Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 review: an ambitious Android rival for the iPad Pro



LIMITED OFFER: If you order the Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 before August 23, you get a free Keyboard Cover. That accessory normally costs £ 119, and although it's not perfect – as I'll discuss below – as a freebie, it's worth it to grab.

Our complete assessment continues below

Looking for a tablet that can be turned into a quasi-laptop to work on the go? The different Surface devices of the iPad Pro and Microsoft have shown how the idea works, but Android users are left out in the cold. In the past year we have seen almost nothing new on the tablet, convertible or otherwise.

Enter Samsung with a plan to revive the professional ambitions of Android. The new Galaxy Tab S4 promises a luxury Android experience on a big screen with additional productivity references that might make it your perfect mobile partner. Let's see.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 review: what you need to know

The Galaxy Tab S4 is clearly intended as an answer to the 10.5 in Apple iPad Pro. It even has the same eye-catching screen size, although it has a slightly longer, thinner shape.

What's more, the Galaxy Tab S4 has a number of advantages over the iPad Pro. The package includes a bundled stylus and the tablet is the first from Samsung with DeX mode – a desktop-style interface designed to work with a keyboard and mouse and can even be viewed on an external monitor.

If you have already invested in Android, the Galaxy Tab S4 is therefore a tempting proposition. You get the flexibility of an iPad Pro or Surface Go while you keep your trusted apps and easily synchronize with your phone.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 review: price and competition

The Wi-Fi edition of the Galaxy Tab S4 costs £ 599 in the UK and comes with 64 GB of internal storage, expandable to a maximum of 400 GB via the microSD slot. There will also be an LTE version for £ 649.

The 10.5 inch iPad Pro is an excellent and versatile alternative, but it is a bit more expensive, with prices starting at £ 619 – and if you want the Apple Pencil stylus, you get an extra € 89. Rumor has it that a new, upgraded version of the iPad Pro will be introduced before the end of 2018, so it may be worth waiting a few months before you buy.

READ THE FOLLOWING: rumors about the next iPad Pro

If you're looking for something cheaper, the old Galaxy Tab S3 is still available: we found the wifi version online for £ 425. The 9.7-inch screen is not only slightly smaller than that of the S4. You also get only half of the internal storage space and an older, slower Snapdragon 820 processor.

Another more affordable option is the latest version of the normal 9.7in iPad. This of course does not have all the advanced features of the iPad Pro, but it works with the Apple Pencil and you can pair a Bluetooth keyboard and get a similar experience for a much lower price, with the iPad itself starting with £ 319 for the 32 GB model.

Finally, do not forget the Microsoft Surface family. The range extends from the £ 379 Surface Go to the £ 1,149 Surface Book 2 with its detachable keyboard, so there's something to suit your needs. The advantage is that these devices all use Windows 10, which is good for "correct" computing, but that means you have a much more limited range of touch-friendly apps when you switch to tablet mode.

Overview Samsung Galaxy Tab S4: design and display

The Galaxy Tab S4 looks and feels expensive. It is covered on the front and back with glass, and if you pick it up, there is a certain weight attached to it; it is not inconvenient, but at 482g it feels like a serious package. That impression is confirmed by the choice of just two color schemes, simply called "black" and "gray" – no frivolous adjectives here.

Up to now, the design looks pretty much like the old Galaxy Tab S3, but there is a pretty visible difference. The edges at the top and bottom have shrunk downwards (resulting in the emergency landing of the Samsung logo and the start button), so they are now exactly as narrow as those on the sides, creating something closer to edge to edge .

It gives the Galaxy Tab S4 a slightly smaller footprint than the iPad Pro (164 x 249 mm, compared to 174 x 251 mm), although the difference in size is too small to register with daily use. In any case, this is compensated by the extra 1 mm thickness of the Tab S4. You do not notice it consciously, but the S4 does not really have that sense of supreme slenderness that reaches the iPad Pro.

I should also note that while the Tab S4 looks great when you take it out of the box for the first time, the glass on the front and back does not appear to be oleophobic at all. In use, it is quickly covered with fingerprints and smears, reducing the impression and making it look grubby.

Oh well, you can not see them when the screen is on, and as usual Samsung is one of the best features of the Galaxy Tab S4. The Super AMOLED panel delivers gloriously rich, powerful colors, even at extreme viewing angles, and supports HDR colors in apps such as Netflix and YouTube. It is also extremely sharp, with a resolution of 2,560 x 1,600, equivalent to a pixel density of 287ppi (just like the 264ppi of the iPad Pro).

Even with all these strengths, it is not really a first-class display. It lacks the 120Hz refresh rate of the iPad Pro and while you can adjust the color balance manually, there's nothing that fits Apple's True Tone technology. Choose the brightness to maximum and it is not as shrill as the iPad Pro, although it is still bright enough to be used with pleasure in anything but the most dazzling sunlight.

