Google IO 2017 Coverage

Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 review: Android’s expensive iPad killer

Samsung announced the Galaxy Tab S3 after months and months of speculation, replacing the aging Galaxy Tab S2. This new tablet features a more refined design, Samsung’s proprietary S Pen, and some upgrades to improve your productivity and media consumption.

The smaller option was axed, so this time around you’ll only be able to buy the standard size. It’s pretty clear that Samsung is aiming at Google’s Pixel C and Apple’s iPad Pro here, offering only a large screen with a hefty price tag and a focus on features with no cut corners.

On paper, it’s a solid tablet that’s head and shoulders above any of the competition, but is that worth the bigger price tag? Let’s find out.

Design

The Galaxy Tab S3 is a new take on Samsung’s tablet design language, opting for some new materials and a refined aesthetic compared to its predecessor. The biggest changes you’ll notice are the shiny glass back and an upgrade in ports and speakers.

The Galaxy Tab S3 only comes in a 9.7-inch display unlike the previous two iterations. It uses a 4:3 aspect ratio unlike most phones, especially next to Samsung’s new Galaxy S8 with its incredibly elongated screen.

Overall, the build quality of the tablet is fantastic and well in line with Samsung’s design philosophy of the past few years. It’s premium, made of glass, and is arguably one of the best feeling tablets in the Android market. It’s a large tablet, but it’s light and easy to grip, which is a pleasant surprise. Most larger tablets can be tough to hold for extended sessions, which is ironic for bigger screens that you’ll naturally want to watch movies and TV shows on.

You’ll find four speakers on the Galaxy Tab S3, with two on the top of the device and two on the bottom. The bottom side features both a headphone jack and a USB Type-C charging port.

The right side of the device houses the power button, volume rocker, and the microSD card tray, and the opposite side features the smart connector for Samsung’s optional keyboard accessory.

The face of the device still has Samsung’s traditional home button and navigation keys, which breaks the continuity between the Galaxy Tab S line and the Galaxy S line. No on-screen navigation keys here.

Noticeably absent from the device is an S Pen slot. This is not a Galaxy Note tablet, but it does come with an S Pen in the box. It’s much thicker than the S Pen that comes with the Galaxy Note phones, and apparently Samsung just couldn’t or didn’t want to find a way to make this custom stylus easy to carry around.

If you decide to buy the optional keyboard accessory, it comes with a small holster for your S Pen. It’s not perfect, but if you’re going all out with this tablet and treating it like a laptop replacement, Samsung came up with a solution. You’re out of luck if you’re not buying the keyboard case.

Hardware

 Samsung Galaxy Tab S3
AnnouncedFebruary 26, 2017
ReleaseSpring 2017
Display9.7-inch (2048x1536) Super AMOLED
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 820
RAM4GB
Storage32GB
Rear Camera13MP
Front Camera5MP
Battery6000mAh (non-removable)
ChargingUSB-C with fast charging
SoundBottom-facing speakers
SoftwareAndroid 7.0 Nougat with Samsung TouchWiz
ConnectivityBluetooth 4.2, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, NFC
SensorsAmbient, proximity, accelerometer, gyro, compass, barometer, fingerprint
Measurements237.3 x 169 x 6mm
Weight429g / 434g
ColorsBlack

Performance

The Galaxy Tab S3 isn’t packing an absolute top of the line processor, opting for a Snapdragon 820 instead of the slightly newer, slightly more improved Snapdragon 835. Don’t worry, though; you won’t notice any issues.

Everyday usage is as smooth as you can want from a device with its extremely high resolution screen, and its 4GB of RAM helps when jumping back and forth between apps and using the tablet’s fantastic split-screen functionality. Samsung’s software overlay also doesn’t get in the way, as its the newer, more toned down version of TouchWiz that they’ve been perfecting over the past few years.

Samsung’s display in the Galaxy Tab S3, like all of Samsung’s devices, is phenomenal. It’s bright, crisp, and colors pop. It’s also the first HDR-capable screen from Samsung, so you’ll be able to take advantage of the 4k HDR content that’s available. Granted, there’s not much content available just yet, but we’re getting there.

The speakers on the Galaxy Tab S3 are arguably the best I’ve ever heard on a tablet and even rival some cheaper external speakers. It’s clearly been designed as a media watching device, and speakers are a crucial element to that. Samsung partnered with AKG to tune the speakers in the tablet, and it seriously paid off. They’re loud, crisp, and pack as much bass as you can expect from a tablet as thin as the S3.

