Hands-on with the Samsung Galaxy TabPro 8.4

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Small Android tablets have an image problem. Thanks to Kindle Fires and Nexus 7s, everyone wants one on the cheap – R2,000 seems about right, maybe R3,600 if it’s brilliant.

By that logic a Samsung Galaxy TabPro 8.4 has to be out-of-this-world brilliant. And it almost is. A bubbly, finger-friendly Flipboard interface. An insanely sharp 359ppi screen to showcase it. Splitscreen multi-tasking and business apps. It’s Android as we know it with just the right amount of Windows 8ness tacked on.

Samsung’s learnt some tough tablet lessons since its first Galaxy Tab 7.0 and both the TabPro’s hardware and software are more streamlined than ever. It finally makes the elegant small Android tablet a reality, albeit an imperfect one.

Sky High PPI

Galaxy TabPro 8.4The 1080p Nexus 7 and Kindle HDX are far from low-res, but the TabPro embarrasses both these 7in tabs and the iPad Mini with its 8.4in, sharper-than-sharp 2560×1600 screen. It’s such a wondrous pixel party it makes the estimated pricing for SA (R6,300) look almost reasonable.

Text on webpages and in emails looks clean enough to eat your lunch off, which is little surprise given the 359ppi density and Samsung’s sensible choice to ditch PenTile tech and the jagged fonts it produces.

Detail when zooming around DSLR snaps onscreen is astonishing and viewing angles are equally lovely. Colours are vivid and punchy, too, without veering into supernatural territory. There are no screen modes to choose from, which is unusual for a Samsung tab but very welcome – a screen should look good without the need to faff.

For watching movies, we still prefer the accurate picture of the Retina iPad Mini – contrast is slightly better on the iPad and skin-tones look more natural. But this is the best screen we’ve ever seen on a Samsung tablet.

Magazine and Multi Window Treats

Like the iPad Mini, the extra screen space over 7in rivals turns the TabPro from a throwaway portable Netflix player to a do-it-all device. In fact, the Samsung makes even better use of its inches than its Apple rival.

There’s space for two Google or Samsung apps to run at once, for a start. Simply swipe from the right of the screen to access the Multi Window feature. The TabPro’s oddly tall ratio also translates to a widescreen ratio in landscape, which means movies play bigger than they do on the squatter iPad. Last but not least, Samsung’s Magazine UX serves up image heavy, screen-filling tiles of email, news, calendar and social updates with Flipboard’s help. Regular Android homescreens mean you won’t get lost but it’s a lovely showcase that just wouldn’t work on a 7in tab.

Pre-installed apps to get stuff done on the TabPro are just as streamlined as on the Galaxy NotePro 12.2. My Files makes searching for docs and images as simple as on a PC or Mac while eMeeting, webEx, Remote PC and Hancom Viewer (for Office docs) could all be lifesavers for business types in need of a back-up, portable work machine. KitKat features such as “OK Google” voice search in Google Now won’t be found on most lesser tabs either.

With plenty of free subscriptions also thrown in, it’s a bold stab at seducing suits. But with Office for iPad rumoured for late March and Win 8 tabs from Dell and Lenovo running full-fat programs, the TabPro’s still not going to be the first choice for those looking for the best work device.

A Samsung without an S Pen

This is a TabPro, not a NotePro, and that means there’s no S Pen stylus – and we wish there was. The 8.4in tablet is the perfect size for taking notes – in fact it’s almost the exact size as many ‘real’ notebooks. It’s much lighter and easier to manage than bigger tabs that do get an S Pen. Seriously, NotePro 12.2 owners should look into installing an easel.

If you want an 8in Samsung tablet with a built-in stylus you have to go back to 2013’s plasticky, big-bezelled Galaxy Note 8.0, and no-one wants to do that. Trick missed.

Needs a Lick of Polish

With sleeker styling than Samsung’s old design DNA, the TabPro is more of an oversized Galaxy Note 3 than a revamped Galaxy Tab with smaller bezels and a metal-look trim. Which would be fantastic if the faux-leather back felt as satisfyingly soft-touch as the Note 3’s (it doesn’t) or the TabPro was as solidly built as Samsung smartphones (it isn’t).

Again, the 8.4 comes ever-so-close to premium droid perfection, but while it’s light at 331g and skinny at 7.2mm, it flexes in the middle. You wouldn’t catch an iPad Mini doing that.

The main advantage of the TabPro’s build over an iPad Mini is that it’s not as wide in portrait as the Apple tab, making the Samsung easier to grab one-handed. That could be a deal-breaker. If not, we’d suggest plumping for a tablet that looks and feels worth every penny.

Makes the Snapdragon 800 look slow

Throw balls at glowing pyramids in Smash Hit or tear up the racetrack in Asphalt 7 and the TabPro shines. Tap on a story in the Twitter ‘Magazine’ tile or dare to stream a video and it can crumble.

Unlike the NotePro 12.2 (which can boast an octa-core Exynos chip and 3GB of RAM), the TabPro just isn’t reliable enough. In use there are responsiveness issues, crashes here and there and a sometimes leisurely attitude to transitions and opening and closing apps.

It’s a little surprising because the 8.4 posts a perfectly respectable AnTuTu score of 26405 (admittedly below the Galaxy S4 and Note 3), but even Multi Window doesn’t run quite as smoothly as elsewhere on the smaller Pro.

It’s far from unusable – downloads are fast, browsing is smooth and gaming, as we said, is hiccup-free. Just don’t try to rush around Samsung’s UI – it’ll only end in tears.

Sound and Snapping

The pair of stereo speakers on the bottom edge sound clear and can fill a regular-sized room, while the 2MP front-facer makes for bright video calls – something other tablets just can’t manage.

The 8MP main camera is as capable as you could hope a tablet snapper to be. Auto focus is nippy, it captures bags of detail and accurate colours, and although low-light shots don’t match the Galaxy S4, ‘processing’ is quick and shots are usable.

Missing Smartphone Stamina

Put another check in the ‘close but not quite’ column. Pushing 4 million pixels around is always going to be draining and the TabPro 8.4 can’t do it for very long. In our video rundown test (HD movie, half brightness, Wi-Fi on), the 8.4 lasts 7 hours 35 minutes – almost two hours less than the iPad Mini with Retina display.

Standby doesn’t fill us with confidence either, dropping 20% from mid-evening to mid-morning the next day. Over an afternoon of gaming, working and Netflix, it can even drop a panic-inducing 50%. This isn’t a tablet designed for light use and we’d like to see the battery life to back up its power user potential.

Samsung Galaxy TabPro 8.4 Verdict

In a world of cheapo-tabs a pricier slate has to go some way to convince gadgeteers that it’s worth the extra spend. On paper the TabPro is just about there – it’s got an amazingly sharp screen, is stuffed full of classy components, genuinely useful apps and wins over media hoarders with its microSD storage.

But the basics also need to be taken care of – a sturdy, swoon-worthy build, stutter-free performance, and superb battery life – and it’s here that the TabPro 8.4 falls short.

This 8.4in Samsung tab is still a cut above most Android tablets, but it doesn’t trouble the iPad Mini. It doesn’t do quite enough to nudge the more reliable LG G Pad 8.3 out of our list of the best tablets you can buy either.

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