Apple devotee Ashley Kramer not only manages to say nice things about the competition, but to say the word ‘phablet’ without breaking into a fit of uncontrollable giggling.
IT’S PROVING HARDER and harder to resist the temptation to buy a tablet. I spend an inordinate amount of time using my old iPhone as do-it-all internet device, but the screen is tiny. As impressive as the original iPad and all the subsequent full-size imitators have been, every time I tried a 10-inch tablet, I realised that they’re still a bit too big to bother with given the way I consume news and content. Small and light is the way to go, but as an Apple devotee, something “off-brand” in the seven-inch range like a Google Nexus (I know, I know) didn’t strike my fancy.
Samsung’s range of Galaxy Note phablets certainly got me thinking about the tablet experience. The size of the Galaxy Note 2 (reviewed here) made it too big to be a useful phone and too small to be a really effective reader, but it definitely was a superb device to consume media, and the built-in stylus proved to be more than a little handy. So if 10 is too much and five-and-half too little, then a bigger Galaxy Note might just be the answer. Which explains why I was so keen to review the eight-inch Galaxy Note 8.0, but was only moderately interested in the new hotshot Galaxy S4 smartphone.
The Galaxy Note 8.0’s plastic body isn’t the best start to the user experience, but it’s scratch resistant and the device is respectably solid when flexed. Frankly, even the metal-bodied competitors don’t take too kindly to being dropped, so as long as the build quality is good, plastic is fine. At less than 8mm thick, the Note 8.0 is slim and light enough to work as a one-handed, go anywhere and do everything media consumption device, and in addition the screen is big enough to function as a reader. Best of all, the screen is in proper widescreen format, not the annoyingly old-fashioned fat rectangle found on the iPad Mini. At 1280 x 800 and 189ppi, the screen is only tolerably sharp compared to modern smartphones, but the Note 8.0 does have a reading mode which sharpens things up a tad in certain applications and allows for lengthy periods of use without eyestrain. Would a higher resolution screen improve this device? Absolutely, but it’d also drive up the price in a big way.
Grabbing a further advantage over the iPad Mini, the Note 8.0 has a semi-smart stylus docked in a slot at the bottom. Use the stylus for a while and it’s tough to go back to poking around on screen with a finger, especially once you master the handwriting recognition and other assorted stylus related apps. The Note 8.0 also offers Samsung’s split-screen functionality, and this is very hard to pass up once it’s been used a few times – talk about genuine multitasking. There’s an Infra Red remote emitter to allow the Note 8.0 to function as a remote control. And to add insult to injury, there’s a microSD card slot in the side of the device that allows the storage to be user upgraded for not much money – and you’ll need to because all those apps chew up space before you start adding content. Apple is still being Apple (i.e. wilfully arrogant) in this regard, and users are stuck with the storage capacity that they buy.
In use, the Quad core CPU and 2Gb of RAM mean that the Note 8.0 is as fast as any comparable device. Apps pop open with alacrity and there’s seldom a delay of any kind to adversely affect the user experience. The Note 8.0 runs Android 4.1. It’s easy to get obsessed about which version of Android a specific device is running, but once you forget about being on the latest and greatest version (with the silliest name), then you just get on with using the device and in short, like most modern Android powered tablets, it just flat out does the job.
Battery life was good, even under hard use, which is another plus but on the downside, the camera really does bite the big one. When will Samsung realise that megapixels are meaningless? The images are soft to the point of being blurry even in social media, which is a real pity. The opposition are starting to figure out that cameras matter on phones (hello, HTC), so there’s no excuse for this shabby performance.
Barring that issue and a couple of other little things, the Galaxy Note 8.0 is a terrific tablet. There are hordes of other tablets in this size range, but this is one of the best. It’s not cheap though, and the price gap between it and an iPad Mini is substantial enough to make for second thoughts. Close that gap and the Note 8.0 is the one to go for, and you’ve got no idea how much it pains this Apple devotee to say that. ASHLEY KRAMER