Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review:

Samsung Galaxy Note 8

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CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Stylus is great for drawing; Bright, bold screen; Very powerful processor; Expandable storage.

The Bad Too expensive; Some Samsung software didn't work; Plastic design feels cheap.

The Bottom Line The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 packs a good screen, plenty of power and that all important stylus for sketching. It's quite a lot more expensive than the iPad mini though, and its plastic construction doesn't feel anywhere near as luxurious.

6.5 Overall

If you're confused and overwhelmed by Samsung's ever-increasing range of Galaxy devices then don't worry, you're not alone. A handy hint to identify the Note range though -- they all pack styluses.

At the smaller end of the range is the Note 2, which with its SIM-card slot and 5.5-inch screen make it more phone than tablet. The Note 8 doesn't have a SIM card slot, so, like the larger Note 10.1, it's an out and out tablet.

It comes with an 8-inch display, a quad-core processor, Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and of course the all-important stylus. With an asking price of £340 in Samsung's Westfield Stratford City store (it's not yet available online), does it do enough to steal sales from the cheaper iPad mini?

Should I buy the Samsung Galaxy Note 8?

Do you love writing all your notes by hand? Fancy yourself as a bit of a sketch artist? Crave overpriced 8-inch tablets? If your answer to all those questions is "yes, yes, oh good Lord, yes!" then the Galaxy Note 8 is probably for you.

Spec-wise, it's not a bad piece of kit. Its screen is bright, it's very powerful and the stylus makes writing and drawing a breeze. It's let down, though, by its cheap, plastic design and its high price.

The iPad mini is a similarly sized slate and its metal construction feels infinitely more luxurious than the Note. Its screen is similar and, although it's not a quad-core beast, it's powerful enough for anything you're likely to throw at it. Most importantly though, the mini can be had for £70 less than the Note 8.

If the stylus is an absolute must, or if you've already spent a small fortune on Android apps, the Note 8 is worth a look. Otherwise, plump for the mini.

Design and build quality

It's not difficult to spot the Note 8 as being part of the Note range. Like its siblings, it sports a crisp white, plastic construction, with silver edging around the sides and physical home button. If you're keen on the plastic design of the other Notes you'll feel right at home with this tablet in your hands. If you prefer the metal body of the iPad mini then you won't be impressed.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8
All of Samsung's Galaxy Notes have a stylus on board.

It feels fairly well put together, but there's no escaping the fact that the expanse of plastic on the back doesn't offer the same luxurious feel of the mini. There's a little flex in the casing too, which again detracts from its overall feel. I found the same thing on the bigger Note 10.1, which also looked very cheap next to its Apple equivalent.

That's a pretty big problem for the Note 8, as the equivalent iPad mini costs £70 less. If you want the most stylish, elegant and sturdy tablet, your money is definitely more wisely spent on the mini.

At 8mm thick, 210mm long and 136mm wide, it's easy to hold in one hand and its 340g weight won't snap your wrist either. Those dimensions are basically the same as the iPad mini's, just in case you're debating between the two on size alone. The glossy plastic back of the Note does however make it a little slippery to hold and shows up greasy marks easily too. If you want to hold it up as an ebook reader, you might want to grab some sort of case to get a good grip.

Around the edges you'll spy a 3.5mm headphone jack, a micro-USB port, power button and volume rocker. You'll also spy a small black blotch -- that's an infrared sensor for controlling your TV, which I'll come to later.


The basic model of the Note 8 will come with 16GB of internal storage. Samsung does explain that a 32GB model will also be available, however, a Samsung store representative told our buddies at ZDNet that the higher-capacity model won't be coming to UK stores. Certainly none of the retailers offering pre-orders list the 32GB variant.

Annoyingly though, Samsung doesn't allow you to install apps on external storage. You'll need to be careful what big games you install -- high definition titles like Real Racing 3 need multiple gigabytes of space. If you're a keen mobile gamer then 16GB isn't going to last too long. You'll need to make sure all your music, videos and photos are stored on the card, to save as much internal space as you can for apps.

You'll find the microSD card slot on the left-hand edge under a small flap. That makes it much easier to get to than on the Note 2, where you're forced to rip open the plastic back to get at it. The iPad mini doesn't allow you to expand the storage, so that's one point in favour of the Note. If you want more video space on Apple's slate, you'll have to pony up some extra cash.


The 8-inch screen comes with a 1,280x800-pixel resolution, which isn't differing much from the iPad mini's 1,024x768-pixel display. The Note's handful of extra pixels gives it a marginally sharper pixel density of 189 pixels per inch (ppi), slightly beating out the 153ppi of the mini. I'd bet money that you won't see much difference if you compare them side by side though.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8
The Note 8's screen resolution is marginally better than the iPad mini's.

It doesn't have the pin-sharp crispness of the Retina display iPad or Google's Nexus 10, but it's perfectly clear nonetheless. Icons are rendered well with none of the fuzzy edging you'll see on cheaper screens. Small text on Web pages is also handled fine, making reading lengthy articles or skimming through your ebook collection perfectly comfortable.

It doesn't share the Super AMOLED Plus screens of some of Samsung's smart phones, which isn't necessarily a bad thing as they sometimes come across as a little over-saturated. Instead, the Note 8's screen opts for a less garish colour palette. Photos and videos still looked vivid though, and it's bright enough to scorch your eyes out.

Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean

The Note 8 comes running Android 4.1.2 Jelly, which is almost the most recent version of Google's operating system. Android 4.2 Jelly Bean is the freshest version, which would have been nice to see -- particularly as the next major update, dubbed Key Lime Pie, is supposed to be landing in the coming few months.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8
Everyone loves a smiling little bean. Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean is on board.

Samsung has thrown in a few software tweaks, mostly involving the S Pen stylus and related S Pen software. The overall Android experience isn't particularly different to other 'droid devices though. If you're at all familiar with Android you won't struggle too much to get to grips with the Note.

You get a total of five homescreens, on which you can plop down your apps and live widgets. Along the bottom are five app icons (you can choose which go on here) that give you quick access to your essentials. Any apps you don't want on the homescreen will appear in a grid of app icons, similar to the layout you'll see on the iPhone.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8
Samsung software aside, the general Android experience is fairly standard.

As an Android device, you'll have full access to the hundreds of thousands of apps and games from the Google Play store. From there, you're also able to buy books, magazines, music and rent or buy movies. Apple offers basically the same services from iTunes and Newsstand and prices are roughly comparable.

S Pen and Samsung software

Tucked into the bottom of the Note 8 you'll find the S Pen stylus. Styluses may not be the coolest thing to whip out on the bus, but they certainly come in useful. If you're used to just poking and swiping at apps on the iPad then you might not find it too handy. If, however, you're into your graphics and sketching then you should at least give it a try.

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