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Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 review: The iPad Pro alternative worth considering

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 offers a fun and interesting experience with the S Pen. But does the performance justify its price tag?

samsung galaxy tab s3 review lead
3.5 5
BGR Rating :
3.5/5

The tablet market has seen a slump over the past few years, with shipments dropping over 20 percent or more. Companies that were once aggressively launching tablets are all focusing on entry-level and affordable smartphones. Apple has been the only prominent manufacturer that continues to make significant gains with its tablet range, although Samsung continues to offer competition to the iPad with its tablets. Despite fading interest among consumers, Samsung recently launched its Galaxy Tab S3 in India, and it will take on the Apple iPad Pro 2 (10.5-inch).

Successor to the Galaxy Tab S2, the Galaxy Tab S3 brings a number of changes in terms of design, under-the-hood upgrades and more. Placed in the premium segment, the Galaxy Tab S3 is priced at Rs 47,990. It comes bundled with the S-Pen, and if you’re looking to improve your productivity, you can purchase the optional keyboard accessory for Rs 8,499. If we consider the Galaxy Tab S3 pricing along with the keyboard accessory, it costs as much, or perhaps slightly more than a mainstream laptop. But do the performance and capabilities justify the price tag? Let’s find out.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 – Design

Unlike the Galaxy Tab S2 that featured a plastic back, the Galaxy Tab S3 sees a big step up in the design department. Keeping in sync with the latest design trends, the Galaxy Tab S3 is sleek, slim and features a metal frame with a glass back. When I first held the tab, I was worried that the glass back may be a bit slippery, but fortunately, it offers good grip when holding in one hand. The only issue, which is common with glass designs, is that it attracts a lot of fingerprints and you may find yourself cleaning them quite often.

samsung galaxy tab s3 review back

Up front, you have the 9.7-inch display with the front facing 5-megapixel camera (aperture f/2.2) placed above it. The tablet has thick bezels on the sides, but it looks like Samsung added them to ensure that you get a proper grip when holding it, without accidentally interfering with the touch screen.

Below the display, you have the physical home button flanked by the back and task switcher Android navigation buttons. The home button also comes embedded with a fingerprint sensor, which works pretty well in unlocking the tablet. Even when the screen is locked, simply resting your finger on the home button unlocks the tab quickly. However, there were times when it did not work immediately, and needed a slight repositioning of the finger to get it going.

samsung galaxy tab s3 review ports

In terms of buttons and ports placement, the right side has the power/sleep button and the volume rocker, followed by the hybrid SIM card tray – allowing you to use two nanoSIM cards or one nanoSIM card and one microSD card. On the left side, you have the pin connector port to add the keyboard accessory. The USB Type-C port and 3.5mm audio jack are both placed at the bottom flanked by stereo speakers. The top also has two speakers, making a total of four speakers for a better audio experience.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 – HDR display and multimedia

The Galaxy Tab S3 flaunts a 9.7-inch display running at a resolution of 1536×2048 pixels, with pixel density of 264ppi and aspect ratio of 4:3. The display is crisp, bright and offers good color reproduction. There are four display modes to choose from – Adaptive Display which switches color based on the content that is displayed on-screen, AMOLED cinema which adjusts the color balance for good cinema viewing experience.

There is AMOLED photo mode which makes color temperature warmer to make your photos pop out. The last is basic mode where the color settings are lowered down to standard sRGB mode, to offer more natural looking feel. This year’s flagship smartphones such as the Galaxy S8, Galaxy S8+ and LG G6 included High Dynamic Range (HDR) video support for Netflix and Amazon Prime Video services. The Galaxy Tab S3 has also gained HDR video support.

