A few years ago, the tech world was obsessed with finding an “iPhone killer” – a phone to knock Apple’s handset from its perch and prove there was life out there for Android.
Some years later it finally happened, with the launch of the Samsung Galaxy II (argue amongst yourselves on that), but when it comes to the equivalent in the tablet world, we’ve been waiting.
But Samsung has just announced a tablet that could break that mould. The Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 finally puts a strong focus on both video and audio as well as performance, and it comes with an S Pen stylus to help with productivity.
Read on for our first impressions.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 looks every bit a Samsung tablet in its design. At first glance, it’s not unlike its predecessor, except it now features a new Gorilla Glass back for a glossy, hardy finish, and is set in a metal frame instead of plastic.
Like all glass designs, it can be a fingerprint magnet, but it certainly looks the part, and feels just as premium as its all-metal iPad rival.
At 6mm it’s not quite as slim as last year’s offering, but you’d never notice. It’s light too, coming in at less than the iPad Air 2 at 429g, and comfortable enough to hold for long periods without issue.
It still features Samsung’s home button and fast fingerprint scanner, which are flanked by two touch icons either side for going back and multitasking. There’s a volume rocker and power button on the right hand side too.
Samsung certainly hasn’t strayed from the beaten path here when it comes to overall look, but it’s a design that works, with newer, more premium materials to keep things interesting.
The screen here matches its iPad rival, with 2048 x 1536 resolution on a QXGA Super AMOLED panel. This will undoubtedly mean better blacks than LCD screens and more vibrant colours too – certainly the demo clips we checked out looked sharp and punchy on the S3’s bright screen.
The big news here though, is the introduction of HDR10 support in video playback, alongside the announcement that Netflix and Amazon Prime Video will soon be streaming HDR from their mobile apps.
More after the break
Unfortunately, none of this was available to try during our hands on, but the demo clips we saw showed pretty promising results. Highlights appear boosted with better detail and colours look richer and more nuanced than with SDR content. We’ll have to put this to the test in our full review, but early signs are very promising indeed.
As for content playback, we were told the Tab S3 would support 4K. However, considering its resolution is lower than that, we’re assuming that's on a downscaled basis only.
Samsung has gone all out with the audio on the Tab S3, not only by supporting hi-res audio as standard, but also by including quad speakers tuned by AKG.
There are four separate drivers, one at each corner of the tablet, with the aim of providing strong stereo sound in both portrait and landscape modes.
Unfortunately the show floor was too noisy to evaluate them properly, but we could hear a louder and more encompassing sound than we’re used to from a Samsung tablet. We look forward to testing them out in quieter surroundings soon.
The Tab S3 features a Snapdragon 820 CPU and 4GB RAM. It might not be the newest chipset going, but it's enough to keep things ticking along smoothly.
Screen swipes across Samsung’s TouchWiz UI on Android 7.0 were responsive, zooms were smooth and switching between apps was hiccup free. From our time with it, we don’t think it’ll have a problem handling anything you need it to – even graphic intensive gaming seems stable.
Charging is via USB-C on the bottom of the device, with fast charging included as standard to get you back in the green quicker.
As for battery life, the larger 6000mAh battery should improve upon last year’s already decent effort, but it does still linger some way behind the iPad Air 2’s 7340mAh offering. As ever though, proof is in the usage, so we’ll have to wait and for our full review to see how it fares.
While we’re not usually fond of cameras on tablets due to their cumbersome nature, the Galaxy Tab S3’s options look to be decent.
The main camera is 13MP with autofocus and LED flash, while the front facer is 5MP. We had a quick play around with the two and they seem quick and responsive, and were largely noise free from the quick snaps we took. We’ll bring you more in our full review.
S Pen & keyboard cover accessories
With its screen and audio boasts, you might think the Tab S3 is just out for a good time, but Samsung is keen to show it can be a workhorse too.
Similarly to the Note range, the Tab S3 will come with a revised S Pen stylus in the box, plus there will be an optional keyboard cover available separately for helping with word processing.
The S Pen has had a suitable facelift for the task at hand, and is now chunkier to match the feel of a normal pen. It feels much better to hold, and also has a new rubber tip that makes it glide more naturally across the screen.
As well as drawing and note taking, the S Pen brings with it all the functionality from the Note series, including screen capture, its instant translation tool and a scrapbooking copy and paste feature.
Samsung has clearly put some thought into making the Galaxy Tab S3 a real all-round tablet. Not only is it an entertainment marvel with an HDR-capable screen and quad speakers, but it’s also a productivity machine too.
All that and it now looks the part of the premium tablet it’s trying to fill too. Its chipset might not see it top benchmark tests once the Snapdragon 835 becomes more widely available, but it should still whizz through most day-to-day tasks.
For once, it’s an Android tablet that tries hard to tick every box. Spending more time with it in our full review will tell us whether it has been successful.