The Galaxy in Your Palm
Tablets come in all shapes and sizes these days, from tiny 5-inch ones for small hands all the way up to 27-inch behemoths that double as desktop PCs. Right in the middle is the Samsung Galaxy Note 8, which competes directly with Apple’s iPad Mini. It squeezes a lot of teaching potential into a small slate.
Side by side, the Galaxy Note and iPad Mini look very similar, although at 0.3- by 5.3- by 8.2-inches, the Galaxy Note 8 is slightly larger. At 11.9-ounces, it’s also an ounce heavier than the Mini. Both have heavily rounded corners, but the Mini can be ordered in either black or white. The Galaxy Note only comes in white.
Both feel nice in the hand and are well balanced, but the Galaxy wobbles slightly on a desktop when tapped. That’s because its camera sticks out of the system’s back by a tenth of an inch.
Inside is a 1.6GHz quad-core Samsung Exynos processor compared to the Mini’s slower dual-core A5 CPU. While the Galaxy Note 8 comes with 2GB of RAM and Android 4.1 software, the Mini includes Apple’s iOS 7 and looks antiquated with just 512MB of system memory.
The base models for both come with 16GB of storage space, but the Mini can be ordered with up to 64GB of storage space. The Galaxy Note tops out at 32GB, but has a micro-SD card slot that can take up to a 64GB module for a total of 80GB of storage. The Mini can’t do that.
Both have mid-sized screens that should be fine for everything from Pre-K to high-school students. The Galaxy’s 8-inch screen is a tenth of an inch bigger than the Mini’s but its 1,280-by-800 resolution can show much more detail than the Mini’s 1,024 by 768 screen. The Note’s screen is much brighter and richer than that of the Mini and the system’s automatic brightness control worked well in a variety of classroom conditions.
The Galaxy’s screen can be split to show two things going on at once, like a Wikipedia page on one side and a live video feed of the goings on in the Senate on the other. Below it are the basic Android control buttons for Home, go back and for opening the menu. By contrast, the Mini’s single control key is often awkard. Each of these slates has a headphone jack as well as volume controls.
Both of them have a pair of cameras that roughly match each other’s specs. Using what Samsung calls Smart Stay, the Galaxy Note’s front camera can monitor the face of the user to do tricks like preventing the system from going into sleep mode as long as someone is looking at the device.
Both displays can handle 10 finger inputs and work with off-the-shelf stylus pens, but the Galaxy has a huge advantage: it comes with its own precise stylus. Called S-Pen, it is pressure sensitive and more exact than off-the-shelf rubber dome pens. The system comes with software for taking notes, writing math formulas and turning scribbles into sharp-edged figures. There’s even an app for helping out in a geometry class.
In addition to thousands of downloadable educational apps, many of which are free, the Galaxy Note comes with some really useful programs. My favorite is Paper Artist app, which lets you start with a photo, line drawing or even a picture that you take at the beginning. Then you can use one of dozens of effects to color in and draw on the image, making anyone feel like an artist.
Unlike other Galaxy models, the Note lacks a near field communications (NFC) chip for short range data links. It’s a shame because the Note can’t exchange contact info by bumping its back with another NFC device or directly link with Samsung’s NFC-equipped C460FW printer. You can still print via Google or WiFi.
Like other Galaxy Note devices, it is short on dedicated ports. Happily, there’s a lot you can do with the micro-USB connector on the bottom. In addition to charging and transferring data with a computer, you can use a $40 adapter to send the screen to a projector or large-screen monitor. It, unfortunately, doesn’t work with a standard 5-pin MHL video adapter.
After using it with an Epson BrightLink 485Wi projector, I’m convinced that the pen goes a long way towards making interactive projectors an expensive luxury. On the downside, while the slate has a nice place to snap the pen in place when it’s not in use, there’s no easy way to tether it to the unit. I suspect it’ll be the first thing to be lost.
Despite not having a trusted protection module, the Galaxy Note will be one of the most secure systems at school. In addition to the ability to connect via a virtual private network, the Galaxy Note can encrypt any file with 256-bit security so that a teacher’s lessons and grades or a student’s work and assignments stay private.
Both the Galaxy Note and the Mini have Bluetooth and 802.11n WiFi built-in and are easy to connect with a school’s WiFi LAN. In addition, the Note has a cool new feature that can help in the classroom. It has an IR window that can be used as a remote control for everything from a DVD player to a projector. Samsung includes the codes for thousands of devices and the ability to mimic commands for those not covered.
The system’s 4,600-milli-amp-hour battery pack is slightly larger than the Mini’s 4,400-mah power pack. It ran for 11 hours and 24 minutes of continuous YouTube video playback, which should be plenty for a full school day or two of work between charges.
With that in mind, it’s surprising that the Galaxy Note is such a strong performer. On the Antutu Performance Benchmark 4.0, which gives every major part of the tablet a good workout, the Galaxy Note scored a 20,402 rating. That’s on a par with Sony’s Xperia Z Ultra tablet, one-third higher than a Nexus 7 and one of the current top performers among Android slates.
At $360, the Galaxy Note is priced about $30 more than the iPad Mini, but it outclasses, overpowers and exceeds it – and every other current tablet – on every level. It is the right sized slate at the right price.
+ Includes precise stylus
+ Excellent software
+ Able to use as remote control
+ Screen brightness
+ Performance and battery life
- No NFC
- Camera sticks out of back