Samsung recently gave birth to the fourth member of its Galaxy Note family. The new child, aptly named the Galaxy Note 8.0, joins the Galaxy Note, Galaxy Note II and the Galaxy Note 10.1. Its screen, and as its name implies, measures 8-inches across and puts the tablet smack in the middle between the 5.5-inch Galaxy Note II and the larger Galaxy Note 10.1.

There are plenty of similarly sized tablets on the market, including some from Samsung, but the Note 8.0 offers S Pen functionality and Samsung’s suite of apps. It also sports a relatively hefty $400 price tag, which is twice the price of similar tablets that don’t offer note-taking options.

Is it worth your money? That’s what we’re here to discuss.

Hardware

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Let’s kick this off nice and simple: the Galaxy Note 8.0 is powerful when it comes to the spec list. The device offers a quad-core processor clocked at 1.6GHz, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage (expandable with support for 64GB microSD cards, and a 32GB option is also available), a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera and a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera.

Oh boy, Déjà vu, I thought to myself as I opened the Galaxy Note 8.0 box. Sure, the tablet itself measures slightly larger than the Galaxy Tab 2 7.0, but it looks super similar, and that makes it a little tough to get excited about. Heck, it looks similar to the first Galaxy Tab in some respects.

The tablet feels cheap for a $400 product. It has large bezels around the screen that, by the way, has a relatively low 1280 x 800-pixel resolution. Though, it packs powerful Wacom technology that powers all of those “note taking” capabilities.

The Note 8.0 has a large enough screen for sketching but it’s not as cumbersome as the larger Galaxy Note 10.1, which makes it the ideal size for me. Better yet? It uses a microUSB port instead of a proprietary plug. Finally!

The most important part of the Note 8.0 is the software, however, because that’s what makes it such a powerful tool.

There’s just not that much new looking about it, to be perfectly honest…

Software

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The Galaxy Note 8.0 runs Android 4.1.2 with Samsung’s custom TouchWiz user interface and a boatload of software that breathes a ton of life and functionality into the tablet. It’s seriously awesome if you’re like me and like to write notes instead of typing them. Or sitting on the couch and making a sketch for no reason at all.

This is a tablet for artists, designers and tweakers..
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Samsung added several new features to the S Pen. You can set an option that automatically launches a “pop up note” every time you remove the pen. It’s fantastic, because it’s exactly what I want to do when I remove the pen. You can also bring up that same pop up note window by tapping the screen twice while holding a button on the S Pen, should a brilliant idea strike you while you’re drawing or sketching something else up.

Other features include the ability to crop parts of the home screen, and save them as images and even the ability to sign your own signature at the bottom of an email.

A Group Play feature lets you share media such as photos, music or PDF files with other Galaxy Note devices. This is more useful in a classroom or conference room than on a tablet I was mainly testing as a solo entertainment device, but the option is noteworthy.

Air View, which we also saw on the Note II and the Galaxy Note 10.1, lets you preview documents without even tapping the screen. Samsung is building the tech into its Galaxy S4 as well, but it requires the use of an S Pen on the Note 8.0. You can hover over menus, messages, videos, and plenty of other content to get a quick preview before you open it.

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My favorite software feature, and this is available on the Note II and the Note 10.1 as well, is the ability to run two applications side-by-side. I found it useful for browsing the web while reading Twitter, but you can open a multitude of supported applications to use in this mode. Just like on Windows 8, you can adjust the size of either window by dragging a small separator bar between the two applications. These features might sound miniscule on the surface, but you won’t find them on products from Samsung’s competitors and they help the device stand out where the hardware falls flat.

There’s a reading mode that’s supposed to adjust the screen brightness and saturation to make reading magazines and books clearer, but I still don’t like reading on a bright screen. Call me old fashioned but I prefer eInk or dead trees.

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I tested the pre-loaded Peel application, which uses the tablet’s IR blaster to control your TV. It’s neat, but it was super sluggish when I was trying to access the volume controls and it often only showed a handful of TV shows that were on, even after I told it to show me everything. The idea is unique, but it’s much better executed on the HTC One that is, strangely, also based off of Peel’s technology.

Camera

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The 5-megapixel camera on the Note 8.0 is pretty awful.  Just like on all of Samsung’s other tablets the viewfinder always seems to show an image that looks super zoomed-in. I can’t figure it out, especially because it’s not an issue on Samsung’s smartphones.

There was a lot of grain in low-light photos and colors just looked flat in most shots. At this point I think it’s a fair assumption that most of us aren’t buying tablets for the camera quality, so it’s not really a fair ding against the tablet. Just don’t expect your photos of the Statue of Liberty to blow your mind, OK?

The front-facing camera was decent in a quick Google Talk video test with my buddy but, again, it’s not worth calling home about.

Battery

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I turned on the Galaxy Note 8.0 on Monday morning and charged it fully. It’s now Thursday and the device is just about dead. I used it moderately during the last few days to check my email (two accounts on Gmail on auto-sync), check Twitter and play a few casual games (Rayman Jungle Run and GTA Vice City).

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I also, of course, put it through the rounds by checking out the aforementioned IR blaster, sketching down a few ideas and simply leaving it on standby. That’s pretty impressive, and I really wouldn’t be surprised if a heavy user made it through nearly two full days or more of heavy use. Playing games and watching videos will obviously kill the battery faster than other tasks, however.

Wrap-Up

Rating

8.0
I opened the Galaxy Note 8.0 box thinking it was just another tablet trying to compete in the 7 to 8-inch space. But it’s not.

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It actually offers a lot of wonderful features. If you don’t need the S Pen or those options, by all means, save yourself half the dough and pick up a Nexus 7. It’s the better choice for your use.

This tablet isn’t for consumers who know they can get a similarly sized tablet elsewhere. It’s for consumers who want the S Pen and who want more screen real estate than the Galaxy Note II and a tablet that’s smaller than the Galaxy Note 10.1. No, it doesn’t have the best camera. No its display isn’t the sharpest we’ve ever seen. But it’s a heck of a useful and portable tablet. I just wish it looked nicer.

Disclaimer: We received a Galaxy Note 8.0 review unit from Samsung on loan, which we will return after this review is posted and after comparisons against other tablets are made. We used the device as our primary tablet for three and a half days between Monday, April 8 and Thursday, April 11 during our test time. We were held to an embargo shared with all sites before posting our unboxing on Monday, April 8.