The newest addition to Samsung’s high-end tablet line-up sports a specification that’s very close to Apple’s 9.7-inch iPad Pro. At first you might be taken aback by the Tab S3’s price tag, which looks like a worse deal than the Californian company’s nearest equivalent, but actually Samsung’s deal is a little better value: it bundles a redesigned version of its S Pen with the tablet, making this a more tempting proposition as a device on which to take handwritten notes and sketch out ideas using a pressure and tilt-sensitive stylus.
Let’s get physicaL
Give or take a few millimetres, the S3’s dimensions are very close to those of the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. It weighs a little less than Apple’s tablet, but it’s lighter by no more than a maximum of 10 grams, depending on whether you go for the Wi-Fi or 4G model. Samsung clearly puts some thought into the portability of accessories, not just its main devices, including a three pronged charger.
A bonus of its design is that its body is made of glass. Picking it up while cold is a less chilling experience than touching the metal back of an iPad, for example. More unappealing, though, is the tablet’s 6mm thinness, which can become uncomfortable if you grasp it around the tablet’s left or right edge for a long period of time. As with many other tablets, if you’ll often hold the S3 in that way, we suggest buying a case to bulk it up just a little. Samsung’s placement of the wake/sleep and volume buttons, which share the same edge, isn’t ideal if you’re switching from an iPad or another tablet on which they are split between two sides; we found it rather too easy to press the former button by accident when wanting to adjust the volume, though as with anything, you learn the layout over time.
Sound and Vision
On that note, Samsung’s marketing of the S3 makes a lot of noise about its four-speaker sound system – as it should on a device that you’re likely to use for video, music, or both. The speakers are arranged around the four corners of the device, enabling the Tab S3 to deliver convincing stereo sound regardless of whether you hold the tablet in portrait or landscape orientation. It’s a configuration that significantly benefits entertainment, suiting action movies and certain types of game very well. The speakers can go plenty loud, too, but it’s not all good news: their overall quality is merely adequate. Where we’ve used an iPad Pro, which has the same quad-speaker arrangement, as a stand-in for a room-filling sound system, we would be dissatisfied with using the S3 in that way. Its bass output feels limp to non-existent, even on tracks that should be saturated with it, and it’s a telling sign that we wanted to stick on a pair of good headphones even in the privacy of our home. When it comes to visuals, though, the S3 is far from disappointing.
The resolution of its Super AMOLED display is 2048 x 1536 pixels – an exact match for all 9.7-inch iPads dating back to 2012. That sounds old hat, yet it’s great in practice, and the screen tech delivers a punchy and sharp picture. The S3’s support for HDR content offers something a little special where video is concerned, given that it can make scenes look more natural thanks to increased detail in highlights and shadows. For now, though, this feature is limited to content sourced through Amazon’s Prime Video app. Though HDR video is still uncommon from video providers on the whole, it’s disappointing that it’s currently unavailable from Netflix, which has been offering HDR to compatible TVs for a while now. In terms of its less visible tech specs, the S3 doesn’t disappoint. It shouldn’t, either, given that it sports a full 4GB of memory and a strong quad-core processor. It’s super-smooth in use; we felt no signs of sluggishness as we moved around the system and jumped between apps. The S3’s rather light 32GB of built-in storage matches the amount you get in an entry-level iPad Pro, though Samsung has gone one better – it’s opted for the flexibility of a microSD slot that supports card capacities up to 256GB, so there’s plenty of room for expansion later on, if your needs grow.
Thou shalt create
With the S3 being an iPad Pro rival, it’s not all about passive enjoyment. Samsung provides an S Pen with it, which you can use for everything from drawing simple sketches to taking notes to creating multilayered artful masterpieces. It’s mercifully shorter than Apple’s sometimes unwieldy-feeling Pencil, and 9mm thick at its widest point. It also shuns its rival’s mimicking of a traditional writing tool by having a slightly flattened shape.
Handwritten notes and sketching are good; overall smooth responsiveness.
Limited bass; S Pen’s friction and lack of tilt.
The S3 Just short of being an ideal all-round, mid-size tablet due to a surprising sound deficiency and stylus niggles.
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