Android tablets come in bunches every year, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 is currently the among the best available in 2017. A bright, vibrant display makes it easy to watch video endlessly, especially with improved battery life.
|Samsung Galaxy S8
Display: 9.7-inch 2048 x 1536 AMOLED display with 264 pixels per inch
OS: Android 7.0 Nougat
Processor: 2.15GHz Snapdragon 820 64-bit quad-core processor
Memory: 4GB RAM, 32GB (microSD card slot expandable up to 256GB)
Camera: 13-megapixel rear camera, 5-megapixel front-facing
Video: Up to 4K Ultra HD video recording
Battery: 6000mAh (non-removable)
Connections: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS, NFC, Fast Charging, USB-C, Fingerprint sensor
Dimensions: 9.34 x 6.65 x 0.24 inches
Weight: 429 grams
Comes in black and silver
For Samsung, the Galaxy Tab S3 needed to correct some of the shortcomings of its predecessor, the Tab S2. Battery life was perhaps the biggest. Video playback maxed out at seven hours per charge at higher brightness, and lowering it a little didn’t boost the battery much.
Beyond that, Samsung is also making a case for using the Tab S3 to create content, not just consume it. I gave it a shot, and found it a tough balance.
Tab S3 design
The Tab S3 is negligibly thicker than its predecessor, and is otherwise the same exact size. The Super AMOLED display has the same resolution and pixel density, implying it has the same sharpness. It does, except there is something different.
Samsung supports HDR (high-dynamic range), the emerging visual standard that increases the range in highlights, shadows and colour for more lifelike images. TVs have generally been the category adopting it thus far, but smartphones and tablets are poised to do the same. Case in point, the company’s new Galaxy S8 and S8+ handsets will be HDR-ready too.
Since so little was done to change the Tab S3’s form factor, tweaks were made under the hood instead. A better processor, more RAM, improved camera and 4K video recording are all nice upgrades from last year’s model. The 32GB of internal storage could probably have
been boosted to at least 64GB though. A premium tablet shouldn’t come with such low storage out of the box, especially when it’s being touted as a content creation device. Expanding that with a microSD card certainly does help, except it adds to the baseline cost of the tablet.
Driving part of the creation and consumption dynamic is the S Pen that comes with it. It’s designed to be better than before, and it does show when using it. Taking notes and doodling with the stylus feels responsive and accurate. Sending a screenshot or map to someone with a note written on it, or having kids create their own drawings are two simple examples. The S Pen really gained most of its notoriety because of Samsung’s Note phones, but it’s arguably more practical when applying it to a larger 9.7-inch display.
Performance and software
No matter how Samsung positions this tablet, video is its strongest suit. Video really does appear vibrant on it thanks to the vivid display. Whether streaming in HD from Netflix or even in standard-definition from an app like Crackle, it all looks great here.
HDR-capable video will have to wait, however. The Tab S3 is designed to play it, which should look great, except it’s not clear what the availability is. Just because HDR content may be accessible on a TV, it doesn’t necessarily mean the tablet can play it too. Content providers have to support the device, and nothing has been confirmed from any of them as of this review. The best way to look at this is a feature that may help future-proof the device to some extent.
Then there’s audio. Having long been one of the most noticeable weaknesses in Samsung’s mobile devices, the new four-speaker setup from AKG finally delivers more acceptable sound. It comes courtesy of Samsung’s recent acquisition of AKG’s parent company, Harman, and at least sounds more like a stereo setup on a tablet should be, such as it is.
The speakers are situated at the top and bottom edges (when held in portrait mode), lining up left and right when tilting the tablet sideways to landscape mode. Front-facing speakers would have been more impactful, but I can accept the big stride taken here compared to last year.
I wouldn’t categorize the Tab S3 as a ‘gaming’ tablet because it’s not really tuned for it. Casual games play super smoothly, and look fabulous. More graphics-heavy games do too, except they tend to take longer on load screens than they probably should. Glitches may also happen, but I can’t say for sure that it was the tablet’s fault or the game’s own coding. However satisfying gaming might be on here, if I really wanted something robust to handle demanding games, I would probably go with a Microsoft Surface Pro.
Using the S Pen
I touched on the S Pen earlier, and bring it up here because its performance is helped by the software that allows it to tap into apps. All of this is borrowed from the Note7. Clicking the pen’s button near the display pops up a menu of options. The features introduced in the Note7 are all available here, including Smart Select, an easy way to create animated GIFs from YouTube and other video-sharing apps. Translate is also in there, allowing you to translate words by pointing at them.
It’s not quite the feeling of pen to paper, but on a larger screen, the S Pen functions better. Much like I did with the Note7 (when I had it), I liked experimenting with art apps where I could doodle or draw on a blank white canvas. There are even digital colouring books available on Google Play.
This is probably the biggest difference I noticed from the Tab S2. The batteries in both tablets aren’t that different in size, yet the optimization clearly is. Part of it has to do with the Snapdragon processor, while the other parts are probably a combination of various factors. The point is that the Tab S3 will last longer, easily over seven hours of streaming video. Even longer if the video is already saved or stored on it.
If you love watching video on a vivid screen, the Tab S3 has the goods. How efficient it may be as a productivity tool really depends on the mileage you get out of the S Pen. Samsung has also made a keyboard (separately sold) to work with the tablet, but I wasn’t able to test it out, so can’t say how that might benefit its versatility.
Improved battery life helps keep the content rolling longer, and is a big reason why the Tab S3 is appealing in the first place. It’s a high-end Android tablet without too many competitors running the same operating system, and it comes with a stylus that does work well. If you like that combination, you won’t be disappointed.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 is available now.