Tech review: Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 entertains, but is no workhorse

The S6's shortcomings can be laid at the feet of the Android operating system and Dex, Samsung's middling attempt to mimic the desktop PC experience.
The S6's shortcomings can be laid at the feet of the Android operating system and Dex, Samsung's middling attempt to mimic the desktop PC experience.PHOTO: SAMSUNG

I got a sense of deja vu while testing Samsung's latest premium Galaxy Tab S6 tablet.

Despite boasting significant upgrades - dual rear cameras, an in-display fingerprint reader and a faster processor - over last year's Tab S4, the new version is just as lacklustre as a work laptop alternative as its predecessor.

Note that Samsung has tweaked its naming convention so the Tab S5e, also launched this year, is a lower-end budget version while the flagship Tab S6 is the heir to last year's Tab S4.

The S6's shortcomings can be laid at the feet of the Android operating system and Dex, Samsung's middling attempt to mimic the desktop PC experience.

To be fair, the S6 is unrivalled as a media consumption tablet among Android tablets, though it must be said that most Android manufacturers have long conceded the premium segment to Apple's iPad tablets.

Like the S4, the S6 comes with four excellent speakers and a bright and vibrant 10.5-inch Oled screen. But the S6 is thinner and sleeker with narrow display bezels. However, the headphone jack has been removed.

The screen is crisp and looks lovely with deep blacks as well as supports high dynamic range (HDR) Netflix videos. But I was annoyed that the display will auto-dim if the light sensor (located next to the front selfie camera) is accidentally blocked by my hand while holding the tablet in landscape mode.

The bundled S Pen stylus fits magnetically in a shallow indent at the back, where it charges wirelessly. Alternatively, the optional Book Cover keyboard ($268) has a holder to house the stylus more securely. This keyboard actually consists of two parts, the keyboard half connects to the side of the tablet via pogo pin connectors. The other half, which includes an adjustable kickstand, attaches to the back of the tablet via a removable adhesive layer.

In other words, you can use this accessory solely as a kickstand (without the keyboard) to prop up the tablet for watching videos or playing games, especially in cramped places like in an airplane.

 
 

I wrote part of this review on the S6 with this keyboard. It has a small but usable touchpad, but like most such keyboards, it lacks a backlight. Typing on this keyboard is a decent experience on a rigid flat surface, but the entire setup feels unstable and flimsy on the lap. It is a problem faced by the older Microsoft Surface tablets and Samsung clearly did not adopt Microsoft's solution.

Battery life has taken a dip compared to the previous model. In our usual video-loop battery test, the S6 managed 11hr40min, down from the 14hr on the S4. This is likely due to a smaller battery in the S6.

But the biggest issue is not with the hardware, which runs very well thanks to its flagship Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chip and ample system memory.

Instead, it is with the Android software, which is made for mobile devices and not as good at multitasking as the Windows operating system. For instance, a mobile browser will stop video playback in one tab if you switch to another tab, unlike a desktop browser.

In addition, you can only have two concurrent apps in split screen mode in Android. This seems restrictive, especially as Samsung supports three active app windows in its new Galaxy Fold smartphone, which has a smaller 7.3-inch display when unfolded.

There is no such restriction if you use the Samsung Dex feature, which tries to replicate the Windows desktop experience by letting you resize and arrange any number of app windows.

But Dex has not improved much since its debut. The same complaints I had from last year remain. For instance, it does not remember the current state of app windows and restore them later, which is annoying as it is tedious to resize the apps manually using the small touchpad or the touchscreen. Switching between Dex and the standard Android interface also results in apps being closed.

In short, the Tab S6 is not going to replace your laptop, despite Samsung's efforts. This is not entirely Samsung's fault as app developers also need to do more to optimise their apps for the tablet form factor.

But at this point in time, Apple and Microsoft are the frontrunners at making tablets work for those who do more than just consume media.

FOR

Best Android tablet in the market

Excellent multimedia performance

Sleek and portable

AGAINST

Not the best tablet for productivity

Light sensor easily blocked, resulting in auto-dimming of display

Optional keyboard accessory unstable on lap and takes up too much space

Dex shows little improvement

No headphone jack

SPECS

Price: $998 (Wi-Fi), $1,098 (LTE, 128GB), $1,298 (LTE, 256GB)

Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 (Single-core 2.8GHz, triple-core 2.4GHz and quad-core 1.8GHz)

Display: 10.5-inch Amoled, 2,560 x 1,600 pixels, 287 ppi pixel density

Operating system: Android 9.0

Memory: 128GB (microSD expandable up to 1TB), 6GB RAM

Rear cameras: 13MP (f/2.0), 5MP ultra-wide (f/2.2, 123-degree)

Front camera: 8MP (f/2.0)

Battery: 7,040mAh

RATING

Features: 4/5

Design: 4.5/5

Performance: 4/5

Value for money: 3.5/5

Battery life: 4.5/5

Overall: 4/5