Galaxy Note 8.0.

It’s day minus-one of Mobile World Congress 2013, and we already have the first major device announcement from Samsung. Variously leaked and rumored over the past couple of months, the Galaxy Note 8.0 is official today, and we’ve had the chance to go hands-on with the mid-sized, stylus-toting tablet in Barcelona.

Android Central at Mobile World CongressAt first glance, the Note 8.0 is a surreal device to behold, looking a lot like a supersized Galaxy Note 2. The basic Samsung design language holds over from the company's 2012 smartphones, meaning we’re dealing with a curvy, shiny, plasticky device. A first for a Samsung tablet, the Note 8.0 includes physical buttons as opposed to the more common on-screen kind, and from a branding perspective. Samsung clearly wants consumers to identify the Note 8.0 as a companion device to the S3 and Note 2. So you should know what to expect if you’ve handled either of those products -- the Note 8.0 is unashamedly light and shiny, and something of a fingerprint magnet. That said, it’s not at all creaky, nor does it feel fragile.

Spec-wise, we’re dealing with very similar internals to the Galaxy Note 2 -- a quad-core Exynos processor, 2GB of RAM  and TouchWiz'd Android 4.1.2 running the show.  The 8-inch display clocks in at a relatively standard 1280x800 pixels, which at 189ppi looks reasonably sharp. Samsung plans to release three versions of the Note 8.0 -- a Wifi-only model, a Wifi-plus-3G model and a 4G LTE version, and the manufacturer notes that the specs of the U.S.-specific versions may differ.

Samsung’s S Pen returns on the 8-inch Note, and its size sits somewhere between that of the Note 2 and Note 10.1's styluses. Users of earlier Notes will be pleased to hear that Samsung’s enabled the S Pen for use on the device’s capacitive keys, so no more switching back to finger mode when you’re using on those buttons. Aside from that (admittedly significant) change, it’s pretty much the same S Pen we’ve become familiar with on the Note 2. One edge is flattened, and the rest of the stylus is rounded. When not in use, it can be tucked away in the bottom right corner.

Also significant is the inclusion of an IR blaster on the Note 8.0’s right edge, and that ties into some of the new TV remote capabilities Samsung’s brought to the device. Speaking of which, a Peel-based smart remote app is bundled, with support for a variety of TVs and providers depending on location.

And the software side of the device is where things get more interesting. The Note 8 brings a few new tricks to Samsung’s TouchWiz UI, with the aim of creating a mini-tablet for content consumption as well as creation. Along with the S Note note-taking app, the Note 8.0 is going to be the first Android device with Awesome Note, a popular iOS app. As it was with Flipboard on the Galaxy S3, Awesome Note will be exclusive to the Note 8.0 for a limited time.

On the subject of Flipboard, a new version is bundled on the Note 8.0 with support for hover gestures using the S Pen.

Needless to say, the Note 8.0 also incorporates every TouchWiz feature previously seen on Galaxy S3 and Note 2, including Smart Stay, which uses the front-facing camera to monitor whether you’re looking at the screen. This feeds into the new Note’s ambitions as an e-reader and the new Reader Mode, which can be use to tag apps as reading apps and set color levels to avoid eye strain.

As we’ve been saying for a while, we’re slowly becoming convinced that the 7-to-8-inch form factor represents the sweet spot for tablets. We've only spent a short time with it, but the Note 8.0 seems to be a promising entry from Samsung in this category -- though we've still yet to learn how much it'll cost. The device is due to launch internationally in Q2 in 3G, Wifi-only and 4G flavors.