REVIEW OF THE SAMSUNG GALAXY TAB S8 AND S8 PLUS

For many years, if you’ve been seeking for a tablet to go with your Android phone, your options have been limited. In fact, the Android tablet market has produced so few attractive options that even many Android enthusiasts would advise purchasing an iPad instead.

The issue with purchasing an iPad if you already own an Android phone is that you will miss out on many of the system synergies that come with using an iPhone and an iPad together. Apps purchased on your phone must be repurchased on the tablet, you don’t receive system-level features like the ability to hotspot your phone from the tablet, and the two devices never feel as integrated or coherent as if they were both running the same platform.

That’s where Samsung’s new Tab S8 and S8 Plus shine, at least if you’re running Samsung’s version of Android. (Samsung also has a larger and more expensive third tablet in the Tab S8 line, the Ultra, which I reviewed separately here.) Samsung has made work establishing integrations and an ecosystem of its own between its products, which may be enough of a reason to choose a Samsung tablet over an iPad if you also have a Samsung phone and use Samsung wireless earphones.

PROS
Exceptional presentation
fascinating performance
Designs that are slim and light
Integrations with other Samsung products that are useful
 
CONS
The Android tablet app ecosystem is still in its infancy.
High-priced labels
There is no charger in the box.
There is no cellular option.
PROS
Exceptional presentation
fascinating performance
Designs that are slim and light
Integrations with other Samsung products that are useful
There is a cellular option.
 
CONS
The Android tablet app ecosystem is still in its infancy.
High-priced labels
There is no charger in the box.

That’s not to claim Samsung has gone as far as Apple in terms of integrations, nor does it mean that the standard Android tablet complaints — mainly, a far smaller pool of optimized apps — don’t apply. The Tab S8 and S8 Plus are likewise pricey tablets, with prices starting at $699.99 and $899.99, respectively, before any extras such as a case or keyboard are added. They do, however, provide us a peek of an Android-first environment that we haven’t seen before. The hardware differences between the Tab S7 / S7 Plus models from 2020 and the Tab S8 models from this year are as follows:

  • The Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 CPU is a new chipset from Qualcomm.
  • Support for Wi-Fi 6E
  • Front camera with higher resolution
  • The back camera’s lens has been improved.
  • The S Pen has a lower latency.

The Tab S8 is only available with Wi-Fi; the Tab S8 Plus comes with 5G cellular connectivity. It’s strange that this isn’t consistent throughout the line.

The new tablets are visually identical to the previous ones. They share the same 11-inch 120Hz LCD or 12.4-inch 120Hz OLED panels and Dolby Atmos quad speakers. The hardware is outstanding, as previously, and either tablet gives an excellent video viewing experience. Performance is likewise excellent, with fast responsiveness, rapid app launching, and no issues with “jelly scrolling.” These tablets are priced and feel like premium tablets, which is a good thing.

I like the smaller Tab S8, which is simpler to use with one hand and more comfortable for the chores I perform on a tablet, such as reading novels or news articles. The S8 Plus‘ OLED screen has the edge if you want a better tablet for watching movies, albeit it lacks the punch and brightness of Apple’s 12.9-inch iPad Pro.

Galaxy Tab S8 has the best Android tablet update policy - 9to5Google

Both models have screens with a 16:10 aspect ratio, which is better suited to laptops than tablets. When browsing webpages in landscape mode, it makes them feel cramped, and when handled in portrait mode, it makes them feel awkwardly tall.

The Tab S8 includes the same fingerprint scanner as the Tab S7 in its sleep/wake button, and the Tab S8 Plus has the same fingerprint scanner under the screen as the Tab S7 Plus. In my testing, both functioned perfectly, albeit neither is as smooth or quick to use as facial recognition logins. (Face login is possible on both tablets, but it isn’t as secure as fingerprint scanners or Apple’s Face ID.) Both tablets lack a 3.5mm headphone jack and rely only on a single USB-C connector for all I/O.

