If Samsung’s Galaxy Note II phone seems too small for scribbling and the Galaxy Note 10.1 too heavy to hold in one hand while you use its stylus in the other, the just-announced Samsung Galaxy Note 8 could be the note-taking tablet you’ve been waiting for. Designed to be the size and shape of a paper day planner, the 5.35 x 8.3 x.31-inch, .75 pound Android slate comes with Samsung’s S-Pen hardware and software along with an IR blaster for controlling your TV. Here at Mobile World Congress, we had a chance to go hands-on with the Galaxy Note 8 and were impressed with its one-hand friendly form factor and powerful work-and-play features.
Encased in the same glossy white plastic as the Galaxy Note II phone, the Note 8′s functional design doesn’t stand out in a crowd. However, its svelte frame provides space for an infrared port, a microSD card slot and a generous 4,600 mAh battery under the hood. Like other Samsung Android devices, the Galaxy Note 8 has capacitive navigation buttons under the screen for back and menu along with a hardware button for home. Unlike with the other Galaxy Notes, users can now tap these buttons and activate them directly with the S-Pen stylus.
The S-Pen stylus looks identical to those on the other Galaxy Notes, with a thin plastic frame and single button. Like other Galaxy Notes, but unlike many competitors, the Galaxy Note 8 has a bay for the stylus.
Running Samsung’s Touch Wiz skin on top of Android 4.1.2 Jellybean, the Galaxy Note 8 is powered by a speedy 1.6-GHz, quad-core Samsung Exynos processor with 2GB of RAM. The 8-inch touch screen, while bright and colorful, is a modest 1280 x 800 resoluion, which is slightly better than 720p, but pales in comparison to the 1080p and higher resolutions we’ve been seeing on some other slates and phones. Like most tablets, the Note 8 has two cameras: a rear-facing 5-MP shooter and a 1.3-MP front facing lens for video calls.
Depending on the region where you buy, the tablet will be available in Wi-Fi only, 3G or 4G LTE versions. Though it looked and felt awkward when held up to our ear, the Galaxy Note 8 will let you make voice calls if you buy the 3G or 4G versions. We presume that most people will use a Bluetooth headset or the speakerphone function when phoning a friend. The device also supports Bluetooth 4.0 and infrared transmission via its IR Blaster.
The Galaxy Note 8 will be available with either 16 or 32GB of internal memory. It also has a microSD card slot which will allow users to upgrade their storage very cheaply (a 32GB card costs less than $25).
One of our favorite features on previous Galaxy Notes, Air View shows a dot on the screen when you hover over it with the tip of the pen and then expands certain items such as the thumbnails in the image gallery when you place the dot on top of them. With the Galaxy Note 8, third party apps can now integrate Air View support. The Note 8 comes with a new version of Flipboard preloaded that supports Air View. During our hands-on, we hovered over a thumbnail image of Barak Obama in Flipboard and saw the image expand to show several related stories about the president.
Though it’s not exclusive to the Galaxy Note 8, Samsung’s unique Dual View multi-window feature works particularly well on the 8-inch screen, making this potentially the best multi-tasking Android device on the market. Long press the back button and a side bar with a list of Dual View-compatbile apps, including Chrome, the Email app gallery and about a dozen others appears on the left side of the screen. Drag one of these icons away from the bar and the screen splits in two, showing the new app the left side and the app you were running before on the right. A slider bar appears between the two panes allow you to drag it left or right to make one window take up more or less space than the other.
Considering that Windows 8′s touch interface only allows you to dock a second app to the left or right third of the screen, Samsung’s Dual View offers more tablet multitasking ability than both Microsoft and Google, which ought to build this feature into stock Android. As we placed the mail client next to the Chrome browser, we imagined answering an email message in one pane while researching our reponse in the other.
Like the other Galaxy Note devices, the Galaxy Note 8 comes with Samsung’s S Note note-taking software, S Planner pen-friendly organizer and Paper Artist for drawing. In addition, the Note 8 comes with Awesome Note, a popular iOS note-taking and personal organizer app that’s making its first appearance on Android and will be available exclusively exclusively on Samsung’s Android products. When we loaded up Awesome Note, we were struck by the dizzying array of note templtes, including shopping, to-do lists and calendars.
S-Note has a particularly compelling new feature called Idea Sketch, which finds clip art for you after you scribble down what object you’re looking for. To activate Idea Sketch, we simply pulled up the menu in S-Note, tapped the Idea Sketch button and watched as a blank white sketch area appeared. When scribbled down the word “Dog,” a result screen with a thumbnail of a clip art picture of a dog appeared and, when we selected the thumbnail, the image appeared in the middle of our note.
Samsung says it has 250 clip art images in its library and, while we didn’t have time to try all kinds of words, we noted that writing the word “cat” also worked as S-Note suggested a drawing of a cat. Despite our poor handwriting, Idea Sketch usually understood what we meant, but when we scribbled the word “cat” too sloppily, it failed to recognize the word.
The Note 8 also has Samsung’s content stores, including its Game Hub, Learning Hub, Reader’s Hub, Music Hub and Video Hub. To make reading in the Reader’s Hub or third-party eBook apps easier, the Note 8 has a new Reader Mode, which changes the contrast and color temperature in certain apps so that text really stands out from the background behind it. When reading a book in the Reader’s Hub, we toggled Reader Mode on and off and noted how much the text became darker and the background lighter with it enabled.
With its infrared port and a version of Peel’s popular programming guide application, the Galaxy Note 8 can double as a universal remote. With no TV available during our hands-on time, we were unable to test this feature out here at Mobile World Congress. However, Samsung reps explained that users will be able to browse through rich descriptions of current listings, select what they want to watch and change the channel on their TVs, no matter what their make and model. With HTC recently announcing the HTC One, the first phone with Peel and an IR Blaster, remote control capability is becoming a more common feature on mobile devices of all brands.
Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8 could be the best Galaxy Note yet, because it provides enough screen real estate to do some serious note taking while weighing only three quarters of a pound. The new note-taking features and IR blaster make this product even more compelling on paper, but we’ll have to see how it performs during more extensive testing before we can render a final verdict.
There’s no word yet on pricing for any version of the Galaxy Note 8, but Samsung expects to launch it sometime in Q2.