Last year, Samsung redefined the smartphone market with the original Galaxy Note, which was a 5.3-inch tablet/smartphone hybrid. Its claim to fame was not only the relatively odd screen size but also the S-Pen, which used Wacom’s digitizer technology to provide a note taking experience akin to using pen and paper. Admittedly, it was not perfect, but by far it was the best one out there. Now with the Galaxy Note 800, Samsung is trying something similar, but this time around on a device that has a larger canvas. Samsung has learnt the hard way that when it comes down to traditional 10-inch tablets, the iPad is very hard to beat, especially with the apps situation on Android. The only way it can compete with the iPad is by not competing with it but rather offer consumers something different. And the Galaxy Note 800 has been born out of this thought process. Originally unveiled at MWC, the final product has gone through many spec-sheet changes that arm it with the latest and greatest Samsung has to offer. But is it enough? Can Samsung really compete in the 10-inch tablet space against the iPad by providing something powerful yet different? Let’s find out. Also Read - Samsung reveals Galaxy Z Fold 3, Galaxy Z Flip 3 features officially, S Pen support confirmed
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Previous generation Samsung products have resulted in the company being sued left, right and center for copying designs of Apple products. Even the Galaxy Tab 750 suffered at the hands of Apple’s piranha-like legal team. The 2012 line of Samsung products luckily don’t suffer the same fate. The Galaxy Note 800 borrows some design cues from the Galaxy S III smartphone, but as it is a 10.1-inch tablet first, it also bears quite a striking resemblance with the Galaxy Tab 750. The main difference between the designs of both the products is the side bezel. The Note 800 has a rather large bezel, which is there to incorporate a silo for the S-Pen stylus. This results in a lot of unused space on the sides, which makes the device larger than it really is or it needs to be, which can be ungainly at times to use on a regular basis, especially in situations, which demand for portability. Samsung also manages to incorporate stereo speakers in the extended bezel. Also Read - Galaxy A22 replaces M42 5G to become the cheapest 5G Samsung phone in India
Criticisms apart, the Galaxy Note 800 looks like what a 10.1-inch tablet should look like. It has a landscape orientation as it is based on Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and it’s super slim at 0.35-inches and weighs a very nimble 600 grams. This is lighter and thinner than the new iPad, and in Android land only two other tablet beat it in terms of slenderness and weight – the Asus Transformer Prime and the original Galaxy Tab 750. All this comes with a major trade-off in build quality. Samsung uses plastic thin plastic in the Galaxy Note 800, which looks and feels really cheap. There are no two ways about it, because Asus and Apple have proven that it is possible to build a light and thin tablet without using cheap plastics. They use aluminum for their products and those products definitely look the part. On the other hand, even though Samsung charges a premium price for the Galaxy Note 800, one does not get that premium feel. The entire device is made up of plastic. The side bezels are covered with a sliver colored metallic finish, but that too is essentially plastic.
The back panel is also flush with the trademark white plastic finish Samsung is known for, but the 5-megapixel camera module gets encapsulated in a cordoned region that gets the same metallic silver color treatment as the side bezels. The front side of the tablet is home to the large 10.1-inch TFT display, which has a middling resolution of 1280×800 pixels. Above the display we have a 1.9-megapixel front-facing camera.
As it is designed around the landscape orientation there are a plethora of controls on the top-end of the tablet. We get the main power key, the volume rockers, a microSD card slot, a 3.5mm audio jack, an infrared receiver and a microSIM slot. The bottom-end is home to the propriety Samsung dock connector that is frankly quite reminiscent of the now retired Apple 30-Pin connector.
The bottom line is that, the Samsung Galaxy Note 800 breaks no new ground from a design standpoint. Actually, it is very similar to the original Galaxy Note 750 that was launched last year, with the only difference being the extended bezel that houses the S-Pen and stereo speakers. Overall, it is quite a run of the mill affair.
Purely in terms of tech specs the Samsung Galaxy Note 800 is a monster. Barring the Retina Display on the new iPad, the Samsung Galaxy Note 800 just obliterates Apple’s tablet king. It has a quad-core Exynos processor clocked at 1.4GHz, 2GB of RAM (a first for an Android tablet), and 16GB of internal memory, which can be expanded via a microSD card slot that supports up to 32GB of memory. Our review unit shipped with an additional 4GB microSD card. Additionally, as mentioned above the Galaxy Note 800 also has twin cameras – a 5-megapixel rear camera and 1.9-megapixel front-facing camera and of course it has the S-Pen stylus for which the device has multiple optimized apps preloaded. All this converts to best-in-class specs, which means on paper the Galaxy Note 800, should be a screamer. We have more on the performance of the device in the performance section of the review.
