John Galea's Blog

My blog on Gadgets and the like

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review

I’ve been intrigued by the idea of the Samsung Notes for a while now. The idea of using a pen to take notes is interesting. I do wine tastings and come home with scribbles of paper with my detailed notes on them which I inevitably misplace. The standard note Phablets seem to small to be useful to take notes. This size seems to hit the sweet spot on uber portability and I was looking to replace my now very old Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7 Plus. So I snagged one off ebay to play with.

Physically right off the bat this is a standard Samsung all plastic device. I can not imagine this device surviving much in terms of drops. If the Samsung Notes have been susceptible to breaking this one will likely be frigging magnet for getting broken. From there you have a micro USB port that performs as a USB OTG (for keyboards and mouse), charging and last but not least MHL connector for HDMI output. This uses the newer MHL standard found in the S4 and the Notes. More about HDMI later. There’s a power switch, volume rocker, 3.5 mm audio jack, uSD slot and a uSIM slot if you have the model with a cell radio in it. On the face Samsung have gone with their usual single button on the front flanked by two soft buttons (back and options). The pen now works with the soft buttons (back and options) which I am told was an issue with previous Notes. That’s about it.

Spec wise 2GB RAM & 16GB On-board Memory upgradeable with the uSD slot. Exynos™ 1.6 GHz Quad-Core processor which makes this device pretty zippy. The battery is supposed to be 4600 mAh but I am shocked how quickly it goes down. If there is a place where the specs on this device are lacking it’s the display. While it’s bright and vivid it’s 800 x 1280 which by the way is even below my S4 which has a 5″ screen at 1920 x 1080.

As with most Samsung’s of late this tablet is burdened by tons of frivolous code like Smart screen that attempts to keep the screen on when your watching it. I turn these off. They just interrupt a smooth experience IMHO.

As mentioned above, the micro USB connector doubles as an HDMI output using what is called an MHL. The MHL includes a pass through for charging but as with past Samsung devices the power does little but maintain the device. Even with the factory charger the charge current drops from 1800ma down to a paltry 900ma. So don’t expect it to be quick charging. And as in the past you can not do HDMI and USB OTG at the same time. So the option of an HDMI output along with USB devices is out the window. As with past Samsung devices the MHL connector requires power to work. At least on this tablet it doesn’t constantly overheat and turn off the charger all together which I have seen on a number of Samsung phones.
Samsung have chosen to not have onscreen home/back/option buttons so as usual this is challenge when using an HDMI display with an external keyboard and mouse.

Like most of these tablets with cell radios in it you can send/receive text messages but the phone app has been removed/disabled. Of course this does not remove the possibility of using Skype etc. But holding this thing up to your ear to make a call without a headset is going to be the definition of uber geek 🙂

Battery life is all important on a device like this. With a whopping 4600 maH battery it ought to be outstanding. I did not find it to be so. I was hoping for 2-3 days and get one. By mid day with reasonable use it was already down to 56%. As important as battery life is charge time is equally important. With a huge battery charge times can start to grow if the adapter can not put out enough current. I found this device to very picky about cable and charger if you want to get the max charge current out of the adapter which I saw 1800 maH with the Samsung charger and cable. I found Galaxy Charge current HUD as well as Galaxy Charging current helpful to explain why with some chargers the battery was taking forever to charge. With the battery completely dead, and the radios off the tablet with the factory charger took 4 hours to a complete charge. Turning off the tablet might help it some. This is one of the reasons some companies go to non-standard charging ports (rather than microUSB). They can push more current.

Movie playback and XBMC are very good on this device. The Asus transformer was slightly better with XBMC. We have finally come to an age where a modern phone/tablet can be used for XBMC. I added the Kindle Fire TV remote (it’s Bluetooth) and this device worked well. It was quite usable. Samsung have added support for ExFAT but not NTFS so at least you still have somewhere to put your large movie files.

One of the unique features of a Samsung Note is a digitized pen. And this has it. The smaller notes (and the bigger ones) are just the wrong size to be useful in my opinion. This one seems just right. Pulling out the pen is a bit of a test of patience. Between the device switching into pen mode, swapping over the “Buddy page” and then launching the note taking app your in for a good 3-5 second pause. And you won’t be encouraged to put the pen back in or your in for the same kinda delay. Turning off Page Buddies helped this a lot. The pen is easy to write with. There is no substitute for having a digitizer. The built in app for taking notes is quite good. You can control the thickness of the pen. I’m not much of an artist but one of the reasons I chose this device is to try and use it for digital note taking. I have to get use to the S Pen app but it is a little on the clumsy side. The app saves files as a snb file. From within the app you can export it but each and every page ends up being a separate jpg. Messy. And the snb file can get quite large. A 20 something page with a picture on each page ended up being 30MB so almost a M per page. Try and email that? The files for S Note are in a directory on the device called SNote so at least manually backing them up is easy. Of course if you loose or break your Note all of the files entered in S.Note even if you backed them up are useless unless you thought to export them.  I have to say, IMHO Samsung didn’t think this through. The S.Note app can only run on Note based Android devices. There’s no viewer on any other devices or platforms so all in all the document becomes stuck on your Note with nothing else you can do with it. I tried One note but that has a “feature” on Android that when you try and use the eraser it erases the whole last word. WTF.

The slots for both the uSD and microSIM are both VERY recessed. I found getting them in and out to be a challenge.

The phone supports both Ant+ and Bluetooth low energy. I was only able to get my heart rate monitor to work on Bluetooth low energy (not ant). No idea why. Not that this will be an issue with this tablet anyway. What are you going to do go mountain biking or snow boarding with this thing? I think not 🙂

Like most tablets this device does not have any indicator LEDs. Not for messages, charging nada. No idea why companies do this. Also missing is a flash for the camera. So taking pictures in low light like say a restaurant is not happening.

Having a tablet with a cell radio in it gives options. You don’t always have to carry both your cell and your tablet. One of the challenges to this is that phone companies remove the ability to make or receive phone calls. I’ve tried on numerous occasions to get VOIP running on Anroid. The call quality always sucks. Skype works well for outgoing but there is no incoming numbers in Canada. I found Talkatone that works well and has incoming numbers, again not in Canada. So I got a New York number and added it to my list of rings for my VOIP service. That allows me to make and receive calls on this tablet. Of coure this does not work on 911. MightyText allows you to send and receive text messages on this device from your phone. So with all this you can add a data only SIM into this tablet and leave your phone at home!

Outside battery life I like this tablet. The Transformer is definitely better in a number of areas. If I had reviewed the Note 8 before the transformer I would be more raving. But nothing can hide the fact that the battery life on this tablet is shockingly low.



October 17, 2014 - Posted by | Android

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