The audio hardware of the S4 also deserves an entry. On the edges you will find four AKG speakers and although they are far from hi-fi, they are more than hard enough to enjoy a movie in a hotel room, without a hint of distortion, even at the maximum volume. The only catch is that there is no touch of bass, that the weight of music sucks, and that you will not really get the best out of the Dolby Atmos support of the S4. However, you can always use headphones or external speakers: the Galaxy Tab S4 has both a Bluetooth 5 and a 3.5 mm audio connection.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 review: camera and Bixby Vision

Although only one sample would regularly use a 10.5-inch tablet for photography, the Tab S4 is equipped with a pretty respectable 13-megapixel camera on the back. Thanks to a 1/3 inch sensor and a f / 1.9 aperture, it captures clear, detailed shots and great 4K video at 30 fps.

There is also a good selection of shooting modes, including panorama mode, a "Hyperlapse" mode with variable frame rate, and a Pro mode that lets you adjust the exposure compensation, white balance, and ISO. Pleasant, whatever you choose, there is absolutely no shutter lag – unless you activate the small LED flash, which takes some time to half-light the scene and capture the focus before you actually shoot.

The reversing camera also works with Samsung's Bixby Vision app – a feature clearly inspired by Google Lens, which strives to recognize places, things, text and (believe it or not) food. Text recognition works pretty well, and you can translate your captured phrases to or from a long list of languages ​​- although you have to tap to connect to the translation server, instead of getting direct feedback like the Google Translate app.

Object recognition is unfortunately not that popular. I noticed that Bixby was wrong almost 100% of the time, wrongly identifying an envelope as a bed, a tomato like orange, a Nokia smartphone as a book, and a Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 as a leather wallet. Still, even if the app does not know what your subject is, it can search for similar images, which could be useful.

The camera at the front now has a resolution of 8 megapixels, with a quarter-inch sensor and a maximum video resolution of 1,920 x 1,080, which should be more than enough for selfies and video chats. It is also used for the biometric recognition feature of Samsung, which automatically unlocks your tablet when it recognizes your face or the irises of your eyes. This worked fine for me – and that's a good thing too, because deleting the physical start button means that the fingerprint reader has also disappeared.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 review: the S Pen stylus

As I said, the Tab S4 comes with an S Pen stylus in the box. However, not all S-pins are the same, and this is a much larger model than you get with one of the Galaxy Note smartphones from Samsung. It is 138 mm long, with a barrel of 9 mm, and weighs a nicely balanced 9 g. During use it seems like you are holding a real ballpoint pen instead of a spindly approach.

The writing action is also excellent. The glass is thin enough to make you feel like you are scratching directly on the virtual canvas, and the rubber tip of the S Pen drags along with just the right amount of resistance – there is nothing of that unnatural smoothness that you get too often with cheap styluses. The pressure and tilt sensitivity also works very well, allowing the 0.7 mm point to mimic everything from a fineliner to a highlighter. With just a little practice you can quickly master variations in latitude and have expressive sketches and beautifully handwritten notes.

How useful these possibilities are to you is an open question. Samsung offers apps for taking notes, taking notes on images and so on, and the S Pen works with various third-party tools, including Microsoft OneNote and AutoDesk Sketchbook – but I do not doubt how many tablet users will really use it regularly. Still, it's a nice bonus, and you're not limited to stylus-specific apps: you can use the S Pen anywhere in Android instead of a big finger, and click the side button to create a customizable menu with app shortcuts to open.

I only have two real growers. Firstly, the S Pen is made of cheap glossy plastic, which feels shockingly illogical as a glass-coated tablet. Secondly, Samsung has not offered a convenient place to keep the pen when it is not in use. I would have liked a handy slot in the case, like Samsung's Galaxy Note phones, or perhaps a magnetic clip à la Microsoft. But no – you have to wear it separately, or invest in a separate cover (Samsung starts with a stiff £ 59). It is an unnecessary inconvenience that will certainly discourage people from interfering with the stylus.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 review: DeX and the Keyboard Cover

In many ways, the Galaxy Tab S4 delivers exactly what we expect from a high-end Android tablet. What makes it unique is DeX mode. Originally introduced on the Galaxy S8 smartphone, DeX from Android changes a much more laptop-like experience, with an interface with windows and support for a keyboard and mouse. On Samsung phones DeX needs a special dock, but the Tab S4 can be switched to DeX mode without requiring additional hardware.

READ FOLLOWING: What is Samsung DeX?

I have to say, I think it's a good idea. Android 7 ("Nougat") introduced a multitasking mode with split screen, but I have never found it particularly intuitive or pleasant to work with. DeX is much more advanced, with windows that can be freely shown around and whose size can be adjusted, and a familiar taskbar along the bottom. In fact, it looks a lot like Chrome OS; the Chrome browser even has handy tabs at the top.

