It’s been a while since I used a tablet for an extended period, so I reached out to Samsung for one, and they were happy to send me out the Tab S4, their new high end Tablet, but can it draw em away from my Chromebook? Does it do enough to keep me off my BlackBerry? Read on to find out.
- Stunning Screen
- Great Build Quality
- Battery just doesnt die
- S-Pen is great
- Android on tablets.
- 16:10 screen ratio
- Did I mention Android on tablets?
- Camera is a potato
Disclaimer: Samsung provided us with the Tab S4 for Review, no money has exchanged hands and we do not get to keep the S4 after this review, it will go back to Samsung. I (Dom) Used the Tab S4 for a little under 3 weeks and tried to use it to replace my Chromebook wherever I could. The device received no OTAs during my Testing.
- 10.5” 2560×1600 Super AMOLED Display
- built-In Wacom Digitizer
- S-Pen included in box
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 SoC
- 4x Kryo 280 @2.45Ghz
- 4x Kryo 280 @1.9Ghz
- Adreno 540 @710Mhz
- 10nm LPE From Samsung LSI
- 4GB RAM
- 64GB internal storage
- MicroSD Slot
- Bluetooth 5.0
- USB3.1 Gen1 (5gbps)
- HDMI out
- DeX support
For a more exhaustive look a specs, head on over to the Galaxy Tab S4 page on Samsung’s web site here.
Samsung is known recently for making gobsmackingly good hardware, ever since the Galaxy S6, Samsung has made gorgeous strong hardware, and the Tab S4 is an extension of that. It’s a Galaxy Note 8 blown up to 10.5” and flattened on front. There is no flex, no creaking, no nothing. Hardware wise, the Tab S4 is an Aluminium chassis with 2 thick glass panels sandwiching a massive 7300mAh battery.
This is a classy tablet, unlike the newest iPads which eschew curves in favour of strong clean lines, the Tab S4 goes for the more ergonomic curved feel, though, with it’s 16:10 aspect ratio, I’m not too fond of the height of the screen. I would have much prefered Samsung retained the 4:3 aspect ratio of the previous tablet, or that they go with the 3:2 aspect ratio that they’ve been using on their Windows tablets such as the Galaxy Book series.
So, how is the screen? It.is.stunning. This is a lovely laminated Super AMOLED display, with bright saturated colours, good viewing angles, little to no noticeable colour shift off axis and, thankfully, a pretty comfortable low brightness mode with a blue light filter, a lifesaver for us idiots that use them in bed at night when it is pitch black, no need to sear our retinas.
Unlike previous Samsung tablets, there are no navigation buttons below the screen and no home button, Samsung finally adopted on-screen buttons, which means it can be adapted, hidden, modified, or, even in the future updated the use gestures. Up top of the front are the camera and sensor array. The Tab S4 has an 8mp front facing camera, on a minuscule 1 /4.0” sensor with also tiny 1.12micron pixel size, low light beast this is not, which is where the IR camera next to it comes in, enabling the Iris and intelligent face unlocking that Samsung was boasting about, there is also the ambient light sensor array up here.
Up top, we have 2 of the 4 speaker grilles, and yes, you read that right, the Tab S4 has 4 speaker grilles. Whether you hold it portrait or landscape you get two channels a high and a low from each side, and these are tuned by AKG, so these are pretty well tuned, I can’t say I’ve been disappointed with these speakers. Also on the top is one of the microphones on the device. On the bottom of the Tab S4 is the other 2 speaker grilles, the USB-C port as well as the main mic and the 3.5mm audio jack, and once again this USB-C port is great, it is a full-featured USB-C 3.1 Gen1 port. It does power, it does data and it does video out, which means that DeX can be used with a standard USB-C port, pukka.
The right-hand side of the Tab S4 has the power button, the volume rocker and the Sim/MicroSD tray the Power button and Volume rocker are inverted from my normal use on phones, meaning in the vertical orientation, the power button is on the top and the volume rocker is below, this means that when in Instagram or YouTube, I have often locked the display instead of turning up the volume etc. These buttons do feel quite good, they’re clicky and not too lose, but they are really high up and I’m not sure I like the placement of the power button above the volume rocker, but only time will tell.
The left-hand side though, that is a bit more interesting, housing the 4-pin pogo connector for the Tab S4’s keyboard case, as well as two stabilising slots nearer the edges. Now sadly, I was unable to get the keyboard case for the Tab S4, but the Tab S4’s Keyboard is the folio style, such as the iPad Pro, 1st Gen Galaxy Book, and pretty much most tablet-centric windows devices. From my quick play with it in a local Curry’s, the case is fine, but I’m glad that Samsung actually put stabilisers in, as otherwise, we’d be having an even worse time.
I really want to applaud Samsung for the hardware and build quality of the Galaxy Book. I’ve been both scared to drop it in case of damaging it, but also proud to use it and bring it out to local coffee shops with me etc. Android Tablets are usually thought of as cheap, flimsy and practically disposable, the Tab S4 is none of that, it is expensive, well-built and cared for device, one that has enough grunt to even get a bit of light work done for you if you’ve got the keyboard dock. Samsung made the iPad of Android Tablets, but sadly, it still runs Android.
Whilst the Hardware of the Galaxy Tab S4 is solid, at the end of the day, it’s still an Android Tablet, and we all know how well those work.
As much as Samsung tries to make it’s apps work on the bigger screen, most (but not all) Android apps don’t scale well for larger screens. This isn’t for lack of trying though, Google has made a lot of effort and given a lot of tools to make applications scale to screen resize and be responsive, but few have tagged along, and… can you blame them? Because few of Google’s apps even scale properly?
