The S Pen

Tucket inside the lower right corner of the Galaxy Note 8.0 is the device's flagship feature: the S Pen. Samsung integrates a Wacom digitizer layer into its capacitive touchscreen stack, which enables the use of the pressure sensitive S Pen.

Although these devices exist in vastly different price brackets, I feel it’s necessary to mention that the responsiveness of the S Pen isn’t anywhere near as good as the stylus that ships with Microsoft’s Surface Pro. I mention that because while I do believe the Surface Pro can be a good stand in for creative professionals on the road, I’m not sure the Galaxy Note 8.0 can serve in a similar nature. The display is obviously smaller, palm rejection doesn’t work as well and the active digitizer is laggier on the Note 8.0 compared to the Surface Pro.

That being said, in a pinch, and especially for those who aren’t used to drawing on giant Wacom tablets - the Note 8.0’s S Pen does have its good moments.

I hadn’t written off the S Pen completely, but I had come to terms with the fact that I have little use for it until I was driving away from my house to go try out the Note 8’s camera. I got a call from an engineer at Micron to talk about a new SSD, the M500. I was in the car in my driveway when I got the call, contemplating whether or not to run upstairs to my computer so I could take notes during our conversation. I was trying to understand some issues that came up in my testing of the M500 and the discussion was bound to get technical. I looked over into the passenger seat and realized I had two tablets with me - surely one of them could serve as a notepad. With one hand holding the phone to my head, I had one free hand to take notes. Ah-ha! This was a situation crafted perfectly for the S Pen.

I grabbed the Galaxy Note 8.0, pulled out the S Pen, and went about taking notes. I propped up the tablet between my leg and the steering wheel (note the car was stopped, I’m not advocating driving and taking notes on a tablet). The experience was surprisingly decent. The Galaxy Note 8.0 approximated a pad of paper while the S Pen approximated a pen. It worked. I was pleasantly surprised.

The experience wasn’t perfect. My handwriting is remarkably worse on a tablet compared to a pen and paper. I didn’t get to play with different pen sizes while I was on the phone, but going to something smaller definitely helps with fitting more text on a single screen. I don’t know that I’d want to pen tons of notes on the Galaxy Note 8.0, but in a pinch it really proved to be a wonderful stand in. My preference for large amount of note taking would still be a laptop with a keyboard, but as a replacement for jotting down quick notes while on the go, the S Pen isn’t bad at all.

After having this little usage model epiphany, the rest of the S Pen’s features made more sense to me. I couldn’t understand why Samsung made such a big deal about the S Pen being able to activate the capacitive menu and back buttons before, now I could. In the situation I just described, I needed the S Pen to navigate everything on the tablet. It made sense.

There’s the obvious question of how often I’d see myself using the S Pen functionality on the Galaxy Note 8.0. The reality is that I’m rarely in the situation I found myself in on that day. I’m usually at a desk or if I’m traveling I’m on my smartphone or notebook. If you are the type of user who is always looking for a pen to jot something down, and don’t mind carrying a small tablet with you, I suspect you’re the very target for the Galaxy Note 8.0. If you’re not, there are a number of other options - many of which are more affordable.

The other big S Pen feature that I can understand the appeal of is the ability to grab a screenshot or snippet of anything, quickly annotate it, and share the resulting file. If my job entailed finding things on the web or in email, grabbing them and offering short commentary on them I could see this feature being more useful. On second thought, I wonder if that might be a quicker way for me to do my job instead of penning these really long posts. Joking aside, this is just one of those situations where you’ll immediately know whether or not the Galaxy Note 8.0’s S Pen functionality is something you’d use.

The S Pen is also useful for highlighting/copying text, just tap and hold the pen over a word to bring up the text selection tool.

There are a ton of other little S Pen features included in the Note 8, such as the ability to scroll by hovering the pen over the display at the top or bottom of a page/list. As with many of Samsung’s TouchWiz features, I don’t see broad appeal for every last one. Samsung’s strategy appears to be to try and fill its products with as many niche features as possible with the hopes of different subsets of the tools being useful for a broad market.

TouchWiz Customizations & UI Performance Multi Window Support
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  • HanakoIkezawa - Thursday, April 18, 2013 - link

    Menu or back button. Hardware buttons and the "experience" are completely objective and chanfe from user to user. Ios devices drive me insane because I only have a menu button ans no back button, but my sister loves having only one button on her iphone. I feel lost on nexus devices because of the lack of hardware buttons but im sure some nexus owners how despise the note 8 layout.

    It's all matter of opinion.
  • antef - Thursday, April 18, 2013 - link

    A menu button need not be in a permanent bar that uses screen real estate, it should be with the app's UI, which is what Google's guidelines indicate. It doesn't make sense for a large screen application to require a tiny button off-screen to be pressed to pull up app functionality. It's disjointed and unintuitive.
  • Sabresiberian - Thursday, April 18, 2013 - link

    Heh I suggest that the fact that the Surface Pro is based on any Ivy Bridge Core i5 chip could be the reason it is faster at, oh, everything. :)
  • herts_joatmon - Thursday, April 18, 2013 - link

    I mainly want this for sketching. I had no issues when trying it out in the samsung store. I was using Sketchbook pro though not s note. Had 4 layers on there (sketch, inking, backround colour and picture colour). It seemed to work fine through out. I only spent about 15 minutes playing though...
  • GNUminex - Thursday, April 18, 2013 - link

    As a college student I constantly see other students struggling to annotate lecture slides or or pdfs on their tablets, and/or struggling to type on their tablets. It really confounds me why no one has set out to make hardware that comprehensively meets the productivity needs of these people and then market the device to them. Keyboards that don't physically connect to the tablets and act as a base are not practical for all situations. The transformer's dock doesn't make a sturdy base. The Surfaces don't sit well on a lap and are too expensive. The Note finally solves the writing problem with it's stylus but has no keyboard, and the more traditional tablet laptops are too big and too expensive.
  • The0ne - Thursday, April 18, 2013 - link

    You've been using Win8 tablets for years? How can this be?
  • The0ne - Thursday, April 18, 2013 - link

    You've been using Win8 tablets for years? How can this be?
  • nerd1 - Thursday, April 18, 2013 - link

    Win8 developer preview was released July 2012 as far as I remember.
  • ezekiel68 - Thursday, April 18, 2013 - link

    I came in interested in the Note 8. I left interested in the Nexus 10.
  • haukionkannel - Thursday, April 18, 2013 - link

    Well, I came to the same conclusion than the article writer. I would take any day Nexys 7 with a s-pen over this product if it only would be available... Better screen, longer usage time, smaller size...
    Hopefully we will some day see "note" version of some of those small size Nexus tablets!
    I don't mind a little bit weaker CPU or GPU as long as you get better screen and longer battery time!
    But not a bad product at all!

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