Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0, The best compact tablets on the market

The major compact tablet manufacturers all seem to see the future in different screen sizes, and it’s clear that Samsung is a big fan of 8in as the sweet spot. The Galaxy Note 8.0 has a lot of competition, though, so we were keen to see how one of the biggest names in consumer electronics would make a product that really stands out.

Samsung’s answer is pen input. The Galaxy Note 8.0 comes with aWacombased S Pen stylus, which stows neatly into a slot in the bottom-right corner of the tablet. It’s pressure sensitive and far more accurate than a capacitive stylus, making the Note 8.0 ideal for note taking, creative sketching or fine photo-editing tasks. It’s even possible to enter text via handwriting recognition, using a panel built into the stock Samsung keyboard, and it’s something that works surprisingly well. In fact, where the S Pen feels a little gimmicky on a smaller device such as the Galaxy Note II, it’s far more practical here, where the larger screen makes for a more comfortable experience.

Another unusual feature is the ability to use the 3G model as a giant phone, much like the Asus Fonepad. Alas, we haven’t been able to test this as Samsung only sent us the Wi-Fi model, although at only £40 or so more it isn’t that much to spend on top of the standard version. Again, though, you’ll look rather odd holding this 8in device up to your ear in public.

Physically, the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 treads familiar ground. The rear panel is constructed of glossy plastic, just like on Samsung’s flagship smartphones over the past couple of years; the trim is silver plastic, and the glass front is smooth under the finger. The whole shebang weighs 340g and, although it flexes a fair bit when twisted, it does feel well put together. In terms of size, it’s taller, wider and thicker than an iPad mini, but we’re not talking huge differences. In fact, the broader screen surround makes the Galaxy Note 8.0 the more comfortable device to hold one-handed.

As with Samsung’s smartphones, there’s plenty of practicality on show. There’s a microSD slot for expanding the device’s 16GB of onboard storage; the micro-USB socket on the bottom edge is used for charging the device as well as data transfer; and the tablet is stuffed with bundled software, covering everything from music streaming to photo editing.

The Galaxy Note 8.0 runs Samsung’s TouchWiz overlay on top of Android 4.1, and this is packed with tools and features, although at first it does feel a little overwhelming.

As this is a premium product, it’s no surprise to find it has both front- and rear-facing cameras, although there’s no LED flash to help out in low light. The snapper on the rear is a 5-megapixel unit that shoots 720p video, and the one on the front captures 1.3-megapixel images. Quality from the rear camera is surprisingly good, with crisp, well-balanced images produced in good light. Low-light performance is much less impressive, though, with photos becoming soft, blurry and lacking in contrast.

The screen is a high point. Although the resolution is a mere 800 x 1,280 – rather left behind by the Full HD panel of the Nexus 7 – the image quality is superlative. It has a ridiculously high maximum brightness that’s far better than an iPad mini, and the colours it produces are beautifully vivid.

Performance is excellent, too. It smashed many rivals in our intensive benchmarks, and in real-world use the Galaxy Note 8.0’s 1.6GHz quad-core Exynos processor and fast graphics chip are clearly up to the job, with smooth frame rates in all the games we threw at it. All this power does take its toll on battery life, though. In our looping video test, it lasted 7hrs 44mins, which is about acceptable for its size, but well short of the best compact tablets on the market.

All in all, the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 is a superb compact tablet with some unique features that set it apart from the competition. Its screen, camera and performance are all superb, and the stylus capability is genuinely useful and usable.

However, there is one big problem, and that’s the price. At £340, it’s a lot more expensive than Apple’s iPad mini, and pricier even than many 10in Android tablets. Unless that pen will really make a difference to your daily routing, the Galaxy Note 8.0 will be a tough sell.