Samsung Galaxy Tab S7+ review: A better PC replacement than the iPad

There’s no two ways about it: the iPad Pro is the benchmark for high-end tablets. What’s a computer”, right? But that number one spot is still subject to some competition. Samsung and Huawei, in particular, have been working hard to revive a failing Android tablet market—and now, the latest challenger to the iPad’s crown is here: the Samsung Galaxy Tab S7+.

This is Samsung’s latest and greatest tablet, and from the offset, it’s already clear that the Tab S7+ is a seriously premium piece of hardware. However, one of the main reasons behind the iPad’s dominance in recent years is undoubtedly software optimisation. Android, on the other hand, still feels like a ported OS in many ways, and tablet-makers like Samsung and Huawei have suffered as a consequence. 

Still, Samsung has clearly worked very hard to incorporate tablet-optimised features into the Tab S7+. Some have been brought over from the company’s flagship smartphones (such as Edge Panel multitasking), but others like Samsung DeX bring a lot to the table for tablet users. 

The gist of it

On paper, this is one of the best Android tablets you can buy in 2020. A Snapdragon 865+ processor, 8GB of RAM, 256GB of onboard storage that you can expand via microSD, and a beautiful 12.4” AMOLED display pushing a 120Hz refresh rate. In Malaysia, we don’t have a 5G model—or even an LTE model, so you’ll have to settle for the single variant with WiFi. 

This isn’t so much of an issue for me, although I don’t quite understand why Samsung wouldn’t release a 5G model locally. LTE connectivity, on the other hand, is probably the bigger loss for many users. 

At a price of RM4,599, this is a startling oversight from Samsung, although you do get an S Pen stylus included, as well as the Book Cover Keyboard while stocks last.

The Book Cover Keyboard, in particular, was an essential accessory for me when using the Galaxy Tab S7+. The two-piece case is made up of a keyboard that offers a “PC-like” experience with a trackpad and a full function key row, along with a case that features a free stop hinge that flexes at up to 165 degrees. 

Something worth noting is that the Book Cover Keyboard doesn’t really stay in place when the tablet is propped up. The keyboard portion of the case—which sits atop the display when the tablet is “closed”—appears to be too heavy for the built-in magnets.

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Taking into account Samsung’s strong track record with hardware, perhaps this was due to a defect on our review unit. Still, this isn’t really something that you’d expect from a tablet or 2-in-1 convertible from a major brand, and it does take the sheen off an otherwise premium looking setup.

In general, the keyboard is great to use, with a nice tactile response when typing, and just enough travel to replicate the PC experience. The trackpad, on the other hand, feels sluggish, and you’d be best advised to use a mouse (Bluetooth or USB-C) with the Tab S7+, if you’re planning to get any real work done.

But is this really a PC replacement?

Obviously, it depends what you use your PC for. But in my line of work, the key difference between using a PC or a tablet is usually multitasking. Tablets—for all of their multitasking gestures and split windows—don’t quite offer the same level of flexibility as PCs do. The Samsung Galaxy Tab S7+, however, makes a strong attempt to emulate the PC experience. 

For some context, Samsung DeX is the company’s mobile desktop solution, and the feature is also supported on most high-end Galaxy smartphones. However, the tablet space is where DeX really shines. While you’ll need a second monitor for DeX-compatible smartphones, the Tab S7+’s large 12.4” screen takes advantage of Samsung’s desktop mode as a standalone device—complete with windowed apps, and features like drag-and-drop (this only works on a limited number of apps, I’m afraid). 

The Tab S7+ also supports Wireless DeX, which means that you can connect the tablet to Miracast-compatible displays. However, you’ll need to get used to significant delay/lag, and on certain TVs I tested, the overall video quality looked severely compressed on the larger display. So if you want to utilise a monitor or TV for movies or slideshows, I’d recommend using traditional, wired DeX instead.

Overall, as someone that does the majority of my work on a Windows-powered laptop, the transition over to the Galaxy Tab S7+ was pretty smooth. A lot of the same keyboard shortcuts work on DeX and Windows, which I discovered when instinctively hitting shortcuts such as alt+f4 (cmd+f4). Drag-and-drop only works with certain apps in DeX, however, and you occasionally run into issues with app optimisation in DeX mode. 

