Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 review: This great iPad Pro competitor is worth $600

Samsung Galaxy Tab S3


Samsung has introduced the latest generation of its Galaxy Tab device, evolving it to now include the bells and whistles you’d get from its Galaxy smartphone lineup. The 9.7-inch Tab S3 is focused around productivity and entertainment, being akin to the Android version of the iPad Pro. But with a price tag of nearly $600, is this flagship tablet really worth it?

Compared to its predecessor, the Galaxy Tab S3 contains a better camera, improved processor, support for a detachable keyboard and S Pen stylus, and more. One way to view it is that the device is a tablet version of the Galaxy Note7, minus the exploding battery part. While the $600 price tag could catch people off guard, it’s still a premium device that doesn’t disappoint — if you’re looking for an Android version of the iPad Pro, the Galaxy Tab S3 is worth looking at.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S3

Mostly a larger version of the Note7

If you were one of the people who got to use the Note7 before its recall, then the Tab S3 will seem similar in many ways. It’s a productivity device, similar to the 2017 Samsung Chromebook Pixel, so if you’re interested in taking care of emails, writing documents, or communicating with the home office while on the go, then the Tab S3 is a good piece of technology to have.

At first glance, you’d think that the differences between the Tab S2 and S3 are internal in nature, but it’s more than that. The S3 is only available in one size, comes with a glass backing and metal frame design instead of a plastic feel, and is heavier at 15.1 ounces for Wi-Fi and 15.3 ounces for LTE versions of the device. It’s also thicker, measuring at 6mm. The S3 also features a larger battery at 6,000 mAh with fast charging versus 5,870 mAh in the S2.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S3

The new tablet features a super AMOLED display with 2048×1536 resolution which really makes the colors and pixels in images and videos pop on the screen. While the quality is exceptional, I often found myself needing to wipe down the screen since it was prone to a lot of fingerprints and smudges. As for performance, Samsung equipped the S3 with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 chipset which is the same processor in the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge phones.

With 32GB of storage and an expandable microSD port of up to 256GB, the Tab S3 has sufficient storage necessary to last through any trip or meeting. And if that’s not enough, you can always store files in the cloud. The device has 4GB of RAM which is suitable for most activities, be it web browsing, gaming, designing, and more. By no means is this tablet going to contain the power needed to replace a desktop computer.

While it comes installed with Android 7.0 Nougat, the Tab S3 also comes with a suite of Microsoft Office apps pre-installed, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, OneDrive, and Skype.

The rear-facing camera on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3.

Above: The rear-facing camera on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3.

Image Credit: Ken Yeung/VentureBeat

The camera has also been upgraded with a 13 megapixel lens on the rear and 5 megapixel one on the front. Compared to the Tab S2, the new tablet provides higher quality images and video in the front, so having video conference calls should be sharper than before.

Samsung has made efforts to make the tablet not only useful for productivity, but also for entertainment. The company boasts that the Tab S3 comes with quad speakers that have been tuned by AKG by Harman. The audio has been calibrated in a way to adjust the sound based on how you’re holding the tablet, either portrait, landscape, or flat. This sounds promising, but, to me, it didn’t seem to be that immersive of an experience. If you’re holding the tablet in portrait mode, the four speakers are at the top and bottom. As I listened to my Spotify playlist, the audio was great, but there were times when you could sense there was a dead spot along the signs of the tablet. Even so, the audio quality was still pretty good.

Game launcher is supported on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3.

Above: Game launcher is supported on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3.

Image Credit: Screenshot

The Galaxy Tab S3 supports the Vulkan Games API and also the game launcher which first appeared in the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge devices. As soon as you download multiple games, they’ll be collected into a specific folder. During gameplay, you’ll be able to elect for power saving mode, disable alerts and notifications, take screenshots, and even record the action so you can share it later on Twitch, Facebook, or YouTube.