A good 128GB or 256GB of built-in storage is available in both models. In addition, unlike the iPad, the Tab S8 range enables microSD card storage expansion (up to 1TB), allowing you to add extra capacity later.

Both include Samsung’s S Pen stylus, which has been upgraded this year to be slightly more responsive. I really enjoy using the S Pen, especially for taking handwritten notes on the screen. It features a softer tip than the Apple Pencil, which lowers slipperiness while writing on glass and eliminates the need for a screen protector on the Tab S8, as I do with an iPad. It’s even better that it doesn’t cost an extra $129 on top of the tablet’s price. I’m not an artist by any means, so if you’re looking for that, I recommend watching Brad Colbow’s videos about the S8 line on YouTube, but the S Pen is fantastic for taking handwritten notes, marking up screenshots, and simply navigating the tablet’s software throughout the day.

For charging and storage, the S Pen magnetically attaches to a strip on the back of the tablet (but it will only charge if it’s facing a specified angle — strange). The pen may be used as an input device without being charged; however, charging it allows you to connect it to the tablet through Bluetooth and use other features like air gesture controls, which I’ve never fully grasped. The S Pen is held in place by magnets on the back of the tablet, but because the pen extends out from the rear, it’s easy to knock it off in your bag. Some Samsung cases magnetically attach to the backs of the tablets and give a cover over the S Pen, which helps keep it in place, but such a case would cost between $70 and $80.

European prices and release dates revealed for the Samsung Galaxy Tab S8+  and Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra as whole Galaxy Tab S8 series is leaked by major  retailer - NotebookCheck.net News

When it comes to cases, the Tab S8 and S8 Plus support the same options as the Tab S7. For both sizes, I was able to try out the strangely named $139.99 / $159.99 Book Cover Keyboard Slim, which combines a folio style with a trackpad-free keyboard. The keyboard is good — thanks to pogo pins that allow it to interface with the tablet, there are no Bluetooth pairing issues or charges required — but I missed having a trackpad. It also only has one view angle, which is limited, and the back cover has a hole for the S Pen to slide through rather than a cover to keep it in place. If you’re willing to pay more money, the $199.99 / $229.99 Book Cover Keyboard, which is unchanged from when I tested it with the Tab S7 versions, comes with its own set of constraints (primarily, it’s really hard to use on a lap).

Despite supporting up to 45-watt fast charging, neither the $700-plus Tab S8 nor the $900-plus Tab S8 Plus come with a charging brick in the box. Despite the fact that this is becoming more prevalent among high-end phones, these are the first tablets I’ve seen that don’t have a charger.

Because so much of the hardware has been carried over from the previous generation, the software has seen the most advancements.

Samsung is unable to address the long-standing Android issue of poorly designed apps that do not format well for larger screens, do not support keyboard shortcuts, or do not operate well with Samsung’s desktop-style Dex software mode. As a result, Samsung has focused its efforts on optimizing its own apps and ensuring that the Tab S8 and S8 Plus work well with Samsung phones.

Many of the features developed by Samsung will be recognizable to iPhone and iPad users. From the Tab S8′s settings menu, I was able to turn on the mobile hotspot feature of my Galaxy Z Fold 3; the Galaxy Buds Pro in my ears immediately switched between the Tab S8 and my Fold 3 depending on which device was playing audio. Samsung has even created its own version of Apple’s Handoff function, which allows you to continue using an app on a different device, but it’s still limited to Samsung’s browser and notes apps and doesn’t work with any third-party apps.

INTEGRATIONS WITH THE TAB S8 TABLETS WILL BE AVAILABLE TO OWNERS OF SAMSUNG PHONES.

You can use the Tab S8 models as external screens if you have a Windows PC, exactly as Apple’s Sidecar feature. The keyboard case may be used with several devices, albeit switching between them requires Bluetooth pairing and isn’t as smooth as Apple’s new Universal Control function.

