There has been somewhat of a drought in terms of new Android tablets in the market of late though Samsung aims to correct that with their newly released Galaxy Tab S3 that has just hit stores in the last few days. Rather than plonking out something cut-rate, the Tab S3 instead approaches the design of their Tab S3 from a more premium perspective and they have it kitted out in a posh amalgam of glass and metal that is astonishingly slim at 6mm. It’s just a wee bit thicker and heavier than the older Tab S2 while incorporating the more premium glass and metal finish though it is alas, not water resistant like Samsung’s Galaxy S8 or their smartphones of more recent vintage.
Sheathing the entirety of the rear expanse of the tablet is a slab of glass with the tastefully monogrammed Samsung logo and a rear-mounted 13-MP camera with an F/1.9 aperture and an LED flash on the upper edge. The finish makes it look posh indeed though it’s something of a fingerprint magnet.
The sides are all finished in matte aluminium with the base of the tablet sporting a 3.5mm audio jack, a USB Type-C port and two of the four AKG by Hardon speakers integrated into the slate. The top of the Tab S3 hosts the remaining two speakers while the right side of the tablet comes with a power button, a volume rocker and a combo SIM card slot that has a SIM card slot for data and a microSD card slot to augment the onboard memory. The left side of the Tab S3 is plain save for a set of connector pins for their Pogo keyboard accessory is, alas, sold separately in Malaysia.
Up front, the Tab S3 adheres to the design cues that Samsung is known for including their characteristic oblong-shaped home button that doubles as a fingerprint reader flanked by a back and menu button along with a clean design ensconcing the 9.7-inch Super AMOLED display. Up top is a 5-MP selfie camera for the odd Skype call or two.
Overall, the Tab S3 ticks all the right points to make it look and feel like a premium tablet and it also has a price tag to match at a princely RM2,999, pitting it squarely against the Apple iPad Pro which has a similar screen size though the Tab S3 still throws in a free S Pen stylus in its price tag.
Specifications and Performance
As far as tablets go, the Galaxy Tab S3’s ensemble of hardware marks itself a respectable Android contender that matches up to the best of them in the ring. The 9.7-inch Super AMOLED display on the Tab S 3 has 2,048 x 1,536 resolution with 264ppi and a 4:3 aspect ratio. Where it one-ups its rivals is that it also supports High Dynamic Range (HDR) content, which makes for an expanded brightness range, allowing for better viewing of darker movie scenes without making it a shadow-laden mess and rendering it somewhat future proof though there’s a dearth of locally available HDR content at the moment.
In terms of hardware, the Tab S3 comes with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 quadcore processor that pairs up a 2.15GHz dual-core Kryo chip with a dual 1.6GHz Kryo chip, 4GB RAM and 32GB of expandable storage up to 256GB. The slate also has several subtle but welcome extras including Cat 6 LTE support, dual-band Wi-Fi with 2×2 MIMO and, for the entertainment oriented, a quartet of AKG speakers tuned by Harman.
Running on the Tab S3 is Android Nougat 7.0 with their Grace user interface augmented with some of the Air Command functionality from the Note 7 in the form of additional interactivity and menus that work with the S Pen. Clicking the S Pen when tapping the screen brings up a shortcut that allows for immediate access to stylus specific apps and function shortcuts including their Screen Write mode that lets you doodle stuff, Translate where you can highlight a swath of text for translation, Smart Select where you can snip off images, text and content for use elsewhere and the option to doodle your own notes too.
The provision of a free S Pen stylus with the Tab S3 offers options for artists, doodlers a means to use the Tab S3 as an artistic platform of sorts and otherwise more casual users alternatives to snip content or get about the Tab S3. The S Pen stylus itself is a slim and refined affair with a small 0.7mm nib and 4,096 levels of sensitivity, which means you can use it in quite the same fashion as a real pen. Press down hard when writing on the display and you get a similar response from the S Pen with a deeper, more intense scrawl onscreen. Unfortunately, there’s no stylus well on the Tab S3 nor is there any means of attaching the S Pen to it so you’ll need to be careful when toting it around lest you misplace it.
Of particular value on the Tab S3 is its ability to pop up two windows so you can work on two separate things simultaneously like, for example, a document in Google Docs and the other window on Chrome or Youtube. It’s not limited to onboard apps either and most apps in the Google Play store can work with it which vastly expands its functionality though it’s still quite aways short of a full-on desktop environment like what you’d get with the S8 and a Dex dock or, for the matter, a full on Windows laptop. Swapping between apps and windows is still a bit clunky but it’s not a deal breaker.