Although this is a nice trick in DeX steps, it feels a bit cumbersome, because you have to tap text on a floating virtual keyboard and use a finger or the S Pen instead of a mouse. A solution is to connect an external display to the USB Type-C connection; you can then use the entire tablet as a virtual keyboard and touchpad, or connect a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse for the most desktop-like experience possible.

You can also invest in Samsung's customized Keyboard Cover – a £ 119 plastic case with a built-in keyboard that clips onto the Galaxy Tab S4 and folds up from behind. If you've ever seen Apple & # 39; s Smart Keyboard for the iPad Pro, you know exactly what it looks like, and it's clearly designed to help you get the best out of DeX.

As we noted in our initial review, the keyboard is a pretty decent package. The keys have a good, positive action and despite the compact size the distance does not feel too tight. As with the book cover, the case also includes a holder for the S Pen.

What I'm not so keen on is the fact that the Keyboard Cover does not have a built-in trackpad, like it can be found on Microsoft's Type of Cover accessories for its Surface devices. To be honest, the iPad Pro Smart Keyboard does not have one either, but DeX – unlike iOS – is clearly designed as a mouse-driven environment, and poking at an upright screen with a finger or a stylus is not quite the thing same.

I am also a bit off by the presence of a few unnecessary keys. To the right of the space bar there is a button for calling language settings – as if this is something that people need to access regularly. Even more amazing is that there is a button to the left of the physical keyboard that calls up the keyboard on the screen. I think this might be useful if you want to insert GIF & # 39; s and emoji regularly via the virtual keyboard, but if that is the intention, it feels like a misunderstanding of the target group.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 review: performance and battery life

The Galaxy Tab S4 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor, with four cores at 2.35GHz and another four at 1.9GHz. That is the same CPU as the Galaxy S8 smartphone, the Google Pixel 2 and the Nokia 8, and Android feels just as smoothly as on those devices.

At that point, if you're wondering, the Tab S4 runs Android 8.1 Oreo with various Samsung-specific adjustments to the home screen, the app tray, icons, and so on. These are mostly cosmetic and do not matter much for the overall experience, but the emphasis that Samsung puts on fiddling with Android means that it will probably take many months before the Tab S4 Android 9 Pie gets. Yet that update adds nothing particularly urgent or important to tablet users.

It is also worth noting that although we certainly do not have any of the above mentioned phones, they are all from 2017 onwards. Compared to the cream of this year's handsets, such as Samsung's own Galaxy S9, the Galaxy Tab S4 is a bit behind the pace – and, as the Geekbench CPU test reveals, it's a long way behind the iPad Pro:

Multi-core Single-core
Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 6303 1886
Apple iPad Pro 10.5in 9380 3930
Samsung Galaxy S9 8804 3659

It is to be expected that this is a similar story with the game performance of the Galaxy Tab S4. The GFXBench Manhattan test again confirms that the older CPU can not keep track of Apple's own brand chips and the latest Snapdragon processors:

On screen rear screen
Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 35fps 54fps
Apple iPad Pro 10.5in 58fps 105fps
Samsung Galaxy S9 45fps 77fps

This is not a disaster: there is enough power for all your Office-like tasks and for all but the most demanding games. But if you want to take full advantage of DeX, you'll probably get stuck quickly by connecting a big screen and opening a lot of Android apps and Chrome tabs at once. It also does not help that the Galaxy Tab S4 has only 4 GB of RAM – less than many modern smartphones. In short, the Tab S4 will comfortably romp through ordinary tablet tasks, but it lacks the power to fully realize the multitasking promise of the DeX environment.

Yet there is good news at the front of the battery. The Galaxy Tab S4 comes with a 7.300mAh battery, which is a big step up from the 6.000mAh of the S3. Samsung claims it will deliver 16-hour full-screen video playback, and in our own tests – with the brightness set at a comfortable level for indoor viewing – it surpassed that promise comfortably, giving us 17 hours and 10 minutes of non-stop entertainment before we got conking out. Although the iPad Pro has an even bigger battery (rated at 8,134 mAh), Apple's tablet only spins 12 hours and 59 minutes, with a screen with a standard brightness of 170 cd / m2.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 review: judgment

The Galaxy Tab S4 is an ambitious device and it is exciting to try a tablet that tries to push the boundaries of what Android can do. It feels like a long time since we've seen that.

And there are several things about this tablet that I really like. The screen is great, the S Pen works great, the battery life is exceptional, and generally it feels like a good premium piece of hardware.

The problem is that I could have said the same thing about the cheaper, older Galaxy Tab S3. And when we look at the new functions that determine the Tab S4, it is more difficult to be enthusiastic. DeX presents an inspiring vision, but the total package lacks the smoothness, cohesion and sheer power of the iPad Pro.

To be sure, Samsung deserves to not just mimic Apple, but tries to create a distinctive future for Android as a productivity platform. In the end, however, it does not get off the ground. There is one for each plus point – and that is difficult to accept from a tablet that puts its sentences so high.


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