“The Galaxy Tab S4 is Samsung’s answer to the iPad Pro. Find out how it fares in our review”
Let’s address the elephant in the room from the word go – do we really need a tablet in 2018? With phone screens getting bigger and laptops becoming thin and compact, not everyone wants another device in their travel bag or another charger to plug in at night. That being said, there is a certain comfort that a tablet brings when watching movies or browsing the web, which can’t be matched yet by either smartphones (for the lack of even bigger screens) or laptops (still cumbersome compared to tablets). Samsung’s new premium tablet, the Galaxy Tab S4 (first impressions), aims to bring this comfort, along with some tools that can suit the needs of business professionals as well. Does it successfully blend the two worlds? Read our review to figure out for yourself.
Design and display
Taking inspiration from other modern devices, the Galaxy Tab S4 comes with a glass finish at the back. There is a metal frame in between this glass sandwich design. Without a doubt, Samsung’s tablet looks premium and the build quality is top-notch too. But (and a big one at that), as you might have guessed already, we have a gigantic fingerprint magnet here. We have stressed on this point with phones too, but on a device with as large footprint as the Galaxy Tab S4, this can become an annoying issue. As this problem can be resolved entirely with a skin, we will leave it to your own preference. Having said that, the black review unit we received looks and feels brilliant in hand. The tablet is also available in a grey colour option.
Thanks to a minimalistic design language, there are not many inscriptions at the back. There is customary company branding in the middle and at the bottom, and a mention of AKG tuned speakers as well. We also have a single camera assisted by an LED flash, but we’ll tell you more about that later in the review.
If you hold the Galaxy Tab S4 in portrait mode, you’ll find the power button and the volume rocker on the top-right and pogo pins on the left. There is a USB Type-C charging port at the bottom along with a 3.5mm audio jack. The quad speakers can be found on the top and the bottom edges. The loudspeaker quality is surprisingly good for a tablet and the maximum volume levels can even give tough competition to some laptops. Also, the support for Dolby Atmos ensures that the sound experience is top-notch.
Now that you know about the impressive speaker quality, you would be itching to know if Galaxy Tab S4 is great for watching movies. To give a fair opinion on this front, we’ll first have to discuss the display quality. Let’s dive right in. The Tab S4 comes with one of the best displays on a portable device, period. The 10.5-inch Super AMOLED panel from Samsung comes with a resolution of 2,560 x 1,600 pixels and the content comes across as crisp and vibrant. Although Samsung already has a reputation for producing the best displays in the industry, the company seems to have outdone itself here. As the brand has reduced the size of the bezels around the display, the Galaxy Tab S4 is great to watch any kind of multimedia content. Be it peak brightness levels or support for the HDR10 format, the tablet checks all the right boxes.
We are stopping just short of calling this the best tablet display on the market as iPad Pro’s ProMotion display offers almost similar quality with a 120Hz refresh rate. If we don’t bring the refresh rate into the picture, the displays on both these tablets would probably on par with each other. Overall, this means that binging Netflix or watching random unrelated videos on YouTube is a fun experience with Samsung’s flagship tablet.
Get a better glance at the design with the gallery embedded below:
Keyboard cover and S Pen
As Samsung has marketed the Galaxy Tab S4 as a device for both casual and professional consumers, we decided to give it a go with the company’s proprietary keyboard accessory, which is sold separately and connects via the aforementioned pogo pins. First things first, as a case, the keyboard accessory works brilliantly. The tablet is well protected and you can easily carry it inside a bag without worrying about getting scratches on the screen. The quality and the build material of the case screams premium, and the device fits hand in glove.
Jumping to the more practical side, you can only use the tablet in one orientation, and there is no scope for adjustment either. The keyboard itself is very convenient to use and despite the shortage of real estate, the keys are spread out nicely. The key travel feels very pleasing and typing for long hours is a non-issue. In fact, the majority of this review was written on the Galaxy Tab S4.
If you are using the keyboard case as an attachment, you should definitely try Samsung’s new DeX mode for the Galaxy Tab S4. In the case of smartphones, the DeX mode lets you connect the device to a monitor and use it as the processing unit. But for a tablet, as we already have a decently large display in hand, the brand has re-envisioned the feature and presented it as a separate mode.
If you have used DeX earlier, you will feel right at home. For those of you who have never tried it, this is Samsung’s attempt at making Android more suitable for professional needs, or in other words, PC-like. You get the option to switch to DeX mode right from the notification shade. The large icons from the tablet mode, which are convenient for touchscreen use, are reduced in size and different apps open in separate windows, which can be switched easily between through keyboard shortcuts (Alt + Tab). In order to close a recently opened app, you will have to press the Alt + Backspace keys. Once you get used to certain key combinations, navigating through the DeX mode with just the keyboard becomes intuitive, and you will be able to comfortably use the tablet as a work device.
