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Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 review

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Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 review
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Summary

Our Score:

7

Pros

  • Amazing HDR AMOLED display
  • Slim and light
  • Impressive S Pen included

Cons

  • Software lacks polish
  • Multitasking is janky
  • Glass back is a fingerprint magnet

Key Features

  • Snapdragon 820 CPU
  • 4GB RAM
  • 9.7-inch QXGA, Super AMOLED display
  • 6000mAh battery
  • 13-megapixel, 5-megapixel front cameras
  • Android 7.0 with Samsung UI
  • Included S-Pen
  • Manufacturer: Samsung
  • Review Price: £599.99

What is the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3?

A new top-end Android tablet is a rare occurrence these days, and after using Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S3, I can sort of see why.

This iPad Pro-chasing tablet is good-looking, fast and has a gorgeous screen, but I can’t fully recommend it because the Android user experience on a tablet still isn't quite up to scratch. Samsung has tried its best, but the future for high-end Android tablets isn't looking too rosy.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 – Design

The Galaxy Tab S3 is a mixture of the very best and the very worst of Samsung’s industrial design. It’s thinner than an iPhone 7, with a flat back and slightly curved sides that make it a pleasure to hold. Weighing in at just 429g it's also noticeably lighter than the latest iteration of the regular iPad.

Related: Best Android tablets

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The Tab S3 is about the same size as an iPad Pro 9.7-inch, but the all-black colour is a hue I've been wishing Apple would introduce for its tablets since the matte-black iPhone 7 arrived.

There are clicky volume and sleep buttons on the side, while the headphone jack and USB-C port sit slightly off-centre on the bottom. Like the iPad Pro, four speakers are dotted around the tablet and they have some software trickery that angles the sound depending on how you’re holding the device. There's also a very fast fingerprint scanner below the screen, flanked by two capacitive 'back' and 'overview' buttons.

It’s a stunning piece of kit, until you start using it. The glass back, for me, is a wrong step for a tablet. After using the Tab S3 for a few minutes the behind becomes completely covered in oily fingerprints.

I also expect tablets to be much more durable than a phone, mainly because they spend a lot of time being bunged inside a bag or passed around a group of people. An iPad can comfortably live inside a full rucksack without getting damaged, but I'm already starting to see tiny marks appearing on the Galaxy Tab S3. I understand a glossy, glass back might be a flashier design choice, but I'd prefer a matte metal back.

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Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 – Display and speakers

Samsung has knocked it out of the park with the display on the Galaxy Tab S3. The screen is so good that it sits in the same league and in some ways surpasses the iPad Pro 9.7-inch's True Tone panel, which is one of the best I've ever seen on a tablet.

The thing that really gives it the edge over Apple’s tab is the screen tech used. While Apple uses IPS LCD panels, Samsung uses AMOLED, which allows for much richer colours, deeper blacks and a more immersive screen for bingeing on media.

The tablet packs the same 2048 x 1536 resolution as the Tab S2, but it’s now HDR-enabled when you’re watching supported content either through Netflix or Amazon Prime. HDR (high dynamic range) gives much greater peak brightness, with blacks appearing deeper and more natural as a result.

Related: What is HDR?

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The demo HDR footage I've seen looks tremendous. It's a shame neither Netflix or Amazon has updated their mobile apps to support it yet, and there's no word on when that might happen, which means for now the HDR support feels a little superfluous.

The screen's much more colourful and saturated than the iPad Pro display, which can look a tad dull when they’re both side by side, but this is where the S3's lead ends.

The Tab S3's screen doesn't perform as well in bright light due to its overly reflective coating, which I've found is particularly annoying on trains. It also lacks any of the True Tone tech found in the iPad Pro, which alters the colour temperature depending on your environment and makes reading in the dark easier on the eyes.

Luckily, the media experience is made even better thanks to the four speakers. There are two on the bottom and two on the top, and they’re tuned by the audio gurus at AKG.

They’re decent speakers, with plenty of volume and the positioning means noise will come out in all directions, but they do have a tendency to feel like the sound is far away from you and being pushed the wrong way. This might have something to do with the software that’s supposed to alter the sound depending on which orientation you’re holding it in. Even with this issue, they’re much better than the majority of tablet speakers.

fourthstooge

February 27, 2017, 1:33 am

"Samsung claims the Tab S3’s quad speaker setup will further aid the tablet’s entertainment offering and is “one of the loudest and clearest seen on a tablet”, but I didn’t get a chance to check this during my demo." Samsung makes me laugh --- hahahahhahahhahahahhaha. Imagine watching a movie on this thing with all of the sound emanating to the sides instead of away from the surface of the tablet (i.e. in the same direction as the light waves travel from the video screen) Can you imagine going to a movie theater and asking the engineers to have the speakers facing sideways or backwards to enhance your entertainment experience? Samsung is a joke.

