Tablet review

Samsung's Tab S3 gives Apple a run for its money

The Galaxy Tab S3's S Pen turns out to be an excellent tablet companion
The Galaxy Tab S3's S Pen turns out to be an excellent tablet companionPHOTO: SAMSUNG

Samsung is taking on the Apple iPad Pro with the Galaxy Tab S3. It is apparent to me that the S3 tries to match the features and the pricing of the 9.7-inch iPad Pro.

Take its screen, which has the same size and screen resolution as the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. Samsung arguably wins here - the S3's Super Amoled screen offers vivid colours with deeper blacks, compared with the iPad's LCD display.

The S3's display also supports High Dynamic Range (HDR), which means it can play richer and more realistic-looking HDR videos. Such content is mostly available from streaming services like Netflix and Amazon. But while Netflix and Amazon have announced plans to roll out HDR support for mobile devices, they have yet to do so.

The S3 and the iPad Pro weigh about the same. The S3 has an aluminium frame with a glass back that is nice to hold. It is a fingerprint magnet, though the smudges are not as apparent on the silver model as they are on the black version. Another consideration - the glass back is more fragile than the iPad's unibody metal chassis.

Get The Straits Times
newsletters in your inbox

Like the iPad Pro, the S3 is intended to be more than just a device to consume media. Hence, it comes with the S Pen, a pressure-sensitive stylus that works well in tandem with Samsung's Air Command software. This utility shows up as a circular button on the screen, and lets users create a note, capture a screenshot, and even translate text via Google Translate by highlighting what you want to translate with the stylus.

I found the stylus to be an excellent tablet companion. The Translate feature is especially handy and the stylus performed well while writing, with little latency.

  • TECH SPECS

  • PRICE: $898 (Wi-Fi), $1,098 (LTE)

    PROCESSOR: Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 (1.6GHz dual-core, 2.15GHz dual-core)

    RAM: 4GB

    DISPLAY: 9.7 inches, 2,048 x 1,536 pixels

    CAMERA: 13 megapixels (rear), 5 megapixels (front)

    STORAGE: 32GB, microSD expandability up to 256GB

    BATTERY: 6,000mAh

  • RATING

    FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 4/5

    PERFORMANCE: 3/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 5/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 2/5

    OVERALL: 3/5

The S3 comes with a keyboard cover ($198) that turns the device into a laptop. Judging from its size, the keyboard looks cramped. It lacks a touchpad, too.

Samsung has supported multi- window mode - that is, run two apps on a single screen - for a few years now. This useful multi-tasking feature is now built into the Android Nougat mobile operating system on the S3. It is especially useful on a larger tablet, compared with a mobile phone. However, this feature is currently not supported on apps like Netflix, Mario Run and Bamboo Paper, to name a few.

The S3 lasted 11hr 38min in our video-loop battery life test, eclipsing the iPad Pro's 8hr.

The Galaxy Tab S3 costs $898 for the Wi-Fi version and $1,098 for the LTE model. These prices are actually $10 more than the equivalent iPad Pro. However, Samsung bundles its S Pen stylus with the S3, whereas you would need to pay an additional $148 for the Apple Pencil. If you lose the S Pen, which is entirely possible seeing as you cannot store it within the tablet, it costs $118 for a replacement.

You can add a microSD card (up to 256GB) to the S3 if you need more internal storage. This option is not available for Apple devices, and upgrading to the 256GB iPad Pro model costs an extra $300.

But I would hesitate to call the S3 good value for money. Apple still has more tablet-optimised apps, though Nougat's multi-window feature may help to narrow the gap.

I am also not convinced that tablets can double as productivity devices, even if manufacturers try to turn them into these devices by adding keyboard and stylus accessories. They just don't work as well as a proper convertible hybrid.

•Verdict: With the Tab S3, Samsung has matched the iPad Pro in terms of hardware and pricing. But the real issue here is the decline of the tablet market, a trend that the S3 is unlikely to reverse.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 10, 2017, with the headline 'Samsung's Tab S3 gives Apple a run for its money'. Print Edition | Subscribe