On the downside, there are certain shortcuts that take some time to get used to. For example, you will have to press Alt + Tab to bring up the recent tabs, and then press the backspace key to close the selected tab. Despite decent spacing between the keys, if you are switching from a laptop, the keyboard might feel cramped.
Now let’s move on to the S Pen. Unlike the Apple Pencil, which costs around Rs 7,600, you won’t have to spend a dime for the S Pen as it comes bundled with the Galaxy Tab S4. The new stylus from Samsung comes with a 0.7mm tip and 4,096 pressure sensitivity levels. In hand, the 138mm tall and 9.2mm thick S Pen feels like a regular pen. With the improved pressure sensitivity levels, drawing or writing something with the S Pen feels great. The accuracy has been improved to a point where digital signatures turn out almost like regular signatures. Overall, if you have a beautiful canvas, you need a proper tool to make the most of it, and Samsung has provided it free-of-cost.
Traditionally speaking, cameras on tablets are primarily used for video-calling. However, if you are concerned about optics on the Galaxy Tab S4, the tablet comes with a 13MP primary sensor at the back, assisted by an LED flash, and an 8MP camera up-front for selfies and video-calling. We found the quality of both these cameras to be good but with a fair amount of noise, especially in pictures taken at night. The tablet is capable of recording videos in up to 4K resolution at 30fps.
The front camera is decent for video-calling but not ideal. We found that the pictures taken from the front camera were lacking in detail. Again, tablets are usually not your go-to devices for taking pictures, but in the off case that you may need it, Galaxy Tab S4 should do the job in most cases. Have a glance at the pictures taken from the tablet to be your own judge.
Software and performance
As you might have gathered by now, there is a lot to like about the Galaxy Tab S4. Unfortunately, the software on the tablet proves to be its Achilles heel. Samsung’s Experience UI 9.5 based on Android 8.1 Oreo, despite being less cluttered than previous years, poses some problems that you just don’t expect from a premium device. For example, before we received a software update on our unit, whenever we swiped right from the home screen to access Bixby, we received a message saying “Bixby Home has stopped.” Post an update, the app crashes became rare, but due to the initial experience, we remain slightly sceptical.
You get the same old features from Samsung that you see on the brand’s phones across price ranges. This means, there is Game Center, Secure Folder, and Galaxy Apps along with pre-installed Google Apps. You also get Kids Mode, which allows parents to let their children use the tablet with parental controls.
There is a Smart View option in the notification shade, which allows you to mirror your tablet’s screen on a nearby device, or via Chromecast. Alternatively, you can also have another device’s content displayed on your tablet. Currently, the tablet supports select devices including Samsung TVs and Blu-ray players. Another notable addition comes in the form of the Daily Board, which presents a slideshow of your photos, the weather, calendar, and more when the tablet is charging.
At the tablet’s core, there is a Snapdragon 835 chipset, coupled with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage (expandable up to 400GB via a microSD card). Last year’s flagship processor is clearly not ideal from a long-term perspective but in regular use, we did not face any issues with the processing power of the portable. The Tab S4 managed to handle even the more demanding games like PUBG on highest graphics settings with ease. When the software and the hardware on the tablet works in sync, it produces a very pleasant and convenient experience. However, the occasional issues and app crashes, which were far more noticeable before the software update than after, leave a lot to be desired.
We have come to expect good battery life from tablets over the years, and thankfully, the Galaxy Tab S4 is no exception. The massive 7,300mAh cell on the Samsung slate provides juice for a good day and a half of relatively extensive usage. We usually had to charge the tablet once in two days, which is a decent backup for any device.
Samsung has claimed that the tablet is capable of offering video playback of up to 16 hours, which matches up with our experience as well. If you are going on a flight or a long road trip, just download offline content on to the Galaxy Tab S4, and you should be sorted for the journey. This is what we expect from a tablet anyway, so no disappointments here.
Truth be told, priced at Rs 57,900, the Galaxy Tab S4 will be competing against last year’s iPad Pro 10.5-inch model, as this year’s models will blow Samsung’s offering out of the water. Apple’s previous-gen iPad Pro offers superior hardware and a better user experience. Having said that, the Tab S4’s new DeX mode, brilliant display, good battery life and a free-of-cost bundled S Pen make for a compelling product. All in all, the Galaxy Tab S4 gets a big thumbs up from us, barring its price tag, which seems overpriced for what it brings to the table.
Editor’s rating: 3.5 / 5
- Brilliant 10.5-inch SAMOLED display
- Bundled free S Pen
- Good battery backup
- A new approach to DeX mode
- USB type-C charging port
- Features last year’s flagship processor
- Software proves to be a letdown at times
Photos by Pratik Vyas