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Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 Review: Samsung’s best tablet yet

The tablet is market is in a weird place right now, they’re not flying off the shelves like they did back in 2011 but somehow, Apple still manages to sell millions of iPads each year.

Part of the reason, why people aren’t buying as many tablets any more, is because everyone already has at least one tablet in their household. So there is no need to buy a second one, or even to replace your first one, because tablets don’t have the same lifecycle as a smartphone, which is about 2-3 years.

The other reason is that phones are getting larger each year, phones that were once referred to as phablets are now the new normal. It was just a few years ago, where any phone with a 5-inch screen would be considered huge. Now we’re seeing phones like the Galaxy S8 & S8+ with 5.8 and 6.2-inch screens and even the iPhones have larger screen that are almost half the size of an iPad Mini’s screen.

But companies like Samsung and Apple are still trying push hard to get their tablets onto more people. They’re adding things like high-quality speakers and screens and in Samsung’s case are including their S-Pen to push people to use it more (and to also compete with the iPad Pro which does not include the Apple Pencil).

I remember getting the Nexus 7 back in 2012 and it was the best thing ever and back then, I was using the Galaxy Nexus as primary phone and that only had a 4.65-inch display but now I’m using a Google Pixel XL (which has a 5.5-inch screen) alongside my Nexus 6 which has a 5.96-inch screen and I don’t see the need for me to buy another tablet, especially since I replaced my original Nexus 7 with the newer Nexus 7 (2013) and that crapped out on me.

I’ve been using the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 and it’s easily become one of my favourite Android tablets in recent years, apart from a few minor annoyances.

Design & Hardware

The most prominent feature on the Galaxy Tab S3 is the display which is a 9.7-inch Super AMOLED QXGA screen with a resolution of 2049 x 1536. It’s a beautiful display to look at and videos especially look great on it. The display on the Tab S3 also has support for HDR video, so it’s basically futureproof in the display department.

The design of the tablet reflects some of Samsung’s new design language for their Galaxy S phones with an all-metal and glass body. On the front of the device, below the screen is the fingerprint sensor which for the most part, worked well but there was a few times when it would not recognize my finger.

One thing to point out is that the tablet was designed to be used in portrait mode and when looking at the device head-on, it looks like stretched out Galaxy S7, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

The left side of the device, is where you’ll find the connectors for the optional keyboard case. On the right side, you’ll find the power/lock button along with the volume rocker and the microSD card slot (which supports up to 256GB).

The bottom of the device is where you’ll find the headphone jack and the USB Type-C port (which supports Samsung’s fast charging) which is not centred like on other Samsung device.

The Tab S3 is the first Samsung tablet with quad-stereo speakers that were tuned by AKG by Harman. The speakers do sound great on the Tab S3, especially when watching videos.

Inside the Tab S3, it’s being powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor (the same that was used in the Galaxy S7 last year). I had no issues with performance on the Tab S3,  it could easily keep up, especially with having multiple apps open or even having two apps open at the same time. You’ll also find 4GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage plus a microSD card slot.

The tablet has a 6,000mAh battery and in my testing, the Tab S3 was able to last all-day on single charge. My typical day consisted of watching a few YouTube videos, some drawing and reading the news.

The Tab S3 also comes with a refined S-Pen which has a 0.7mm tip and increased pressure sensitivity. The S-Pen is probably my favourite feature of this device because I’m one of those people who like to draw and drawing digitally on a tablet like the Tab S3, makes it so much easier to share my drawings when I’m done.

My only gripe, is that I wish there was an easier way to carry the S-Pen with the Tab S3, there’s not slot for it to go into, like on the Galaxy Note lineup and there are magnets on the left side of the device but they’re not strong enough to hold the S-Pen.

I was also able to test out the keyboard case for the Tab S3 and while it was an easy way to keep the tablet protected and a place to keep the S-Pen, the actual keyboard was only average. The keys had good travel but it was very cramped and uncomfortable to type on. There are some keys that aren’t really necessary, like the Language button.

The Tab S3 keyboard cover also makes a great stand for the tablet, even if you don’t use the keyboard portion that often. The cover only had one angle to put that table at but I wish there was at least one more.

