Samsung Galaxy Tab S4: Final Thoughts
Samsung is trying to achieve something with the Galaxy Tab S series that very few companies are attempting. The company is positioning this tablet as a viable alternative to dockable laptops with its DeX desktop interface, while also trying to go head-to-head with the Apple iPad Pro, though to live in both worlds is a tall order.
At $649.99 the Galaxy Tab S4 is a premium product, which it backs up with solid performance, an elegant design, and one of the best stylus pen setups on the market. It also has one of the best displays we have come across on a tablet, or a laptop for that matter. Samsung's Super AMOLED displays simple look fantastic. Colors are vibrant, with contrast, saturation and pop that rival pretty much any top handset or laptop display we've seen. The Galaxy Tab S4 also has smaller bezels than the previous model, and primary navigation buttons have been placed directly on the display. Both of these features allowed this year's model to have a larger 10.5-inch display format, compared to the the S3's 9.7-inch display, without drastically increasing the device's overall dimensions.
One of the more unique features the Tab S4 brings to the table is the new DeX user interface. Overall, DeX was a mixed bag for us, but it has a lot of potential. Currently, most people use tablets for media consumption. People watch shows, play games, browse the internet and occasionally send email. Samsung wants to change this, but they have a ways to go before DeX will be a desktop replacement. The highlights for us included the desktop UI, keyboard shortcuts, and the inclusion of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. All of these features will boost productivity for enterprise users for sure versus a standard tablet. However, to really appreciate and exploit DeX, keep in mind you'll need both the Samsung keyboard and a Bluetooth mouse, which is pretty standard for a docking setup, but does add cost. DeX also isn't natively supported by most apps currently on the market, though again, some big names like Adobe are there. Apps can be forced to work with Dex, but forced support doesn't always deliver a good experience.
In regard to performance, the Galaxy Tab S4 is about 20% faster than the S3 in standard applications and 30% faster when gaming. These are decent improvements over last year's Galaxy Tab S3, but it was the S4's battery life that impressed us the most. When we tested the Tab S3 last year, the battery had enough juice to keep the lights on for over 8 hours. The S4 on the other hand was able to hang in there for almost 11 hours. That's a 25% performance increase in battery life, with a bigger screen and better performance. We don't usually see that much of an increase between generations, so kudos to Samsung for executing on this key salient feature. The Tab S4's fast charging feature is also very convenient, and it only takes a few hours to fully charge the battery to full capacity.
The included S Pen was also a winner in our books. Writing on the Tab S4 felt very natural. We have used a ton of stylus pens over the years and the S Pen is among the best. We would even recommend it over the Apple Pencil. It feels more natural in your hand and slightly more pressure sensitive. There's also no need to charge the S Pen. Just pick it up and you're ready to go. The only downsides are that it is somewhat large and can't be stored in the tablet. It's also retails for $60 so keep it close, and don't lose it.
Samsung also sent along a USB-C to HDMI adapter to test, and it did its job and then some. In our testing, the 4K image quality from the dongle was fantastic and there was no lag between the devices. Like the keyboard, it's an optional feature, but it works great and is a nice option for anyone that travels often.
There are a few things we'd like to see tweaked in future iterations of the Tab S. Just like last years model, the included S Pen can't be stored in the tablet, unless you buy the optional keyboard case. The keyboard itself is on the small side as well, so it's not going to feel as natural typing as it would with a standard keyboard, but that was to be expected. The trade-off is the Tab S4 is a better travel companion, so it really comes down to personal preference. There's also no track pad on the keyboard, so for the best results you'll need that previously mentioned mouse to fully appreciate what DeX has to offer. That's a relatively short wish-list and the pluses for the new Galaxy Tab S4 far outweigh these few shortcomings.
The Galaxy Tab S4 is one of the most expensive Android tablets on the market, and that's if you just get the tablet alone. If you really want to take advantages of all its expansion features, you'll need the optional keyboard and a Bluetooth mouse. However, if you're willing to shell out the extra cash for these accessories, you'll have a product that can work in some usage models that very few tablets can. And when you compare the Galaxy Tab S4 to the recently announced Apple iPad Pro that starts at $799 and doesn't even have expandable storage, perhaps there's some justification for Samsung's price premium here after all, in the current landscape. Regardless, of whether you feel it's justified, there's no question Samsung's Galaxy Tab S4 is one of the best convertible Android tablets money can buy right now.