Show me an Android tablet and I’ll show you a device that has yet to live up to its full potential. Google’s Play Store lacks a wide selection of apps that support a tablet’s larger display, with most apps only expanding the phone interface, in turn looking horrible on the smaller screen.
In addition to the lack of quality apps, Android tablets have lacked key accessories such as a keyboard.
For the most part, Android tablets have been relegated to a device used to catch up on Netflix or to entertain kids with games.
Samsung’s $599 Galaxy Tab S3 is the Korean’s company latest attempt to change that narrative. Well, as much as it can. After all, the company can’t force third-party developers to build apps for a tablet. But Samsung has built a stylus and keyboard for the Tab S3, both of which go a long way in making it useful.
After using the Tab S3 for just over a week, it’s clear Samsung set the standard for Android tablets. This Tab S3 is the best Android-based tablet I’ve used, for work and play.
In short: Business users who can’t or simply refuse to use Apple products will find the Tab S3 a capable alternative to the iPad Pro.
Specifications of the Galaxy Tab S3:
Dimensions: 237.3 x 169.0 x 6.0mm
Display: 9.7-inch Super AMOLED (2048×1536) w/HDR playback support
Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 820
Storage: 32 GB with microSD support up to 256GB
Camera: 13-megapixel and 5-megapixel front-facing
Video: 4K UDH at 30fps
Ports: USB Type-C
Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.2, LTE optional, GPS
Battery: 6,000mAh w/Fast Charging
Operating System: Android 7.0 Nougat
Samsung Services: Samsung S-Pen, Samsung Air Command, Samsung Flow, Samsung Smart Switch
A familiar design
The first time I picked up the Tab S3 the fit and finish of an iPad came to mind, and that observation still holds (save for the Tab S3’s glass back).
Just below the 9.7-inch display is a home button that doubles as a fingerprint reader. The button is flanked by a multitasking button on the left and a back button on the right.
On the right side of the tablet is where you find the microSD slot, volume up and down buttons, and the power button. On the left side of the frame is where you find the Pogo connector for interfacing with accessories such as a keyboard.
A USB-C port and 3.5mm headphone jack are along the bottom of the frame.
All about that S Pen
Every Tab S3 comes with a super-sized S Pen stylus for jotting notes or sketching ideas on the tablet’s display. Unlike the Apple Pencil, the S Pen lacks a battery or any sort of Bluetooth pairing process.
Much like the S Pen’s functionality on the Galaxy Note smartphone line, you hold the S Pen above the display and the tablet automatically recognizes it is present.
With the press of a button on the side of the S Pen you can activate Air Commands. A series of round dots are shown, giving you the option to do things such as take a screenshot or create a note.
For example, using an Air Command you can take a screenshot then annotate it with the S Pen before sharing it as a means of providing feedback to a colleague.
Unlike the Note lineup, the S Pen on the Tab S3 is the size of a normal pen.
As someone who owns an iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil, I was skeptical about how often I would use the S Pen. I hardly ever use the Apple Pencil, save for an occasional stick figure doodle in the Notes app out of sheer boredom.
However, the Tab S3’s screen-off memo feature made the S Pen a valuable tool. The feature works just as its name implies, you can jot down some notes without having to wake and unlock the tablet. Your note is then saved to Samsung’s Notes app.
I used this feature repeatedly to quickly write down an idea or create a list without much effort.
A physical keyboard for the Tab S3 is an optional accessory that will set you back $129. And really, it’s something you need to buy in order to crank out emails or edit Word docs on the tablet.
Samsung’s virtual keyboard is good, but there’s a lot to be said about a physical keyboard attached to a device that translates into productivity.
That said, the Samsung Keyboard Case is cramped, and its small keys are something I’m still trying to adjust to.
Just like Apple’s Keyboard Cover, Samsung has done away with any sort of Bluetooth connection and battery. Instead, the keyboard is powered by a Pogo connector that pulls double-duty as a means for the keyboard to communicate with the tablet.
Despite struggling to adjust to its size, I have used the Tab S3 quite frequently to reply to emails and type several documents.
While it’s not likely to be a huge selling point for the keyboard case, but Samsung includes an optional loop with each keyboard to hold the S Pen when not in use.
Personally, I prefer the shallow keys and roomier feel of Apple’s Smart Keyboard to that of Samsung’s Keyboard Case.
Performance and battery life
Adding an S Pen and keyboard to the Tab S3 puts it firmly in the class of a productivity device, instead of something designed solely for watching movies.
Speaking of watching movies, the Tab S3’s display is stunning. It is HDR-ready for whenever streaming apps such as Amazon or Netflix begin offering the service.
The overall performance of the Tab S3 with its year old Snapdragon 820 processor was with few hiccups during my time testing.
The most prominent and noticeable slowdown of the device occurred nearly every time I used the keyboard shortcut of Alt-Tab to quickly switch between apps. Either the initial view of open apps would take a few seconds to show up, or quickly cycling through apps would cause the tablet to freeze then suddenly catch up to my commands.
The same lag isn’t present when using the tablet’s multitasking button.
Using Android Nougat’s split screen feature to run two apps at the same time ran without issue. In fact, Android’s overall multitasking implementation on a tablet with split screen apps and the mechanism for selecting a second app is something Apple should take into consideration for iOS 11.
Samsung estimates 12 hours of use on a single charge, and I found that to be true. Standby time was also impressive, with the tablet’s battery only dipping slightly after a couple of days sitting in my bag.
Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S3 is a worthy contender to the iPad Pro for Android fans. It is reliable, offers similar battery life, and the addition of the S Pen and additional features can’t be overlooked.
It’s unfortunate Android tablets are still plagued with a lack of high-quality apps. Although, Microsoft’s Office suite of apps (that come preinstalled on the Tab S3), Slack, and Outlook fulfill many of the expectations and requirements of an enterprise user.
Some have argued the Tab S3 is overpriced at $599, considering the keyboard isn’t included.
At the starting price of $599, you have to consider the inclusion of the S Pen — something Apple charges $99 for for the same size iPad Pro that starts at the same $599 — and the ability to expand storage through a microSD card items that justify the price.
Is it expensive for an Android tablet? You bet. But this isn’t just another Android tablet.