Jon Souter

February 27, 2017, 9:25 am

Speaker grills/cut-outs on the front of a tablet tend to catch a lot of dust & debris. Add to that, today's industrial designers tend to favour products that offer 'clean-looking' lines & surfaces - e.g. the virtually seamless glass panel look.

Whilst the speakers in these things tend not to be stellar quality, placing them at the sides does usually offer a slightly better sense of stereo sound than most front-facing setups.

As a result, very few (popular) tablets have used front-facing speakers... and it's a bit harsh to knock Samsung for at least trying to beef up the sound with better speakers than the tinny efforts found in most tablets.

fourthstooge

February 27, 2017, 11:49 am

I knock Samsung for not trying to make front-facing speakers. Surely a solution exists in this era of advanced materials and computers. Their engineers are lazy when it comes to sound. They just use what they designed for their smartphones. No, till they decide to exert a bit of effort here, I'll stay away from their products.

Kulti Vator

February 27, 2017, 2:35 pm

I think the point being made is that this is an industry-wide phenomenon... e.g. it's not just Samsung.

Have you researched the main players in this market... Apple iPad / Microsoft Surface Pro / etc?

fourthstooge

February 27, 2017, 2:40 pm

HTC, Sony & HP have produced front-facing Stereo speakers. All the players in this industry that do not do this deserve to have their devices sitting on the shelves. Users should boycott these devices and send a message to the manufacturers. If HTC can do it on smartphones, then it DEFINITELY should be on larger tablets.

Kulti Vator

February 27, 2017, 3:27 pm

The NVidia Shield Tablet also has front-facing speakers - but this is a rarity in the tablet space. Most 'premium' tablets hide the speakers out of sight for the style over substance reasons already given.

Nobody's saying side-facing speakers are better here - just that it's the way things have been driven by the manufacturers competing for a slice of the premium tablet market. Similar to how almost all premium tablets feature aluminium (or magnesium alloy) and glass in their (mostly 'copycat') designs.

Finally, you have to realise that many of the manufacturers have vest interests in selling you their latest generation wireless headphones - make of that what you will.

fourthstooge

February 27, 2017, 3:51 pm

If what you say is true, all the more reason to boycott their devices - it is the only way to send them a message. The new Sony Xperia XZ Premium has front-facing stereo speakers and they made the device waterproof. See - it can be done.

Stewart Tate

March 23, 2017, 8:23 am

have an S2 8.0 with AC WiFi and LTE. An amazing tablet with solid performance and battery life that is always connected. It has storage expansion and a large amount of RAM. The key improvements in the S3 are additional RAM which isn't needed yet. USB C would be nice to have but it isn't that hard to plug in the micro USB in the right direction. A faster CPU, hummm, the updated S2 already flys, it has one of the fastest CPUs available. Better graphics, the S2 does 4K video and looks wonderful. Software updates, if Samsung stops updates for the S2, it will be time to load a native Android os level. The S3 has a glass back? What! Are you brain dead? Sounds like a higher risk. The S3 is starting to look like a pass. Long live the S2, excited to hear about the upcoming S4.

vidoplaysov

March 30, 2017, 11:33 am

Speakers is the least concern that is. Slow updates, locked bootloaders (no custom kernels), cpu design failures...

vidoplaysov

March 30, 2017, 11:37 am

If you want speakers turn on your audio setup with tv, like expecting at par sound from a thin wooden stud

Kulti Vator

April 1, 2017, 7:09 am

It's clearly not that important for most people as the biggest selling tablets on the planet are the ones with hidden speakers (iPads/Samsung Tabs/Microsoft Surface etc)

GB UK

April 11, 2017, 1:30 pm

Be cautious, as a productivity tool the Tab S3 has no means of doing Video out to either a Monitor or a projector, only supports screen mirroring to a Smart TV. If you need to present ppt etc through HDMI or VGA there is simply not a way to do this as there is no MHL support. This is really poor on a £599 tablet positioned as a productivity tool with no means of doing basic presentations

GB

April 13, 2017, 7:18 pm

I prefer Android to IOS any time. It is much easier to transfer files from other devices because Android has a file manager which IOS lacks. Using iTunes for transferring data is just painful. IPads also have limited storage due to the missing MicroSD slot. The interface might be more elegant on the IPad. For me this does not compensate for the other deficiencies of IOS.