All of this comes at a cost, the Tab S3 retails for $799 CAD and is available in two colours, black and silver and each will come with S-Pen that matches the colour of the device (and FYI, only the back of the tablet is a different colour, the front is black). The keyboard case for the Tab S3 costs an additional $130 CAD. The Tab S3 can be purchased from Best Buy, Walmart, Costco and Staples.

Software

The Tab S3 is running Android 7.0 Nougat with Samsung’s TouchWiz. There are some material design-esque elements this latest version of TouchWiz but they’re hardly noticeable. This version of TouchWiz is somewhat toned down but to the point that it’s basically a Nexus or what HTC has done with their latest version of Sense on the HTC 10.

And since the Tab S3 comes with an S-Pen, there are some software tweaks like Air Command which can do things like create a note, smart select items on-screen or even write on the screen or just add your favourite shortcut.

The Tab S3 also comes with a few pre-installed Samsung apps like Samsung Note, Galaxy Apps, Samsung Flow and their own Email and Internet apps. The device also has a few Microsoft apps pre-installed like Word, Excel and OneDrive. I didn’t find myself using any of the pre-installed apps other than Samsung Notes to test out the capabilities of the S-Pen.

The Samsung Notes app can be a great starting app for drawing with the S-Pen but I would recommend using an app called MediaBang Paint, which is like an Android version of Photoshop and Illustrator. You have access to different tools like multiple brushes (some of which are behind a pay wall) and the ability to layer. The app does have a few ads but nothing too intrusive.

These are some of the drawings I created using the Galaxy Tab S3 and the MediaBang Paint app.

Since Samsung designed the tablet to be used in portrait, it can be difficult when using it in landscape, like some apps (like Samsung’s pre-installed apps, would only work in portrait mode). Android has had a lack of tablet apps for a long time and now is no different. Apps do support tablets but there are some apps that will automatically turn to portrait even though the Tab S3 is meant to be in landscape.

By using the Samsung on-screen keyboard, you have the option to input text via writing it with the S-Pen, which can make it easier and difficult at the same time.

One feature that the Tab S3 has borrowed from the deceased Galaxy Note 7, is the ability to take Screen Off Memos, so you can quickly write down notes using the S-Pen.

It didn’t use this feature that often, partly because I was using the Tab S3 with keyboard cover and that encloses the tablet, so I would first need to open the cover, then take out the S-Pen out of its holder on the keyboard case, and then I would be able to take a Screen-Off memo.

Samsung has had split-screen multitasking on their devices since the days of the Galaxy Note series. You can have two windows open at once and they can be resized or swapped. Quite a few apps are supported and it’s not just the Samsung ones that are. And if an app doesn’t support split-screen multitasking, it will tell you.

 

Camera

The rear-facing camera on the Tab S3 is 13-megapixels and is able to record video up to 4K at 30fps. I’m not a big believer in using a tablet as a camera, the camera on the Tab S3 is good, but it’s not Google Pixel or Galaxy S8 camera quality. The front-facing camera is 5-megapixels and if you’re using the tablet for video calls, both camera will get the job done.

Just like other tablets, cameras on them aren’t that great and shouldn’t be used that often. You don’t want to be that guy who uses their tablet to take photos. Use your smartphone or a dedicated camera instead of using a tablet to take pictures.

Final Thoughts

If you’re looking for a great Android tablet, which has a great screen, awesome speakers and a fun to use stylus, then look no further than the Galaxy Tab S3. But if you’re looking for something to do more than just tablet things like media consumption, then you should look somewhere else (like a Surface Pro or a laptop).

With the current state of the Canadian dollar, it has made the price of the Tab S3 much expensive, the tablet is $799 CAD. And that’s a lot for an Android tablet, especially if you already have a tablet or you own a smartphone that has a giant screen. I like that Samsung included their S-Pen but if you were to add on the keyboard case for another $130 CAD or even the Book Case cover for $90 CAD, you’re looking at almost $900 CAD plus taxes which could put it close to almost $1000 CAD.

The Tab S3 would be much more appealing if it was sold for a lower price (especially in Canada), if it was $500-600 CAD and if Android tablets weren’t on the decline, I would recommend it even more.

Pros

  • Beautiful display
  • Nice design
  • Solid performance
  • Great speakers
  • Fun and easy to use S-Pen
  • Excellent battery life

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Lack of proper tablet support for apps
  • TouchWiz issues
  • Fingerprint magnet




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