- Sharp, vibrant screen
- Accurate S Pen
- Long battery life
- Uninspiring design
- Keyboard sold separately
Our in-depth review of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S3 takes a close look at this premium Android tablet, designed to take on Apple’s iPad Pro and Microsoft’s Surface Pro devices in 2017.
If you’re after an all-in-one device that can be used to edit office documents, sketch creative masterpieces, pump out gorgeous-looking HD movies and play the latest games, Apple’s iPad Pro and the Microsoft Surface Pro are both a solid choice.
These powerful tabs are well supported by a smart keyboard and accurate stylus (or ‘Pencil’ as Apple dubs its own pointer), for flexible and responsive output. Not to mention a solid range of business and creative software. They’re not quite full laptop replacements, but their sheer convenience makes them worthy travel pals.
Well, now there’s a third party in this vicious tablet rivalry. Samsung’s new Tab S3, freshly launched at MWC 2017, has just hit the UK rocking its very own keyboard cover and stylus pen. You once again get premium specs, for a rather premium asking price. But is Samsung’s portable device worth shelling out for compared with the Apple and Microsoft offerings?
For a closer look at how the Galaxy Tab S3 and iPad Pro specs stack up, check out our Tab S3 vs iPad Pro comparison.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 Review: Design
Samsung has proved with the innovative and absolutely stunning Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus smartphones that it can do design better than anyone else around. Which is why we’re a little gutted that the Tab S3 looks very similar to the 18-month-old Galaxy Tab S2.
Rather than the sleek edge-to-edge aesthetics of the S8 flagships, the Tab S3 comes packing quite chunky bezels and a rather uninspiring (not to mention super-wide) construction. Don’t get us wrong, this isn’t a bad looking tab by any means. It just feels a little stuck in time. That glossy surfacing is also a total fingerprint magnet, although the black finish helps to hide the worst of your greasy marks.
Thankfully the 429g tablet isn’t too hefty to hold with one hand for extended periods. That slender finish is also pleasing, so the Tab S3 slips into a case or bag without too much of a struggle.
Unlike Samsung’s smartphones, the Tab S3 isn’t water resistant. So don’t go taking it into the bath, whatever you do.
Beneath the screen you’ll find a home button which doubles as a fingerprint sensor. Simply touch your chosen digit to the surface and Samsung’s tablet boots right up, avoiding the need to bash in a PIN or password. It’s not the fastest unlocking mechanism around, but quite responsive; we rarely had to try more than once before our prints were recognised.
However, we’re surprised not to see Samsung’s iris scanner on board, as an alternative means of unlocking the tablet. This is a particularly handy feature if you’re cooking in the kitchen and have messy hands, so a definite miss.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 Review: Screen and media
Where the Tab S3 really starts to shine is the 9.7-inch Super AMOLED screen. This spacious display is easily a match for the iPad Pro or Microsoft Surface Pro’s panel, offering crisp, gorgeous looking visuals.
That Super AMOLED tech really highlights vibrant colours, drawing them out for a punchy final effect. That’s in contrast to the iPad and Surface, which produce more realistic images. If you want a machine for creating stunning works of art or bringing your photos to life, look no further.
With its sharp 2048×1536 pixel resolution, the Tab S3 offers strong detail levels too. Full HD movies and shows look the biz, with smooth performance from fast-paced action scenes and the rest. You can also expect seriously impressive viewing angles and a strong maximum brightness, for superb clarity at all times.
Great news if you’re an Amazon Prime Video subscriber, too. The Galaxy Tab S3 supports HDR video streaming from Amazon’s online service, for supremely lifelike playback.
We’re pleased to see a Blue Light Filter mode on board, for those long evenings spent alone with the device. This makes images warm and easy on the eye, to reduce the risk of eye strain and also beam out less harsh light that might disrupt any sleeping partners. Best of all, this can be scheduled to automatically activate at set times, such as sun down.
