Hands on with Samsung's Galaxy Note 8.0 tablet

BARCELONA—With the Galaxy Note 8.0 introduced prior to this week’s Mobile World Congress, Samsung has given us an an Android-powered 8-inch tablet that promises enough unique features to help it stand out from the other tablets out there today.

Fighting off jet-lag, I managed to score some hands on time with the international version of the Note 8.0 to get some idea of the reality of this new tablet matches the hype.

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8.0

The first thing to catch my attention was the Note 8.0’s design and build quality. Previous Samsung tablets have always felt a bit too plasticky for my tastes, but the Note 8.0 seems like it’s made of sturdier materials that lend the tablet a premium look and feel.

The Galaxy Note 8.0 is comfortable to hold with one hand, though heavier than similarly sized tablets. (Click to enlarge.)

Holding the Note 8.0 in just one hand felt comfortable. That said, it also felt slightly heavier than similarly-sized rival tablets such as Apple’s iPad mini and Google’s Nexus 7.

The tablet’s 8-inch screen offers plenty of room for typing and consuming content, such as movies and photos, but the 1280-by-800 resolution means you’ll still see individual pixels every so often. Samsung is pushing the Note 8.0 as an e-reader—the company has included a reading mode that changes the screen’s color temperature and brightness to make text easier to read. I didn’t notice much of a difference when using the tablet indoors, though I suppose these changes could make the screen easier to see when in direct sunlight (should you be one of those people that actually likes going outside).

The Galaxy Note 8.0 includes a pressure-sensitive stylus.

Samsung will ship the Note 8.0 running Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, a shame considering Android 4.2 has been available for several months now. The company told me it’ll update the device later on—hopefully before Google announces the next version of Android at its annual Google I/O event. A beefy 1.6GHz quad-core processor keeps the Note 8.0 lag-free, and the tablet’s 5-megapixel camera did a decent job at capturing photos in the oddly lit room where Samsung held its demonstration.

One noteworthy thing about the Note 8.0: The international version of the tablet will support cellular networks, while the U.S. version is Wi-Fi only. Even stranger still, you can use the international version of the Note 8.0 as smartphone. Holding an 8-inch tablet up to your head to make phone calls might sound a tad excessive, but Samsung says that the feature was popular with people who used Bluetooth headsets. I held the tablet up to my head to simulate what it would be like to make a phone call on a device that large and wasn’t entirely sold on the concept. But to each his own, I suppose.

Samsung is still not talking prices or specific release dates, though we’ll likely hear more about those once the Note 8.0’s tentative ship date in second quarter of 2013 draws closer.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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