Samsung Galaxy Note 8 (AT&T) review: A 4G tablet in need of a price cut

Hey look kids! It's a Samsung tablet with an IR blaster! Josh Miller/CNET

Searching for a particular piece of video content returns results sorted by delivery system. In other words, if you search for "Thor," Watch On returns a number of matching options. Choosing the "Thor (2011)" movie option takes you to an information page with its Rotten Tomatoes score, sharing options, IMDb info, and related content. Then, tapping the "Watch Now" button shows a list of video delivery services like Samsung's Media Hub and Blockbuster Video. You then choose through which service to watch the movie, and that service's app will launch and take you directly to the "Thor" page, where you can choose to stream, purchase, or rent the video.

The service requires that you've both created and signed in with your Samsung account. Unfortunately, it's not yet compatible with all media apps. After searching an episode of the original "Star Trek," I only had the option to watch it via Samsung's own Media Hub service or Hulu Plus. Not Netflix, despite its availability there. The app also doesn't appear to be compatible with TV shows and movies available on the Google Play store.

Hardware features
The S Pen makes tasks like screen capture, calling up an app's menu, and going back to the previous screen a simple act of holding down the pen button and swiping or tapping the screen in the appropriate way. After using the Note 8 for a couple of days, I came to the conclusion that I'd much rather write on a tablet screen than attempt to type on one. A quick e-mail reply or entering a search query just feels much more natural to scribble than to tap out. The interpretation software isn't perfect so making an attempt to write legibly is a must, but it was usually able parse out the vast majority of my writings.

The Note 8 features one of the more pleasantly colorful tablet screens around. Josh Miller/CNET

With the S Pen you can also take a screenshot of pretty much anything by holding down the button and circling whatever it is you want to capture. A menu of apps then pops up at the bottom of the screen, and choosing one drops your screenshot into the app where you can then edit it as you see fit. It's in thoughtful moments like these -- where the interaction feels natural and intuitive -- that the S Pen really earns its keep.

The Note 8 houses a 1.6GHz quad-core Exynos Dual (4410) CPU and 2GB of RAM, and includes support for 802.11 a/b/g/n (2.4GHz and 5GHz) Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, and GPS, as well as gyroscope, accelerometer, a digital compass. The AT&T version of the tablet includes 4G LTE support.

Performance
The Note 8 houses an 8-inch screen with a 1,280x800-pixel-resolution screen. That’s 189 pixels-per-inch (ppi) compared with 163 on the iPad Mini, and the relative difference in clarity is immediate and dramatic, especially with fonts. Fonts on the Note 8 lack the jaggy, unpolished look they deliver on the iPad Mini. Note 8 fonts are clear and sharp, and the screen’s sharpness is only buoyed by its extremely bright and colorful Plane Line Switching (PLS) panel. The Note 8's screen isn't as clear as the 323 ppi screen on the Nexus 7, but the Note 8 delivers more accurate and vibrant color.

Three screen presets are included: Dynamic, Standard, and Movie. Each adjusts the screen’s contrast to be more appropriate to the setting.

Tested spec Samsung Galaxy Note 8 (AT&T) Apple iPad Mini Google Nexus 7 Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9
Maximum brightness 458 cd/m2 399 cd/m2 570 cd/m2 394 cd/m2
Maximum black level 0.47 cd/m2 0.49 cd/m2 0.44 cd/m2 0.41 cd/m2
Maximum contrast ratio 974:1 814:1 1,295:1 960:1

The screen responds quickly to swipe requests and delivers page turns smoothly at 60 frames per second; however, there is a second long, but still noticeable, delay after pressing the home button as the tablet sometimes appears to stall for a split second.

The Mali T400MP4 GPU is a capable if unimpressive chip for gaming. Riptide GP2 ran at a very playable frame rate, but never came anywhere near the 60fps smoothness I look for and have only seen rarely in tablets. 2D games like Angry Birds, however, look beautiful thanks to the screen’s large color palette.

Just to give you an idea of its 3D performance, here are a few 3DMark test results I conducted. Notice that while the Note 8 trails far behind the Nexus 7 in GPU prowess, it more than holds its own on the CPU front. Unfortunately, 3DMark has so far yet to be released on iOS. Once it is, I’ll update this review with iPad Mini results.

Device CPU GPU RAM OS tested
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 (AT&T) 1.6GHz quad-core Exynos 4 Quad (4412) Mali T400MP4 (quad-core) 2GB Android 4.1.2
Google Nexus 7 1.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro Adreno 320 (single-core) 2GB Android 4.3
Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 (8-inch) 1.5GHz quad-core Exynos 4 Dual (4212) Mali T400MP4 (quad-core) 1.5GB Android 4.2.2

3DMark (Normal)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Graphics Test 1, 720p (GPU)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Graphics Test 2, 720p (GPU)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Physics Test, 720p (CPU)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

N.O.V.A. 3 Level 1 load time (in seconds)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

The 1.3-megapixel front camera features typical "only good enough for crude video chatting" quality, with washed-out colors and plenty of screen "snow." However, the 5-megapixel rear-facing shooter is fairly capable as tablet cameras go. The camera's aperture appears to be set fairly high, so it has trouble capturing enough light, but with enough ambient light in the mix, it captures more details than the iPad Mini's rear camera.

Conclusion
AT&T overprices the Galaxy Note 8. It's still a great tablet, but with the much lower price and greater cell-provider flexibility of the Nexus 7, the Note 8 effectively prices itself out, unless you have absolute need of a stylus.

What you'll pay

Pricing is currently unavailable.

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Where to Buy

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 (AT&T)

Part Number: 6098A

MSRP: $399.99

See manufacturer website for availability.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Wireless Connectivity Bluetooth 4.0
    Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n
    4G LTE
  • Weight 0.74 lbs
  • Service Provider AT&T
  • Type Android 4.2 Jelly Bean
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