Samsung Galaxy TabPRO 8.4 and 10.1 review: A stunning display with a lot of power

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Having already conquered the smartphone market, Samsung has their eyes on the tablet market. The first step towards this was the release of the Galaxy TabPRO line, which consists of 3 different sizes: 8.4-inch, 10.1-inch, and 12.2-inch. Although they pack a lot of power and options, the emphasis is on the display resolution, which is among the best out there. Of course, as one would guess, that extraordinary display comes at a higher cost. The 8.4-inch version goes for $399. Comparing that to the iPad Mini, it’s on par, but comparing it to other Android tablets, it’s quite a premium. The TabPRO 10.1 costs $499, which again is pretty high when compared to other 10-inch Android tablets. Is is really worth the extra dough? Hit the break to get started.

Note: Although I will mention the Galaxy TabPRO 12.2 a lot in this review, my experiences are only with the Galaxy TabPRO 8.4 and TabPRO 10.1. Samsung has yet to send me a 12.2 review unit.

Design

One thing you can say about Samsung is they offer consistency with their looks and design. They might offer a lot variants, but you can never mistake a Samsung device for another brand. The TabPRO takes on the same design as the Galaxy Note 3. Other than the sheer difference in size, you really wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the devices, especially with the TabPRO 8.4 as it has almost an identical layout as far as buttons and ports. You’re also going to find the same faux leather back with fake stitching, fake metal trim, as well as Samsung’s love it or hate it home Button. You still get a capacitive back key to the right of the home button, but they switched out the capacitive menu key (to the left) in favor of a capacitive task key.

The TabPRO 8.4 has the microphone jack at the top (portrait mode) and the microUSB port and stereo speakers at the bottom (portrait mode). The left side has the microUSB port and the right side gets the power button, volume rocker, and IR blaster. The front home button and capacitive back and task buttons are at the front bottom in portrait mode.

The TabPRO 10.1 and 12.2 are set up a little differently since those tabs are usually held in landscape mode most of the time. They have the power button, volume rocker, and IR blaster at the top (landscape mode) and the microUSB port at the bottom (landscape mode). The left side gets the microphone jack and the left stereo speaker (landscape mode) while the right side gets the microSD slot and the right stereo speaker (landscape mode). The front home button and capacitive back and task buttons are at the front bottom in landscape mode.

I would like to have seen the stereo speaker placement on the TabPRO 8.4 the same as its bigger siblings. Even better, I think they should have placed the speakers at the front on all the devices, which would have been just like what they have done on past 10.1 tabs. These are PRO tabs, and marketed as such, so they should be there, case closed.

Galaxy TabPRO 8.4

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Galaxy TabPRO 10.1

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Now the TabPRO line won’t get the thinnest tablet award, but they are damn close. The 8.4 comes in a 7.2mm, the 10.1 comes in at 7.3mm, and the 12.2 comes in at 8.0mm. In contrast, the iPad Air and the iPad Mini comes in at 7.5mm. The Nexus 7 2013 edition comes in at 8.65mm.

Galaxy TabPRO 8.4

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Galaxy TabPRO 10.1

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All in all, Both the TabPRO 8.4 and 10.1 feels and looks like Samsung devices. They don’t scream quality, but at the same time, they don’t feel chincy. The faux leather isn’t as soft as I would like, but it’s not as slippery as past Samsung offerings. The 8.4 is a really nice size for those that feel 7-inches is a just a little too small, but don’t want something as big at 10.1-inches.

Hardware

All three tablets sport the same specs except for the battery and their respective display sizes. They feature TFT LCD displays with a resolution of 2560 x 1600, a 2.3GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor, Adreno 330 GPU, 2GB of RAM, 16GB/32GB of storage, microSDHC slot for up to 64GB of expanded storage, 8MP rear camera, 2MP front camera, Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n (2.4 & 5GHz), and Bluetooth 4.0. As to the battery size, the 8.4 has 4800mAh, the 10.1 has 8220mAh, and the 12.2 has 9500mAh. Because of the screen sizes, each tablet sports a different ppi and they are 359ppi (8.4), 299ppi (10.1), and 247 ppi (12.2). You will also find LTE versions of these tabs, but I didn’t get to test any.

Performance

As one would expect with a Snapdragon 800 device, the performance is top notch. Even with all the Samsung add ons, it just flies. There is absolutely nothing it can’t handle. Just like other Samsung devices, you will be able to multitask by running two or more apps on the screen at the same time. When doing that, I found the performance to also be just as fast with no hiccups.

I ran the obligatory AnTuTu benchmark, which came in a 25,504. I have no idea if Samsung is doing anything “funny” to doctor the number or not, but the bottomline is that you won’t find any issues with the speed of the device.

The display is where the TabPROs shine, especially the 8.4, which carries a whopping 359 ppi. In contrast the iPad Mini is 325 ppi and the Nexus 7 2013 is 323ppi. In looking at the TabPRO 10.1, the ppi is 299, and the iPad Air comes in at 264 ppi. The TabPRO 12.2 comes in at 247 ppi, but there really isn’t anything to compare it to.

