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Hands on: Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8.0 is good, but clearly an iPad Mini reaction

Check out our review of the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 tablet.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 is really the first major product launch of Mobile World Congress, and has certainly received plenty of attention, both at the preview show and in the press. You’d be forgiven, then, for thinking it’s really exciting – but in reality, it’s not all that different to the Note 2 and Note 10.1. Yep. Samsung is experimenting with yet another screen size.

Samsung has already tried out 7-inch, 7.7-inch, 8.9-inch, and 10.1-inch screens on its tablets, but this is its first try with an 8-inch screen size, which it has mated to the S Pen technology seen on other Note tablets. The cynical among us will see it as a response to the Apple iPad Mini, which has a 7.9-inch screen. The Note 8.0’s screen is noticeably sharper than the iPad Mini’s 1024 x 768 panel, thanks to the 1280 x 800 pixel resolution, which is identical to the bigger Note 10.1.

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IMG_9912We’re jumping ahead of ourselves a little here, as before you notice the screen, you notice the weight of the Galaxy Note 8.0. It’s super lightweight, feeling lighter even than its 338 grams would suggest, so your arm shouldn’t tire when holding it in one hand. Samsung told us it has gone for the same premium feel as the Note 10.1, but it’s more akin to the Galaxy Note 2 and the Galaxy S3 in terms of design, particularly on the sealed, plastic rear shell, the camera lens and speaker arrangement, plus the gently curved metal edging.

The S Pen slides out of a holster on the base of the tablet, which gives a warning on the screen that the stylus has been, “detached,” and opens a menu with the S Pen-centric apps. While the S Pen will continue to divide tech fans into groups who love or hate it, there’s no denying it works well and is often fun to use. Scribbling notes on the screen is natural and it happily recognizes messy handwriting, while it’s now possible to tap the standard Android keys with the S Pen. The hover feature, where the stylus is held slightly above the screen, has been expanded so developers can add it into their own apps, with Flipboard being one of the first to do so.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8

Samsung has installed Android 4.1.2 on the Galaxy Note 8.0, and it’s as snappy as one would expect from a device powered by the 1.6GHz version of Samsung’s own quad-core Exynos processor. TouchWiz obscures the OS, but it’s not terribly intrusive, and Samsung has added its Premium Suite software features to give it some purpose. This includes the ability to run two applications at the same time, and these are dragged out from a menu which runs down the side of the screen. The process is easy, but getting the two apps to work was sometimes a little awkward, and trying to resize the windows was a fiddly affair, even when using the supposedly more precise S Pen.

An Infrared sensor – which is fast becoming a must have feature this year – has been added to the Galaxy Note 8.0’s chassis, so it can control any compatible piece of equipment in your home. It works alongside a custom programming guide to help manage your viewing habits, but sadly this couldn’t be demonstrated at the launch.

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IMG_9919We only spent a short time with the Galaxy Note 8.0 and while our initial reaction is good – it’s typical of most modern Samsung hardware, good-looking and a solid performer – it isn’t all that exciting, as it replicates the Note 10.1 and Note 2’s abilities, but with a different size screen and universal remote capabilities. The price has yet to be confirmed, but it’s surely going to be in the region of $330 to $350 range for the 16GB model if Samsung hopes to compete with the iPad Mini.