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Battling for the middle ground

The iPad Mini and Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 duke it out

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A phone is too small and a 10-inch tablet too big. An 8-inch tablet is a sweet middle ground and here we have two major players: the iPad Mini and Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 (commonly known as Note 8). 

Galaxy Note 8.0

Even though both have a SIM card slot, only the Note 8 can make a phone call. So, if you want an all-in-one device, you can stop reading right now and put the Samsung on your list _ but bear in mind that an 8-inch phone and screen isn't particularly convenient when it comes to making calls. A phone this big will make you look silly while talking to your friend (trust me, I've had that look before). A SIM card for the iPad mini, on the other hand, is for internet connection, so no phone calls, SMS or MMS on this device.

Let's begin with the Apple advantage: the design. For years now, Apple has decided to use aluminium to make their products look premium _ and it works. The enclosure plus the thin bezel look great from every angle. The friendly white plastic design on all Samsung products, including the Note 8, is not what I personally prefer.

Then there's the convex home button on the Note 8 that usually turns on the device without me knowing it, resulting in an accidental application launch. And the back camera design is prone to scratching when placed on a table. Nothing like that with the iPad Mini.

I also have to remind you that the Note 8 has 3G/GSM standby for phone calls, so it drains the battery faster than the Mini. However, after days of testing, both can easily last for a day before needing to be recharged.

As for specifications, the Note 8 has made a lot of effort trying to beat Apple and, well, it succeeds. With a quad-core CPU, 2GB of RAM and Android 4.1, its GeekBench 2 score is 2,100 to the Mini's 760.

The iPad Mini's stand-out feature is its LTE capability. With LTE, aka 4G, the download speed is five times faster than the Note 8 3G (if you can find LTE coverage). Apart from that, the Note 8 specs are better.

Before you choose the Note 8, however, you should know that specs don't tell the whole story. It's very much about the hardware and software combination.

Even with less powerful specs, the Mini creates a better user experience. Samsung's fade-in/fade-out from black and long loading time for app launches makes me forget about style and worry about hangs or crashes.

Speaking of apps, a screen this big requires compatible apps, something the Samsung lacks. The iPad Mini's advantage in this category comes from the strength of its App store. Some apps on Note 8 are stretched and pixelated because they aren't made for this resolution. The majority of Android apps are made for a phone-size screen, making tailor-made iOS tablet apps look great on the Mini by comparison. This is not Samsung's fault; it's an Android OS issue.

One other difference in the displays is aspect ratio. Android tablets tend to have taller, thinner screens than iPads which maintain a 4:3 aspect ratio. So, watching a movie on a Note 8's 16:9 aspect ratio screen looks great, but not for reading a book. There, the iPad Mini is better.

We all post our photos on Facebook and Instagram and, nowadays, almost all of them come from our phone (or, in this case, maybe our tablet). This time I took the two devices to Lumpini Park and Asiatique for a camera showdown. The Mini quality surpassed the Note 8 in both daylight and low-light. The Note 8's major claim to fame is the included S Pen stylus. It allows you to write, draw and navigate the tablet with precision. The S Pen is pressure-sensitive and has functionality above and beyond what a capacitive stylus (which works with any tablet) can offer.

If you regularly work with documents, like to take handwritten notes or want mouse-like precision for working with photo-editing software like Photoshop Touch, the S Pen makes the Galaxy Note very desirable. On the Mini side, as an Apple product, there are already tonnes of accessories that support the device, offering some of the same functionality as the S Pen, though not as reliably.

The iPad Mini (coming in black or white) is available in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB models, with either Wi-Fi only or 4G LTE capability. Prices start at 11,200 baht for the 16GB Wi-Fi only version. The 4G models start at 15,200 for 16GB. The Note 8 offers only one model; 16GB at the same price of 15,200 baht.

In terms of value, the iPad Mini costs less (entry Wi-Fi) but doesn't have the S Pen technology or a micro SD card slot. I think these hardware extras make the Note's price reasonable in comparison.

The Note 8 is good if you want an all-in-one device. It has powerful specs and can do a few tricks that the iPad Mini can't with the S Pen. A lack of apps make the user experience slightly awkward.

The current iPad (Mini) isn't equipped with the Retina display or the powerful A6X CPU, making it slightly less tempting. However, it does benefit from the healthy Apple ecosystem which is still king of tablet apps. So the question is phone or no phone/more apps or less apps?

For this battle, it is a tie.

iPad Mini

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