Keeping up with the Joneses
The Note 8.0's specs look great on paper, so its stellar performance isn't really a surprise. The tablet tackled all of the Android games I threw at it with aplomb, and streamed HD video with grace. The results become especially impressive if you're a fan of Samsung's multiwindow feature, which allows you to split the device's screen in two and use a select number of apps on either side. I've yet to find the allure of watching YouTube clips while browsing the Web, and the Note 8.0's 8-inch screen makes things a bit more cramped than the displays of larger, more generous devices like the Galaxy Note 10.1. But doing so is possible, and it works rather well.
Strong performance always takes a toll in some way, however. The Note 8.0 eked out a middling 7 hours, 30 minutes on our video-playback battery tests, falling behind competitors such as the Nexus 7 and iPad Mini. I got quite a bit more juice out of the Samsung tablet by moderating the amount of streaming I did and not getting overly enthusiastic with my gaming sessions, but monitoring battery life is never fun. The Note 8.0's battery performance isn't catastrophic by any stretch, but if you're a heavy user or you rarely hang around a power outlet, keep this in mind.
Almost forgot: The Note 8.0 has two cameras, a 1.3-megapixel camera on the front and a 5-megapixel shooter on the rear. The front-facing camera is suitable enough for video chats, but nothing to write home about. The rear-facing camera is actually fairly decent. The slow auto-focus ultimately limits your shooting speed, but the camera produces decent images in a pinch, even on its default shooting mode. You'll find toggles to tweak the ISO, white balance, and exposure--as well a macro focus mode and a number of scene settings--but I never found much reason to futz with those. I never found much reason to use the camera to shoot anything actually, but tablet cameras are apparently popular enough for companies to keep including them, so have at it. The tablet has no flash, though.
Battle of the bloat
And then there's the S Pen. I'll be blunt--I love styluses. The Note 8.0's virtual keyboard isn't bad, but I'll always appreciate being able to scrawl with a pen over trying to find a nice position to prop a tablet up. The S Pen is docked into a small groove on the Note 8.0's right corner, and it offers much more than just excellent handwriting recognition.
For starters, the Note 8.0's "page buddy" feature reacts to how you're using the device, popping up context-aware home-screen pages when you do things like plug in headphones or set the tablet in a dock. I configured it to change the virtual keyboard to a pen-friendly handwriting-recognition pad whenever I detached the pen, making it easy to jump between typing quick search queries or writing extensive notes. You can even use the pen to operate the capacitive buttons on the front of the device, which is neat.
Sign up for Computerworld eNewsletters.