Samsung hasn't been afraid to try different sizes of Galaxy Tab with 7.9-inch and 8.9-inch Tabs both figuring in the last few years. However, it has now introduced the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 8.0, the golden child of the Galaxy Tab range.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.0 has undoubtedly been given the most love in this trio of third-gen slates, and it's the sleekest and best looking of the Tab 3 range, putting the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 7.0's bloated build to shame.
It runs Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, which is of course daubed with Samsung's own TouchWiz interface that's become synonymous with the Galaxy brand.
With the battleground of the 10-inch tablet largely abandoned to Apple – aside from the excellent Sony Xperia Tablet Z – things have got extremely competitive in the seven and eight-inch range. While Apple is still strong here with the iPad mini, the lack of a Retina display and high price-tag means there's an opportunity to make an impression.
Samsung has decimated the size of the bezels to make a considerable saving in bulk over the equivalently sized Note 8.0. It's impressive how different two eight-inch devices can be, and while it's impossible to hold the Note 8.0 without gripping the bezel, we had no problem wrapping our hand around the Tab 3 8.0 and holding it in one hand.
The Galaxy Note 3 8.0 also falls short in terms of build quality. HTC has shown that you can use quality materials and keep prices down, but it seems Samsung still hasn't got the message.
While many of the software innovations have followed on from the Galaxy S4, so has the plasticky design on the back. It's perplexing why Samsung has decided to blindly use this material again when build quality is the biggest bugbear of the Galaxy range.
Again, the new Nexus 7 wins out here again. While it's still made of plastic, it feels more solid than the Tab 3 range, and scores a secondary punch by weighing in 50g lighter.
We could excuse the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0's plasticky build if it was saving a dramatic amount of weight, but this simply isn't the case. The Tab 3 tipped the scales at exactly the same weight as the iPad mini, but given the latter has a discernibly superior build, this isn't really a victory.
Google has made its play with the new Nexus 7 (2013) which is available for £199/$229 (around AU$240), and Samsung's 7-inch tablet can be picked up for £179/$179 (around AU$190). However, the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 is available for a whopping £280/$279 (around AU$295), – more than the iPad Mini.
So can this all-new Galaxy Tab 3 score a direct hit on the iPad? Could this be the tablet to capture our imaginations and do for tablets what the Samsung Galaxy S2 did for phones? Or will it be another lacklustre slate with no genuine reason to fork out?
Pick it up for the first time, and you can see this is where the love has gone. The Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 is actually thinner and more svelte than its smaller brother the Tab 3 7.0.
It's a joy to pick up, and when you handle the whole range together, the 8-inch tablet starts to make sense. The 10.1 feels large and ungainly, the 7.0 is hobbled by a fat and rounded design, while the 8.0 nails both categories, and it's clear that the attention placed on smaller tablets is only going to intensify.
With dimensions of just 209.8 x 123.8 x 7.4mm, it's a slim device with the iPad mini in its sights. The Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 is only 2mm thicker.
Samsung has fitted a 1,280 x 800 panel to this tablet. The resolution itself isn't an issue, and the visuals are sharp and crisp. Viewing photos is a triumph, and we found the panel to produce vibrant colours, and is definitely a step up from the previous generation of Tab 2s.
It's not an unblemished performance, and with a pixel density of just 187ppi we're not blown away by the clarity, especially when there are devices on the market pushing into 300ppi and beyond. Compared with the likes of the Google Nexus 10 and iPad 4, the softness of icons, text and apps is tangible.
Extra food for thought, however, is that the Asus-built new Nexus 7 released in August packs in a full HD 1,920 x 1,200 screen which boasts a whopping 323ppi. This blows the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 out of the water, while offering a saving of £80.
Sticking with hardware, under the hood is a Samsung Exynos 4412 dual-core 1.5GHz processor. We were pretty surprised when we found out that Samsung was only packing a dual-core chip on this third generation tablet, and there's a clear gulf in performance.
When you consider that this year will see the emergence of Tegra 4 and even the Galaxy S4 packed an octo-core processor, finding the Tab 3 running dual-core is perplexing.
