Shootout: Samsung Galaxy Note 8 vs Apple iPad mini

Shootout: Samsung Galaxy Note 8 vs Apple iPad mini
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How do the top mini-tablets from Apple and Samsung compare? We throw them into a ring and see which one comes out on top.

You know that long-running rivalry Apple and Samsung have had for premium smartphones? It has now been extended to the mini-tablet space. The iPad mini and the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 represent the cream of the crop as far as 8” tablets go, but how do they shape up against each other? Read on to find out.

Viewed on its own, the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 acquits itself quite well. The polished white screen bezel and backplate blend in nicely with the silver accents, and the rounded corners are a nice antithesis to the usual squared-off edges. It’s also quite slim, and feels just the perfect size and weight to hold in one hand while you’re wielding the stylus (more on that later) in the other.
It’s only when you compare it to the Apple iPad mini that the Galaxy Note 8 feels toy-like. Its plastic construction is no match for the iPad mini’s sleek glass-and-aluminium unibody enclosure, and everything about the mini simply looks and feels better. While both have a similar-sized screen, the iPad mini Wi-Fi is also more portable than the Galaxy Note 8, with smaller dimensions and a lighter carry weight.

Winner: Apple iPad mini

When it comes to tablets, there are certain features that you come to expect as standard, such as Wi-Fi, front and back cameras, a web browser and downloadable apps. But it’s all the additional features a tablet offers that set it apart from the pack. In the Samsung Galaxy Note 8’s case, there are quite a few of them, especially when you compare it to the Apple iPad mini. 

The S-Pen, which is Samsung’s fancy talk for an active stylus, is the main thing that sets this tablet apart. Unlike other tablets, where you can use a third party capacitive stylus on the touchscreen, the S-Pen is specifically mated to the Galaxy Note 8’s touchscreen, and this lets it perform a bunch of cool party tricks. Our two favourite features are the ability to write on the screen with the stylus while resting your palm on the screen (something you can’t do on other tablets, as it would interpret your hand as touch input) and the ability to ‘clip’ anything off the screen and share it to any service that supports image sharing by drawing a shape around it. Using the latter feature, you could, for instance, draw a circle around a funny picture you found on the Internet and share it on Facebook or Twitter with a couple of taps. 

Other cool features on the Galaxy Note 8 include a built-in infrared remote control (which works with the Peel Smart Remote app to control your home A/V equipment) and multi-view, which lets you run two supported apps on the screen at the same time. It’s also worth mentioning that it has a microSD card slot that supports SDXC cards up to 64GB, which should supplement the built-in 16GB of storage nicely. 

The Apple iPad mini also has its fair share of extras, but most of these are inherent to the iOS platform rather than specific to this particular model of tablet. Buying an iPad mini gives you access to the Apple ecosystem of services such as FaceTime, Find my iPad, Siri, iMessage, AirPlay and iCloud, not to mention a whopping 250,000 apps specifically designed for the iPad. We don’t have official numbers for Android, but we’d put money on the fact that it doesn’t have half that number of apps optimised for tablets. 

Calling this round is difficult; while the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 has loads of cool hardware features, the Apple ecosystem is mightily impressive in itself.

Winner: Tie

Apple isn’t exactly forthcoming with details when it comes to the iPad mini’s processor, simply listing it is a dual-core A5 processor, with no mention of clockspeed or RAM size. Samsung, on the other hand, proudly proclaims the Note’s 1.6GHz quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM on the specs page. 

Using the PassMark PerformanceTest Mobile app, available for iOS and Android, produced some interesting results. As expected, the Samsung’s quad-core processor resulted in a higher overall system score of 2817, with the Apple lagging behind by almost a thousand points at 1981. However, the disk performance of the Apple, 10,381, was noticeably better than the Samsung’s at 7365. 

Of course, better benchmarks don’t always translate to better real-world performance, and in some cases, the iPad mini actually felt faster. Typing on the software keyboard was more responsive, and scrolling through webpages on the default web browser felt a lot smoother. The Galaxy Note 8 always felt as though it had to think about everything for a split second before jumping into action, whereas the iPad mini was always ready to go as soon as you tapped on the touchscreen. 

We didn’t have time to run a proper battery run-down test, but based on the manufacturer specs (which tend to be quite accurate these days), the iPad mini’s 10 hours beats the Galaxy Note 8’s eight hours.

Winner: Tie

Value for money
Undercutting on price is what Android tablets usually do to compete with the iPad mini, but Samsung hasn’t done that with the Galaxy Note 8. The 16GB Wi-Fi-only model (an LTE version will be available shortly) is almost a hundred dollars more expensive than the equivalent iPad mini model, with an RRP of $459. 

The question is whether the markup is justified. If you’ll actually use the stylus and universal remote control functionality – both of which are quite useful and well-implemented additions to the tablet – then we’d say yes. If you’re a multimedia hoarder, the microSD slot on the Galaxy Note 8 also means you can save money and get a bunch of cheap microSD cards rather than opting for the top-of-the-range 64GB iPad mini.

If, however, you’re an everyday user that simply wants a portable device to browse the web and play games on, the cheaper iPad mini is by far the better option.

Winner: Tie

The Galaxy Note 8 has an 8” screen and a 1280 x 800 display, which translate to 189 pixels per inch. The Apple iPad mini has a 7.9” screen and a 1024 x 768 display, which translates to 162ppi. This makes a difference when you’re browsing the web; while you can see the full Facebook page through the browser on the Samsung, you can only see the first two vertical columns on the Apple, so you have to do a lot of sideways swiping. 

But pixels aren’t the only determinant of a good screen. Brightness also matters, as does contrast and colour. In all those things, the Samsung wins again. It’s slightly brighter than the iPad mini at both half-mast and full brightness, and outdoors, its screen isn’t as reflective as the iPad’s – the latter of which can be quite distracting. The colours on the Samsung are also a lot richer than on the Apple, making for a better experience when you’re viewing photos and watching videos. 

Winner: Samsung Galaxy Note 8

For what it’s worth, we absolutely hate concluding a shootout with a tie, and it’s really our fault for tempting by fate by choosing an even number of rounds. Still, it’s clear that both tablets are quite evenly matched for the most part, with the Apple iPad mini having the edge on design and the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 having the better screen. 

If push came to shove, though, we’d choose the Apple iPad mini as the overall winner. The Galaxy Note 8’s stylus functionality and universal remote control features are certainly cool, but they can’t compete with the iPad mini’s cheaper price tag and 300,000-strong apps library. 

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