Back in the days, tech pundits had predicted that Android tablets will die a slow death and would become a thing of the past. This has clearly turned out to be wrong. Tablets aren’t dead, but the traditional way of selling a tablet is dead. Ask Samsung.
The company’s latest Galaxy Tab S6, which will be available at a starting price of $649 on September 6 in the US, reinvents the idea of Android-based tablets. It’s a regular thin-and-light Android tablet, but the confluence of the keyboard, the S Pen and a built-in Dex desktop mode helps make the Galaxy Tab S6 more of a laptop and less of a traditional tablet. The Tab S6 competes against the iPad Pro, a tablet that also doubles as an entertainment device and a productivity machine.
I tried the new Galaxy Tab S6 at the global launch of Galaxy Note 10 in New York, and here’s what it’s like to use a premium Android tablet that aims to replace your laptop.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 hands-on: Thinner and lighter design
Whether you agree or not, the Galaxy Tab S6 looks a lot like the 11-inch iPad Pro, at least from the front side. The 10.5-inch AMOLED display has a slim thick bezel and the tablet boasts a thinner and lighter aluminum design. In fact, the Tab S6’s 5.7mm thickness makes it even slimmer than the 11-inch iPad Pro which is 5.9mm thick. And of course, the smaller bezels translate to a more compact device.
In hand, the tablet felt quite comfortable to hold. The display on the Tab S6 has rounded corners combined with the metal frame and aluminum back. Unlike the Galaxy Tab S4’s glass back, I actually like Tab S6’s clean and plain rear metal look. I believe it’s more durable and less susceptible to damage. The Tab S6 comes in Cloud Blue and Rose Blush colour options, along with Mountain Grey, pictured below.
The back features two cameras, instead of one. The setup consists of a 13-MP primary camera and a 5MP ultra-wide-angle camera with a 123-degree field of view. I did manage to capture a few images, but I will reserve my final judgment until I get to spend more time with the cameras. But I do admit that a dual-camera setup on a tablet is an overkill. Having said that, I have seen many people taking photos using tablets. The front-facing 8MP camera is decent too.
Like last year’s model, you will find a quad-speaker setup tuned by AKG for immersive sound and there’s also support for Dolby Atmos. The headphone jack is gone, so you will need to use a pair of wireless Bluetooth headphones or a USB C to headphone jack adapter.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 hands-on: Stunning AMOLED display, more processing power
It’s got a 10.5-inch 2,560 by 1,600 16:10 Super AMOLED screen with HDR10+ support. And I have to say the display is as crisp and bright as I’ve seen on previous-generation Galaxy tablets. I feel a 16:10 aspect ratio display is better suited for a tablet like the Galaxy Tab S6, because it offers the best of both worlds. Unlike the 3:2 or 4:3 aspect ratios, a 16:10 aspect ratio display is apt for watching widescreen movies, playing games or editing Word documents on Microsoft Office.
The Tab S6 also features an optical fingerprint scanner under the display, just like the OnePlus 6T and not like the one found on the Note 10 or Galaxy S10+. Plus, it has a face unlock feature. I didn’t get time to test either the Tab S6’s fingerprint sensor or face unlock feature.
Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 processor powers this tablet, so the performance won’t be an issue. Expect the Tab S6 to outrank the Tab S4, which came with a Snapdragon 835 processor. But the biggest competition for the Tab S6 is with the iPad Pro, which has a proprietary A12X Bionic chipset. As someone who has used the iPad Pro, Apple’s tablet is indeed the fastest mobile device on the market. And to beat out the iPad Pro in performance is the real test for the Tab S6.
If you love to play games on a tablet, then Samsung has added a new feature called “Game Booster” on the Tab S6. The mode uses AI to improve the gaming experience, plus there’s an integration with Discord via the Samsung Game Launcher. As one might expect, the tablet runs Samsung’s OneUI skin, which is based on Android Pie.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 comes with 6GB RAM and 128GB storage, or 8GB RAM and 256GB storage. The tablet also has a microSD slot that supports memory cards up to 512GB. Battery life is expected to be marginally better than the Tab S4, which according to Samsung will last up to 15 hours of usage.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 hands-on: S Pen, keyboard and Dex mode
The S Pen is still there, but it’s slightly thinner and lighter and has been redesigned. Yes, you can jot down notes, draw or sketch using the S Pen. Fine. But how about using it as a remote control to control the tablet? Thanks to wireless Bluetooth capability, the S Pen has gained remote-control capability now.
I couldn’t test the S Pen on the Tab S6 since the stylus was missing from the demo unit. That said, the S Pen offers the same features and functions on the Tab S6 as what you get on the Note 10. And one of the new features on the S Pen is “Air Actions” for controlling the camera and music. By pressing the button on the S Pen and raising your hand up and down, the stylus lets you switch rear cameras to a selfie camera on the tablet. Or else, press the button and hover your hand left or right to switch camera modes.
New to the Galaxy Tab S6’s design is the S-Pen that attaches magnetically to the back of the tablet and charges wirelessly. Samsung says that 10 minutes of charging is enough to provide the S Pen a full day of use. The S Pen is included in the tablet.
Samsung offers an optional Book Cover Keyboard for which you have to shell out $179. It attaches to the Tab S6 via a pogo pin connector. The big highlight of the keyboard accessory is a trackpad, which the iPad Pro lacks. I haven’t had a chance to try out the keyboard, which also has a dedicated Dex key. With a press of the Dex key and the function key, the Tab S6 automatically switches from the standard Android mode to a desktop-like mode.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 hands-on: Conclusion
Samsung is aiming the Tab S6 at those users who want a laptop-like experience from their tablet. The company kind of succeeds with the Tab S6, but there is a long way to match the level where the iPad Pro is today. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not Samsung’s fault but rather Google’s. Look, Apple tightly controls software on the iPad and with the new iPadOS, the company has released so many tablet-centric features that are designed to help the iPad work as a productivity device. The other difference that makes iOS superior to Android is the quality of apps designed to work on big-screen tablets like the iPad Pro and Galaxy Tab S6.
Nevertheless, I am happy to see Samsung’s consistent focus on making Android tablets better. After my 15 or so minutes with the Tab S6, I came out impressed. If I were in the market for a powerful Android tablet later this year, I would definitely consider the Galaxy Tab S6. At the time of writing, Samsung is yet to disclose the retail availability of the Tab S6 in India. Hopefully, it will come to India like any other Samsung product.
Disclaimer: The author was in New York on the invite of Samsung India.