Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 review: Great hardware in a dying form factor

There was a time where I seriously considered the merits of getting an Android tablet. In my head I had my desktop in my work room, my laptop in my bedroom and my phone with me on the can. But I didn’t have a device in my living room and that’s where I thought the tablet would fit perfectly.

Talk about #firstworldproblems, amirite? Every now and again, this small part of my mind begins to entertain the idea of a tablet again and I start to think that maybe it was time for me to get one.

And then I got my hands on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 — a powerful Android tablet with a beautiful screen, and a nice set of speakers. Theoretically, this is exactly what I needed but after spending some time with it, the Tab S3 only served to prove that nobody really needs an Android tablet.

Now, I won’t say that this is because the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 does anything very poorly. In fact, it’s an excellent piece of technology that can deliver a stunning performance. It’s got a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor and 4GB of RAM inside with 32GB of internal storage (expandable via microSD).

Needless to say that performance was buttery. It’s basically a really big S7 and there’s really nothing wrong with that. Especially when it’s got such a beautiful display.

The 9.7-inch Super AMOLED screen pushes a tantalising 2048×1536 pixels which makes everything look really good. In fact, the screen is so crisp that the usual icons Android uses in its UI actually appear a little pixelated when stretched on this display. What’s more, this screen also supports HDR10 but according to Samsung, HDR streaming only works with the Amazon Prime Video app. Even so, regular videos still look great on this screen.

Adding to its strength as a media consumption tool, the Tab S3 also has quad speakers tuned by AKG by Harman. They fire out of the sides of the display and sound pretty darn good for a tablet. However, I think the iPad Pro’s speakers edge these out just a little more when it comes to volume.

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Keeping the device powered is a fat and juicy 6,000 mAh battery. This translates to what is practically an entire day of YouTube video watching (on data because this is a 4G LTE-capable tablet and takes a nanoSIM) with over 8 hours of screen-on-time.

Although I noticed that the tablet doesn’t idle as well as an iPad does (thanks to Android) the Tab S3 certainly charges quickly. With the included Adaptive Fast Charger (same as the one Samsung uses on their phones) I was able to top up the Tab S3’s power cell from 5% charge in just 2.5 hours.

The more you look at and use the Tab S3 the more you can draw similarities between it and an S7. Its body is also that reassuring concoction of glass and metal that just oozes premium. I’m still not a big fan of glass bodies because of the hideous amount of fingerprints that can get on them and the fingerprint problem only gets worse on a bigger body.

One thing worth noting is that the Tab S3 isn’t water resistant no matter how much it feels like the S7. That’s a shame because spills can happen and it’d make me feel a lot more confident with it if it was also IP68 water and dust resistant.

Samsung did, however, include a 13-megapixel primary camera and a 5-megapixel selfie shooter with beautification features. The primary camera takes decent shots though you will be severely judged if you’re one of those “tablet photographers”. Still, it’s there when you need it and that’s OK I suppose.

Click for full resolution

Left: Front camera + beauty filter, Right: Front camera

Main camera

What is nice, though, is that Samsung includes an S Pen with the device. It’s not exactly the same as the one you’d find in the Note phablets because it’s a lot chunkier which gives it a nice grip in the hand. I still think it’s a little too thin but that’s probably down to personal preference. One thing I would have liked to see is an easy way to store the pen.

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Anyone who has seen my doodles will be able to figure out that drawing isn’t my thing so I wouldn’t be the best person to tell you how it’s like to draw on the tablet. However, I did consult my colleague who does draw and his impressions were that the S Pen plus Tab S3 combo simply isn’t as nice to draw on as an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil. He did say that the latency was pretty good but the overall experience just doesn’t compare to Apple’s.

As an Android tablet, then, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 is excellent. It’s powerful, well-built, got a great screen and a nice set of speakers. However, there are two really big issues that I have with it that would stop me from buying one.

The first is the fact that it’s an Android tablet. The whole time I spent using it, there was really rarely anything I could do on it that I couldn’t also do on a smartphone and get a similar if not identical experience. The Android operating system for tablets is just so similar to a smartphone’s that you’re realistically only ever going to look at your tablet for a bigger screen. I don’t find myself being more productive nor do I find myself being unable to perform certain tasks because I don’t have my tablet with me. And that’s not just true of the Tab S3, it’s true for practically every single Android tablet out there.

Secondly, we come to the price. Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S3 is priced at RM2,999 which is RM1,000 more than its predecessor. That’s a lot of money. In fact, that’s iPad Pro 10.5-inch money. Yeah, the base model 64GB iPad Pro doesn’t have cellular capabilities, but there’s no denying that the iOS on the iPad is a lot better to use than Android on a tablet especially with iOS 11.

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When it comes to that, I think the Samsung Tab S3 is a bit of a miss. Yes, it’s a great Android tablet but the truth is that most of you won’t need a great Android tablet. Just a good one that’s more affordable — like the Huawei MediaPad M3 — will give you pretty much the same experience, and if you wanted more productivity you can also get a Windows 10 tablet for a similar price.

So the big issue with the Tab S3 is that it wasn’t designed to succeed since the day it was launched. There’s a reason why iPads are pretty much the only tablets people buy anymore and even then, iPad sales aren’t what they used to be.

The tablet as a format is in dire need of reinventing and unfortunately for the Tab S3, it does none of that. In the past, this traditional tablet form-factor made sense because it was supposed to sit between the phone and the laptop. However, after Lenovo showed us what could be done with the tablet as we know it, this current form-factor just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Lenovo’s solution isn’t any bulkier than a traditional tablet nor is it any more difficult to use in the same way as a traditional tablet. It is, however, a lot more practical than a traditional tablet because it comes with a fully functional keyboard attached and it has the ability to run full Windows 10. I firmly believe that that is the future for the tablet and that makes it very hard for the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 to be anything more than a reminder of the past.