Samsung has a penchant for customizing the hell out of Android. Its TouchWiz Nature UX has a well-documented love-it or hate-it nature, but over the last few years Samsung has continuously worked on improving it and it has indeed become better. In fact, as far as custom Android skins go TouchWiz is now considered amongst the best. With the Galaxy Note 800, Samsung goes well beyond a custom skin, but rather it has been focused on building capabilities on top of Android that don’t come with Google’s stock Android stack. Some of these capabilities exclusively target the S-Pen, which is unique to the Galaxy Note 800 and some of them just try to take advantage of the larger tablet display. Samsung has built a flotilla of motion controls as a part of its TouchWiz experience. But for users these features should convert to real work use case scenarios, otherwise they mean nothing. Unfortunately, in the case of the Galaxy Note 800, these extra capabilities don’t always convert to obvious use case scenarios. That’s not to say that some of the ideas are not good. Indeed, they are very good, but the problem is that the implementation of these features is half-baked.
Take for example – the multi-view windowed multitasking feature is limited to only some apps. It only works with the stock web-browser, which appears like a poor man’s Chrome and it only supports the Samsung built email client and not Gmail. The feature only supports the S-Note app, Video player, Gallery, Email, the stock Internet browser and the Polaris Office suite. So this means no Google apps are supported and this feature also does not work with any random third party apps downloaded from the Google Play store.
This is problematic because most users will want to use the stock Gmail app instead of the Samsung mail app and ditto for the web browser. That said, this works pretty well in the case of videos, but again the functionality is limited to the stock video player app. This feature also works really well for the S-Note and Polaris Office apps and users can actually copy and paste content from one window to another, but the experience is far from perfect.
At times even the mighty Galaxy Note 800 is also found gasping for extra horsepower, as there are indiscernible lags when switching between two apps when in the multi-view mode.
The Pop-Up-Play feature from the Galaxy S III makes a reappearance and this time around it proves to be a handy addition rather than a gimmick. This is largely due to the large 10.1-inch display. On a personal note, we wished that Samsung added the ability to view a feed of social network updates in multi-view, like Windows 8, but currently this is not possible with the Galaxy Note 800.
Perhaps the biggest draw of the Galaxy Note 800 is the S-Pen stylus, which comes with a set of optimized applications like Adobe Photoshop Touch, S-Note, S-Planner, Crayon Physics and Polaris Office.
Samsung has made a big deal of Adobe Photoshop touch and in our testing it turned out to be quite the creative tool even for the creatively inept, which means it would be a very handy tool for an artist. Either ways, with or without the S-Pen it works very well. But for precision based editing, the S-Pen comes into its own and the experience is indeed a step above the iPad. The app itself comes with a gamut of features that even includes layer based editing and it even synchronizes with the desktop version of Photoshop, so it definitely is a very handy tool.
The S-Note app allows users to jot down random notes either using the S-Pen directly, or one can use the built-in handwriting recognition capabilities of the Galaxy Note. It can even detect formulas and if it does not, it will search for it in web and will open a multi-view browser window. One can modify the pen size, use different brushes and what not and it will act like a super charged version of paint. One can annotate documents using it and there are basically many different ways to use it, ones imagination is the limit. One can even use the S-Pen with the Polaris Office suite and the experience is generally decent enough but we will not recommend long writing sessions using the S-Pen because the handwriting recognition can get a little fuzzy at times.
It appears that Samsung has gone out of its way to promote the S-Pen experience. When one takes out the S-Pen from the silo, the device detects its removal and offers users a selection of S-Pen optimized apps to choose from. However, there is one serious flaw with the S-Pen integration. This is more related to the design of the S-Pen itself, which easily gets incorporated in the industrial design of the tablet. An unfortunate side effect of this design choice is that users have to make sure that they are inserting the S-Pen back in the right orientation.
Overall, the S-Pen is a surprisingly handy-tool but the app support for it is lacking. We can expect Samsung to quickly scale this up. They have even released a SDK for developers, but this will only happen if the device sells well.
Besides the S-Pen related razzmatazz, the Note 800 is a pretty standard Android tablet, albeit with a heavy TouchWiz influence. There some really nice touches, for instance, Samsung has added a small dock bar which brings up handy little mini apps that include the music player, Email, messenger, phone, S-Note, Calculator and Alarm. This is very handy as the user can flip open these mini-apps from anywhere and one does not have to switch apps or dive deep into the app drawer to open a new app.
Samsung has also thrown in the ‘Smart Remote’ universal remote control app. In our testing, this app worked delightfully. We tested it on a Toshiba TV, and actually the range of the IR module on the Galaxy Note 800 was much longer than the remote of the TV. Unfortunately, we could not control our Tata Sky set-top box made by Thompson because it was not supported by the Smart Remote app.
Another hallmark of TouchWiz is the nature theme, so through out the UI one will listen to water bloop sounds at every touch, nature themed wallpapers and much more. Even the basic homescreen gets the TouchWiz treatment and users have the ability to launch apps directly of the homescreen. Additionally, Samsung has built in a screenshot button right next to the on-screen buttons which makes our job easy while taking UI screenshots.