So Samsung can crown themselves as having the best tablet displays in the business, but the difference is minimal. You will have a hard time telling the difference between the devices, but if you put the quality of the display at the top of your list, you won’t find a tablet with a better display. You notice it the most with the 8.4 since the ppi is so high. It is one of the most beautiful displays I have set my eyes on. My wife picked up the 8.4 from my desk and said, “What is this?” as in this looks amazing, tell me more about this tablet. The colors are stunning and the view angles are amazing. You simply won’t find a better display on another tablet period, end of story.

Speaker sound is adequate, but as I mentioned earlier, I would have preferred front facing speakers. Samsung implemented that in the past with their 10.1 tabs, but for whatever reason, they decided not to go that way this time around on any of the models. It is a pretty big disappointment for me, but I guess it’s not a deal breaker.

Battery

As great as the display is on these tablets, the battery is just the opposite. I had pretty poor results, but I suspect that it’s because of Android KitKat 4.4.2. I know that there is a lot of talk of the Nexus 5 experiencing poor battery life regarding the camera, but I do know that other devices with 4.4.2 are experiencing pretty bad battery life. Unfortunately it’s going to take a software update, and who knows when that will be.

In my usual rundown test, in which I loop continuous video, I was only able to get 6 hours and 52 minutes on the TabPRO 8.4, and the TabPRO 10.1 came in at 8 hours and 3 minutes. This is where I set the display to about 66% percent brightness, and leave it connected to WiFi, while leaving Bluetooth (not connected) and the GPS turned on. Pretty bad, but again, I don’t think it’s a hardware problem. How will it be in a more real world situation when you aren’t running video all day? You should have no problem going from early morning to bedtime, assuming you aren’t using it constantly like a smartphone

Software

As one would expect, the TabPROs sport Samsung’s own UI called TouchWiz and more than a few features that you will never need or desire. They also sport the latest version of Android, which happens to be 4.4.2. Samsung always makes changes with their UI with major Android updates, so you will find some differences.

Just like we saw with the Note 3, Samsung is offering a Flipboard style Magazine. There are some differences though, and instead of calling it “My Magazine,” they are calling it Magazine UX. It doesn’t completely take over the entire interface as one would think, but it changes the complexion of the Android experience. Just like HTC’s Blinkfeed, it takes over the left most home screen. But unlike the HTC’s BlinkFeed, you can’t turn it off.

When you first turn on a TabPRO for the first time, you will only get three home screens, which consist of two screens of the Magazine UX and one standard Android home screen. You can still add 3 more standard Android home screens by pinching with two fingers and selecting the “+” icon to add a screen. Any one of the added home screens can be set as the default, but the Magazine UX screens remain all the way to the left. You can also completely cycle through the all the home screens continuously in either direction, which makes navigating a little easier. The other interesting thing is the Magazine UX can have up to three home screens and you can set any one of them as the default if you wish. So it’s kind of like having two launchers running at the same time if you know what I mean. The good news is that you can still access your app drawer from any screen (Magazine UX or standard Android)  by tapping the icon at the bottom right. You also find a mini Google Search bar (with voice) at the bottom left of every standard Android screen.

The Magazine UX is basically flipboard rebranded. It’s probably a great thing for those that don’t already have an RSS feed or some other news app. What I mean is that it’s great for the casual user, which is where Samsung gets most of their sales from anyway. From within the Magazine UX, you can pinch two fingers to get to the setup for the amount of screens you want to be part of the Magazine UX. You can also reorganize each page and/or add/delete categories. You can add certain social feeds (No Facebook) as well as apps such as Email, the Music Player, and so on. Once back at the main Magazine UX, you can tap on the respective action menu (three dot menu) for each category box to add feeds. You can only choose what Samsung has given you, but they do offer a lot of variety. Tapping on the appropriate category box will open all the articles from the sites you have chosen, and you can flip through them flipboard style.

To get a better understanding of how it works, check out this video…..

As to other software features, there really isn’t anything new. You will get all the standard things like Smart Stay, Smart Pause, and Multi Window (multi tasking). You won’t find Smart Scroll and some of the other nonsense extras found on the Galaxy S 4, which is a good thing. The TabPROs aren’t clean of bloat by any stretch of the imagination, but as compared to other Samsung devices, they are pretty clean.

Multi Window has changed a little bit from last year’s Galaxy Note 3 and Galaxy S 4. To get into Multi Window, you first need to enable it from the power settings menu found in the notification panel. Opening apps is where most of the difference lies. Just place your finger at the right most part of the display  and swipe to the left, and the pop out menu of compatible apps will appear. This can be done from with the Magazine UX, any of the standard Android home screens, or any app that is displayed. Just like the Galaxy S 4 and Note 3 running Android 4.2, you can also long press the back key, but when you swipe the pop out menu away, you won’t get that little arrow icon at the edge of the display.

Once the pop out menu is opened, you can either tap or drag the icon of the app you want to open. If you use the tap method, apps will open as mini popups that will float on top of any other apps and can be resized. This method allows you to open more than two apps at the same time. They also can me minimized to a little floating icon like a Facebook Chat Head so that you can easily open them again from within any app. This is exactly what we saw on the Galaxy Note 3 with Pen Window.