I tested the HDR video by using some sample clips from Samsung, and by watching Amazon Prime Video content – The Man in High Castle and The Grand Tour. The screen does a brilliant job in offering vivid colors to look more lifelike. Even a glance for 10 seconds, and you can clearly tell about the difference in quality between a standard clip, and HDR clip.

samsung galaxy tab s3 review multimedia

The colors look natural, skin tones are accurate, and you can even see how the HDR display treats the sunlight falling on the face, and the shadow on the other side. The only problem I had was that the videos I ran were encoded in 16:9 aspect ratio, whereas the tablet has an aspect ratio of 4:3. Due to this, you get  black bars at the top and bottom. In other words, despite having plenty of screen real estate, you’ll need to ensure that the videos are in 4:3 aspect ratio to enjoy the viewing experience.

The quad-speaker system, tuned by AKG, are powerful enough to let you enjoy multimedia experience. Depending on the orientation, portrait or landscape, the audio is adjusted accordingly. However, I felt that the output is little low when watching TV shows or movies, and you will have to pay close attention to understand every word that is spoken. But, if you’re in a room that is quiet and has less ambient noise, you’re not likely to face issues in the audio. Regardless, you’ll be better off with a pair of headphones.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 – Software

On the software front, the Galaxy Tab S3 runs on Android 7.0 Nougat OS with a layer of Samsung’s TouchWiz UX running on top. Samsung has been prompt in offering monthly security updates, with the Galaxy Tab S3 running on the June security patch. The interface is similar to what we have already seen on Samsung smartphones such as the Galaxy S7, Galaxy S8 and others.

Samsung has bundled a lot of pre-installed apps with the Galaxy Tab S3. These include Samsung’s internet browser, Kids Mode, Galaxy Apps, which is the company’s own app store, Samsung Flow which offers seamless connectivity between your laptop and Galaxy Tab S3. There is also a secure folder, which acts like a second space where you can move your sensitive content to keep away from prying eyes. This could include your photos, videos, apps and more.

samsung galaxy tab s3 review breifing

The Galaxy Tab S3 also comes pre-installed with Microsoft apps such as OneDrive, PowerPoint, OneNote and Skype, but sadly, you can’t uninstall them. Samsung has also bundled Google apps such as Chrome, Maps, YouTube, Google Drive, Play Music, Play Movies and TV, Photos and Duo app. Although you can disable them, the option to uninstall is missing.

Samsung has also added the Flipboard–powered Briefing app, which you can access by sliding from left to right on the homepage. It is a hub to all your news from different sources. You can read about tech, business, science, entertainment, sports, travel and many other topics.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 – S Pen

One of the key highlights of the Galaxy Tab S3 is its S Pen stylus, which comes bundled with the tablet. It retains most of the features as seen on the Galaxy Note-series smartphones. However, unlike the smartphones, and previous Galaxy Note-tablet, the Tab S3 doesn’t have any dedicated slot for the S Pen. Which also means that you are more likely to forget or misplace it.

To begin with, the S Pen stylus now comes with an improved design and has a rubberized finish to make it comfortable to write or scribble. It also features 4,096 level of sensitivity, which Samsung says comes close to replicating an experience of writing on a paper using a pen.

samsung galaxy tab s3 review air commands

The S Pen software also includes Air Command where you get shortcuts to create a note, view all notes, screen write – which takes a screenshot of the page and lets you doodle to highlight important points. You also have S-Translate, which is powered by Google Translate. You simply need to choose the source and translation language – and pointing the S-Pen cursor on any word will translate and show on the screen. You can also add a shortcut to frequently used apps on Air Command.

Samsung has included apps such as Pen.Up, which is a community of artists where you can not only share your creations but also comment on what others post, like and repost. There is Samsung Notes app which lets you take quick notes – either by using the S Pen or by typing from the keyboard. You can also add photos to the notes for a richer appeal.

samsung galaxy tab s3 review doodling

I must say, the S Pen is really impressive. Since graduating from college, there have only been a handful of times when I held a book and pen to write something. In fact, the only time I actually use the pen is when I have to sign checks or documents on rare occasions. It was good using the S Pen to actually write something. While writing on the Tab S3 using the S Pen, it felt very close to holding a pen and writing on a book. The experience was that flawless.

