Samsung has recently launched the Galaxy Tab S4, a productivity-oriented tablet which represents the highest performance and quality Android tablet the brand has to offer today. In this review, we’ll go over how it fits in the market, how it is to use it, and how it performs.
The Galaxy Tab S4 tablet is a rare specimen in the Android world because there aren’t a lot of high-end tablets. Very much like the Galaxy Note 9, Samsung has carved a market for itself with this offering, with the leading Android competitor being the Huawei MediaTab M5 Pro. Both Tablets have a desktop mode, with a multi-window user interface which reduced the number of app switches and enables a real desktop experience.
At a price of ~$650 (no keyboard,64GB) or ~$724 (with keyboard), the Galaxy Tab S4 competes with small laptops, Chromebooks laptops (also runs Android apps), and the iPad Pro 10.5”. The Tab S4’s main advantages over laptops are the size, weight and battery life. It also has an excellent display, powerful Wacom pen technology that pros can use, and is powerful enough to get productivity and creative tasks done.
From the Galaxy Tab S3 we reviewed last year, Samsung has made a number of improvements to the industrial design. There are two that we find particularly relevant. First, the screen bezels have shrunk a bit, and it makes the tablet look nicer.
At 249.3 x 164.3 x 7.1 mm, the Galaxy Tab S4 is extraordinarily compact and 12.5% smaller than the Huawei MediaPad M5 Pro. That said, Apple’s iPad Pro 2 10.5 manages to be 8.5% smaller in volume, so it’s a close call.
As for weight (483g), there isn’t a significant difference between the Tab S4 and the tablets mentioned above, a mere ~4% difference between the lightest (Apple, by -1%) and the heaviest (Huawei, by +3%).
Secondly, the keyboard now attaches solidly to the Tab S4 like a phone case. This is an excellent mechanism that adds minimum bulk while making sure that the keyboard doesn’t fall off or detach from the tablet as you pick it up. It also offers a lot of protection as it prevents impacts at the corners which is the most likely impact point. The only downside to the new cover is that it is a bit more work to remove.
If not purchased as a combo, the keyboard is a bit expensive ($149). It does not have a backlight, so using it in the dark is not fun. It is one of the critical points that Samsung needs to address in the future because using it in a plane would be high on people’s priorities.
The display’s light won’t help make the keys visible because it is oriented upwards, unlike clamshell laptops where you can tilt the screen down to light up the keys. A very positive point is that the keyboard uses a physical connection to the tablet, so there will never be BT or battery issues.
The keyboard is comfortable and feels good, even if the keys are a bit smaller than on a 13” laptop keyboard. The primary keys are 15×15 mm instead of 16×16 mm, and the numeric keys are 12×12 mm. As a result, the typing speed and comfort is reduced, but of course, this is expected given the footprint available. The competition will more or less have the same challenge.
This keyboard is great for bursts of typing like chats/emails and easily outpaces a phone’s keyboard productivity. But writing things like… this review, is better done on a regular keyboard. Finally, you will notice the lack of TrackPad, which is understandable, but in desktop mode having a pointing device can be useful.
Software: all about Samsung DEX
What makes the Galaxy Tab S4 special is its support for Samsung DEX, a desktop user interface for Android devices. Introduced a couple of years ago for smartphones, it makes a lot of sense on this device, and it is at the root of the added value, especially when compared to the iPad Pro.
On smartphones, Dex activates when the device is connected to a TV. However, on the Tab S4, it works with the native screen, turning the user experience into a desktop-like environment. With multiple windows, it is much easier to multitask while still having an incredibly light device with a long-lasting battery.
I’ve heard people say that you “need” a mouse to use Dex with the Tab S4, but that’s not true. It really depends on what you are working on. In my opinion, you can work quasi-normally using the touch-screen and the keyboard, even if a mouse can obviously be faster and has right-click support for shortcuts.
If you had to deal with small user interface elements, the mouse becomes much preferable, but the Tab S4 remains a natively touch-friendly computer, so I have not encountered the issue. Even catching the corner of windows for resizing is quickly done with the finger.
Software support is decent out of the box, and Samsung tried to cover the most common use cases, such as browsing, MS Office. From there, it depends on whether or not the Android apps you need have support for large displays or windowed modes. Some of my apps only run in “phone” mode, so I have them as vertical windows in Dex.