Battery

There’s a 6,000mAh battery crammed in the Galaxy Tab S3, which is pretty standard for a tablet this size but a bit smaller than the tablet’s only real competitor: Apple’s iPad Pro. Battery life isn’t bad, but it’s not outstanding, either. You’ll be able to squeeze an entire season on Netflix out of a single charge, which is great for long trips or flights, and fast charging is quick to juice things back up. Android’s Doze features have mostly eliminated the standby drain issues that have plagued previous Android tablets, too.

It would’ve been nice to get a slightly large battery into this thing to really go the distance, but Samsung likes their slim designs.

Software

The Galaxy Tab S3 has picked up Samsung’s newer software overlay that made its brief debut on the ill-fated Galaxy Note 7. It’s changed up a bit from previous models (there’s much more white and a definite Chinese OEM feel to everything) but overall an improvement from older iterations of TouchWiz.

Otherwise, you won’t find any surprises here. You’ll get the usual suite of Samsung apps and services, like their custom web browser, Samsung Notes, Samsung Flow, and their security features. The good news is that most of the typical bloat apps aren’t preloaded on the device, but are instead available in the Samsung Galaxy Apps store. The music player, Smart Switch, and other apps are available to download, but you won’t have to worry about them if you don’t want them.

The S Pen is here too, complete with all of the extra features that brings. Samsung Notes integrates tightly with the pen’s pressure sensitive functionality, but you can also use the S Pen button to capture certain pieces of your screen, doodle on screenshots, or quickly translate text.

We’ve been saying this for years, but Samsung has finally gotten to a point where TouchWiz exists and offers new features that you won’t get in stock Android, but it (mostly) stays out of the way and doesn’t gum up the performance or design. I’m still not crazy about the icon masking, but hey, let’s not get lost in the details.

You’ll get a few “premium” offers for certain apps and services that Samsung always offers with their high-end devices, and Microsoft’s Android app suite is preloaded. Google’s stuff is here, too, though, so don’t worry.

Closing

The Galaxy Tab S3 is, without a doubt, the nicest Android tablet on the market. It’s best in class in just about every category, and even makes a compelling option for someone that doesn’t want an iPad or Surface tablet to boot.

With that being said, that “no compromise” approach has some, well, compromises. It’s $599, which is exactly where Apple’s iPad Pro line starts, and most other Android tablets significantly undercut the price here. It does come with the S Pen, which Apple and Microsoft both sell separately, so if you’re positively going for the pen, Samsung has some added value over the competition.

Another pain point is actually one of the biggest selling points about the Galaxy Tab S3. The HDR compatibility is great, but there’s pretty much no HDR content for you to stream right now. If you want HDR movies or games, you’ll need an Xbox One or PS4 Pro, and that’s just for a very small selection of media. Netflix, Hulu, HBO, etc. are all still trying to figure out 4k with no plans for HDR just yet, so you’re limited to what Samsung preloads to show off the display, plus whatever you might be able to scrounge up on your own. The bottom line, however, is that you’re buying a Mercedes to drive to the grocery store.

The tablet is great, and its overkill for pretty much anything you could want to do, relatively speaking. It’s still a tough sell to replace a productivity laptop with an Android tablet, but if you’re willing and you’ve got the cash, Samsung offers the best on the market.

Buy it now: Samsung, Best Buy, Amazon


About the Author: Jared Peters

Born in southern Alabama, Jared spends his working time selling phones and his spare time writing about them. The Android enthusiasm started with the original Motorola Droid and an unhealthy obsession with fixing things that aren't broken. This accidentally led to being the go-to guy for anything more complicated than a toaster, which he considers more of a curse than a blessing. Jared is enrolled in online classes at the University of Phoenix, and spends his spare time on video games and listening to music.


  • jbstoner44

    It’s a very nice tablet, but the price is a tad bit too much. The LTE version will be much pricier. If Samsung would slash the price by $150-$200, I would be all over this tablet.

  • Jamie Brahm

    Strange that anyone would buy any of these for the keyboard (Samsung or apple), when there are genuine 2 in 1 computers running full desktop OSs, and slim line tablets running the same and they have more powerful software, genuine multi-tasking, multiple windows and split screens etc. It seems not only copycat, but sort of a stripped down budget version of a genuine hybrid. Its hard to imagine who the consumer is supposed to be for these….

  • cirrob

    Not interested at all. Pretty tired of hearing about this tablet yet no info on the 2 in 1 book 12 they are releasing. That and a surface are really the only tablets worth considering. But not a peep about Samsung’s new book 12 anywhere since Feb 26. Very frustrating. It’s like they never announced it.