A few generations of the Galaxy Tab into the tablet game, Samsung has been mostly watching Apple and the iPads. And we mean watching them pull away into the distance in terms of sales.
And it's not like the Koreans were doing too many things wrong. The Galaxy 7.7 was a brilliant device in its time, though perhaps in hindsight overpriced - no wonder AMOLED has hardly ever returned on tablets since. The Galaxy Note 10.1 was delayed more than usual to get a quad-core chipset but somehow couldn't make up for lost time.
In a nutshell, Samsung has consistently failed to make a meaningful difference in tablets. And this must hurt a company that's been setting the standard in phablets and smartphones. To make things worse, from a certain point on it wasn't just Apple they had to watch out for. The eight-inch Galaxy Note is clearly Samsung's response to the iPad mini, but the Amazon Kindle Fires and the Google Nexus 7 have managed to stir things up in the compact tablet class.
In order to have any hopes of competing at the price levels set by the Kindle Fire and the Nexus tablet, manufacturers like Samsung and Apple had no choice but to reduce the costs of their tablet offerings, and as we all know, reducing costs means cutting corners.
On the Galaxy Note 8.0, that results in getting rid of a portion of the features we've become used to getting from Samsung - NFC, FM Radio as well as a couple of Smart features.
In the case of the iPad mini, Apple were looking to build on the success of the bigger iPads by sacrificing the defining feature (Retina display) for improved portability and greater affordability. The iPad mini's 7.9" screen is nothing spectacular at 768 x 1024 pixels. The Mini has only a quarter of the RAM at 512 MB, and the dual-core 1 GHz processor cannot match up to the Note's quad-core.
Of course, even with all of the cost reductions, it's hard to compete with the ultra-low price of the Kindle Fire HD, which can be currently bought off of Amazon for $184. However the highly customized Android build has resulted in axing so many features that the Amazon slate is not even in the same league in terms of productivity.
Besides you will be giving quite a few hardware perks - the screen is smaller (at the same resolution), there's only half the amount of RAM and no GPS. Also, the dual-core 1.2 GHz TI OMAP processor is significantly slower. In the end, the Fires are gadgets to consume content on - unable to match the versatility of the Galaxy Note 8.0 with an S pen.
Google made quite the splash with a 7" tablet of its own in the ASUS-made Nexus 7. Its 7-inch screen offers better pixel density and there's Gorilla Glass protection but it comes at the expense of poorer image quality. The Nexus also only has half the amount of RAM, but the quad-core 1.2 GHz Nvidia Tegra 3 chipset performs decently in benchmarks, and as an added bonus you get Android updates on time and straight from Google.
With all of these alternatives, it's important to keep in mind that none can give you the same great stylus integration as the S-pen-enabled Note 8.0. And we don't just mean that as an incentive for designers and casual scribblers. The Note's Wacom input is second to none - the S pen is a fun experience but can be a productivity boost too, along with offering a novel way of interacting with the device. And when you couple that with Samsung's extensive software package, and the full-featured telephony (on the 3G/LTE enabled versions), the Note 8.0 is a compelling offering.
On a second thought though, so were the Tab 7.7 and the Note 10.1. The Galaxy Note 8.0 is a package that makes sense but it seems imperative that Samsung make it genuinely affordable. And this one hasn't only got the competition to worry about but Samsung's very own phablets too.