Want a tablet? Buy an iPad. It’s been the common consensus for the past few years, as the Android alternatives simply haven’t been up to snuff.
The Galaxy Tab S3 might be about to change that, though.
Samsung has taken all the gadgety goodness we love about its phones, and transplanted it into a big-screen slab - without forgetting that people don’t just use tablets as media machines for Netflix binges.
A bundled S Pen stylus puts productivity in the picture, and an optional keyboard cover will let you get actual work done, without leaving your digits aching from tapping on a touchscreen all day.
With streamlined looks, the latest version of Android and a future-proof screen that’ll play HDR (when it arrives), and is all the tablet you need.
Or rather, it should be.
SAMSUNG GALAXY TAB S3 DESIGN: HEART OF GLASS
It’s taken a while, but Samsung has finally banished the plastic for a combination of metal and glass - exactly what you’d expect from a premium device.
The Tab S3 is a sleek slate, with a completely flat rear and reasonably skinny screen bezels up front. The black finish makes that glass back an absolute fingerprint magnet, but it still cuts a mean, almost futuristic look.
There’s no mistaking the Tab S3 for anything other than a Galaxy device, thanks to Samsung’s trademark physical home button sitting underneath the screen. It doubles as a fingerprint sensor, so you don’t have to mess about with onscreen passwords.
Rounded corners help keep it comfortable when you’re holding it in one hand, even if it doesn’t feel quite as natural to grip as an iPad Pro. Both are roughly the same size, but the gentler, curved edges on the Apple Tab are slightly easier on your mitts.
It is just an impressive 6mm thick, though, and light. At 429g, you’ll have no trouble using it one-handed. The home button is easy enough to reach without stretching your thumb to breaking point. With two sets of speaker grilles at both the top and bottom of the tab, you’ll struggle to block ‘em all at once, even if you’re holding it in landscape.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 Display: Hello HDR
With a 2048x1536 resolution stretched over a 9.7in panel, the Tab S3 goes head-to-head with the iPad on paper.
Here, though, you get gorgeous OLED tech instead of LCD - meaning the deepest blacks and impeccable contrast to really make your photos and videos jump off the screen. It makes all the difference when playing games, too, giving a boost in clarity that LCD still struggles to match.
Viewing angles are fantastic, and screen brightness is beyond impressive: you can boost it up to eye-searingly high levels, which mean you can still see everything clearly when you’re outside in bright sunlight.
There might be higher resolution tablets, but this certainly doesn’t feel lacking for pixels - images and videos look delightfully crisp.
Samsung has also managed to add support for high dynamic range video, so you’ll be able to stream Netflix and Amazon Prime video with even more lifelike colours and brightness. Once the apps support HDR streaming anyway.
The speakers have been tuned by audio experts AKG, and automatically adapt the four separate drivers to match how you’re holding the Tab. This is supposed to make stereo tracks sound as they should, whether you’re holding the tablet in portrait or landscape, but the separation can be a bit aggressive: some music tracks and catch-up TV sounded a little too wide.
It’s plenty loud enough, though. Crank up the volume to max and you’ll still be able to hear that YouTube video while you’re cooking in the kitchen, or boiling the kettle for a quick cuppa.
If multimedia is all you’re after, the Tab S3 might be overkill, but at least it delivers on sound and screen - the two areas that’ll matter the most to you.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 performance: POWER BY THE HOUR
There’s plenty of power on tap if you want to get your game on, too, with a quad-core Snapdragon 210 CPU and 4GB of RAM running Android 7.0 Nougat.
OK, so it’s not the slightly-more-energy-efficient 821 you’ll find in the Google Pixel or LG’s recently announced G6 smartphone, and it won’t match the raw speed of the upcoming Snapdragon 835, but it’s still more than enough for anything in the Google Play Store right now.
Even once I’d filled the 32GB of on-board storage with apps, videos, music and photos, it felt snappy and responsive flipping through Android home screens and loading apps.
Intensive 3D games like Asphalt 8 ran smoothly, and the fancy animations of Blizzard’s card battler Hearthstone were free from judder, too. The GPU also supports the Vulkan graphics API, which will help squeeze out those extra frames per second in games that support it.
Samsung has also added a few game-specific tweaks and tools - a first for a Galaxy Tablet. These let you silence all notifications while you’re busy playing, take screenshots, lock the hardware buttons (so you don’t accidentally head back to the home screen) and even record your screen while you play.
With a huge 6000mAh battery on-board, the Tab S3 should have enough go-juice to last you through a long-haul flight. It managed twelve hours of video playback, as long as brightness was kept at 50%, and it managed to feed my Hearthstone addiction for almost as long before needing a top-up.
With fast-charging through the USB-C port, you won’t be waiting around long for it to refuel, either. It’ll go from empty to full in under three hours.
SAMSUNG GALAXY TAB S3 CAMERA: BLURRED VISION
It might have some of the best smartphone snappers around, but Samsung just can’t seem to crack it when it comes to tablets. The 13MP, f/1.9 sensor on the back of the Tab S3 might have autofocus and an LED flash, but the photos it takes are merely OK.
It’s fast enough to lock onto your subjects, and exposure is decent enough if you manually turn on HDR to avoid blowing out bright lights, but there’s just nowhere near enough detail. Faces look smudged and there’s too much softness all round.
Let’s be honest, you’re going to look daft taking photos with any tablet, but when you’re spending big bucks on one, it should really give better results than this.
You’ll be fine for video chats using the 5MP front-facing camera, too, but not much more.