On a side note, the virtual keyboard on the Galaxy Note 800 was absolutely fantastic. Samsung has cleverly incorporated even numerals in the same screen as the alphabets which makes typing a breeze. Additionally one can even activate handwriting recognition by long pressing on the settings gear. Samsung could have exposed this feature in a more intuitive way, but as they say all’s well that ends well.
Currently, the Galaxy Note 800 is running Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich, however Samsung is promising an update to Jelly Bean in the near future. Samsung has already released the Galaxy Note II with Jelly Bean, so the update should be coming soon. We expect that the Jelly Bean update will bring a number of enhancements that will improve the software experience on the Galaxy Note 800, because hardware wise it’s a top notch product.
On paper, the Samsung Galaxy Note 800 should be an absolute rocket. After all it is powered by a 1.4GHz quad-core Exynos processor, 2GB of RAM and it has a rather middling 1280×800 display which should help drive the performance even more. The benchmarks definitely agree with this assessment. On the Quadrant benchmark the Galaxy Note 800 scores a bone crushing 6137 which destroys the record set by the by the HTC One X which is in the region of 4700. Even on the Vellamo benchmark the Galaxy Note 800 scores an impressive 1786, which is slightly higher than the score set by the Samsung Galaxy S III.
But we all know what really counts is real world performance, and here is where the Galaxy Note 800 fails to dazzle. Not that it is a bad performer, but we get the feeling that the numerous customizations Samsung has included in the TouchWiz interface really bog down the performance of the tablet. We have covered this above, but when one tries to use the multi-view multi-tasking there is an immense lag when one switches between two windows. This really defeats the point of the windowed multi-tasking.
On the gaming front, the Galaxy Note 800 proved to be very good. It was on par with the Tegra 3 tablets and games like Riptide GP performed really well. We even witnessed the splash effects that were previously only exclusive to the Nvidia Tegra 3 SoC. One could argue on some level the performance was even better because we had multiple apps running in the background and the game ran smoothly without a single hitch.
Samsung is making a big deal of the stereo speakers on the Galaxy Note 800. Let us put this straight, there is literally no bass, the sound is extremely tinny like most tablet speakers and this is not something one would use for a long listening session, but out of necessity. They are like most tablet speakers, not great, but that’s okay because technically it is very difficult to cram small speakers that sound full that too in a constrained space.
Overall, the specs give the illusion of ground-breaking performance, but the reality is that the performance is not that different from say the Asus Transformer Prime. In fact, devices like the Asus Nexus 7 and the new iPad actually provide much smoother user experiences than the Galaxy Note 800, and that’s where Samsung fails, especially when they are charging Rs 39,990.
The 10.1-inch display on the Galaxy Note 800 has a resolution of 1280×800 pixels. When compared to the Retina resolution of the iPad, this looks very underwhelming. Not to say that it is a bad display, actually it is one of the nicer LCD displays out there, but if you have used the new iPad then, this will not look impressive. Samsung could have added a higher resolution panel considering even $199 tablets like the Google Nexus 7 has a display with the same resolution but in a more pixel dense 7-inch frame. As far as basic color reproduction and viewing angles were concerned, it was very good. The blacks were deep and it managed acute viewing angles, it was just the resolution that ruined the experience.
As far as the cameras are concerned, the 5-megapixel rear camera and the 1.9-megpaixel camera on the Galaxy Note were serviceable. But performance wise we found the new iPad to have a much better rear camera, but seriously, we believe tablet photography is kind of a stupid thing. No one wants to use a 10.1-inch tablet as a camera, so it’s no big deal.
Interestingly, users can even use the Galaxy Note 800 as a phone, but again this is a redundant feature considering the size of the device. As far as the battery life was concerned the Galaxy Note 800 performed really well. In our tests it lasted 8.5 hours this included watching loads of videos, web browsing, Email, bit of editing on Photoshop touch and editing a few documents on Polaris Office. The iPad beats the Galaxy Note 800 by an hour or so in terms of battery life but that’s not a deal breaker.
Clearly, Samsung has a lot of good ideas especially with its ‘Note’ branded devices. The S-Pen by far provides for the best pen input on a mobile product, but there are hardly any apps that utilize the capabilities of the S-Pen. Samsung can get away with this on the smaller Galaxy Notes, but on the Galaxy Note 800, it has to prove that it’s a creation device not only a consumption device. And that’s why it’s not successful.
To add to its woes, the record-breaking benchmark performance does not convert to real world performance and the build quality of the device leaves a lot to be desired. Also, it gets difficult to justify the Rs 39,990 price-tag, which is more than that of the iPad. The only reason to own the Galaxy Note 800 is the Adobe Photoshop Touch app, which admittedly is a superb S-Pen optimized app. But right now there are hardly any apps optimized for the S-Pen and that’s why we cannot recommend it over any Android based tablet with similar specs or even the new iPad.
Additionally, if one is just looking for a good tablet then even the aging iPad 2 trumps it in real world usage, so the advantages of the specs don’t really mean anything for the end-user.