We find S Note far more useful than Evernote (even with Skitch in the mix) and the S Planner’s handwriting mode gives owners the power to draw on their monthly calendar. We also dig the Multiwindow function, which lets users split the screen between two apps. We find this most useful when taking notes and researching.
Just because the iPad Mini doesn’t have a stylus doesn’t mean it isn’t a useful mobile productivity tool. By virtue of being an Apple product, there are already tons of accessories that support the Mini, including a slew of keyboards and keyboard cases. The keyboards are mostly small and cramped though, since they’re made to be the same size as the iPad. For pen fans, the Pogo Connect for iPad offers some of the same functionality as the S Pen, though it’s not as reliable.
Camera: Galaxy Note 8.0
The 5-megapixel cameras on the rear of both the iPad and the Note take decent pictures for tablet cameras. Comparing shots side-by-side, the Galaxy Note’s are a little warmer than the iPad Mini’s, though otherwise much the same in terms of crispness and pixilation. The Note pulls ahead due to the camera app, which is far more robust than the Mini’s. The long list of options available for Samsung smartphones is on this tablet as well, from Exposure to filters to panorama to instant sharing. Third party camera apps can bring this to the iPad as well, though users appreciate having features available right out of the box.
If video chatting is more important to you, it’s worth noting that the iPad Mini’s 1.3-megapixel front facing camera captures brighter, more color images than the Note’s 1.2-megapixel one.
It’s hard to compare performance in a controlled manner since they use different operating systems. From hands-on use, we found both the iPad Mini and The Galaxy Note to be speedy and smooth overall. The Note 8.0 is probably the more robust of the two since it has to support multi-window multitasking, but in everyday use either tablet will serve you well no matter the app.
Battery Life: iPad Mini
In our usage, we found that the Galaxy Note could last almost two days with medium to heavy on and off usage, but only if we tweaked settings and employed battery saving measures. The iPad Mini more easily lasted this long with some juice left over with around the same usage. Both tablets will last all day, ad unless you’re in desperate need of 48 hour battery life, the difference isn’t vast.
Price and Selection: iPad Mini
Apple may only make a few products, but each of their devices have multiple configurations to suit multiple needs. The iPad Mini is available in 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB models, either Wi-Fi only or 4G LTE capable with a choice of carriers: Verizon Wireless, Sprint, or AT&T. It also comes in black or white. Prices start at $350 for the 16GB Wi-Fi only version and go up to $430 and $530 for larger storage models. The 4G models start at $460 for 16GB and go up to $560 and $660.
There is just one Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 model available in the U.S. right now, a white, 16GB, Wi-Fi only model for $400. We expect that a 4G LTE version will eventually come to one of Samsung’s partner carriers, just as the Note 10.1 eventually did… many months later.
In terms of value, the iPad Mini costs $50 less but doesn’t have the S Pen technology, IR blaster, or a micro SD card slot. We think these hardware extras make the Galaxy Note 8.0′s price reasonable in comparison.
Winner: Galaxy Note 8.0 (iPad Mini is a close 2nd)
Samsung created a jack of all trades with the Galaxy Note 8.0. It scores high marks for content creation and consumption and does a few tricks the iPad Mini can’t (not without help and extra expense, anyway). And thanks to a more robust Android app and media ecosystem than we had just a year ago, Note owners will hardly want for anything on the content side.
However, the iPad Mini benefits from a healthy Apple ecosystem and is still king of tablet apps. You also have more choices when shopping for an iPad Mini, your budget being the only limitation.
Both of these tablets are the pinnacle of what’s available in this size range. Your choice depends on what you want out of a slate device: an entertainment companion or a work and play buddy?