In use, the Tab S3 performs well as a media consumption device on it makes it an able entertainer with the crisp display and pleasantly loud and detailed speakers doing a bang-up job that’s a good deal better than anything seen mounted on a slate of late. The speakers are of note as they will sonically reorient themselves to how the tablet is being used be it landscape or portrait style.
The large amount of screen real estate means that you’re still left with a good chunk of viewable space even after you invoke the virtual keyboard and even dual window mode though you’ll derive best results if you opt for the Pogo keyboard accessory which enables you to use and view the entirety of the 9.7-inch display. The keyboard itself doesn’t come cheap though at RM499. For productivity, the Tab S3 is an immensely capable offering and this review was hammered out on the Tab S3 on the go sans the Pogo keyboard which was not available for testing at the time of review.
If typing out reams of text is not your thing, their official Book Cover casing is a viable alternative. The Book Cover neatly latches on to the Tab S3 via magnets and deploys at a 45 and about 70-degree angle for viewing content and also to make it easier to type with or doodle.
The Tab S3’s large screen makes it a delight as an e-book reader and sized ideally for paging through e-magazines. Website browsing is a pleasure as well and the provision of the S Pen means you can handily crib bits of content off to your own notes for later review. On the gaming front, the Tab S3 is able to take on anything thrown at it including the latest Android games with deft aplomb. In benchmarks, it managed Epic Citadel on High Quality settings with 58.5FPS at 2,048 x 1,536 pixel resolution and Antutu scored an impressive 81,494 points. GeekBench offered up a single core score of 1,747 and a multi core score of 4014, marking it an immensely capable slate for intensive gaming.
Unfortunately, the weight and heft of it means that you’ll need to hold it two-handed most of the time. The slippery nature of the Tab S3 also means a two-fisted grip is also a necessary measure to keep your investment in one piece from terminal deceleration trauma. The Tab S3 itself is highly capable with an excellent stylus but you’ll still need to invest in at least one of the two optional accessories – the Pogo keyboard or the Book cover to allow it to achieve its full potential which adds to the cost somewhat.
Camera and Battery Life
The built-in rear camera has a user interface akin to their midrange phones with a simplified Manual mode that offers the basics to let you tweak ISO, white balance and exposure. You also get a HDR mode, a hyperlapse mode, a Food mode to take the obligatory food shots and a panorama mode too. Swipe right on the camera UI and you get access to a modicum of artistic filters to doll up your shots.
The rear camera is admittedly a bit of an awkward beast to use on account of the sheer size of the tablet but serves up otherwise decent shots with good colours and detail under well lit conditions and modest ones for social media use under low light. It’s not very practical for selfies as the sheer weight of the slate means that holding it one-handed isn’t something that you will be doing for long.
In terms of endurance, the Tab S3 has enough legs to offer a good dozen hours of video playback on its 6,000mAh battery and more than enough battery life for a good days worth or two of paperwork crunching with data on. We managed a good part of the Star Wars saga from episodes 1 to 6 in a marathon run and if you’re relying on it solely for paperwork crunching it ought to last quite a good deal longer. The provision of fast charging support on the phone means you can top up its massive battery in a decent time frame with a dry battery getting fully juiced in about three hours.
Price and Conclusion
The Galaxy Tab S3 is easily one of the best looking, most powerful Android tablets seen in ages. With a HDR screen, a responsive stylus and decent hardware along with sufficiently respectable endurance in the field, the Tab S3 is a sound choice if cash were no object. Unfortunately its price tag at RM2,999 paints it as an expensive proposition and one that goes head to head with the iPad Pro though it does throw in a free S Pen. Getting the most out of it requires the provision of the Book Cover (RM199) or the Pogo keyboard (RM499), both of which fetch a pretty penny. That quibble aside, if you want the best Android tablet that money can buy that’s also future-proofed, the Galaxy Tab S3 won’t disappoint you.
WHAT WE LIKED Comes bundled with an excellent stylus, crisp and responsive display with HDR, good battery life, excellent speakers
WHAT WE DIDN’T Not cheap, finish is a fingerprint magnet, no stylus well
WE SAY One of the most powerful Android slates that money can buy with a crisp HDR screen, a responsive stylus and decent hardware to boot though you’re chunking out quite a bit of cash for it and its accessories to achieve full functionality.
Price RM2,999 (tablet with S Pen)/ RM499 Pogo Keyboard / RM199 Book Cover
Display 9.7-inch Super AMOLED, 1,536 x 2,048 pixels, 264ppi
Processor Snapdragon 820 quad-core processor 2.15GHz
Memory 4GB RAM/32GB storage + microSD card
Camera 13-MP w/ F/1.9 & LED Flash / 5-MP w/ F/2.2
Size/Weight 237.3 x 169 x 6 mm/ 429g
* Review unit courtesy of Samsung Malaysia