Samsung has nicely leveraged the Dex software. I find it to bring enormous value to the tablet, and I hope that Samsung’s 12” tablets will also benefit from it someday. If you want to use Bixby (Samsung’s AI assistant), it will be available on this computer in 2019.
To conclude on Dex, I would also point out that the Galaxy Tab S4 could be an excellent thin, light and secure terminal for those who access Windows remotely. Many firms offer this option to their employees, and the Tab S4 should be compliant with corporate security policies.
Display and Pen
The 2560×1600 Super-AMOLED display is excellent and reached 585 NITs in our Ubergizmo Lab tests. While it is not uncommon for high-end tablets to be this bright, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 is using AMOLED while nearly everyone else is still on IPS LCD technology. Technically, it is naturally the best display of the three tablets we’re looking at in the context of this review."THE PEN IS LARGE AND COMFORTABLE AND UNIVERSALLY ACCLAIMED"
Because of that it gets perfectly black pixels and can render dark scenes in a more faithful way that any LCD display can. The ~200% sRGB color coverage is exceptional and means that this display can cater to serious art and imaging enthusiasts.
In general, we prefer a more square 4:3 or 3:2 aspect ratio for a productivity device since vertical space is very desirable to get things done. However, when it comes to entertainment, the Tab S4 is excellent, especially since the AKG-tuned speakers output an impressive sound quality that rivals high-end laptops.
External Display via USB-C to HDMI adapter
We said earlier that there was no trackpad on the keyboard. However, with a standard USB-C to HDMI adapter, you can use an external screen to show the Dex interface. At the same time, the native screen can either stay active in Android mode or turn into a giant trackpad. In external mode, you can, of course, use a mouse as well, and even an external BT keyboard if you want to.
The pen is large and comfortable and universally acclaimed for its quality. The only downside is that it can’t be garaged in the tablet’s body. Samsung makes it possible to store it in the keyboard, but I didn’t like the Pen storage system as the pen wasn’t very securely stored and fell off from time to time.
On the one hand, there is no wasted space inside the tablet, but on another, it’s easier to forget the pen or leave it somewhere. In the end, I think this was a good choice because Pen use on a tablet is probably more frequent and intense than on the Galaxy Note 9, so comfort should come first.
The quality of the pen is excellent, and it feels great using it. There is virtually no lag, and while I’m no artist, it seems like the soft tip and overall quality is higher than the iPad Pro’s pen. This level of precision should make this tablet fit for serious illustration work, and it also works with Samsung’s Air Command functions, just like the Galaxy Note.
The cameras of the Galaxy Tab S4 easily beat any laptop we’ve tested recently, whether it is the selfie camera for video conference or the rear camera for photography. To set your expectations straight, even expensive tablets don’t have cameras that rival the best smartphones, but they sure are much better than laptops."GALAXY TAB S4 TAKES THE LEAD IN VIDEO CONFERENCING"
Even within its category, the Galaxy Tab S4 has very good Rear Camera hardware. With a f/1.9 aperture for its 13 Megapixel sensor (1.12-micron pixels) which is second to the iPad Pro 10.5” which has a slightly larger sensor and optical image stabilization (OIS).
The selfie camera is another story with the Galaxy Tab S4 easily crushes the competition since it has an 8 Megapixel camera module with a large f/1.9 aperture. The competition has 5 to 7 Megapixel camera modules, with f/2.2 aperture. In short, the Galaxy Tab S4 takes the lead when it comes to video conferencing quality – and that includes its speaker quality.
When it comes to system and graphics performance tested with GFXBench, the Galaxy Tab S4 is in the middle of the pack. The Tab S4 has significantly faster graphics performance (+33%) than the Huawei MediaPad M5 Pro. However, the iPad Pro 10.5 has 2X faster graphics than the Galaxy Tab S4.
On the Geekbench CPU test , both Samsung and Huawei Android tablets have similar performance, and Apple’s iPad easily pulls ahead, by a mile. Interestingly, the iPad also leads the performance “per dollar spent,” which is not something that happens very often with Apple products. This could be interesting for folks who do video-editing on their tablets.
