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Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 hands on review

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 feels like it’s been a long time coming. It’s been two years since we saw the launch of the Tab S2, and that was the best Android tablet out (actually, it still is…), so a sequel has been desperately needed.

It feels so trite to call the Galaxy Tab S3 a direct iPad rival, as the Samsung / Apple rivalry is a tired trope – but given the specs and features of the new tablet from Samsung, it’s hard to call this anything other than a direct response to the iPad Pro.

Four powerful tuned speakers that fire in four directions? A high-res screen and optional keyboard? A stylus? We’ve seen that before.

In fact, there’s a touch of the Surface Pro in the mix as well, as unlike Apple’s Pencil the chunkier S Pen comes bundled with every Tab S3, giving it an instant productivity boost.

Let’s be clear though: we’re not castigating Samsung in any way for adopting elements of these rival products, as it’s not like those companies have a patent on speakers and keyboards.

(Well, they probably do somewhere, but it’s not relevant here).

The Galaxy Tab S3 takes a lot of the good features the line already has, such as strong battery life, expandable memory and great screen technology, and fuses these well with the aforementioned speakers and stylus.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 release date and price

We don’t have a whole lot of information about the release date for Samsung’s new Android tablet. We do know it’ll be coming to the UK and the US… just not when.

We haven’t been told the price at the time of writing either, but the Galaxy Tab S3 price will come down to several factors. The Galaxy Tab S2 cost $399 / £319 / AU$499 for the smallest storage size and 8-inch version of the tablet, and $499 / £399 / AU$599 for the 32GB 9.7-inch version of the tablet. 

We’d expect similar pricing this year, but there may be a few differences, and it’ll likely be even more if you go for a larger storage size model.

Design

It looks like Samsung is quietly going for a new design language, stating that the Galaxy Tab S3 would look like a ‘brother or sister’ to the Galaxy phone range.

And it does display some similarities to the current phones: there’s a glass back with a metal rim around the outside, and it feels like the tablet is made with some higher-end materials.

It’s rather light at 429g, which doesn’t make it feel as expensive as it might, combined with the thin 6mm depth, but overall it does feel like a classy design.

The large bezels remain, with the fingerprint scanner on the bottom of the display in the Galaxy-phone-style lozenge. It could be harder to activate there on a tablet than on a phone, but the whole device is quite compact.

The Tab S3 is using USB Type-C, packs a headphone jack and also has support for an expandable memory card, supplementing the 32GB of onboard ROM.

There’s a camera on the rear as expected, and the glossy finish of the Galaxy Tab S3 feels well put together – if, as mentioned, a little lightweight for a device of this size – in the hand.

Display and sound

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S3’s 9.7-inch display is probably the reason you’d buy this tablet. The 2048 x 1536 QXGA resolution is pin-sharp, and combined with Samsung’s Super AMOLED technology it’s up there with the best we’ve seen on a tablet.

There’s added HDR support as well (using the HDR10 codec), which seems to be the fashionable spec of 2017 for phones and tablets.

We do have some slight concerns over the addition of HDR10, as the screen did look a little dark when running the Amazon Prime Video preview mastered with the technology.

Upon further investigation it appears that the Galaxy Tab S3 has a peak luminance of 500 nits, which is half what you’d expect from a larger TV.

Of course, some of that will be offset by the high contrast ratios of the Super AMOLED screen, which has pure blacks to make the brightness look crisper, and you’ll be holding the tablet closer.

It just seemed a little on the dark side for our tastes… a touch of the Vader, if you will.

Samsung is also pretty proud of the sound quality from the Tab S3, using technology from AKG thanks to its purchase of the Harman Kardon brand in 2016.

The four speakers do pump out sound impressively – perhaps not to the level of the iPad Pro 12.9, but very strong and clear. The sound also inverts depending on which way round you hold the tablet, which is a nice touch.

Keyboard and S Pen 

Samsung is offering some accessories to make the Galaxy Tab S3 a real 2-in-1 device, allowing you to seamlessly move from watching a video to getting on with a report or writing your first novel.

The keyboard accessory is sadly an add-on and not included in the box, but it’s a better-than-passable attempt at being a good physical set of keys.

It connects using magnets and Pogo pins in a rather satisfying manner, and while it’s a little on the cramped side (which makes typing difficult) it’s got more travel than the iPad Pro’s smart keyboard, so we’ve no doubt you’d get used to it.

The S Pen is in the box if you buy the Galaxy Tab S3 though, and it’s chunkier than ever, making it easier to hold. Samsung is claiming the rubberised tip is more akin to sliding a pen across paper, and the resistance does help, but it’s still not quite the same feeling.

It’s pleasant to hold, and the 0.7mm thin tip means you can work pretty accurately with the multitude of drawing apps available – apparently PDF markup will be possible too, but we couldn’t find that app on the demo unit we tried.

There’s a high degree of pressure sensitivity, and the pen can register tilts to let you change the kind of sketching you’re doing – although it seems to be mostly just sketching at this point, in terms of what you can actually do with the S Pen.

Battery and camera

The battery in the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 is a 6000mAh power pack, which feels okay for a tablet this thin. 

We do feel that the designers could have gone with a bit more thickness and put an iPad-rivalling 8000mAh option in there, but what we have here will probably be good enough for around eight hours of use (or less if you’re using the keyboard).

There’s inexplicably a 13MP sensor on the rear of the tablet, with a 5MP sensor on the front; why these aren’t switched round is unclear, as the front-facing camera is more useful for video chatting.

Perhaps you don’t really need anything high-res there – but then you don’t really need it on the rear either.

Samsung has curiously opted for a very high-end GPS chip in the Tab S3 too, with GPS, Glonass, Beidu and Galileo all making it very easy for the tablet to pick up where you are.

Early verdict

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 is something we’ve wanted to see pop up since early 2016, when we started to grow eager for an S2 sequel.

It’s nothing mind-blowing in terms of innovation, but then again people don’t want a lot of innovation in a tablet – they’re after something that has a good screen, is portable, offers good sound and allows them to ditch the laptop once in a while.

The Tab S3 does all that and more – if only the keyboard was bundled in the box rather than the S Pen we’d have said Samsung had ticked every box we were looking for with this new tablet (assuming it doesn’t come with a ridiculously high price).

  • MWC (Mobile World Congress) is the world’s largest exhibition for the mobile industry, stuffed full of the newest phones, tablets, wearables and more. TechRadar is reporting live from Barcelona all week to bring you the very latest from the show floor. Head to our dedicated hub to see all the new releases, along with TechRadar’s world-class analysis and buying advice about your next phone.

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