Samsung’s Galaxy Note II is an incredible device. Probably the most functional of all the ‘phablet’ format devices, its five and a half inch screen supports stylus based input that’s pressure sensitive, and side by side app viewing to help you make the most of being able to jot stuff down on screen.

Not content with the Note II, Samsung has brought its stylus based approach to a larger screen in the Samsung Galaxy Note 8. Not surprisingly, this device has an eight inch screen, so it is sits jarringly close to Samsung’s Galaxy Tab line of Android based tablets, which have similar screen size options. That might cause it problems as the Note 8 is expensive – you’re going to have to really want the added facilities its stylus offers.

If you are a Samsung fan then you’ll like the design. Shiny white plastic, rounded edges and a physical home button are all you need to see to know this is a Samsung product. The stylus fits neatly into a slot on the chassis edge.

The Galaxy Note 8 isn’t as comfortable to hold in the hand as the Note II simply because it is much larger. It will sit in most hands in portrait mode for one-handed use, but in wide screen mode you’ll need to work a little harder to find a solid position in which to hold it. It is obviously heavier than the Note II as well, its 380g marking it out as a substantial machine.

The 8-inch screen gives you more viewing area than the 5.5-inch Galaxy Note II, but only barely. Its 1,280 x 800 pixels just better the Note II’s 1,280 x 720 pixels.

Internally the specs are high end with a 1.6GHz quad core processor supported by 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal memory. It is a pity that just under 10GB of this is free – but that’s a sign that Samsung has really crammed the Galaxy Note 8 with software and features. Fortunately you can expand on the built in memory with a microSD card, although this will be for data and content rather than apps.

Much of that extra software is Samsung standard fare. The likes of ChatON and Samsung’s own games, readers and music hubs for example are familiar enough. As with all Galaxy devices there’s plenty that doubles up on Google’s more standard offerings, and the extent to which you use them may depend on whether your first is also a Samsung, or whether it is from another manufacturer. There are some apps designed to help you with stylus based input too, such as S Planner for your diary and S Note for, well, making notes.

Inevitably there are plenty of gesture and motion based features also. So, for example, Smart Stay is present here. This uses the front camera to gauge whether or not you are actually looking at the Galaxy Note 8, and if you are to keep the screen on. It works pretty well, and allows you to set a short, battery saving screen off time and still use the device as an eBook reader without needing to prod it every few seconds to keep it awake.

The stylus based input benefits from being able to run two apps at once – you could view a web page and take notes from it at the same time, for example. But it’s a pity that that this split-screen feature only works with a limited number of pre-installed apps. Ideally Samsung will update it eventually so that any app can be used in this way: then the tablet really will become an effective productivity tool

We’re not huge fans of the hover system that lets you hold the stylus tip over the screen in some apps to open up additional information. Like some of the touch and tilt features Samsung implements on its top end devices it feels like this might have been better left on the drawing board. But with the rough there’s also smooth, and there is no doubt that Samsung is working hard to make its stylus based devices the best there are. Gimmicks aside, it is leagues ahead of using a dumb stylus on any other tablet

Whether the Galaxy Note 8 is your cup of tea will depend precisely on how much you value the S Pen. It has been well implemented and serves as a key differentiator for the Note range against the Tabs. Extras, including the infra red feature that lets you remotely control your TV, won’t be enough to draw you in on their own.

Review written by Sandra Vogel.