Connectivity is exactly as you'd expect for a tablet, with microsUSB the only port, located at the bottom under the home screen. We're pleased to report that microSD is supported, with enables you to upgrade your storage by up to 64GB. As the Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.0 only ships with 16GB of storage, the microSD support is essential.
The presence of an IR blaster on the Tab 3 range means you can use your tablet as a universal remote control, so it's compatible with TVs and devices, should you want to control them with your tablet.
Interface and performance
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 ships with Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean OS, so anyone with designs on getting the latest Android 4.3 update will be disappointed. However, Samsung devices have moved so far away from the notion of stock Android that it's a fairly moot point.
The OS is daubed in Samsung's own TouchWiz interface, offering the distinctive Samsung Galaxy look that's become synonymous with this family of devices. Samsung's home-brew interface looked a bit naff a few years back, but it's been well-honed for a decent and slick user experience. With the emphasis on widgets and a large dock at the bottom for apps, it's extremely visual and usable.
It's really a matter of taste, but we still feel that stock Android has the aesthetic edge compared to TouchWiz. The splashes of 'my first tablet' primary colours combine to make the operating system look a little dated, but it still gets the job done well.
The keyboard was a bugbear of ours, and despite the larger screen, the buttons are fiddly, small, and the whole thing is ugly.
It even had an annoying habit of popping over text we were trying to input, and there's no way of minimising the keyboard if it does appear needlessly – infuriating is an understatement.
However, while TouchWiz is maturing into a decent Android skin, Samsung's inclusion of a meagre dual-core processor has hobbled the Tab 3 8.0's performance dramatically.
The poor performance wasn't limited to the technical world of benchmark testing. Lethargy was evident during multitasking, and heavy duty tasks such as gaming. It's largely down to the processor not having the cores to handle all of the demands on the system.
Gaming was particularly tough on the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0, and the relatively basic Stick Cricket highlighted some short-fallings in the game. It was actually a little hard to play, as the frame-rate dropped at key moments, and it's clear that the Samsung-built Exynos processor struggled at peak loads.
It's evident as you navigate TouchWiz, with a lack of snappiness loading and closing apps, and there was an occasional stuttering on pressing the home screen button.
Connectivity and media
In terms of connectivity, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 is Wi-fi only, which is bad news for those looking for LTE or 3G data on the go. Of course, this premium feature so anyone needing this type of connectivity is served by the Galaxy Note 8.0.
Unsurprisingly, the stock Android browser is used here, and while we're still perplexed about why Chrome isn't the default, the Android one is slick and useable.
There are a few niggles, with some web pages rendered full screen, so they're not legible without zooming in. Some sites don't load in mobile version, but others do.
One example of this was the BBC site, which looked great with big clear text. Words aren't quite as sharp as other tablets, such as the Nexus 7, but still highly readable.
Pinching and zooming was speedy, with zero rendering times, although scrolling was a little jerky and nowhere near as smooth as the iPad. This comes back to the lack of processing power and graphical ability, and possibly some inefficiencies in the stock Android browser too.
Flash is supported, however, something that long-term iPad users have probably learned to live without, and we were able to fire up videos from web sites with ease.
There's also plenty of options too, and pressing Android's context button offers everything from advanced settings, sharing, brightness, printing and offline reading all in one place. That's actually one of the best arrays of tweaks we've seen on a mobile browser.
Overall while the browser has all of these quality features, we can't think of anyone who wouldn't be better served by Google Chrome and its advanced bookmark syncing and superior performance.
While there's a host of options for obtaining digital content these days, Samsung adds its own array of stores to Google's own. In the main they're pretty well stocked, yet poorly designed, and there's no real reason to use them.
An example of the awful design was our experience with Reader Hub, the store for books. Firstly we opened it, and had to go through the sign-up process for a Samsung account before we could browse. Then the app required updating, so we were whisked off to Samsung's own brand app store.
The app seemed to update, before the installation failed because the Tab's settings "blocked apps from 'unknown sources.'" That source was the Samsung app store.