You won’t have to go into the games folder to activate the game launcher. It’s automatically enabled when you start playing any game. It’s a floating red button that expands into a larger menu when tapped.

Watching videos on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3.

Above: Watching videos on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3.

Image Credit: Ken Yeung/VentureBeat

And since you might be using the Tab S3 for work, you might want to store some files and apps securely away. That’s why the device comes with Secure Folders, a feature that was introduced with the Note7. Using the app, you can store files, images, documents, and even other apps into this tool that only you’ll be able to access. You could store the documents into the cloud, but there are some instances where you might not want to. This is the likely the first instance of Samsung extending this tool beyond the Note7.

What is missing from the Tab S3 is the iris recognition that provides added security. It does have a fingerprint sensor and a PIN code you can use. If iris scanning was included, it would cement the perception that the tablet is a super-sized version of the Note7.

Keyboard and S Pen

Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 in a pogo keyboard case and S Pen.

Above: Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 in a pogo keyboard case and S Pen.

Image Credit: Ken Yeung/VentureBeat

The Galaxy Tab S3 supports a Pogo keyboard and S Pen. Samsung doesn’t include these two accessories with purchase, but we received them to review. The keyboard (retail price of $129.99) was previously with the TabPro S device that launched in 2016, and felt comfortable to use, but took a bit to get used to due to the different key configurations than on a traditional QWERTY keyboard. It also functions as a decent case for your tablet, complete with a magnetic backing that sticks to the S3’s frame. An issue I’ve encountered is how dirty the exterior of the case becomes.

Pogo keyboard accessory for the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3.

Above: Pogo keyboard accessory for the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3.

Image Credit: Ken Yeung/VentureBeat

Another issue that arose when using the keyboard has less to do with the hardware and more with the apps. When attached to the tablet, you’re going to use apps in landscape mode. And while this isn’t a deal breaker, it highlights the fact that some need to work on the user experience when the screen isn’t in portrait mode 24/7.

The S Pen for the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3.

Above: The S Pen for the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3.

Image Credit: Ken Yeung/VentureBeat

The S Pen is bigger than the one that comes with the Note7 and Chromebook Pro, but has the same functionality. The tablet contains a sensor that detects the pen’s proximity and when it’s nearby, you can use it to either create or view notes, select parts or write on the screen, translate something, and more.

A downside of the S Pen is that there’s no place to store it when not in use, which means when you travel with it, there’s a possibility you could misplace it or outright lose it. It does come with a clip so you could attach it to other things, which is good, I suppose. Should you misplace your pen, Samsung does offer a replacement, but the company hasn’t revealed the pricing yet for it.

Using the S Pen on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3

Above: Using the S Pen on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3

Image Credit: Ken Yeung/VentureBeat

With a 0.7mm tip, the S Pen supports tilt functionality and palm rejection, meaning that the Tab S3 isn’t just for business people, but also artists and creative types. You won’t have to worry about smudging your work by resting your palms or fist on the screen while simultaneously using your pen.

Buy or pass?

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 is a useful tablet that is worth carrying around on the go. If you had its predecessor, the Tab S2, you might encounter some sticker shock when considering an upgrade — the S3 is $599.99 while the S2 was $400. However, when you think of the S3 as being a competitor to the Surface Book 4 and also the iPad Pro, the price is pretty comparable, and it’s an Android device.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S3

If your life lives in the cloud, you want to shed a laptop from your life, and love Android, then the Tab S3 will likely be a device of choice. Having the keyboard isn’t necessarily a must-have accessory, but the S Pen is perhaps the one thing you should get alongside the tablet.

There’s very little I found disappointing about this tablet since it’s something I think I’d buy if I wanted to get something with the performance and resources to watch videos, navigate the internet, process photos, use apps, play games, and answer emails. It won’t fully replace a laptop yet, but it’s worth looking at…well until I see the Samsung Galaxy Book.

Samsung is already accepting preorders and the Galaxy Tab S3 will be in stores on March 24.

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