The ability to have a desktop-like experience at a click of a button is one that cannot be replicated on the iPad, plus file management is also significantly better on Android, despite recent improvements on iPadOS.

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DeX may still be a work in progress—and yet, it’s also the main reason why the Galaxy Tab S7+ comes closer to being a PC replacement than the iPad ever has for me.

What about its performance as a tablet?

As expected, the Galaxy Tab S7+ has one of the best displays that you’ll find on any tablet out there. The 12.4” Super AMOLED screen is vivid and bright, with a 16:10 aspect ratio that is ideal for Netflix, YouTube, and most forms of video content; the 120Hz refresh rate also means that browsing and working on the tablet is a buttery-smooth experience.

This is backed up by a quad-speaker setup, which offers bright and full-sounding audio—on par with some of the best laptops/tablets of this size in the market. Sadly, the Tab S7+ doesn’t have a 3.5mm headphone jack, just like the iPad Pro. A major disappointment for me, especially on a tablet/PC replacement.

I’d argue, however, that a 4:3 display aspect ratio (used on the iPad Pro 12.9”) would offer more vertical space in landscape mode, which I prefer when it comes to browsing on a tablet. The trade-off for the iPad? Those annoying black bars when you’re watching something on Netflix. On the Galaxy Tab S7+, these black bars are a lot smaller.

Still, the Galaxy Tab S7+ is hamstrung by the Android operating system as a whole. As I mentioned earlier, the Android experience on tablets leaves a lot to be desired. App optimisation, in particular, is hit-and-miss, and Apple’s iPadOS is simply the better operating system for tablets. Instead, I found myself using Chrome to browse through platforms like Facebook and Reddit, rather than relying on the ported mobile app versions that look horrible.

And if you’re looking for something to use as an illustration pad, Samsung’s flagship tablet—and the included S Pen—doesn’t quite offer the same experience that the iPad+Apple Pencil combo does. For this test, I enlisted the help of a talented amateur illustrator (who also happens to be my girlfriend), Rachel, who explains that the S Pen doesn’t “feel like a pencil” in the same way that the Apple Pencil does.

Most of her complaints centre around the soft rubber tip of the S Pen. In comparison, the Apple Pencil’s rigid tip allows illustrators to fully utilise different strokes of the same brush/pen in apps like Procreate by using the sides of the tip. This consequently offers more flexibility to create illustrations and animations.

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When not in use, the S Pen magnetically attaches onto the back of the Tab S7+, which wirelessly charges the stylus. It isn’t really a secure placement, so be sure to use the Book Cover Keyboard, or expect the S Pen to regularly fall off when you use the Galaxy Tab S7+ on your lap.

Do note that you can still attach the S Pen to the top of the tablet (à la iPad Pro), although it won’t charge that way. Still, you can use the S Pen as a basic stylus even if it isn’t charged, although gestures won’t work.

I also ran Samsung’s latest tablet through some popular benchmarks:

As for battery life, the Galaxy Tab S7+ is certainly an all-day device—or even two days, if you’re frugal with your usage. I regularly got a day and a half of usage on a single charge, with around 7.5 hours of screen-on-time: 

The Galaxy Tab S7+ has support for 45W fast-charging, but ships with a miserable 15W charger in the box. Using a PPS (Programmable Power Supply)-compliant 45W Xiaomi Power Bank 3 Pro and a USB-C to USB-C cable, a full charge takes three hours. Do note that you’ll need to get a charger that supports PPS to take advantage of the tablet’s full fast-charging capabilities.

Should you buy this?

If you’re looking for a tablet that can also double up as a PC replacement, the Galaxy Tab S7+ is probably the best Android-powered option in the market right now. On the other hand, its main competitor in the tablet market, the iPad Pro, offers better app support, a better stylus, and LTE connectivity (for the Malaysian market). 

I’d say that the iPad Pro offers the superior tablet experience. There’s no getting around it—despite One UI features and Samsung’s best efforts, iPadOS still lands a resounding win over Android for tablets. 

But again—if what you’re looking for is a PC replacement, Samsung DeX is a game-changer, making the Galaxy Tab S7+ a better PC replacement than the iPad Pro in many ways. Proper mouse/trackpad support, comprehensive file management (which is always an issue on iOS/iPadOS), and a desktop mode that emulates the PC experience? All very welcome on a mobile workstation.

Photography by Zachary Yoong with the Sony A7 III.