Since the release of the Note 10.1, Samsung has been working to improve the user experience in its Note family of tablets, adding software enhancements that probably should have been there from the get-go. The Note 8 reaps the benefit of the company’s hindsight as it includes not only the additions we’ve seen added to the Note 10.1, but a few unique additions of its own.
Android 4.1.2 is a capable OS, but hopefully we see and update to 4.2.2 soon. The performance increases in that version appear to have been dramatic.
The Note 8 ships with Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean and includes Samsung’s TouchWiz UI skin. I personally have never had a problem with the colorful, somewhat Fisher-Price-ian look of the interface, but if you’ve never liked its more gaudy presentation, there’s nothing new here that’ll change your mind.
Samsung’s multi-windows feature, which allows for two simultaneous apps to run on the screen, has been thankfully enhanced. A deeper pool of apps is now compatible, including Twitter, Facebook, and Chrome, and each window can be easily resized, Windows 8 style. The feature feels more at home here on the Note 8 with the S Pen compared with on the Note 10.1, where it’s more difficult to hold the tablet in one hand and use the stylus in the other.
S Note now feels like an app I’d actually want to spend some time in.
S Note gets some notable improvements as well, and the veil of inhospitable-ness that greeted me in the first version of the app has thankfully largely dissipated. The app now includes a brief text tutorial to make jumping in a bit less confusing, and the interface has been tweaked slightly — you can now easily load a completely blank sheet of “paper” — toward the same purpose. Icons now present their functionality much more clearly when tapping them and can be further clarified by the new AirView feature, which lets users hover the point of the S Pen over a menu option, which in turn displays a text bubble of each option’s functionality.
Typing in a Web site URL, composing an e-mail, searching for an app in Google Play, or doing pretty much any action that would normally cause a software keyboard to pop up at the bottom on the screen, instead triggers a notepad to appear. And instead of pecking away at each letter with the pen, you can simply write your entry directly into the text field. However, this feature must be enabled within each app by holding down on the settings button on the software keyboard and selecting the “T” icon. The pen-to-text translation software still misinterprets from time to time, however, and could use some better prediction software. Still, once enabled, it’s an incredibly useful feature that gives using the interface a nice flow when using the pen.
Chicken scratch quickly translated into legible text, right before your very eyes.
Reading mode is unique to the Note 8 and simply alters page backgrounds in e-book apps to look more like paper rather than a stark, white background. It also uses the ambient light sensor to adjust the brightness to best fit the environment you’re reading in.
The Note 8 also comes with an exclusive version of Awesome Note HD. While the app has been available on iOS, the Note 8 is currently the only place you’ll find it on Android. Not surprisingly, it’s fully compatible with the S Pen. With a purchase of the Note 8, you also get 50GB of free space on Dropbox and a full version of Polaris Office.