Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 Design Review

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The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is an 8-inch tablet that costs $399. In a world where the 7-inch Nexus 7 exists for $200 and even the 7.9-inch iPad Mini starts at $330 or lower, $399 is a tough sell. If you’re looking for a simple small tablet, the Nexus 7 is still your best bet and the iPad Mini provides Apple’s still unbeatable app ecosystem in a smaller, lighter, and cheaper package than the Note 8. The Note 8 is arguably Samsung’s best tablet yet, but depending on your experience with the company’s offerings, the weight of such an acknowledgement will vary dramatically. If you’re a stylus devotee that liked what you saw in the Note 10.1, you’ll be happy to know that thanks to some software upgrades, the Note 8 integrates the stylus, or S Pen, in a smaller package with fewer seams and a more impressive screen. Still, if you’re not an artist and have no interest in coming near a stylus anytime soon, go for one of the many cheaper options.

Like the iPad Mini, the Note 8’s larger-than-typical screen necessitates a wider body — by about an inch — than, say, the Nexus 7. So, depending on how you’re holding the tablet, its more expansive frame may feel a bit awkward, especially if your hands are of the wee variety. The Note 8 feels to be made of the same stuff as the Note 10.1, with a bit more metal along its edges thrown in for durability’s sake. Its corners are smoothly rounded, but its more corpulent profile yields a slightly heavier device than the iPad Mini; however, you’d probably have to be holding one in each hand to notice the difference.

The Note 8’s design isn’t as simple or as elegant as the Mini’s, but what it lacks in simplicity, it attempts to make up for in utility. On the bottom bezel sit three buttons: a menu key, home key, and the back key. Samsung has also added the ability to use the S Pen with the three buttons, something that was missing on the Note 2. The 5-megapixel rear-facing camera is located directly in the top middle of the back, and although the placement feels natural when holding the camera in portrait, my fingers were constantly getting in the way of shots when holding it in landscape. The back button as well can be a nuisance with the tablet held this way.

There were several times when trying to take a picture or playing Riptide GP that I accidentally hit it. As a result of these buttons, we get back a small percentage of screen real estate that would otherwise be occupied by the Android nav bar. I’m thankful to have this space back, but making accommodations for the physical buttons’ placement will take some getting used to. Somewhat inverse to that, while the physical home button is a very welcome addition, its convex nature makes it difficult to press with the stylus.

The S Pen of course returns with its pressure sensitivity in tow and writing with it felt a lot less cumbersome here compared with on the 10.1-inch Note. Though of identical length, the S Pen has a smaller radius than the Note 10.1′s, and thanks to its flatter design is even less likely to roll away. The grooved pen button is a bit smaller than before, making it less likely to elicit accidental presses. The tablet includes palm rejection tech; however, if the skin on the knife edge of your hand folds in just the right way, making a “point,” the tablet will, much to my frustration, mistakenly believe you’re trying to write with it and accept inputs from it.

The front-facing camera sits off to the top-right corner on the front. On the bottom edge are two speaker grills, a Micro-USB port, and a slot for the S Pen. On the right edge sits a microSD card slot with an IR blaster, volume rocker, and power/sleep button on the left edge. The top edge holds the headphone jack.