Twitter? Basically the phone app, same with Instagram. YouTube is mostly the same as is Gmail. The Best apps for me are Gmail and Facebook at the moment, both are just different enough to their phone counterparts whilst not trying to emulate the desktop counterparts that make them interesting, especially in landscape mode. But these are the exceptions, not the rules.
You can find tablet optimised applications on the Tab S4, but man, It’s harder than it should be. One of the best things about the Tab S4 is the ability to use DeX on the tablet itself without having to add in an external display. DeX works on the tablet really quite well. So well in fact that for the first week or so I almost exclusively used the Tab S4 in DeX mode, I still got all the standard Android apps as you’d expect, but I got a Windows-like taskbar, floating windows etc, and this just felt better to me. Small “windows” versus super large Android is what it boiled down to.
In the second week, I made myself use the Tab S4 in normal mode and… wow. This is just a large phone, for better or for worse. In Twitter, this kinda stuff sucks. But in Instagram, it actually worked pretty well, it means I could use Instagram without wearing my glasses, it was large enough but still high resolution enough to have detail but just be bigger, neat!. But this also means that using some Applications was just painful. One of those apps was Ebay, Another? Amazon. Apps I use rather frequently and quite honestly fit “blown up smartphone app” to a T.
Can you make the Tab S4 work for you? Of course, none of this is an unusable experience, but a lot of it is far from a pleasant experience. I enjoyed using Twitter, Instagram and YouTube on the Tab S4, but I was stuck in bed for most of the week, so I needed something bigger than a phone but I didn’t want my full-on laptop, and I likely didn’t have my glasses on at the time, at that point, blown up phone apps makes a lot of sense, but I don’t think the general population is thinking in the same way.
Performance wise, the Tab S4 is pretty great. The Snapdragon 835 from Qualcomm is likely good enough for what you want to do on this, which is consume content.
The SD835 is not the newest SoC from Qualcomm, that would be the SD855 as of writing (literally earlier today they announced the SD855) but for a content consumption device, the 835 is just really quite good. Scrolling, panning, pinching, zooming, and especially 3D modelling, the 835 is great. I do a lot of 3D printing, so I get a lot of models sent to me and I look at a lot of them, and one of the things I do on my mobile devices is check out STLs (model files, think of Jpg with photos) before printing them, and the 835 has more than enough grunt to take even the super large STLs (such as the spin Vase by Devin Montes or Aria the Dragon by Loubie3D)
Is the 835 as powerful as the A12X Bionic as in the new iPads? Noooooooooooooooooooo, not a chance, no way near. But the difference is, that Android doesn’t have as many of the apps that can take advantage of that raw power. We don’t have apps like LumaFusion on Android. A non-linear video editing app that has full hardware acceleration able to edit 4k60 footage without breaking a sweat. Android doesn’t have that, whether it is because we don’t have the hardware, or because the devices just aren’t ready for content creation. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg problem, but as science figured out, the egg came first, so now we need to decide what is the egg and what is the chicken so we can move forward.
For those that care, here are some benchmark screenshots of the Tab S4.
The Miscellaneous portion of this review is going to mainly focus on 2 things, DeX, and the S Pen. Starting off with DeX. DeX is Samsung’s desktop environment on top of Android, just as Huawei have their own in desktop extension. DeX works really well on the Tab S4, and like with Huawei tablets, DeX can be used on the tablet without adding peripherals (there is a button in the quick settings up top) but adding an external monitor, power source and peripherals is as simple as plugging in a single USB-C hub, such as this one from Anker that I reviewed a little while back. I get 4 USB-A ports, a USB-C power in and HDMI out, nice and simple, and a portion of this review was written on the Tab S4 in DeX mode, and it was a breeze, Google Docs and WordPress apps aren’t very well optimised, but they work well enough.
Now on to the S Pen. The S-Pen is Samsung’s signature stylus for it is phones and tablets, and the one on the Tab S4 is really quite good. It’s not a premium looking or feeling stylus, far from it, it actually feels quite cheap, especially compared to the S Pen that came with the Galaxy Book, or, my particular favourite, the Staedtler Noris Digital from Samsung and Staedtler. But this is just a normal Wacom EMR pen, so it works on Any Wacom enabled devices and it just awesome, with 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity, the S Pen on the Tab S4 was awesome, I spent a lot of time taking notes on the Tab S4, and sometimes screen-off notes, those are cool, and there was almost no lag between moving the pen and seeing my work on screen, great job, and It’s nice that this is included in the Box, unlike some other tablets.
So, how do I feel about the Tab S4? Well, I’m actually a little conflicted. The Hardware is just stunning, seriously, I can’t complain about it, but where it gets let down is Android, there isn’t much that is so horrifically bad that I can’t use the device, but a lot of stuff is just mobile but bigger, and I don’t want that a lot of the time. This is the reverse problem that Microsoft is having with Windows 10, Win32 apps just aren’t designed for HiDPI and touch, and whilst you can get some really good apps for Windows 10, such as you can with windows, it’s the exception, not the rule.
So do I recommend the Tab S4? Maybe? Kinda. It depends on whether you want a hardware device mainly for consumption, but also do something that benefits the inclusion of the pen. I’m not that person, I just use my phone for triage every morning and evening, but for some people, a tablet it that device, but I don’t think Android works well enough on Tablets for the retail price of the Tab S4.