The other method of opening Multi Window apps is to drag the app icon (from the Multi Window pop out) to the main part of the screen. By doing that, it will open in either full screen or half screen. So if you don’t already have a Multi Window compatible app open, by sliding one of the Multi Window apps into the main area, that app will open in full screen. Open the Multi Window pop out again and drag another app, and both apps will be top/bottom (portrait mode) or right/left (landscape mode). In the case of the TabPRO 12.2, you might be able to open 4 apps at the same time, but I wasn’t able to try it. You can on the NotePRO 12.2.

Interacting between apps is also a breeze. For example, you can have Email and the Gallery open at the same time (side by side or top/bottom). Just navigate to a picture you want to attach to an email, and drag it from the Gallery into your email draft to attach it. This will only work for the stock Email app, not Gmail.

I still don’t feel that Multi Window is all that intriguing. To me, it’s more of a “cool” feature rather than something that is “useful.” Still, I guess it’s good to have it available to you rather than not.

For a better understanding of how Multi Window works on the TabPROs, check out my video below…..

You will also find a couple of Palm Motions in the main settings. You can toggle on or off, Capture Screen or Mute/Pause. With Capture Screen, you just swipe from left to right (or right to left) with the side of your hand to take a screenshot. You can also Mute/Pause media by just covering the screen with your hand.

Like I said before, the TabPROs don’t feel as bloated as recent smartphones, but don’t be mistaken, it’s still the same old TouchWiz, with some clutter. The bottomline is that I can deal with it a little more since I don’t use a tablet as my main daily driver.

Camera

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Let’s face it, these are tablets so you shouldn’t be worried about the camera so much. However, we do understand that many people that own tablets don’t have a smartphone or carry around a point and shoot. If that is you, these tablets will get the job done. Samsung installed pretty much the identical camera software that you will find on the Galaxy S 4 and Galaxy Note 3, plus you get Rich-tone (HDR) which is on the Galaxy S 5. That means you will have all the modes available to you that Galaxy smartphone owners have. They include Auto, Sports, Panorama, Eraser, Rich-tone (HDR), Drama, Sound & Shot, Best Face, Best Photo, and Beauty Face. You can also take burst shots.

I always refer to tablet cameras as emergency cameras, and the TabPRO cameras might just be the best emergency cameras I have seen. They are also pretty fast. Here are some example shots from a variety of situations.

Outdoors

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Outdoors – Action

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Indoors

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Indoors – Low Light

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Closing

The TabPRO tablets are probably the best tablets Samsung has ever made in terms of power and display. It’s really the display that makes these tabs head and shoulders above the competition. The battery is an issue, but as I mentioned before, I suspect it’s more of an Android 4.4.2 thing. However, the problem is that Samsung is likely to be pretty slow in issuing a fix. Even if the battery wasn’t an issue, the big question is if it’s worth the extra money for the amazing display? For me, the answer is no because I am not a hardcore tablet user. If you find that you use a tablet a lot more than even your smartphone, you might consider it.

My favorite tablet of the bunch is the TabPRO 8.4. At first, I thought it was an odd size, but I have grown to like it. It almost seems like a new sweet spot for those that think 7-inches is a little too small and 10.1-inches is a little too big. I didn’t get a chance to play with a 12.2, but at $649, I simply think it’s overkill.

Even though the 8.4 is a nice size, I still recommend the Nexus 7 2013 or even waiting for the rumored Nexus 8 (or whatever they call it). The Nexus 7 2013 is close to $200 lower than the TabPRO 8.4, and the Nexus 8 is likely to be $100 less. As to the TabPRO 10.1, the price difference isn’t as dramatic. Other 10.1-inch Android tablets are less, but not much more than a savings of a $100. If 10.1-inches is your sweet spot, it’s a lot more palatable.

However, with Nexus devices, there is the advantage of getting updates quicker, but I do have to say that not recommending devices because they won’t get updates quick enough is starting to be a cliche. The bottomline is that these tabs are for the mainstream, and mainstreamers really don’t care about that. The TabPROs pack a lot of power and have the finest displays you will ever find. If you are really into your tablet, go for it. If you’re more like me, then save a few bucks and grab a Nexus tablet.


About the Author: Robert Nazarian

Robert lives in upstate New York where he was born and raised. Technology was always his passion. His first computer was a Radio Shack TRS80 Color that used a cassette tape to save programs, and his first laptop was a Toshiba T1200FB that sported a CGA greyscale screen and two 720kb floppy drives (no hardrive). From the early 90’s through late 2011, he only owned Motorola phones starting with the MircroTAC all the way through to the Droid X. He broke that streak when he bought the Galaxy Nexus. Now he's sporting a Galaxy Note 4, and absolutely loves it. He has a wonderful wife and a 6 year old son. In his free time he enjoys sports, movies, TV, working out, and trying to keep up with the rapid fast world of technology.


  • kenneth blanks

    The 8.4 is the only wifi model with the Snapdragon 800. The 10.1 and 12.2 wifi models are both Exynos 5 based. All LTE versions are Snapdragon based.