Powered by Android 7.0 and the Snapdragon 820 SoC, the new Samsung Galaxy Tab S3, successor of the Galaxy Tab S2 9.7 (Q4 2015), features an impressive HDR-ready screen that delivers HDR video streaming, which will be provided by Samsung’s content partners (not yet announced). Samsung claims it is the first tablet with HDR (High Dynamic Range) support for display.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 Demo
Editor’s note: the demo video below showcases the Tab S3 keyboard, S-Pen, HDR Amoled display and quad speaker audio – we had to remove the clip during the HDR demo due to copyrights, we left the audio to show that we saw the movie and the HDR image quality. We hope to shoot another demo soon with a clip free of copyrights.
What’s New: Galaxy Tab S2 vs. Galaxy Tab S3
The Galaxy Tab S3 is a long overdue upgrade of the now old Galaxy Tab S2 9.7”, introduced in Sept. 2015, The Snapdragon 820 processor with 4GB RAM replaces the Exynos 5433 with 3GB RAM, while the display resolution remains the same at 2048×1536 (QXGA) for the 9.7” size.
The new display supports HDR video, the front camera offers 5 Megapixel resolution and the rear 13 Megapixel, a nice update from 2.1 Megapixel and 8 Megapixel respectively. Besides HDR support and the processor upgrade, the major difference with the previous model is the addition of the S-Pen and the detachable keyboard (although you could by optional keyboard accessories for the Tab S2).
Key Specs – Samsung Galaxy Tab S3
- Processor: Snapdragon 820 Quad Core 2.15GHz + 1.6GHz,
- Display: 9.7” 2048×1536 (QXGA) AMOLED
- Network: LTE Cat 6 (300 Mbps)
- Connectivity: WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Wi-Fi Direct, Bluetooth 4.2, USB 3.1 (Type C)
- Rear camera: 13 MP AF
- Front camera: 5MP, Flash
- Memory: 4GB RAM
- Internal memory: 32GB, expandable up to 256Gb via microSD slot
- Battery: 6000mAh, fast charging
- Dimensions: 237.3 x 169.0 x 6.0 mm (without keyboard)
- Software: Android 7.0
Industrial Design (Very Good)
With the new Galaxy Tab S3, Samsung delivers the same design language found in the Galaxy S7 and the (defunct) Galaxy Note 7, in the form of a high-quality glass back cover encased in a full metal frame. A hair thicker than its predecessor, at 6 mm, the Galaxy Tab S3 provides very good performance in an elegant and sleek glass body, and it fits nicely in a foldable keyboard cover that has been thoughtfully designed by Samsung.
Display with HDR Video (Very Good)
The star feature of the new Android tablet is the HDR-ready 9.7” 2048×1536 Super AMOLED QXGA display, which lives up to our expectations. During the briefing, we watched video clips from a western movie with high contrast scenes, and the image quality was quite impressive. The blacks were very deep, while we could see the fine details in the shadows. The color range in the bright areas of the screen was well rendered. We need to set up a side by side test to really measure how much of the level of quality comes from the HDR-ready display, however, the first impression was pretty convincing.
We measured the display’s brightness at 680 NITs, which is quite high in general, and high enough to be certified as HDR, at least for mobiles. Television’s standards may be different, although your eyes are much closer to the tablet as well, so it’s not an Apples to Apples comparison anyway. The brightness will ensure an excellent display performance in bright light conditions, that’s an advantage that anyone working outdoors from time to time will appreciate.
The main issue with HDR is to find content. Both Netflix and Hulu have said that they would support HDR streaming, although it’s not always clear if/when an HDR stream is underway, and which content has been filmed in HDR. The same is true for video-games and we haven’t heard of HDR games on Android yet. In any case, HDR is coming, but we can’t say that it is a “must-have” today.
Audio (Very Good)
With the Tab S3, Samsung is on a mission to deliver the best entertainment experience on an Android tablet, so, to make the audio be on par with the image quality for the video playback experience, the Korean manufacturer added four speakers around the display panel, tuned by AKG. The quad-speaker system features auto-rotate capabilities that detects the display landscape or portrait position and optimize the sound accordingly.
We tried watching a couple of movies, and we found the sound to be very good, or even excellent. The volume was loud and adequate enough for a good action movie in a relatively quiet room. The voices were clear, and the effects were loud and great at the same time. We also enabled the “surround” option in the settings, and it adds some 3D-ness to the soundtrack, but your mileage will vary depending on your content.
Keyboard (Very Good)
Knowing that people who play hard, work hard as well, Samsung paid particular attention to the detachable pogo keyboard, and despite the small form factor, it features a 17.25 mm pitch key which is quite good, knowing that the recommended distance in a full keyboard is between 18 and 19 mm. Similar to the keyboard of the new Galaxy Book Windows 10 tablets, the Galaxy Tab S3 keyboard’s offers a travel depth of 1.5mm.
"THE KEYBOARD WORKS BEAUTIFULLY"This keyboard is one of the best keyboard options for a tablet this size. One of the big advantage of Samsung’s keyboard is the physical connector (it’s a magnetic contact) which means that there is no lag, no pairing and no battery. And that makes a world of difference. The reason why I don’t use keyboards with my 9.7″ iPad is because they are big, not so good, heavy and thick. Samsung solves this in one fell swoop just like Microsoft did it with the Surface Pro 3. The keyboard works beautifully and is comfortable.
Now, you have the look at the comfort from a relative perspective. Of course, it’s not going to be as comfy as a 13″ keyword. However, it is the best 9.7-inch tablet keyboard we’ve tried so far. If you are not familiar with this kind of design, it is important to understand that it almost requires to be used on a flat surface. Of course you can try using on your lap, but if you do, it is not as stable as a clamshell device and can be knocked towards the back easily. This is not inherent to this particular keyboard, but to this kind of design, to various degrees.
