The Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 is a middle child, but one that stands out. Launched as part of Samsung’s mid-range tablet lineup (the premium tablets are marketed under the Galaxy Note product line with that range supporting inking through Samsung’s S Pen), the Galaxy Note 8.0 occupies the middle spot in the range, with the Galaxy Tab 3 7.0 at the entry level end and the Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 being a larger and less portable tablet.
The Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 is also Samsung’s second attempt at taking on the competing, lower priced iPad mini from rival Apple; the first effort was made with the Galaxy Note 8.0. Both tablets are similar enough, especially since they share the same industrial design introduced on Samsung’s recent phones, like the Galaxy S4 flagship. Under the hood, there are some differences between the two, but priced more competitively, the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 may be a bigger threat to the iPad mini’s dominance than the more premium priced Note 8.0.
So how does the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 stack up against others in the growing 8-inch tablet space? Join me in this review to see if the middle child gets any love.
The Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 bears more of a resemblance to the Galaxy S4 smartphone than it does to the first generation Galaxy Tab 7.0 and the outgoing Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 tablets. Like its slightly smaller sized fore-bearers, the 8-incher is designed primarily to be used in portrait orientation.
New with this generation is that Samsung took the Android navigation keys off of the display screen, which frees up the bottom of your display for added real estate. Now, the Android navigation keys occupy some space at the bottom bezel, with a trio of keys similar to that on the Galaxy S4 series.
You’ll have a hardware-based home button, flanked on either side by a single capacitive touch button. From left to right, you’ll have a capacitive touch menu button, a hardware home button, and a capacitive touch back button.
Up top, you have the usual suspects–an ambient light sensor and a front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera.
And like the Galaxy S4, Samsung had managed to slim down the side bezels on the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0. So while the device may have a screen that measures an inch larger diagonally than the 7-inch version, the overall dimensions aren’t too much larger than the current or outgoing 7-inch Tabs.
And when compared against the iPad mini, the more narrow 16:10 aspect ratio of the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 means that the device is quite a bit less wide, or more arrow, when stacked against the mini in portrait orientation. Additionally, the narrow screen means that the display will be at the same time elongated when compared against the mini, so while it’s more narrow, it’s also more tall.
When compared to the Galaxy Note 8.0, the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 is just as tall, but is less wide. The 8-inch LCD display still has a 1280 X 800-pixel resolution, which has more pixels packed in than the 7-inch sibling and the iPad mini. This isn’t the most high resolution display, but compares well against the iPad mini and has become the standard resolution for Android tablets today.
Still, with Apple anticipated to introduce a Retina Display on its smaller screen tablet, it’s unclear how much longer the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 will be able to hold its ground solely based on screen resolution.
The more narrow display may be beneficial to users in that it will be more natural for videos and 16:9 aspect ratio photos. It also is easier to fit inside a coat pocket, for example, if you’re taking this thing with you on the road. You can also grip the tablet more easily in one hand as well.
On the left spine of the device, you have a micro SD card slot to augment the 16 GB of storage that’s built into the tablet.
The top is clean, save for a 3.5 mm headphone jack.
On the right hand side, you have the power button and the volume button. This is a different design approach than the Galaxy S4 phone, which has the power button on one side and volume button on the other side of the device. You also have an infrared blaster on the center right spine, which is used as a remote control to control your living room TV.
And lastly, on the bottom, Samsung is moving away from its proprietary dock connector. Instead, you’ll find an MHL-compatible micro USB port centered on the bottom, like on the Galaxy S4. This makes it easier for customers to travel as they can bring standard micro USB cables and not have to worry about bringing a Galaxy Tab 3 8.0-specific cable for charging, as with prior tablet generations. The other benefit is that the port is smaller, like the Lightning port on Apple’s iPad and iPad mini, meaning a more elegant enclosure.
And finally, on the rear of the tablet, you do have a very capable 5-megapixel camera on the upper left corner. The camera placement is similar to the position of the rear camera on the iPhone 5 and iPad mini as Samsung’s own Galaxy S4 and Galaxy Note 8.0 both have their cameras placed at the upper center portion of the devices.