The performance conclusion is that while the Tab S4 is relatively well positioned in the market, the decision of going with a 2017 Snapdragon 835 chip instead of the current Snapdragon 845 one costs the Tab S4 dearly in synthetic benchmarks.
The Galaxy Tab S4 has an outstanding battery capacity of 7300 mAh. Samsung claims ~16 hours of video playback, and this is a number that we can believe since this use case is very deterministic, assuming that you dim the screen to ~150-200 NITs. In general, such a size means that you can go by your day without too much anxiety, as long as you keep the networking and display brightness under control, and don’t play 3D games all day.
Relative to the competition, the Galaxy Tab S4 is comparable to the Huawei MediaPad M5 Pro (7500 mAh or +2.7%), while the iPad Pro 10.5 (2018) hits 8134 mAh (+11%) and generally lasts a little longer in various tests.
Battery life is one of the most sought-after features of a handset. A key indicator is obviously its battery capacity — especially within the same ecosystem (Android, iOS or other). Battery life can be affected by a bunch of factors, but the main ones are the central processor aka SoC, display and wireless radios (LTE broadband, WiFi, the cell towers location and more). It is not possible to accurately pinpoint through synthetic tests how much energy drain YOUR unique usage pattern will create.
However, two things are without a doubt always good:
- A larger battery capacity
- Rapid charging
In our Ubergizmo Lab, we measured the charging speed of 46 mAh/mn, which shows that the tablet can charge very fast. It is similar to what Galaxy Phones can do. While devices from other brands can top 65+ mAh/mn, these fantastic speeds remain relatively uncommon.
The Galaxy Tab S4 is the top high-end Android tablet on the market today. However, it is not a no-brainer product, and if you are a bit more value-conscious, a bit more homework will determine if you should buy it or not. Let’s cover potential user profiles:"THE TOP HIGH-END ANDROID TABLET ON THE MARKET TODAY"
- Designers / Artists who like the pen feature: the Tab S4 provides an excellent pen experience with a sensation that is superior to the iPad Pro’s pen ($99m sold separately). The top-quality display will make your work “pop.”
- If you require higher performance, the iPad Pro might be a bit better. Keep in mind that the Tab S4 has a MicroSD slot which can accommodate 400GB cards, while the extra storage on the iPad Pro will cost you ~$150 for 192GB or ~$350 for 448GB. You can find 200GB microSD cards for $46+ on Amazon.
- If your budget is too tight, the Huawei MediaPad M5 Pro is priced at 30% less (on NewEgg)
- Productivity workers seeking for ultra-mobility: if you have bursts of emails and documents to look at, the Tab S4 would be an excellent mobile companion. Much lighter and compact than a thin & light laptop, it also has superior battery life, and there’s an LTE option which we suggest to this audience.
- Movie watching and mild web browsing: this is the typical usage for a tablet, and if you’re doing this, maybe you don’t need something labeled “Pro” or the capabilities of the Tab S4. It’s true that its sound capabilities and excellent display make it the best tablet for multimedia, but take a look at Samsung’s consumer 12-inch Galaxy tablet, which costs half the price.
- Tab S4 vs.a Surface Pro: do you need a full Windows capability? If yes, just go for a Windows computer. You will have to give up on the Tab S4’s superior display, battery life, and ultra-mobility.
- Tab S4 vs. Chromebook: since Chromebooks can run Android apps, they could be an alternative hardware platform. However, you will lose the excellent battery life and a fantastic display. High-end designs like the Pixelbook (2017) are expensive and larger/heavier.
- Tab S4 vs. Snapdragon PC: perhaps this is one of the most interesting comparisons. The lightest designs are still bigger and heavier, with less impressive display quality. However, the battery endurance might be the closest, and you have a modified Windows 10.
- Tab S4 vs. iPad Pro 10.5: it comes down to the ecosystem, but the Tab S4 has a better display and pen experience, while the iPad has a higher performance profile.
In the end, different tablets may be more suited for different purposes. That’s because tablets are often not used for general purpose computing, like laptops or even phones are. The usage model is much more specific to a task or desired usage pattern.
I hope that you now have enough data to make an informed decision on what’s best for your specific usage. Thanks for dropping by.