Leveraging the success of the S-pen in previous tablets and smartphones, Samsung included the new version of the S-Pen in the Galaxy Tab S3, the 4096 level of sensitivity enables a drawing experience close to the pen-to-paper feel. For those familiar with the Air Command menu found in other devices, such as the Galaxy Note 7, they will be happy to access a number of actions just by hovering above the menu icon the screen: Create a note, View all Notes, Smart Select, Screen Write, Translate and Magnify.
In the video demo below, you can see the demo of some of the S-Pen features, including Off Screen Memo that allows users to take notes on the display when it is off. The second one is Smart Select, a popular option that lets people create animated GIFs by selecting part of existing videos.
You can also check the demo of the S-Pen with the Galaxy Note S7, the Note 7 S-pen has a different shape, but the features are similar and work the same way. Two tasks that are included in the Tab S3 and do not appear in the Galaxy Note 7’s Air Command Menu “View all notes” and “Magnify”
System Performance (Very Good)
Since the Galaxy Tab S3 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820. It does have a very good performance level for an Android device. Obviously, if would get an “excellent” rating if it had the latest Snapdragon 835 chip, but the reality is that Snapdragon 835 is still scarcely available, as we explained in the context of why the new LG G6 uses a Snapdragon 82x chip.
Unlike phones, Android tablets have traditionally rarely featured the latest and greatest processor. This comes from the view (backed by data) that tablets are often very fancy media players, and used for relatively basic tasks. Since the Galaxy Tab S3 is geared towards work and productivity, Samsung has selected the strongest hardware platform that was available in volume.
The benchmarks show that the Galaxy Tab S3 has very good performance, even if it doesn’t beat a competitor such as the iPad Pro 9.7. Apple has always had excellent processor and graphics performance with its Axx hardware. In the real world, the two are close enough to be within the same class of product.
Snapdragon 820 is perfectly capable of running complex 3D games as well, if needed. It is also really good at things such as video compression. In general, this is simply the second-best platform on Android, second only to Snapdragon 835, which is present in the Galaxy S8 handset.
According to Samsung, the 30.4 Wh battery (6000 mAh) last for up to 10 hours (probably of continuous video playback). As we do not know the exact conditions of the battery test, we cannot make any assumptions. In general, we recommend users to look at battery capacity as the best proxy for battery life.
Every user has a specific usage pattern, and conditions for high-power elements such as display and wireless networking hardware can vary enourmously, thus influencing real-world battery life. It’s fair to look at OEM claims for battery life can be seen as a sort of “best case scenario” most of the time.
The 6000 mAh battery capacity of the Galaxy Tab S3 is very respectable, but nor particularely impressive. For instance, the iPad Pro 9.7 has 8610 mAh and there are many high-capacity tablets out there. However, the lesser battery capacity enables the excellent industrial design of the Tab S3.
If you are using it on long-haul 15-hrs flights, capacity could be something to think about. But for day to day usage at work for basic productivity, it’s not a real problem. I have used it to attend media briefinds and take audio-notes (recording + text), and it worked very well.
Value, Pricing & Availability
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 comes in black and silver, and the covers will be available in black, white, and green. The base price of the Galaxy Tab S3 is $599, so the budget competes directly with the iPad Pro 9.7, which is also a very good tablet.
If you look at this from a pure hardware standpoint, the data shows that the iPad Pro 9.7 has a slight advantage in its base configuration. It is a little faster in synthetic benchmarks, and has better performance/price and battery/price numbers. That much is clear. We tend to like the the look and feel of the Galaxy Tab S3 + keyboard combo better than the iPad 9.7 equivalent. Both are very good products, but it will come down to things like this as well.
More importantly, the difference is the platform. If you like iOS, it’s difficult to imagine a situation where the design differences would make you switch. If you already have an Android tablet, then the Galaxy Tab S3 is probably better or much better depending where you come from. Each Operating System (OS) has pro and cons, and you will have to decide which one works best for you.
Conclusion (Very Good)
Pros: high quality high definition 9.7” AMOLED HDR-ready display for higher quality video playback experience, new S-Pen and well-designed physical keyboard in a light and thin package.
Cons: entertainment machine that cannot be used as a PC replacement except for people who do not need compute intensive applications. It looks like users will have to wait to get HDR videos from content partners.
Bottom line: the new Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 is an impressive Android tablet that gets all the high-end features you need to perform most of work and play tasks while on the go.
While the hybrid PC tablet market has recently expanded again, the mobile tablet market is a shrinking and manufacturers have to really innovate to convince consumers to dedicate several hundred dollars to buy a new device in that category.
"IN THE ANDROID UNIVERSE THIS IS THE BEST 9.7-INCH TABLET"With the Galaxy Tab S3 9.7”, Samsung lives up to the challenge, and the Korean manufacturer delivers innovative and effective new features, including the impressive QXGA AMOLED display with high-quality HDR video streaming and top-notch audio, an updated S-Pen with an enhanced drawing experience, and state-of-the-art slim detachable keyboard.
In the Android universe this is the best 9.7″ tablet if you take into account the primary elements: design, display, system performance and productivity. If you are willing to look outside of Android, then the iPad Pro 9.7 is a formidable competitor worth looking at as well.
- High quality high definition 9.7” AMOLED HDR-ready display
- New S-Pen digital pen
- Well-designed physical keyboard in a light and thin package
- Cannot be used as a PC replacement
- HDR content hard to come by
Rating + Price
- Rating: 9/10