Performance & Software
As a mid-range slate, the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 won’t be blazing through any benchmarks, but it will still handle most tasks fluidly. Powered by a dual-core 1.5 GHz Exynos chipset and 1.5 GB of RAM, the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 runs Android 4.2.2 with Samsung’s custom TouchWiz user interface.
You do have expanded multitasking, thanks to Samsung’s Multi Window utility that allows two apps to run simultaneously side-by-side. Here, you can check email and watch a YouTube video, for example, or browse maps and search for a restaurant to meet at and send it to your friend via Facebook or email.
It’s a handy utility that expands the power of multi-tasking on a mobile device, and something that isn’t available on competing Android or iOS products.
If you use your tablet to stream videos, listen to music, send emails, check in on social networks, and play some casual games, you should be fine. Equipped with a Mali 400 graphics processor, the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 isn’t designed for high-performance Android games. Casual games work well, and for the casual user, this is a great multimedia tablet.
One of the nice things about using this tablet is Samsung’s implementation of a swipeable 5-row keyboard. You have a traditional keyboard layout, plus an added always-on number row so you don’t have to switch to alternate keys whenever you’re typing things like a more complex alpha-numeric password. Additionally, users who use SwiftKey or Swype will feel right at home with the swiping feature of the keyboard that allows users to swipe across the screen to connect letters to form words. By default, the swiping keyboard isn’t enabled, though users can quickly turn that on by going into the settings.
Also, as the 8-inch form factor is larger than a 4-inch phone, to aid in single-handed usage, Samsung also offers a smaller keyboard that you can re-position anywhere on the screen so you can support the back of the device with the palm of your hand and reach your thumb over to peck at the on-screen keys.
Still yet, another keyboard configuration for the tablet is a split-screen keyboard, so you can hold the tablet on either side with two hands and peck at the keyboard with two thumbs.
TouchWiz on the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 does offer more flexibility out of the box for many consumers with lots of different options to customize the device. You won’t get the premium gesture controls, such as those found on the Galaxy S4 to merely wave your hands over the display to scroll, or the ability to hover your fingers over the screen to preview more information. What you do get, though more simplified, is actually a more useful core set of added features, like Smart Stay to keep the display on when you’re looking at the screen.
Smart Stay is a useful feature, especially on the light and portable 8-inch Tab as it allows the device to be used as an e-reader. You can save battery to automatically turn off the display when you set the Tab down, but when you’re reading, the Tab won’t interrupt your literary endeavors by interfering with automatic screen dimming or turning the display off while you’re mid-sentence.
And speaking of e-reading, there is a toggle called Reading Mode that changes the contrast of the display to adapt the screen better for reading. The mode works with select apps, and out of the box it will be available for Google’s Play Book app.
Despite Samsung packing in a lot of extra enhancements, usability is still a mixed bag for the Tab, which focuses more on aesthetics than ergonomics. It’s a fine tablet and will do most jobs well. However, given the slim side bezels, and the lack of palm rejection algorithms built into the Android OS currently, you may inadvertently activate the display by merely just holding the tablet.
On the other hand, Apple’s iPad mini, which also employs similarly slim side bezels, can intelligent detect if you’re holding the tablet or poking at the touchscreen itself.
And when using the device in landscape mode, the other problem here is that you may activate the capacitive touchscreen buttons on the side. I usually hold the tablet so that my left hand grips onto the area where the front-facing camera is facing so my right hand, if I am not careful, is always pressing on the back button and exiting applications prematurely. And speaking of the camera, since my left hand is gripping that area, I have to remember that when I am doing a video call.
In terms of speakers, the device, like the iPad mini and the Galaxy Note 8.0, has stereo speakers. Speaker output is good, though the volume could be louder. Despite having stereo speakers, however, the problem is that both speakers are placed on the same bottom edge of the device in portrait orientation, with each speaker flanking the micro USB port. I’d much prefer the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1′s design where the tablet is configured for landscape use, and speakers were found on each side bezel, giving richer stereo sound output.
The 5-megapixel camera isn’t anything to write home about. Despite incorporating a consistent hardware design now across many of its mobile product lines, the software is still somewhat inconsistent. Such is the case of the camera app.
