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Samsung Galaxy Tab S3: Our first take

Jeffrey Van Camp
samsung galaxy tab s news mwc first take

It’s been two years since the release of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2, one of the very best Android tablets you can buy, and Samsung is finally replacing it with a new model. The Galaxy Tab S3 debuted at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona on February 26, and while it isn’t full of surprise new features, we are surprised by how premium Samsung’s latest tablet is, and by how easy it is to type on its new type cover.

We spent an hour or so trying out the new tablet, and below is everything we’ve learned about the new 10-inch tablet that will go toe to toe with the iPad Pro.

When is it coming?

Samsung initially didn’t reveal how much the Galaxy Tab S3 would cost, waiting until closer to the release date instead. Pre-orders will start on March 17 through Samsung’s own online store, along with Amazon and Best Buy, at a price of $600. March 24 is the release date, and also the day the keyboard cover will be made available for $130. The case comes in several colors, but the tablet will only come in silver and black.

Glass, metal, and quad speakers

Samsung’s Galaxy phones are known for their glass and metal designs, and it has finally brought this attribute to the Galaxy Tab. The entire front and back of the 10-inch Tab S3 is made of glass with black and silver background colors, depending on your color choice. Surrounding that glass is a metal frame, lending some stability to the design in the event that you drop it.

The Tab was fairly comfortable to hold. If you’ve ever held an iPad, it’s almost the same feeling, except for the glass back, which is cool to the touch, but does pick up fingerprints fast. We had to wipe off the tablet a few times when we were photographing it. Every time we touched it, we left a mark. Having said that, it’s no worse than owning a glassy Galaxy S6 or S7 phone, or the many other glass phones on the market these days. Glass is hip, and Samsung has it in spades on the Tab S3.

Button placement is also comfortable and standard on the Tab S3. The power and volume buttons are on the right side, along with a MicroSD card slot for expanded storage, and on the bottom, you’ll find a headphone jack (a luxury feature these days, sadly) and a new USB Type-C charging port. Many phones and PCs are beginning to replace Micro USB and standard USB ports with USB Type-C, so it’s nice that Samsung is thinking ahead in this area.

More: Apple iPad Pro 9.7-inch review

Finally, like the iPad Pro, the Tab S3 also has a fingerprint-reading home button on the bottom and four speakers (tuned by AKG by Harman), one on each corner. The speaker setup sounded very nice in our limited testing, and it allows you to get stereo sound no matter what orientation you hold the tablet in. You’re going to appreciate the quad speakers because this tablet is perfect for watching movies.

Oh, the beauty of HDR-ready AMOLED

Samsung did not skimp on the Tab S3 screen. Watching movies on Netflix is one of the most popular things people use tablets for these days, and the Tab S3 may one up the iPad in this area. The S3 is HDR-ready (though we don’t have the specifics on precisely what kind of HDR it supports), and Samsung’s AMOLED screen shines when watching video. We watched several scenes from a western flick, and the difference in brightness, contrast, and vividness between HDR and non-HDR scenes was very noticeable.

But even if you don’t watch movies that are HDR-ready, this screen is still gorgeous. Because it’s AMOLED, colors are particularly vivid and whenever you see black on the screen, it’s as dark as possible. Unlike an iPad screen (or any LCD screen), AMOLED allows individual pixels to be turned completely off when needed. It’s gorgeous.

We found ourselves watching some of the demo videos a few times, excited by the color. Kudos to Samsung for spending the time and money to make a larger AMOLED screen.

A comfortable keyboard, and included S-Pen

The keyboard on the S3 is not included, but you may want to pick one up (we’re guessing it will cost $100 or so). Though it’s cramped, like a netbook keyboard back in the day, we were instantly able to pick it up and start typing. Like the Microsoft Surface tablets, the island-style keys have depth and a good feel to them. Apple, by comparison, has struggled with its own tablet keyboards, which are somewhat difficult to use.

The keyboard also doesn’t force you to fiddle with Bluetooth syncing to make it work. Like a Surface keyboard, it snaps into the bottom and just works. The only downside is that it only has two viewing angles, which will make it a little difficult to use on your lap if you’re in a cramped space.

Samsung is including an S-Pen stylus with the Galaxy Tab S3, which is nice. The new S-Pen is thicker, about as thick as a pencil, and has a soft rubbery feel to it. It can do everything an S-Pen can usually do on a Galaxy Note device, and has added pressure and tilt sensitivity — features that digital artists will enjoy. In Photoshop, for instance, you can now paint with angled brush strokes.

More: Everything we think we know about the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus

The only downside to the S-Pen is that you’ll probably lose it. There is no holding slot or magnetic way to attach it to your tablet. Keep track of it, my friend!

Powerful enough

When it comes to practical usage, the Galaxy Tab S3 is comparable in power to an iPad. It boasts a 9.7-inch AMOLED screen with a 2,048 x 1,536-pixel resolution, a 13-megapixel rear camera, and 5-megapixel front camera. It packs two speakers on the bottom and two on top, like Apple’s iPad Pro, as well as a USB Type-C connector and fingerprint sensor.

On the inside, Samsung has packed in a 2.15GHz + 1.6GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 32GB of internal file storage, along with a MicroSD card slot if you need more space. The Snapdragon 820 is a good processor, but it is two years old now, and far from premium.

There is also an LTE option if you want to pay a little extra to avoid having to find Wi-Fi service wherever you go.

More: The best tablets you can buy

The Tab S3 runs the newest version of Android, Nougat, with all the standard Samsung extras and apps. Reps made a particularly big deal of Samsung Flow, a streamlined way your tablet can communicate with a Galaxy phone, if you own one. It lets you auto tether and respond to messages more seamlessly between devices.

We aren’t yet sure on battery life. We believe it will get 8-10 hours on its 6,000mAh battery. Unless something changes, expect fairly normal tablet battery life.

Apple does not deserve a tablet monopoly, and we’re glad Samsung is still planning to fight the overwhelming dominance of the iPad. Overall, we’re impressed with Samsung’s new tablet, which looks like it will be a solid alternative to the iPad Pro.

Highs

  • Gorgeous AMOLED screen
  • Beautiful glass and metal design
  • Comfortable keyboard attachment
  • Decent 13-megapixel rear camera
  • S-Pen included

Lows

  • Possibly expensive at $600
  • 2-year-old processor
  • Keyboard is an add-on

Article originally published in October 2016 as a rumor roundup. Rewritten with official news and hands-on impressions on 02-26-2017 by Jeffrey Van Camp. Updated on 03-16-2017 by Andy Boxall: Added pre-order and release dates.