Fans of Samsung’s S Pen who have been waiting for a competitive large-screen device have high expectations for the new Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 ($599.99). Now the first hands-on reviews are in from around the web, with the new tablet getting rave reviews for the display and stylus, but with a worrisome combination of a high price, a small battery, and an ordinary processor. To save you some time, we’ve rounded up highlights from some of the most interesting and informative reviews we’ve seen so far.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 by the numbers
The S3 is slightly thinner and lighter than an iPad Pro, at 9.35 x 6.65 x .23 inches and 15.1 ounces. It comes with 4GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, plus a microSD slot. It runs Android 7.0 Nougat, with less than the usual amount of Samsung bloatware, and features a USB-C port that supports Qualcomm Quick Charge 3. There is also a 3.5mm headphone jack. PCMag’s Sascha Segan thinks the 2,048×1,536 pixel 9.7-inch AMOLED screen is the same as the excellent one on the S2, with the addition of the needed electronics and software to support HDR content. Its main camera is a 13MP shooter, that also supports 4K and 1080p video, with the 5MP front camera also supporting up to 4K video — making for a powerful video chatting solution.
Powering the unit is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 — a step up from the Exynos on the S2, but not the 835 some users might have been hoping for. However, reviewers found performance snappy, even though benchmark numbers were noticeably below those for several models of iPad.
Great display headlines the Tab S3’s selling points
One thing every review agrees on is the amazing quality of the AMOLED display on the S3. While it has the same resolution as the latest iPad Pro, reviewers found it to be brighter, with more vibrant colors. PCMag also raved about the S3’s dual-band Wi-Fi performance.
ArsTechnica noted the AKG tuned speakers, and audio output that adapts to how you are holding the tablet. Landscape mode provides more amplification for music, for example. The Verge didn’t like the effect when they watched movies in landscape mode, as they felt the sound was washed away to the left and right of the viewer. PCMag felt that while the speakers are an improvement over the S2, they still sounded tinny.
Ars also like the improved S Pen, which now has 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity, and a soft-touch, rubbery-feel tip. PCMag rated the S Pen as superior to the Apple Pencil for taking notes, and liked that it doesn’t require a battery.
Not everyone thinks Android is the right OS for a productivity-focused tablet
For many, a Chromebook will be a higher-productivity option if you expect to use a keyboard very oftenThe Verge was particularly hard on the S3 when used as a general-purpose productivity device, concluding that “it’s not capable of doing [a range of productivity tasks] anywhere near as well as a proper laptop.” Reviewer Kastrenakes went on to wonder “why I’d use this tablet as a portable work device instead of a cheaper, more functional computer like a Chromebook.”
For keyboard-based scenarios, that does seem like a clear concern. Personally, I have a Chromebook, a Surface Pro 3, and a Samsung Note 10.1. Each is good at different things. If you don’t need pure tablet functionality, I don’t see the S3 winning head to head against Windows- or Chrome-based convertibles or entry-level clamshells. PCMag specifically suggests those looking for productivity also look at Windows devices like the Lenovo Miix 510 and Acer Switch Alpha 12.
The S3’s camera gets mediocre reviews, but for many of us tablets aren’t really meant to be cameras anyway. PCMag was concerned that the glass back gives the S3 another way to get broken. In addition, the S Pen can’t be housed inside the unit. Based on my experience with various incarnations of external stylus attachments used by Microsoft, this is a recipe for losing an expensive accessory. Ars also found the attachment mechanism for the optional $130 keyboard case a little hard to use, and the number keys and some of the special keys particularly difficult to type accurately.
The S3 is only available with 32GB of storage. You can add up to 256GB with a microSD card, but that additional storage can’t be used with Google’s Adoptable Storage, according to PCMag. The battery is also not huge, at 6000mAh, but PC Mag was impressed with its 9 hour video streaming test result. Ars was less enthusiastic about the S3’s 7.5 hours on their Wi-Fi test, and only 6 hours on its graphics test. Ars also found the fingerprint sensor to be finicky.
Stunning pricing may be a killer for sales
Apple iPad Pro with Smart KeyboardIf the S3 was perfect, with a faster processor and perhaps a slightly-larger battery, its $600 starting price would be easier to justify. But it is going to be hard for most to shell out that kind of money in a market where there are so many less-costly alternatives. For example, even though the S3 has the same sticker price as the latest iPad Pro, Apple is upping the ante with a $329 high-performance iPad (which Ars thinks is an excellent alternative if you’re not hooked on Android). Even within the Android ecosystem, there are plenty of sub-$500 tablets on the market that have good performance and acceptable displays.
The high price of the S3 also puts it head-to-head with some excellent Windows offerings that have the advantage of running full desktop productivity software. However, if you aren’t budget-conscious and are set on Android, the stunning screen and integrated stylus functionality may be worth the extra money. Personally, I’m really torn. I rely heavily on my Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition), and would love to update it to something that ran a modern OS and had better performance. But it works okay, stores its S Pen internally, and is long since paid for. So shelling out $600+ to get a new version that isn’t perfect still seems like a stretch. For those ready to spring for the Tab S3, it’s expected to be available starting March 24th.