It’s 2017, and after drilling in the point that the tablet market is dying out gradually, analysts cannot figure how Apple somehow still manages to sell them. Apple even has two categories of iPads now. The standard ones for casual daily use and a Pro series that’s built for professionals, ones that even comes with accessories like a Smart Keyboard and the Apple Pencil.
So Apple indeed seems to have figured the tablet out. It knows that there is a market that wants something light and powerful these days. A market that is still giving in to the iPad because of its app ecosystem available on the App Store. Apple’s even worked iOS 11 out for the iPad to make it more PC-like. iOS 11 is due to be out in September.
For a long time, Android has never really gotten the chance to move out of the smartphone ecosystem. Blame it on Google and its long list of Android manufacturers who seem confused at best. This is because you have smartphones that have now settled at 5.5-inch displays with some even offering 6.4-inch ones. Then you have a few tablets, which start from 6.8-inches and go up to 10-inches. In short, the difference is not much. More importantly, the app selection for Android tablets simply consists of scaled up apps that are available on smartphones.
With smartphones doing as much as tablets can, the only reason to own a tablet today is for multimedia consumption and creation. It offers users a larger canvas to work with and a bigger screen to consume media. After last year’s Tab S2, Samsung, the only premium Android tablet manufacturer is back this year. Samsung with its Tab S3 is back with a new offering, which aims to look at the media consumption part and a little bit more.
Does Samsung’s new tablet excel in these areas? How does it stand up against Apple’s iPad range? Let’s find out!
Build and Design: 8/10
After a designing and building a device like the Samsung Galaxy S8, the Galaxy Tab S3 somehow looks practical at best. While it feels premium and light (for a tablet) its does not look like it arrived with the same generation as the S8 smartphones. There’s a sturdy metal chassis sandwiched between two sheets of glass, with rounded corners. And that’s about it.
One really cannot get creative with tablet design. Firstly, there’s the cost with the materials involved, and then there are the limitations when it comes to usage. These are to do with the fact that a tablet needs to have bezels because you need something to hold them with. It cannot be all display on the front like a smartphone because you need an edge with an inch of bezel to hold it.
After using it for almost a month, the Tab S3’s practical design grew on me. I began to appreciate the fact that it’s quite light at 429 grams (in comparison to Apple’s iPad Pro models) and that it felt sturdy and rock solid as well. Quality is top notch and it did not get any scratches despite having a glass back. The construction is polished and comes with no gaps between the glass and the frame and even at the metal cut-outs on the frame.
There’s a home button on the front accompanied by two capacitive navigation keys. On the back is the camera that protrudes ever so lightly. Since the focus is on multimedia consumption, Samsung has also included not one or two but four speakers this time. These are located on either end of the top and bottom edge (when held vertically).
Unlike the Tab S2, there is a Keyboard Cover accessory that sticks to the left side of the tablet (when held vertically). The soft keyboard doubles up as a cover and sticks to the connectors on the left side of the tablet. Unfortunately, Samsung could not provide us with the keyboard. This was a missed opportunity indeed as it would have let us check out the Tab S3’s productivity features when compared to a laptop.
Coming to the cons, there’s really just one. The glass finish means that both the rear and front catch fingerprints very easily. As opposed to an iPad where you have just one surface to clean, the Tabs S3 gives you two. The oleophobic coating on the front glass does make it easier to wipe those smudges off. But it is going to be a mess, just like it was on the glass and metal S8 smartphone.
In short Samsung’s Tab S3 may look simple, but it’s practical in every area that it is supposed to be.
The Samsung Tab S3 features a 9.7-inch Super AMOLED display that features a resolution of 1,536 x 2,048 pixels (QXGA). Inside, there is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 chipset that is clocked at 2.15 GHz and is paired with 4 GB RAM and 32 GB of internal storage. A detail to note here is that the storage is expandable up to 256 GB via a dedicated microSD card slot. And you will need one because the system resources itself take up 9 GB of that storage, which is downright ridiculous.
Moving on to the camera, there’s two of them. There’s a 5 MP f/2.2 video conferencing camera on the front and a 13 MP f/1.9 AF camera on the rear accompanied by an LED flash.