Samsung’s own products, such as Internet, the company’s browser, have been adapted for larger screens. Tabs and history are readily synchronized between your phone and tablet, and the browser loads and works well with desktop webpages on the tablet. I ended up spending a lot of time in the browser, especially when I had the keyboard cover attached, because so few of the Android apps I use on a regular basis have been tuned to operate well on a tablet screen.

Some more Galaxy Tab S8 images and wallpapers leak ahead of launch -  SamMobile

Other stock apps, such as Samsung’s Calendar, as well as several Microsoft apps, such as Outlook and Office, perform nicely on the huge display (both of which come pre-installed). Google’s apps are more hit-or-miss, and some of my favorite productivity tools, like Slack and Asana, are just dreadful stretched-out copies of their phone apps that don’t take advantage of the larger screen at all. Obviously, your experience may differ based on which apps you want to use, but Android’s tablet app ecosystem still has a long way to go in comparison to Apple’s.

Samsung offers their own approach to multitasking, which is based on Android’s innate ability to run two programs in split-screen mode. You can split the screen three ways on the Tab models, plus put a floating app on top to view four apps at once. It can be a little complicated and inconvenient to use, but it’s no worse than the iPad’s odd multitasking method.

Aside from that, Samsung has DeX mode, which gives a desktop-like environment in which to run windowed Android apps. It’s designed to bridge the gap between a mobile operating system like Android and a desktop operating system like Windows. Though DeX has its supporters (hello, sure, I see you in the comments), I’ve never been a fan, and that hasn’t changed with the Tab S8.

Though Samsung’s apps run great in DeX, many Android apps don’t know what to do when forced into a windowed mode, resulting in small text, strange layouts, and in some cases, inability to launch. Other odd limits exist, such as the inability to utilize the mouse pointer to pick text in a browser or app, which is something I do frequently as an editor. DeX is still a viable solution in an emergency, but it’s not something I’d want to use for extended periods of time.

IN SAMSUNG’S DEX MODE, PRODUCTIVITY WORK IS STILL A CHALLENGE.

Android has certain benefits, depending on your use case and requirements. If you want to stream games or run gaming emulators, an Android device is far more convenient than an iPad. With a controller and either Tab S8 model, you’ll have a capable portable gaming machine with an amazing screen and excellent speakers.

Samsung and Android, on the other hand, are still lagging behind when it comes to other services that can benefit from the larger screen. I use Apple News with a News Plus membership on an iPad to read a wide range of paywalled publications and newspapers for a low monthly charge – there’s nothing comparable for Android that I’ve found. Fortunately, all of the top streaming services are available on the Tab S8 / S8 Plus, including Netflix, HBO Max, Disney Plus, Hulu, and more. Apple TV Plus is the big one missing (you can view it in the web, but it’s not as good as having a dedicated app).

Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 launch could be soon — specs and images just spotted  | Tom's Guide

After years of not seeing a compelling reason to buy an Android tablet, I have to confess that Samsung has made a convincing case this time – as long as you’re already a Samsung Android user. The Tab S8 and S8 Plus work nicely with other Samsung products, are outstanding hardware on their own, and if you have certain use cases that aren’t well supported by Apple’s tight control over iOS, these tablets could be just what you need.

Samsung still has work to do in terms of fleshing out its ecosystem, and Google’s newfound interest in Android tablets should result in improved third-party app support (though I’m not holding my breath). It’s also a shame that if you have a Pixel or another Android phone, you won’t be able to take benefit of many of the Samsung integrations.

However, I believe that the Tab S8 and S8 Plus‘s current pricing is the largest roadblock. These are high-end tablets with hefty price tags, especially when accessories are included. Samsung will most likely release some more reasonably priced tablets to replace some of its older models, and it has been good about releasing software updates to bring some of these new features to existing devices, though when I asked about future updates, a company spokesperson declined to comment.

For present, the Tab S8 or S8 Plus is about as good as it gets if you want a nice Android tablet experience and don’t want to live the dual-platform life.


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