Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review: first look

26 Feb 2013

We were as surprised as everyone else at MWC when Samsung quietly announced the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 a day before the show began. So, as soon as we had the opportunity, we scuttled down to the Samsung stand to get hands-on.

If you don't know already, the Note 8 is the Samsung's big play in the “phablet” market. It's an 8in tablet that can also make phone calls. It has a 1,280 x 800 resolution PLS (Plane-to-Line Switching) display, a 1.6GHz Exynos Quad 4412 processor, 2GB of RAM, a 5-megapixel rear camera and 1.3-megapixel snapper at the front, plus an absolutely enormous 4,600mAh battery. Wireless connectivity comprises 3G (not 4G), dual-band Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 4.

So much for the specs. The burning question is, does it make sense? As a phone, our first impressions were that it definitely doesn't. It's absolutely huge to be used as a phone; we doubt you'll be holding it up to your ear on the train unless you're keen on being laughed at in public.

We found we were just about able to hold it in one hand, but it was uncomfortable, making it tricky to film our overview video (embedded below). The Note 8 may have an earpiece speaker and integrated mic, so you can do your Dom Joly act on the bus, but using this device as a phone in the normal sense is silly. Very, very silly. We recommend a Bluetooth headset.


Perhaps if Samsung had marketed it purely as a tablet – with the ability to connect a headset via Bluetooth to make calls – we wouldn't be scoffing quite so much, because in the flesh it's rather fetching, looking very much like a massive Samsung Galaxy S III. As a tablet,  it makes far more sense.

In that space it's going head-to-head with the iPad mini, and it outdoes Apple's baby in a number of  ways. It has a higher-resolution display, and its PLS technology (a variant of IPS) is bright and clear. Even viewing the display under the bright spotlights at the Samsung stand was comfortable.

Although it feels big for a smartphone, the 8in diagonal is the perfect size for a compact tablet. The build quality is typical Samsung, with an all-plastic frame and glossy white plastic rear panel – but for all that plastic, it doesn't feel cheap. Twist it this way and that, and there's barely a creak.

As the name suggests, the Note 8 also comes equipped with Samsung's active stylus technology and accompanying apps - a technology Apple has so far abstained from introducing on its tablets. The S Pen itself is stowed in the bottom right-hand corner of the device, and after a short play with the onboard note-taking app, we found ourselves pleasantly surprised with how well it worked.

The palm rejection seems to operate flawlessly: not once did resting a hand on the screen while doodling or scribbling activate a button or other onscreen control, allowing us to concentrate entirely on scribbling the simple message you see in the photo above. It's also highly sensitive. Aside from the slightly weird feeling of writing on a slippery glass surface, the size of the display makes taking notes much more practical than on the smaller Samsung Galaxy Note II.

In other respects, it's a similar experience to using any of the other handsets in the Galaxy range. It runs Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean, with Samsung's TouchWiz UX customisations, and it's slick and responsive, with no discernible hesitation or slowdown. We were able to run the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark while we were giving it the once over and it returned a breakneck score of 1,025ms.

So, it's a hit-and-miss affair for the Samsung Galaxy Note 8. As a phone, it's unwieldy and we don't think it's a practical replacement for both smartphone and tablet. As a tablet, with the occasional ability to make phone calls in emergencies, however, it's a far more sensible proposition. The key will be the price, although with these specifications we don't expect it to compete at the same level as the similar Asus Fonepad.

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