Like the iPad Pro before it, Samsung’s tablet sports four built-in speakers; two either side when the device is in landscape mode. Also like the iPad, these mini blasters pack some impressive power. You can happily watch videos in crowded, noisy locations and bustling kitchens and make out every word, while the Tab will fill a small room with music if required.
The rather meagre 32GB of storage space (almost 10GB of which is used up by the OS and pre-installed apps) can thankfully be expanded via microSD. Just as well, if you wish to carry around some videos and photos.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 Review: Features and OS
Android Nougat 7.0 sits neatly on the Tab S3, altered by Samsung’s own TouchWiz overlay to mix up the look and feel of the familiar Google OS.
As usual with Android tablets, the interface looks a little sparse and uninteresting. Perhaps it’s those massive gaps between icons, a problem you don’t get with smaller smartphone screens, which makes everything appear unnecessarily spread out. Still, you can fully customise the desktops with your own wallpaper, plenty of widgets and the usual tweaks, to make it more your own.
Of course Samsung has piled on plenty of its own apps and services, too. Some of these are a roaring success. For instance, Samsung Notes is a surprisingly great app for knocking out documents containing a mixture of text, pictures and other elements. The handwriting recognition in particular is impressive, rarely misunderstanding even my own childish scrawls. Even if you do make a mistake, simply rule out the incorrect translation with the stylus and it disappears.
We also like the Secure Folder, which adds bonus protection for your private files and data. Game Launcher is another fan favourite too, with the ability to record your game sessions and block notifications and other distractions while playing.
Sadly you do get some app duplications, like two web browsers and two email clients. The Samsung and Google apps can’t be deleted either, so you’re stuck with the clutter. No biggie, but quite annoying if you’re a bit OCD like me.
Rounding off the features is a 13-megapixel rear camera and 5-megapixel front-facer. If you’re one of those weird people who actually takes photos and shoots home movies on a massive tablet, then good news. That rear camera offers fairly decent results as long as the lighting conditions aren’t too ropey and you hold the thing as still as possible. You even get full manual controls and the ability to shoot in 4K resolution.
Skype fans will enjoy the front-facing camera too, which captures your lovely mug in true-to-life colours and with plenty of detail; thank god for the inevitable beauty mode, then.
Check out our Galaxy Tab S3 tips and tricks guide for more information on the tablet’s creative features and the rest.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 Review: Accessories
The S Pen stylus is as great as ever, offering a comfortable grip and super accurate strokes (helped by the narrow diameter and serious pressure sensitivity). Our only complaint is that there’s no slot to tuck the pen into, because of the narrow tablet dimensions. Understandable, but it’s obvious that many of these pens will end up going missing.
Sadly Samsung’s keyboard dock will cost you extra, just as it will on Apple’s device. That bumps up the already quite steep asking price, if you wish to use the Tab S3 to smash out emails or that werewolf zombie romance novel on the train.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 Review: Performance and battery life
Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 processor is on board, alongside 4GB of RAM. The result is a smooth performer, even when playing the latest games or editing video on the go. We’re surprised the slightly newer Snapdragon 821 wasn’t used instead, but we certainly have no complaints as far as performance goes.
Likewise, battery life is more than respectable. I managed a full eight to nine hours of mixed use per charge on average, enough to comfortably make it through a full working day. The Tab S3 holds power well when hibernating also, only losing a couple of percent overnight.
That 6000mAh cell can be charged quite quickly, thanks to Samsung’s Adaptive Fast Charging tech.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 Review: Verdict
We enjoyed our time with the Galaxy Tab S3, even if the design is quite old fashioned and the keyboard dock is an extra expense. That S Pen stylus is the winning feature, offering creative users an effortless tool for laying down whatever comes to mind. Combined with the slick performance, gorgeous display and long battery life, this is a definite rival to the iPad and Surface Pro tablets.
Of course, like Apple and Microsoft’s devices, the Tabb S3 ain’t cheap. If you’re looking for something a bit more affordable and don’t mind a dip in specs to achieve it, check out Asus’ Transformer Mini instead.