Apple fans have it easy. When they want to kick back for a much-needed boxset binge, they just pick up an iPad.
It’s a little trickier on the other side of the fence – there’s just not a lot of quality competition out there when it comes to Android tablets.
At least, that’s what we thought. Samsung’s been working on a little something to break that rule, and it just unveiled it at Mobile World Congress.
The Galaxy Tab S3 is a premium slate that might even have you ditching your expensive TV to catch up on your Netflix and Amazon Prime shows – and is surprisingly capable when it’s time to get work done, too, thanks to a redesigned S Pen stylus and refined keyboard cover.
After spending a little time with one ahead of the big reveal, we think Samsung might finally have its answer to the iPad.
DESIGN: GOT TO BE A GALAXY
That familiar shape, those trademark physical buttons underneath the screen – we’re not quite at iPad-levels of ubiquity yet, however much Samsung wants to be, but it’s damn close.
The all-glass back and metal frame are the real attention-grabbers, both in black and silver colour choices. It’s the first time we’ve seen that combination of materials in a tablet of this size, and even though it attracts fingerprints like nothing else, it does look seriously slick.
It also helps keep dimensions down, and at a super slim 6mm, the Tab S3 looks every bit the high-end tablet. It felt impressively compact for its size, although we didn’t have an iPad handy to do a direct comparison.
The bezels around that 9.7in display aren’t the slimmest, but they at least give you something to hold onto without obscuring what’s on the screen.
DISPLAY: HELLO HDR
It would be a real shame to cover it up, too, as it’s a quality panel. The 2048×1536 resolution goes toe-to-toe with Apple’s iPad, but here you get gorgeous OLED tech – meaning super deep blacks and impeccable contrast.
That makes all the difference when watching video or playing games, giving a boost in clarity that LCD still struggles to match.
Samsung has also managed to add HDR support, so you’ll be able to stream Netflix and Amazon Prime video with even more lifelike colours and brightness. Once the apps support HDR streaming, anyway. We saw a demo of HDR in action, and it really does make a big impact to picture quality.
Basically, you’re going to want it in your next tablet, if you mainly use it for multimedia.
Viewing angles are excellent, as you’d expect, and both images and text look delightfully crisp. We’ve seen higher resolution tablets, but this certainly doesn’t feel lacking for pixels.
It has some speakers to match, specially tuned by audio experts AKG. The four separate drivers adjust to match how you’re holding the Tab, so stereo sounds right for both portrait and landscape. It was definitely loud enough to clearly hear a demo video from several feet away, so we’re excited to see how they’ll hold up to our happy hardcore Spotify playlists.
PERFORMANCE: GET YOUR GAME ON
Sure, it’s not the 821 you’ll find in the Google Pixel or LG’s recently announced G6 smartphone, and it won’t be as quick as the upcoming Snapdragon 835 (which Samsung is almost certainly saving for the Galaxy S8) but it’ll be more than enough for anything in the Google Play Store.
It certainly felt snappy and responsive flicking through home screens and loading apps during our hands-on, even with that familiar Samsung UI running on top of Android Nougat.
The GPU also supports the Vulkan graphics API, which will help squeeze out those extra frames per second, and Samsung has added a few game-specific tweaks and tools – a first for a Galaxy Tablet.
There’s a 6000mAh battery on board, but there’s no clue as to how long you’ll get from a full charge just yet. At least the USB-C port supports fast charging.
With 32GB of on-board storage you shouldn’t be hurting for space out the box, but you can add a microSD card if you need more later.
Finally, there’s a 13MP rear camera with autofocus and flash, plus a 5MP front-facing webcam. We only tried these briefly, and while they felt as fast and responsive as you’d expect from a Galaxy device, we won’t be able to judge picture quality until we get a final review sample.
KEYBOARD & S PEN: TAKE NOTE
It might be an entertainment expert, but the Tab S3 should also be able to get the job done when it comes to work. It’ll ship with a revised S Pen stylus in the box, and there’ll be an optional keyboard cover available at launch.
The S Pen stylus was already pretty slick, but now Samsung has bulked it up, making it feel a lot more like a regular pen or pencil. It sits more naturally in your hand, so you can concentrate on drawing or writing, not whether you’re holding it properly.
It’s got 4096 pressure levels now, which should help graphics pros, and still doesn’t need a battery, but it’s the new rubber nib that makes all the difference. We know we were writing on glass, but it honestly felt as close to paper as any stylus we’ve used.
The keyboard cover felt great, too. It’s got dedicated magnetic pins that the tablet docks to, instead of using Bluetooth, so you don’t have to worry about charging it, and the layout has been simplified from previous Samsung efforts. There was quite a bit of travel for a such a compact design, too.
We’re used to seeing corners cut, or build quality not quite living up to expectations, but we think Samsung has managed to get pretty much everything right. The gorgeous screen really could make it become your go-to device for video, and the S-Pen/keyboard combination make it a viable work machine too.
We won’t know exactly how well it stacks up to the venerable iPad until we get one in for a full review, and with no word on a price or release date just yet, there are plenty of questions left to ask.
Still, it looks more promising than just about any other Android tablet doing the rounds right now – so if you were getting ready to head down to the Apple Store, you may want to hold onto your cash a little while longer.