As for connectivity, it does fall short, cutting down on NFC, an infrared port and the lack of MHL support. You do get 2G/3G/4G LTE network support on a single SIM, Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth v4.2, USB 3.1 with a reversible Type-C port, GPS and a 3.5mm headphone jack that’s literally squeezed between the two layers of glass on the metal frame.
Powering all of the above is a 6,000 mAh battery which is an upgrade over the previous Tab S2 by a small margin (5,870 mAh). The tablet runs Android 7.0 with the usual Grace UX customisations.
With a Samsung Super AMOLED display on board, I expected the colours to be saturated. And they did turn out to be exactly this way. Sadly, the software is not optimised to take advantage of the display leaving the 264 PPI pixel density as raw as possible, meaning the text did not look as sharp as I would have liked it to be. It clearly, cannot be compared to any other iPad model, let alone the Pro models in terms of sharpness.
The saturated colours are a pleasure to look at but are by no means natural looking. Head into the software settings (Screen mode) to tweak it and you will realise that the AMOLED Cinema mode makes them too darn boring with the lack of any vibrancy whatsoever. In short, you are left with some over saturated colours, meaning you will really not know what the movie was intended to look like.
One detail I really like about the display was the high contrast ratios. The blacks were really pitch black and added plenty of depth, making for a rather immersive experience when watched in the dark.
As mentioned in the features section, there is indeed a lot of software onboard the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3. The system resources take up 9 GB of the paltry 32 GB of space (considering that the device costs Rs 47,990) and apart from taking up permanent residence also seems to hamper the performance of the device.
Coming from an iPad Pro, a OnePlus 5, an iPhone 6s and even a Samsung Galaxy S8, I can tell that the software onboard the Samsung Tab S3 has issues. The system showcases no lag, but it seems to have a problem when swiping in both native and third-party apps. You will not come across a single buttery smooth interaction out here and the reason is not the hardware but the software. It's loaded with bloat. And while it is not visible in the form of unnecessary Samsung-branded apps, it becomes visible when you scroll, swipe and interact with the user interface.
The Google Play Store is the clearest example of this. No matter where you swipe, the UI stalls, making something as simple as the Play Store quite frustrating to use or a transition menu animation stuttery. While I would have passed this off on a budget device, at Rs 47,990 owners will not be expecting this. The software has more similarities with Samsung’s mid-range smartphones than it does with the high-end Galaxy S8 series. Add to this the lack of optimisations for the larger tablet displays and you end up with icons that tear along the edges and text that is nowhere close to the definition of the word ‘sharp’.
However, the software is good for getting things done, thanks to the S Pen functionality. The S Pen comes with bundled native apps that let you write down reminders, events and more using Samsung Notes. Using the same app you can also create your own artworks or even compose your own tunes using Soundcamp.
Moving to the S Pen, it’s quite responsive. It lets you scribble, write notes naturally, and I found the S Pen more practical to use on the Tab S3 than on any Note series smartphone. You can rest your palm on the display and write away like its paper. The stylus can detect up to 4,096 levels of pressure with a pen tip of 0.7 mm, which makes it great for both writing and drawing.
As with every other Android tablet in the past, app support is still lacking. There are barely any great apps to play around with, like you get on an iPad. Most third-party essentials are simply scaled up versions of their smartphone apps with no added functionality. So in short, the app story still remains the same.
Being the only tablet with a premium flagship chipset inside, the Tab S3 does come with its positives. For beginners, the performance figures on the Tab S3 are a little less than two times that of the older Tab S2. However, in some benchmarks, it faired as good as any other Snapdragon 820-powered smartphone (from last year) did.
While the software issues mentioned above are problematic, they can be solved with a big software update. As for the performance when it comes to gaming, the frame rates were steady with the Snapdragon 820 chipset onboard. However, if compared to the iPad Pro, it does not stand a chance, whether it's gaming, audio or even a smooth user experience.
Gaming was not really an issue and the Tab S3 could take on any game on the highest settings possible. However, Modern Combat seemed to have some hiccups with a few dropped frames on optimal settings. The tablet did not heat up while gaming, but would occasionally warm up when many apps were being updated or downloaded simultaneously.
