The Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 looks to find the middle ground between full-sized tablets and smartphones as a boardroom and living room companion.
At first blush, the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 tablet might seem like a knee-jerk reaction to the Apple iPad Mini. It has a similar screen size and similar, mid-range specs for a tablet, but after using it for a bit in Barcelona, I've decided the Note 8.0 is in many ways a category-defining product.
The Note 8.0 offers an 8-inch screen and is powered by a quad-core ARM Cortex A9 processor, with each core clocked at 1.6 GHz. It is paired with 2 GB of RAM and up to 32 GB of storage. As with most tablets, the Note 8.0 has two cameras: a 5-megapixel main camera and a 1.3-megapixel user-facing camera. On the wireless front, the Note 8.0 includes dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, GPS, GLONASS and Bluetooth. Samsung said at least one U.S. wireless network operator will sell the Note 8.0 with LTE 4G inside, but declined to say which one.
The Note 8.0's hardware is solid. Anyone familiar with Samsung's products will easily see the family resemblance between the Note 8.0 and other devices such as the Galaxy S III and Note 2. The units on hand in Barcelona were all white, and the glossy plastics are highly reflective. The slippery surface elements mean you have to take care when holding the Note 8.0, as it can be difficult to get a really good grip on it. The device has a comfortable size and weight, and felt natural to use. It doesn't have the same high-class feel that Apple's metallic tablets do, but the Note 8.0 is a step up from what I've seen on other tablets.
The tablet's 8-inch display includes 1280 x 800 pixels. By way of comparison, the Apple iPad Mini has a 7.9-inch screen with 1024 x 768 pixels. The Note 8.0's TFT LCD looked brighter and sharper than the iPad Mini's, though it still doesn't compare to high-resolution products such as the Samsung Nexus 10.
Samsung is working hard to differentiate its products from not only Apple's, but also its Android rivals. In this case, Samsung hopes to accomplish this with the S Pen stylus and S-branded applications on board. The Note 8.0 has some of the S Pen behaviors we've come to know and love, such as the ability to run two apps side-by-side at the same time; run video on top of other apps; and of course use the S Pen for text and other input. The Note 8.0 will be the first tablet from Samsung to include the new Awesome Note application, which is a to-do list app for those who like to keep their lives highly organized.
Where Samsung steps up its game is in the living room. The Note 8.0 can control home theater equipment thanks to a built-in IR blaster. The Note can interact with the owner's television beyond simply changing the channel or adjusting the volume. It comes with a new media application that can pull down channel guide content from the owner's cable TV provider. The user can then search through the guide for content rather than use the television's on-screen tools.
The Note 8.0 isn't a giant leap forward in terms of features, but it does take another step toward defining how we may use tablets in the years to come. Pricing and availability of the Note 8.0 have yet to be released.
Read on for a look at other breakthrough gadgets from Mobile World Congress 2013 in Barcelona.
The LG Optimus G Pro is a powerhouse phablet with an incredible 5.5-inch display.
The shining star of the LG booth at Mobile World Congress was clearly the Optimus G Pro. The G Pro is a massive smartphone that is clearly a shot across the bow of Samsung's Galaxy Note II. The defining characteristic of the Optimus G Pro is its display. The screen measures 5.5-inches across the diagonal and packs in 1920 x 1080 pixels. It is a full HD smartphone and one of the most impressive screens I've ever seen on a mobile device. LG uses in-plane switching LCD technology, which is what Apple puts in its own screens. By way of comparison, Samsung uses Super AMOLED screens.
Whatever voodoo it is that LG sprinkles into the G Pro's panel, the magic works: the G Pro's screen is stunning to behold. The G Pro's large screen needs some serious horsepower, and it includes a 1.7-GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 Processor, which is paired with 2 GB of RAM. Other features of this impressive smartphone include a 13-megapixel camera, 32 GB of storage, microSD support and a huge 3,140 mAh battery. The G Pro runs Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean and includes many of LG's user interface customizations. The G Pro proves that sometimes imitation can outshine the original.
The Ascend P2 is a high-quality smartphone entry from Huawei, which is trying to expand its position in the industry.
Huawei has been slowly ramping up the quality and capabilities of its smartphones. The Ascend P2 announced this week in Barcelona shows promising progress from the Chinese phone maker. Taking a page from competitors, Huawei will make the the Ascend P2 its flagship smartphone for most of 2013. It packed the P2 with as many class-leading features as it could. The phone features an elegant and pixel-rich 4.7-inch display with 1280 x 720 pixels. The display may not be full HD, but the smaller size and pixel count work well together to deliver a screen that is bright, sharp and colorful. Under the hood, a 1.5-GHz quad-core processor with 1 GB of RAM provides the P2 with power. Other key features include a 13-megapixel camera, 16 GB of built-in storage, microSD card support and LTE Category 4. This last point is notable, as it means the device could support cellular data downloads of 150 Mbps.
Huawei was quick to point out how it is differentiating from the competition. As you might suspect, that comes mainly from the software. For example, the device has a 2,420 mAh battery that is governed by custom software to maximize battery life. The P2 also includes Huawei's customer user interface, which it calls "Emotion." In the time I spent using the P2 in Barcelona, the P2 impressed me with its thin-and-light form factor, speedy user interface and excellent display.
The Kyocera Torque is a tough phone for workers in the field, backed up by the power of Android, that adds a new way to "hear" phone calls.
Kyocera is well-known for its rugged handsets and the Torque continues that trend. It is an extremely durable Android smartphone that can withstand shock, vibration and immersion in water. It may not be the most pleasing handset to look at, thanks to the rugged design, but it is the type of phone that will still be working long after normal smartphones go the way of the dodo. It has a 4-inch display and includes 800 x 480 pixels. This isn't the sharpest screen, but it more than suffices thanks to its brilliant backlighting.
Aside from its rugged form, the Torque is compatible with Sprint's push-to-talk services. It can act as a walkie-talkie, though it doesn't use Sprint's nearly defunct iDEN network. Instead, it uses Sprint's CDMA-EVDO network to pass walkie-talkie conversations back and forth. The really interesting feature is Kyocera's tissue-conduction technology. Kyocera knows a device like this is going to be used by people working in noisy environments, who are perhaps wearing helmets or ear protection. The Torque can send sound waves through helmets and ear protection so the user can hear phone calls while keeping protection in place. It runs Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and will be available from Sprint in early March.
As the name implies, the Asus FonePad is a tablet that can make phone calls.
The Asus FonePad is an interesting animal, and one that may change how we think about tablets, phablets and smartphones. The FonePad is first a tablet. It has a 7-inch display with 1280 x 800 pixels (the same as the Asus-made Nexus 7). Interestingly, the FonePad packs a 1.2-GHz Atom Z2420 Intel processor. The processor is paired with 1 GB of RAM and the FonePad has a PowerVR SGX540 GPU helping push the polygons. It runs Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, has a 3-megapxiel camera and will ship with HSPA+ cellular radios. As far as tablets go, it doesn't offer best-in-class specs -- but then again, not all tablets can make cellular phone calls. In fact, many of them cannot.
Asus is pitching the FonePad as a do-it-all device that combines all the benefits of a small tablet with the data powers and voice functionality of a smartphone. It is the biggest phablet in an increasingly crowded market, though perhaps it pushes the boundaries past the breaking point. The FonePad's other killer feature: Its price. The FonePad will cost just $249 to own outright, with no contract, and no wireless data fees. Can a device like this really succeed? Asus is betting on it.