Though the Galaxy Note and the Galaxy Tab 3 both share the same camera in the 8-inch form factor, the Note’s camera uses the older camera UI whereas the Tab uses the more modern UI introduced on the Galaxy S4 complete with a convenient Mode dial for quick access to different modes.
You also have a more limited set of filters to apply from the camera as well. The filter selection isn’t as robust as those on the Galaxy S4.
In terms of image resolution, if you’re shooting in a 4:3 aspect ratio, you’ll get a 5-megapixel resulting image. Those who like a widescreen format and opt for a 16:9 aspect ratio will end up with a 3.6-megapixel resulting photo.
I didn’t test out the video recording capability, but you do have a widescreen 720p video recording option for HD video capture as well as a reduced VGA and QVGA resolution.
Another app that gets bundled is the Story Album app, which allows users to create and order photo books with images captured with the camera. That app was introduced on the Galaxy S4.
Image Samples Taken with Camera
From Galaxy Tab 3 8.0
From Galaxy Note 8.0
From Apple iPad mini
Despite the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0, with its more portable, yet still large, display being a multimedia-centric tablet, Samsung didn’t include the newly rebranded Samsung Hub, which incorporates movies, TV shows, e-books, and music into one storefront app. Instead, you’re left with Samsung Music and Samsung Apps. This means you won’t have access to the movies and TV shows that Samsung offers through its own digital storefront, though a future software upgrade can change this.
Users still can access all the movies and TV shows on Google’s storefront through the Play Store. Third-party apps like Netflix and Hulu can augment the selection further for subscription fees.
As a multimedia device, Samsung also includes TV remote capabilities into the Tab 3 8.0. With this device, you can use it as a multimedia touchscreen remote control to control your living room entertainment setup. However, the experience is still rather confusing as Samsung preloaded the Peel app and its Watch On app, both offering similar functionality.
The Watch On app does offer slightly more features, including the ability to search for shows on the web as well as what’s playing live, and the ability to, if your TV and your tablet are on the same home WiFi network, to view what’s playing on TV on your tablet. This is useful if you’re grilling outdoors and don’t want to miss an important game, for example.
At an entry price point of $299, the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 packs a lot more punch than the $329 iPad mini. Samsung’s first entry into the 8-inch space was the Galaxy Note 8.0, but that device’s higher $399 price point ($399 WiFi-only or $399 with 4G LTE but with a 2-year AT&T contract) was less competitive as it was priced even more expensively than the Apple counterpart. In this case though, Samsung does add a lot of value to its mid-range, mid-sized tablet through TouchWiz software tweaks and bundled extras to make its offering stand out.
When compared to the iPad mini, iOS has a larger library of apps and a more robust collection of TV shows and movies that you can buy. Android is no slouch and can go toe-to-toe, mostly, with Apple in the apps and music department, but Google still has a long ways to go for video content. And with the Samsung Hub missing, users who bought into Samsung’s video ecosystem elsewhere (through the Galaxy S4 or Samsung TV) won’t be able to play those content on the capacious Tab’s 8-inch display at this time, until Samsung updates the software.
With strong battery life–between 7 and 9 hours depending on what tasks you’re performing–the Tab 3 8.0 can get you through a long day or a cross-country flight. Samsung also threw in a few extras to owners, including 50 GB Dropbox storage, a year of Boingo WiFi service, and a $10 Google Play voucher to get you started. These extras help to justify the $300 cost of entry, though I feel at $250-$270, the Tab 3 8.0 would be an even more competitive device for its class.
Still, the more narrow footprint of the Tab, the enhanced software, and its capabilities as the control center of your home entertainment center should make place the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 at the top of a shopper’s short list when browsing for a 7- or 8-inch tablet. We’ll still have to see how the Galaxy Tab 3 7.0 and 8.0 tablets are once Google introduces a refresh of its much anticipated Nexus tablet lineup next week. The Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 will feel equally at home on the road thanks to the transportability of its dimensions as it will at home in the living room for reading and changing the television. Productivity, entertainment, and portability are hallmarks for this do-it-all tablet.