It's not a good performance, yet despite our distain, here's a run down of the different stores.
The Video Hub – inexplicably missing on our tablet but a staple of the Tab experience – requires a Samsung account, used across much of its own-brand apps. You also get a free movie download when you sign up, so it's well worth trying out.
While there's plenty of movies on offer, Samsung's own-brand video store doesn't offer anything more than Google Play, and with that service getting a recent overhaul, it's still our go-to movie store.
It saves you the hassle of getting signed up for another paid-for service, although with the work Samsung did around the launch of Jay-Z's new album, we wouldn't be surprised to see Video Hub getting more exclusives in the future.
The video playback experience is good, and our video tests found that both 720p and 1080p were played back well. The resolution may be only 1,280 x 800, but HD movies looked detailed and had smooth, even colours. However, our side-by-side tests showed that the Google Nexus 7's higher resolution panel was noticeably more vibrant.
As you'd expect with an Android tablet, the normal video formats are catered for with H.263, H.264, MPEG4, WMV and DivX all supported. There's Video Player and Music Player, rather than a single media player, which adds to the slightly overwhelming medley of players and stores offered to users.
When it comes to music on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 8.0, it's a similar story to video in that Samsung has replicated the functionality of Google Music with its own Music Hub.
Music Hub is brimming with choice, there's no doubt about that, but again there's no reason for us to recommend going here, when the convenience of the Google Play store is on-hand.
We also found it painfully slow signing in, when we were able to use the Google Play store within seconds. Google is keenly upgrading its Play store all the time, and it's come on leaps and bound since the beginning of the year, so it's well worth sticking with.
One area Google has innovated its store is through Google Play Music, where you can not only purchase tracks but upload your existing record collection into the cloud. You can also get Spotify-like features free for 30 days and £7.99 thereafter.
While there's no beating a pair of proper headphones, sound quality on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 is passable. They're arranged in a stereo configuration occupying the bottom edge of the tablet.
Samsung provides its Readers Hub by default on the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0, or you can use Google Play Books and Google Play Magazines for all your reading needs – again, we recommend the latter.
We're not fans of reading books on tablets, as the harsh backlighting makes long sessions uncomfortable, but if you do like to sit down with your tablet, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 is a good option. The physical size is great for reading and the screen is sharp enough to be clearly legible.
Apps and camera
There are a host of apps available when you first start the tablet, and the slate is far from clean. ChatOn, Dropbox, Samsung App Store and Google Play dominate the main screen with S Planner, Flipboard, TripAdvisor, S Voice, S Translator all in attendance in the main menu.
As a Galaxy owner you get the Google Android stock apps and Samsung's whether you like it or not. Luckily, a lot of these are genuinely useful and it's good to see Samsung supporting good apps, and in the main refraining from filling the hard drive with a load of piffle. All this takes up about 5GB, so there's plenty left to play with.
Another excellent addition is the 50GB of Dropbox space you get for using the service on your Samsung device, and this upgrade was more than welcome.
Of course, the upshot of Samsung's relentless pursuit of new features are a selection of options that Nexus and other Android owners can only dream of. The Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.0 3 is no different, and shares a close relationship with the Galaxy S4 in terms of feature sets.
While the Galaxy S4 is still Samsung's ultimate playground for trying new features, some have trickled down to the Tab line up. Software features have become Samsung's biggest differentiators, and there are some useful features added to the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0.
The first is MultiWindow, and one of the best features you'll find on Samsung tablets. This feature works by enabling you to run two apps side-by-side, which is perfect for those who are frustrated by the multitasking-lite attitude of iOS.
One of the previous generation Samsung features is SmartStay, and sure enough it's here on the Galaxy Tab 3. This keeps the screen on while you're looking at it by detecting your eyes via the front-facing camera. It's a feature you'll barely know is working, and can work well.
The only problem is when you're resting the tablet on your desk, and it refuses to believe you're there without your eyes in the camera's line of sight.
Samsung's made a big deal of app sharing on the Tab 3 range, which is another semi-useful feature that might not get people voting with their wallets, but likely to raise a smile when used right.