I looked for some apps on the Google Play Store and downloaded Adobe Sketch and Autodesk SketchBook. I’m not a person with good drawing skills, but my sister is, and when I asked her to draw something, she wasn’t very sure. A few minutes of usage, and she was completely amazed by the S Pen capabilities. Below is something she managed to draw without any issues.

Galaxy Tab S3 - Drawing Shivangi

My colleague also wanted to give it a try and he did manage to sketch Yoda from Star Wars. It did take him some time to gauge how sensitive the S Pen and the display is, but after that, sketching wasn’t a difficult task anymore.

Galaxy Tab S3 Drawing Deepak

We also recently reviewed the Apple iPad Pro 2 (10.5-inch), and were left impressed with its capabilities. I asked our in-house designer to try out both tablets to sketch something and tell me about the experience. He preferred the experience on the iPad, but didn’t have anything negative to say about the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3. ALSO READ: Apple iPad Pro 2 review: It’s what you make of it

In fact, the display on the iPad Pro 2 is pressure sensitive one, and hard pressing the Apple Pencil to draw thicker lines. The same pressure sensitivity is missing from the Galaxy Tab S3. But that really doesn’t seem like an issue as both are targeted at different segments. The iPad Pro 2 is built keeping the designers in mind, whereas the Galaxy Tab S3 seems mainly for jotting down notes.

samsung galaxy tab s3 review always on

Lastly, the Galaxy Tab S3 also features an always-on screen for the S Pen. You simply need to touch the nib on the screen while pressing the button on the S Pen to activate the always-on mode. It lets you take down quick notes and save them, without having to unlock the tablet. 

Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 – Performance

The Galaxy Tab S3 is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 quad-core SoC paired with 4GB of RAM. Now, the chipset is not the latest, but it has been Qualcomm’s top-of-the-line offering from the last year, and performance is no issue at all.

Be it streaming movies over Netflix, Amazon Prime Video or YouTube, or surfing the internet with multiple tabs open, or playing games, it can handle things with ease. During my time with the Tab S3, I never came across any instance where the tablet showed any signs of slowing down, or lag.

samsung galaxy tab s3 review camera

The Galaxy Tab S3 also features a 13-megapixel rear camera of aperture f/1.9, and it is capable of capturing decent photos and videos. The front-facing 5-megapixel camera also does a fair job, and there is nothing to complain about. Yes, we don’t take the tablet out of the pocket to take a photo or selfie, but the purpose of having cameras here is mainly for video calling over Skype, Google Hangouts, and other such services.

And to keep things running, the Galaxy Tab S3 is armed with a 6,000mAh battery, which Samsung claims to offer a battery life of up to 12 hours. It also supports fast charging, but it takes approximately three hours to completely charge the battery. With Wi-Fi and 4G always on, I could easily manage to get a battery life of around two full days. My daily usage included some web surfing for 30 minutes, binge watching at least three TV episodes (50 minutes each), and some doodling. 

Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 is a fun tablet to play around with. It features an impressive front and back glass design with metal frame, and is loaded with powerful hardware. It is also the first tablet to feature HDR video support for a more life-like viewing experience. And the tablet also manages to offer good performance along with a good battery life.

When it comes to pricing, it costs as much as a mainstream laptop. Now, with the keyboard accessory included, many people think a tablet can replace the laptop entirely. But, in reality, it is not a laptop replacement at all, although it does let you easily do a few laptop-like functions such as typing your emails, letters and more. If you consider the cost of Apple iPad Pro 2 (Wi-Fi + Cellular) along with Apple Pencil, it roughly goes to around Rs 70,000. The Galaxy Tab S3 with S Pen costs much less at Rs 47,990.

Overall, with hardly any good Android tablets out there, the Galaxy Tab S3 is among the best premium Android tablets you can buy today. However, there are two places where it could have done even better – tablet-optimized apps and more functional S Pen support. And for those who can spend some more, and are looking for more tablet-friendly apps, the iPad Pro 2 could be a better choice.