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Review: Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 scores one against the iPad Mini

Galen Gruman | June 10, 2013
The Galaxy Note's more readable UI has appeal, but the iPad Mini remains a better tablet

Review: Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 scores one against the iPad Mini

For years, we've seen iPhone killers come and go, then iPad killers. Now, the target is the iPad Mini. Never mind that the iPad Mini was late to the game for small tablets — Samsung has had seven-inch tablets for years, and Google's Nexus 7 popularized the mini tablet last spring.

The Note 8.0 comes on the heels of Samsung's ascendancy in the world of Android tablets, with its well-designed Galaxy Note 10.1 supplanting its own Galaxy Tab 10. What makes the Note series special is its included stylus, for pen-based operations. The Note 8.0n is the first mini tablet to have this capability.

The theoretical benefits of the stylusTheoretically, the addition of the stylus should make the Galaxy Note 8.0 very appealing to business users, to overcome the small onscreen keyboard of a mini tablet. Although the iPad Mini and other mini tablets have become very popular on living room couches as entertainment devices, physicians also love them because they are easy to carry and fit in a lab coat. Other mobile professionals are also warming up to the iPad Mini, which provides full app compatibility with the standard-size iPad.

But the iPad Mini's user interface is a bit scrunched, and reading its screens can be difficult, even if you use (as I do) its Accessibility settings to increase the text size. Although the smaller onscreen keyboard is serviceable, I get the appeal of a pen for checkoff-style input, as well as for drawing.

But I never found any reason to pick up the Note 8.0's stylus. The reason: So few apps use it. The included S Note app shows how useful a pen can be to take notes, make annotations, and so on. If pen support becomes common in Android apps, I would expect the Galaxy Note 8.0 to gain popularity; it would make a lot of sense for medical, logistical, sales, and other mobile pros to have pen-based apps in the easily portable form of the Note 8.0. Until that day, the pen remains more potential than real benefit.

The Note 8.0's big here-and-now advantageThere's a good reason to give the Note 8.0 serious consideration: its readability. Samsung has optimized the user interface so that text appears large, such as in the home screens and in apps like S-Planner (Samsung's Calendar replacement) and Email apps. By contrast, the iPad Mini's screen is a hard read — reading glasses are recommended.

Beyond that one advantage, the Note 8.0 falls behind the iPad Mini in many key areas, especially for use as a media tablet. A big part of that is the lack of iTunes and related AirPlay support — Apple's iPad Mini is part of an established media ecosystem that works well together, while the Android world remains fragmented for video-out, screen sharing, content streaming, and media content.

 

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