Hagar

April 15, 2017, 4:32 am

How bad is it watching 16:9 videos on a 4:3 screen? I have a Tab S 16:10 tablet and it's fantastic, but I cannot imagine how a 4:3 device would handle it...especially a 2.35:1 movie!

Pamela Curry

April 15, 2017, 3:47 pm

I have the previous tablet Galaxy Tab S2 9.7 I watch movies all the time. What I can't phantom is how cumbersome it must be to read on a 16:9 slate.

Hagar

April 15, 2017, 6:42 pm

I actually really like it...it's more similar to an 8.5x11 piece of paper so it's completely natural.

Don't you have to deal with black bars above and below? I have none on this tablet.

It also matches all TVs and computer monitors. The 4:3 screen is the exception to the rule.

Dalimil Chroust

April 18, 2017, 1:54 pm

4:3 ratio is an absolute deal breaker, I don't know why everyone has to blindly copy Crapple.

Combine it with Pentile matrix screen, this tablet is just another no-buy. I am sticking to Samsung Galaxy Tab S, still the largest and overall best tablet screen on the market.

NexusAU

April 20, 2017, 12:44 pm

Chromecast

GB UK

April 20, 2017, 9:50 pm

Chromecast or streaming directly to a TV is possible but as a business productivity tool you generally have to plug into a projector (HDMI orVGA) this was possible on the Tab S2 as it supported MHL, seems a step back as otherwise this is a great productivity tool using Chromecast at a customer site is simply not practicle. All current gen ipads can output to VGA or HDMI, for me this is really useful,

NexusAU

April 20, 2017, 10:15 pm

Chromecast can be plugged in to a projecter via HDMI, or even VGA with a converter if no HDMI port is available on the projector.

GB UK

April 20, 2017, 10:24 pm

Thats true, but we have a usb-c port that could support video out, we have this capability on previous generations. For simplicity a simple adapter to attach to a VGA or HDMI cable is simply how this would work. With Chromecast you have to power the Chromecast, connect to the projector. That is ok at home but too complicated at a site where you are not in charge of the environment. on a £599 device witha USB-C port its surely not too much to ask:)

Kevin Green

May 3, 2017, 2:12 pm

Not very impressed at all... I purchased Pre -Order but got it a week after I could buy
it from PC World, good start...

The keyboard case doesn't have an aperture for the camera and flash, design 101, so if you want to take a picture (and I do as I wanted this for site survey's) you have to remove from the case (which is only held by magnets btw) and yes I could very easily see this falling out of the case if I held it wrong. It’s made of glass!

So I've taken it out of the office today for the first time and the Stylus fell off of the table onto the wooden floor and now won't write, the nib is broken. it didn’t fall onto the nib, it fell flat. Great build quality... Wasn't there just a whole host of adverts from Samsung about build quality. I looked at a replacement and it's £89! So, I can only assume its internals are made of a mixture of Glass and Platinum!

I'm really regretting my purchase, yes, its quicker than my old tablet but I could have purchased a whole host of others at a fraction of the cost but I really needed the pen. Might be great for watching movies on the train but not really very robust for everyday use...

Richard Martinez

May 7, 2017, 5:49 pm

I keep reading how the Tab S3 has good battery life. I find it to be terrible. The latest outrageous drop is from 75% to 30% in 24 hours without it being used and with GSam Battery Monitor and Amazon Kindle as the only applications I have installed, besides updates to the pre-installed applications. GSam reports that 89% of battery usage is by apps, and the biggest app culprits are:
System (*wakelock*) 24%
Android System 22%
Samsung Keyboard 19%
Kernel (Android OS) 18%

When I look at GSam's charts, i see that increased battery drain is correlated to increased CPU frequency; obvious. But what's not obvious is why CPU frequency jumps from 0.1 to 0.3 GHz when the machine is not being used.

Has anyone else experiences this?
Thanks.
Richard

Tim FitzGerald

May 21, 2017, 12:04 pm

Hi Richard,
I have found the complete opposite. I returned 2 weeks ago from a business trip to Saudi Arabia where I had my Tab S3 charging in my hotel room. I forgot to unpack my charging cable since my return, but still have 58% batter life and that's after more than occasional use in the interim period.
Go get yours check out. It doesn't sem right.

Cheers,
Tim

vidoplaysov

May 23, 2017, 12:38 am

Oh je. Buy yourself a tv if you want to watch tv, not a tablet maybe you will stop talking nonsense

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