Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review: Impressive tablet tripped up by $400 price tag

Reading mode is unique to the Note 8 and simply alters page backgrounds in e-book apps to look more like paper rather than a stark, white background. It also uses the ambient light sensor to adjust the brightness to best fit the environment you're reading in.

The Note 8 also comes with an exclusive version of Awesome Note HD. While the app has been available on iOS, the Note 8 is currently the only place you'll find it on Android. Not surprisingly, it's fully compatible with the S Pen. With a purchase of the Note 8, you also get 50GB of free space on Dropbox and a full version of Polaris Office.

Watch On
Watch On is Samsung's new universal remote/video hub app that integrates streaming-video content and OTA and cable TV. It includes typical social sharing "this is what I'm watching" options and seems like a pretty effective and accurate TV guide, but the real standout feature is its powerful and potentially very useful search.

Watch On is a better version of Peel's Smart Remote and then some. Screenshot: Eric Franklin/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. 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.

Unfortunately, neither Netflix nor Hulu will be integrated in time for launch, but I'm very interested in revisiting this app once they have. Having this kind of inter-service video hub is something I've been hoping Peel would implement since it debuted its Smart Remote app a couple of years ago.

Hardware features
The S Pen returns with its useful cache of shortcut gestures, making 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 tab 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.

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.

With the S Pen you can circle anything on the screen and capture it in a screenshot. Screenshot by Eric Franklin/CNET

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.

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. 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 Apple iPad Mini Google Nexus 7 Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9
Maximum brightness 458 cd/m2 399 cd/m2 288 cd/m2 394 cd/m2
Maximum black level 0.47 cd/m2 0.49 cd/m2 0.28 cd/m2 0.41 cd/m2
Maximum contrast ratio 974:1 814:1 1,028:1 960:1

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 GP 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 high ppi and large color palette.

Just to give you an idea of the its 3D performance, here are a few 3DMark test results I conducted. Notice that while the Note 8 trails far behind the Nexus 10 in GPU prowess, it more than holds its own on the CPU front. Unfortunately, 3DMark has so far yet to be released on the iOS. Once it is, I'll update this review with iPad Mini results.

Device CPU GPU RAM OS tested
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 1.6GHz quad-core Exynos 4 Quad (4412) Mali T400MP4 (quad-core) 2GB Android 4.1.2
Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 1.4GHz quad-core Exynos 4 Quad (4412) Mali T400MP4 (quad-core) 2GB Android 4.1.2
Samsung Galaxy Note 2 1.6GHz quad-core Exynos 4 Quad (4412) Mali T400MP4 (quad-core) 2GB Android 4.1.2
Nexus 7 1.2GHz quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 ULP GeFOrce (12-core) 1GB Android 4.2.2
Google Nexus 10 1.7GHz Dual-core Samsung Exynos 5 Dual (5250) Mali-T604 (quad-core) 2GB Android 4.2.2

3DMark performance score
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
3DMark (normal)

3DMark GPU tests
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Graphics test 2 normal (GPU)
Graphics test 1 normal (GPU)

3DMark CPU test
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Physics test normal (CPU)

As portable devices, battery life is one of the most essential of tablet attributes. The Note 8's battery delivers a good amount of life, but fails to come close to the Nexus 7's or especially that of the iPad Mini. For details on the test methodology, check here .

Tablet Video battery life (in hours)
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 8.5
Apple iPad Mini 12.1
Google Nexus 7 10.1

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
The Note 8 is arguably the best Samsung tablet yet. It has a beautiful screen, and at the end of the day, I'd much rather write using a stylus than type on a tablet screen. The Nexus 7 or iPad Mini are much better bargains, but if the idea of writing out your e-mails or drawing on your tablet interests you, the Note 8 is worth a serious look.

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Wireless Connectivity Bluetooth 4.0
    Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n
  • Type Android 4.2 Jelly Bean
  • RAM 2 GB
  • Weight 0.74 lbs
  • Storage 16 GB
  • Processor Exynos 4412
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