Coming to audio, the performance was pretty good with balanced highs and lows using the headphones. As for the AKG-tuned quad speaker setup, it is indeed the best you can get on an Android device, but lacks bass and depth in comparison to an iPad Pro. Watching YouTube or downloaded movies was not a problem as the audio quality was loud enough, but I needed to plug in my headphones for a better experience at times.
Moving on to the camera, there’s two of them. There’s a 5 MP f/2.2 video conferencing camera on the front and a 13 MP f/1.9 AF camera on the rear accompanied by an LED flash
A tablet with a good camera has always been a rarity. This is for two reasons. Firstly, it's difficult to hold one upright at eye level and focus on your shot at the same time. Secondly, unlike a smartphone, tablets are heavy and not ergonomically designed for one-handed usage, making it difficult to hold it steady, while trying to reach out to the software shutter button.
So if not for photography, the focus on tablets, just like 2-in-1s or laptops, is on the front-facing camera, used for video calls.
Still then, the Tab S3’s 13 MP f/1.9 AF camera does a decent job when compared to a smartphone and even when compared to an Apple iPad.
The images shot in broad daylight are a over saturated and showcase a purple tinge. The images are sharp nonetheless, but often lack texture details upon zooming in. They appear a bit over sharpened as well, but the overall results will not disappoint those who actually attempt to shoot images with a tablet (any tablet) in the first place.
The autofocus mechanism seemed a bit undecided even in broad daylight. It kept hunting to lock focus in low light scenarios. In dimly lit situation, it would not be able to lock focus at all. There is also a bit of lens barrel distortion present in all the images towards the corners.
Coming to the camera that you will end up using, the 5 MP f/2.2 front-facing unit. The imaging is pretty good, for a tablet and most laptops out in the market these days. You cannot obviously use it for photography or in low light, but it does a good job at clicking selfies and the usual video conferencing apps. At f/2.2 it is bright enough and can record decent videos at Full HD resolution.
I managed to get a decent 7 hours using our standard PC Mark Work 2.0 Battery Life test. In day-to-day usage, the battery life was good enough to last a work day. The good bit here is that the 6,000 mAh battery comes equipped with a Quick Charge facility, that takes about 3 hours to charge.
Still then, the timings are a bit disappointing as the Tabs S3 would quickly drop charge when streaming video or running data intensive applications.
The Tab S3 was better off when it came to just watching downloaded movies. So it is a good choice if all you are going to do with it is watch flicks. Just don’t expect to watch one, on your way back home after a tiring work day.
Verdict and Price in India
The Tab S2 really impressed us the last time around. We thought of it as a worthy competitor the the Apple’s iPad arsenal. With the Tab S3, things have been toned down a bit.
The unpolished software makes the display look bad. There are performance issues (again coming from the software) and even the battery does not last forever like it does on an iPad.
But it does come with a few positives. The S Pen is a great new addition and the quad-speaker setup tuned by AKG and Harman is pretty good compared to any Android offering out there.
The problem here is that Rs 47,990 price tag.
If you are pro-Android and are looking for a bigger screen to watch movies on, the Tab S3 is not exactly a great choice, considering that all you are going to do with it is watch movies. Looking to get some work done? Well, you will have to wait a bit as the keyboard case has yet to be officially sold in India. After that, you will have to deal with those performance issues, but you will end up with an Android tablet that can do a lot more than your regular iPad (USB OTG, microSD card support, a full-fledged browser and more).
If you are looking for great apps and games, the latest Apple iPad is a better choice at Rs 46,300 (Wi-Fi + Cellular). It gets you more space (128 GB instead of 32 GB) a much better display and an A9 chip. Looking for something a tad bit better? The Apple 10.5-inch iPad Pro is leagues better on all fronts (audio, display, input and camera) at Rs 61,400 (64 GB Wi-Fi + Cellular).
Indeed, a little bit of spit and polish (with software) could have made the Samsung Tab S3 a much better offering, that would be worthy of taking on the iPad.
Sadly, at the time of writing this piece, the S-Pen and its PMP capabilities are the only things that are going for it.
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