The iPad Mini vs Galaxy Note 8

Does Samsung's New 8-inch Tablet Stack Up to the iPad?

The iPad Mini
The iPad Mini. Photo &Copy; Apple, Inc.

Do you think Amazon knew it was going to start an epidemic when it released the 7-inch Kindle Fire? Last year saw Google and Apple jump into the mid-sized tablet market with the Google Nexus 7 and iPad Mini competing against the second generation of Kindle Fire tablets that included an 8.9-inch version. And this year, Samsung has jumped into the ring, releasing the Galaxy Note 8. But how does the Galaxy Note 8 compare to the iPad Mini?

The Samsung Galaxy Note 8

As the name suggests, the Galaxy Note 8 is an 8-inch tablet, officially killing off the idea that mid-sized tablets must be in the 7-inch range. This also gives the Note 8 a nice size advantage compared to the Kindle Fire and the Nexus 7, as well as a slight size advantage compared to the 7.9-inch iPad Mini. The 1280x800 resolution screen compares favorably against the iPad Mini, though at roughly the same resolution as the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire, the smaller Android tablets will actually look a little crisper.

But it is clear that Samsung had the iPad Mini squarely within its sights with the Galaxy Note 8. The new tablet sports a faster quad-core 1.6 GHz processor and 2 GB of RAM, even beating out the iPad 4's 1 GB of RAM. This added RAM gives apps more elbow room, which will come in handy on a tablet known for its ability to run two apps side-by-side. The tablet also sports a back-facing 5 MP camera and front-facing 1.3 MP camera.

As the name suggests, Samsung's Note line of phones and tablets are made to replace your notepad as well as being great devices in other areas. To this end, the Galaxy Note 8 includes the S Pen, a stylus designed specifically for the Note. This stylus interacts with special apps, including a notes app that has pretty good handwriting-to-text capabilities. The stylus is also used to resize windows, which is handy on a device that lets you run two apps at once.

One thing that will stick out in direct comparisons between the two tablets is the design. The Galaxy Note 8's glossy plastic isn't bad but can feel cheap compared to the iPad Mini. The Galaxy Note 8's back-facing camera also sticks out slightly, meaning the tablet doesn't lay perfectly flat.

But the two aspects that will really stick out are the connectivity and the price. Or perhaps I should say the lack of connectivity. While the Galaxy Note 8 supports dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, it doesn't support cellular data connectivity, so no 3G or 4G LTE. The price is also an area where the Galaxy Note 8 beats the iPad Mini, though not in a good way. The $400 price tag is $70 more than the entry-level iPad Mini.

The iPad Mini

The iPad Mini's biggest selling point is the Apple App Store. Apple boasts 300,000 apps designed specifically for the iPad and the iPad Mini, and when you combine the iPad Mini's ability to run iPhone apps in compatibility mode with the 800,000 apps on the App Store, that's a rather big offering. The real strength is the size compatibility. With so many sizes and shapes of Android devices, many of the apps found in Google Play's app marketplace are actually designed for smartphones.

The iPad Mini also fits nicely within Apple's iOS ecosystem. Not only can you download apps you bought with your iPhone or full-sized iPad without paying a second time (assuming you are using the same account), the iPad Mini also plays nice with Apple TV, which can use AirPlay to connect your iPad wirelessly to your HDTV. And being the most popular tablet has its advantages. There are a number of cool accessories designed specifically for the iPad, including many accessories that musicians will love.

The iPad Mini's Dual-Core 1 GHz A5 processor is the same that powered the iPad 2, and while the 1024x768 display isn't bad, it does land in the last place compared to the Amazon Kindle Fire, Google Nexus 7 and Galaxy Note 8. The Galaxy Note 8 also features an AMOLED screen, though the power savings doesn't translate to longer battery life -- the iPad Mini beats the Note 8 by a margin of several hours.

While it has a slower processor and lacks a Retina Display, the iPad Mini does have the same basic features of the full-sized iPad, including access to Siri. This means the iPad Mini can deliver the 'iPad experience'. And at $329, it is cheaper than either the Galaxy Note 8 or the iPad 4.

And the winner is...

This comparison may not have a winner so much as it has a loser. While the Galaxy Note 8 definitely has good technical specs, with a faster processor and higher resolution graphics than the iPad Mini, it is difficult to tell where it really fits in tablet marketplace. After all, it not only has to compete with the iPad Mini but also other Android-based tablets. And other than being slightly bigger, there is no great technological advancement that propels the Galaxy Note 8 to the top.

This makes it difficult to nail down an audience for the Galaxy Note 8. Those who want the Android experience are better served going with the cheaper Google Nexus 7 or Amazon Kindle Fire. There is little about the Note 8 that makes it worth twice the price of those two tablets, and with a new Nexus 7 on the horizon, any advantage the Note 8 has may erode in the next few months.

The iPad Mini delivers the iPad experience at $70 cheaper than the Note 8, and for those who need to stay connected on the road, offers a 4G LTE version. So those who want an easy-to-use tablet with the biggest app support should have an easy decision.

The Galaxy Note 8 also must compete with the full-sized iPad, which is only $100 more expensive (or even cheaper) and upcoming refreshes by Google and Amazon, who will be releasing new 7-inch tablets this summer. The Note 8 does have an advantage for anyone interested in handwriting recognition -- an area where Samsung's line of Note smartphones and tablets shine -- but that may not be enough to carve out an audience.