When talking and boasting about all the great apps you have, Samsung owners can share them directly, so you can 'send' apps to a friend, rather than directing them to Google Play.
With a meagre 5MP rear-facing camera included, we weren't expecting wonders, but we were pleasantly surprised by the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0's performance.
Autofocus is a welcome addition, which dramatically improves shots, although does reduce the shutter speed to a crawl. Between pressing the shutter button, we'd say there was a two or three second delay between the image being captured. Move in that time and not even Samsung's best image stablisation could stop the result being a blurry mess.
Our pictures were acceptable overall, even in failing light, although after dark shots might as well be ruled out altogether. The results were noisy when blown up, which means it's implausible (and socially impossible) to be used for anything other than quick fun snaps. However, if you push us, we'd say the images are some of the better snaps from small-form tablets we've seen.
There's just a 1.3MP camera on the front, and this is suitable for video calling only, if we're honest. It only supports VGA recording, which isn't idea for regular Skypers, but again, gets the job done.
Using the main camera you can shoot 720p HD quality movies, but like the still images it's largely underwhelming, offering dull and choppy footage.
In terms of battery life the Tab 3 8.0 is uninspiring, if solid. Our looping HD movie tests showed around 8 hours of battery, with our standard 90 minute looping "Nyan Gareth" video chomping through 20% of the Tab 3 8.0's battery.
Extrapolated out, this means the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 will last 450 minutes under heavy strain with the screen's brightness turned up to maximum, which equates to around 8 hours.
That's a solid score, and while it's certainly not the longest-lasting tablet out there, it's suitable for watching movies or playing games while travelling.
However, using the tablet for lots of web surfing did also prove a strain and we'd expect to see the same sort of score for heavy web use.
The benchmark scores vindicate our criticism of Samsung's choice of using a dual-core chip.
Our Antutu score of 10,404 is roughly half that of the (cheaper) Nexus 7, which is a pretty dismal result for the Tab 3. As we highlighted, this lack of power is certainly felt around the operating system and using apps.
SunSpider, which is essentially a test of Java, also lagged behind the Nexus, albeit far a less pronounced deficit. However, different browsers and settings can heavily affect SunSpider.
The big surprise, however, was Peacekeeper, the graphics heavy browser test. This produced an exceptional score of over 700, putting it up with the iPad and Samsung Galaxy S3 in the rankings. This does highlight the fallibility of benchmark scores, as our real-world testing showed that the Galaxy Tab 3.0 is pretty lightweight when it comes to games.
Hands on gallery
In short, there are too many faults on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 to declare it the new gold standard in Android tablets.
The lacklustre performance and plasticky build are the main offenders, but it's the lack of any standout reason to part with your cash that's disappointing. While we liked the slim design and fantastic size, the likes of Google and Asus have upped their games with standout features at reasonable prices.
Meanwhile, Samsung's even managed to out-price Apple, the undisputed king of expensive tech, and without any justifiable reason.
The design is fantastic, and it's certainly our favourite member of the Tab 3 family, with thin sleek lines punctuated by an attractive aluminium rim. We love the fact it can be held in one hand yet still packs an extra inch of screen real estate, and we'd hazard to say that it's more attractive than the new Nexus 7, if perhaps not the iPad mini.
While we have criticised the screen for its lack of pixel density, we have to give a mention to the fantastic brightness, which saves the Tab 3 8.0 from mediocrity, instead making it an eye-catching movie mogul.
Battery life, while not breaking any records, certainly impressed us, and it's good to see decent performance at high loads.
The plasticky build quality is inexcusable really, and really degrades the feel of this tablet – which we remind you is more expensive than the Apple iPad mini.
When you consider this high price, it's also perplexing that Samsung only included a dual-core processor. The penny-pinching takes its toll, with poor performance in our benchmarking tests and noticeable sluggishness across the whole user experience.
If you look at the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 and add up all of these factors, it doesn't look good for the Samsung. Combine the high price, poor performance and below par build quality, and it's hard to find any reason to recommend this new Samsung Tab.