Most third-party styluses designed to retrofit any touchscreen are fat, spongy things that don't give much accuracy. The S Pen however is designed for Samsung's slates and has a solid tip that's as fine and accurate as a regular Biro. It's brilliant for drawing in apps like Sketchbook, as there's very little difference to using actual pencils and pens on paper.
The stylus itself is small and narrow, so isn't particularly easy to hold properly. If you want to write a bunch of notes on the screen, you might want to buy one of Samsung's S Pens with the eraser -- it's the same size as a normal pen, making it comfortable to use for long periods. For quick sketches though, the S Pen will do fine.
The S Pen also allows for something called AirView. When you hover the nib above a video timeline or calendar entry -- but don't actually touch it to the screen -- it will sense the stylus and bring up a preview of a section of the video or of the calendar item. It saves you from having to click in and out of different things to find what you need and I found it to be fairly helpful -- when I remembered to use it.
To help get the most from the stylus, Samsung has chucked in a load of software treats. You'll find most of them on the Note 2 and 10.1, like the note taking app S Note. S Note lets you hand write all kinds of notes, as well as import photos, maps and screenshots to annotate to your heart's content. It's a little complicated to use if you don't know what all the icons mean, but a short time spent playing around will get you up to speed.
Press the little button on the stylus and draw a line up on the screen and you'll bring up the Quick Command box. It lets you perform tasks like sending an email or doing a Web search by drawing an icon and writing your words. It worked well on the Note 8, doing a good job of recognising my handwriting. I doubt the tool's usefulness though -- you really have to remind yourself the feature even exists.
More handy, however, is the ability to have two apps open, side by side, on the screen at once. If you've brought up an address in Gmail, for example, you can open Maps and type the address in, reading it from the email. It's perhaps not a headline feature of the Note series, but it's undeniably useful at times.
Popup play is on board too. This allows you to view your video in a hovering window above the rest of the interface. Rather than having to exit a video to check an email, you can pop the video out, and carry on moving around the phone with the video still playing above. You can re-size the window to make it less obtrusive, and double tap it to return to full-screen mode.
A new feature you won't find on the other Notes is the infrared sensor on the side. It gives you the ability to control your TV, making use of a built-in TV guide service called WatchOn.
Setup was initially fairly straightforward. Supported TVs include a vast array of brands, not just Samsung's, some of which I hadn't even heard of. Follow a few steps and choose your model and you should be good to go. I found that, after numerous times of trying, however, it just didn't work.
After waiting many moments for it to connect, the tablet kept on insisting that I had no network connection (I did) and thus couldn't continue. No matter what I did, I couldn't get it to properly connect.
I had similarly bad luck with the WatchOn app. Every time I loaded it, I was met with an error saying to try again later. I did, and it still didn't work. In theory, these features could be handy additions for those of you who rarely take your tablets away from the sofa anyway. They're not much of a selling point for the slate though if they simply don't work.
Power and performance
The white, shiny jacket plays home to a quad-core processor clocked at 1.6GHz, along with 2GB of RAM. Those hearty specs are exactly the same as what you'll get in the Note 2. Unsurprisingly then, it gave a very similar performance on the Geekbench benchmark test, achieving 2,075 against the Note 2's 1,998 -- both are extremely good scores.
General use of the Note 8 was every bit as nippy as you'd expect. There was no unpleasant delay when swiping between homescreens and opening menus and apps was immediate and free of depressing lag. There's no lag to be seen when using the S Pen either, which is particularly helpful when you're sketching.
It handles high-definition gaming perfectly well, delivering smooth frame rates and crisp graphics on Real Racing 3 and Riptide GP. The 2GB of RAM comes in handy with multi-tasking too -- I found no noticeable slowdown when a Popup Play video was playing and I continued navigating around the Jelly Bean interface.
Tucked into that white plastic back is a 5-megapixel camera. That's a step down from the 8-megapixel camera you'll find on the Note 2, but you're perhaps less likely to be using a bigger slate for photography on the move. It's therefore a less essential feature.
Still, you'll probably want to snap the odd shot of a well-cooked home dinner, or your child doing something only you'll find cute, and it will at least be quality worthy of Facebook.
Thankfully then, that's pretty much what you'll get. My test image showed a decent exposure overall -- only the bright window at the back was overexposed. General image quality was about what I'd expect and colours were fairly neutral. The shadowy areas on the right displayed a bit of image noise, but I've seen much worse.
I saw similar results in the second shot. Again, the bright window was overexposed, but the rest of the scene was captured reasonably well. If you're looking for a brilliant camera to edit and upload on an Android interface, this isn't it -- take a look at the Samsung Galaxy Camera. If you just want to upload some snaps to Twitter, it'll do fine.
The Note 8 packs in a capacious 4,600mAh battery into its white coat. That's a considerable amount of juice -- by comparison, the Note 2 has a 3,100mAh cell. It might seem like a generous battery, but with a super-bright screen and quad-core processor, don't expect the battery life to go on forever.
Samsung quotes around 14 hours of use with the S Pen, which I feel is a little ambitious. In my own use, the battery level had dropped to around 60 per cent after a full charge when sketching for about four hours with the S Pen. I had Wi-Fi networks connected and the screen set to full brightness which is of course a much bigger drain.
You won't struggle to get a full day's use out of it, but you will need to be careful what you do. If you spend the whole time playing Real Racing 3 at max brightness, you won't have any juice left at the end of the day. Keep the brightness down, disconnect from networks when you don't need them and only settle in for a marathon gaming session when you're in reach of a plug and you won't need to live in fear of an early battery death.
With its bright, bold screen, powerful processor and handy stylus, the Galaxy Note 8 has a lot going for it. If you don't need the phone features of its little brother, the Note 8 is the best option if you're looking for a portable slate you can sketch on.
The iPad mini, however, provides almost the same screen resolution, has a considerably more luxurious design and costs a good deal less. If you absolutely crave a stylus -- and have already spent a fortune on Android apps -- go for the Note 8, otherwise, the iPad mini is a better option.