Samsung's Galaxy Note just grew to 8 inches. It's actually really nice. It combines a bunch of the stuff that Samsung's been building in the Galaxy S and Note series and puts them into a nearly perfectly sized tablet. Two things, though. One, we don't know how much it costs, and price is a huge deal for 7- and 8-inch tablets. Two, the international version is a freaking 8-inch phone.
First, some details about the Note as a tablet. (Full specs, as we know them, below.) The Note 8's 8-inch display has the same 1280x800 resolution (16:10 ratio) as the Kindle Fire HD 7-inch, though obviously a slightly lower PPI—189 to 216—given it's an inch larger. It's very nice, but while it's a bump up from the iPad Mini's 1024x768, 163PPI (4:3) display, it's still not the kind of pristine, flawless screen you see on larger tablets. I made out some pixels here and there, and its color balance didn't feel quite right, but holding it and reading web pages, it looked just fine. In human being terms, that means it's got a good but not great display that, honestly, you probably won't notice unless you've got a retina MacBook or a Chromebook Pixel or something.
The Note 8 has guts that are right in there at the top of the pack with a 1.6GHz quad core A9 processor—unnamed by Samsung, but probably last generation's Exynos 4. That puts it ahead of the Fire HD, on basially equal footing with the Nexus 7, and in a similar but much more high class version of the iPad Mini's recycling of old guts. The Mini uses a die-shrunk A5, the same chip as the iPad 2. However, the Note suffers lag in places where the Mini and Nexus 7 simply don't, like dragging down the Android notification center or opening and closing the dual app selector (as an aside, the dual apps make much more sense here than on the 5.5-inch Note 2), and it loses a weirdly high number of swipes. Firmware on the Note 8 isn't final, and it's very quick on a number of other things, so that could be software. But it's the kind of thing that's snuck its way into Samsung's software before. For all the good stuff going on here, TouchWiz still hangs over all of it.
And then there's the part where it's a phone. Look, phones and tablets converging makes sense. And obviously most people aren't going to use an 8-inch phone as a phone that they hold up to their heads. They'll use bluetooth headsets or inline mics. But the plausibility of anyone actually carrying an 8-inch phone around with them at all times seems slim, no matter how much we'd like to have one less gadget to haul around. For all the jokes about the iPad as a giant iPod Touch, this is literally a humongous Galaxy S III. And sure, sure, why not. But really... WHY???
The Note 8 is exceedingly comfortable to hold, though its plastic body doesn't have the solid feel of iPad Mini, Nexus 7, and Kindle Fire HD. The bezel is larger than the iPad Mini's by a good amount, but feels smaller than the Kindle Fire HD's (though that could simply be the scale working, since the Note is a deal larger and the same size bezel would seem smaller). It feels like a good compromise between the two. Both the iPad Mini and Kindle Fire HD are wonderfully usable tablets, but for just holding a medium-sized tablet in one hand, the Note probably takes it, for what it's worth.
The S Pen software has come a long way since it was released, and it's now to the point that writing out a URL with the stylus actually feels a lot easier than banging it out with your thumbs. Taking notes is still touch and go, mainly owing to spacing and line breaks, but the accuracy is much better than it had been for the launch of the Note 10.1 and Note 2.
Samsung is pushing some new S Pen features too, like being able to hover over tiles in apps to give you "mouseover" text. Flipboard has a new update for that, but it's hard to see it getting much support from developers when basically every other Android device can't make use of it. Other lightweight additions include being able to use the S Pen on the capacitive "hardware" buttons for back and menu; a reading mode that changes the contrast between text and background in ebook apps like Kindle to make them easier to read; getting an exclusive on the Android version of the Awesome Note app; and, for some unholy reason, inserting clip art into images by writing out the word, like writing "DOG" and making a dog appear. Seriously.
Samsung has phones and tablets in almost literally every size from 4 inches to 10. And beyond. But the shotgun spray strategy does feel like it's zeroing in on the good stuff right now. Still, you're going to want to wait and see how the software issues play out, and certainly for the price, since even if it slightly undercuts the pricey iPad Mini, there will be other, far cheaper, options out there.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 Specs:
Network: HSPA+ 21Mbps 850/900/1900/2100
Dimensions (3G Version): 210.8mm x 135.9mm [official depth not included by Samsung]
Weight: 338 grams
Processor: 1.6GHz A9 quad-core
Memory: 2GB RAM
Storage: 16/32GB; microSD
Display: 8" WXGA (1280x800, 189 ppi) TFT
Software: Android 4.1.2 (Jellybean)