Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 First Impressions: A True iPad Pro Rival

By Luke Johnson on at

Exploding phone debacle aside, Samsung's been on a bit of winning streak of late. It might sound daft given the magnitude of that issue, but the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge is still the best phone money can buy, with it following further smartphone success and the arrival of one of the nicest smartwatches going - the Samsung Gear S3.

Now, the company's got tablet growth in its sights, with the new Samsung Galaxy Tab S3, having been unveiled at MWC.

This isn’t some pokey 7-inch slate with a budget plastic surround like the company’s tablets used to be though. Instead, it’s a sizeable iPad Pro rival that’s bundled a smartphone-inspired design with a whole host of high-end specs. It looks great too.

Ever wondered what it'd look like if the Samsung Galaxy S7 was stretched out by a steam roller? This is it. The Tab S3 features the same glass back and metal framed finish as its smartphone counterpart just, y’know, much bigger.

It's not quite the drool-inducing tech porn of its smartphone sibling, but it's one of the better looking slates out there and a nice contrast to the metal backed iPad and Microsoft Surface Pro lines. It’s not just the materials used that make the Tab S3 easy on the eye, either. At a mere 6.0mm thick and 429g in weight (WiFi only, WiFi + cellular is 434g), it's also seriously slim and light.

That doesn’t mean it’s flimsy though. Held in one hand it doesn't feel worryingly weak, with the metal frame giving some much needed reinforcement and balance, with the modest weight spread evenly across the device. This eye-appeasing form has been wrapped around a 9.7-inch Super AMOLED display with a 2048 x 1536 pixel resolution. It’s bright, it’s sharp, it’s detailed. It’s pretty much exactly what you’d hope for from a high-end tablet screen. It’s also stepping into the future, like the new LG G6, by playing host to HDR support.

Enhancing the device’s movie viewing options - at least for those with access to HDR content through Netflix and Amazon Prime - these HDR skills offer deeper, moodier, more detailed blacks and crisper colours, beautifully finding the balance of light and shade. Sure we’ll probably see an onslaught of 4K tablets in the not too distant future, but we’d rather HDR over 4K any day.

This screen isn’t just pretty. It’s smart too and can play nice with styluses. Well, more specifically, the new S-Pen stylus that comes bundled with the tablet. This is a whole new accessory for Samsung, building on its Note-enhancing S-Pens with a more traditional, bulkier, well, more Microsoft Surface copying looking a feel.

It might be a copy, but from first use it’s clear that this new S-Pen is a great addition. Not as slim and fiddly as the company’s past stylus efforts, it’s genuine pen-echoing nature makes it feel like a natural, simple accessory to use. It’s 4096 levels of pressure and tilt support let you create detailed doodles, while the 0.7mm rubber ended tip is great for jotting down notes and annotations on the fly.

It’s not perfect though. It’s increased size means that unlike past models it doesn’t slot within the tablet’s body. With no magnets to keep it attached to the outside of the device either, it’s an add-on that’s going to be prone to misplacement.

The tablet’s entertainment abilities aren’t limited to the screen though. Upping its audio efforts, Samsung has fitted the Tab S3 with four speakers (one in each corner) and added auto rotating stereo sound. The quad speaker array tuned by AKG is decent as far as tablet sounds are concerned - not too tinny, not too flat - but such a slim device is never going to push big with the bass levels.

Before you start fretting, don’t worry, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 isn’t all sparkle and no substance. It pairs this mass of performance enhancing, entertainment-bringing features will a core set of specs more than capable of keeping the device chugging along no matter what you throw at it. A Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor runs the show alongside 4GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage than can be expanded up to 256GB with the use of microSD. It’s not the newest processor, but it’s still got plenty of grunt, and during our early play handled everything we could throw at it.

There’s also a massive 6,000mAh battery under the slimline hood, ensuring you’re not going to be caught short on staying power with all the doodling and movie viewing the tablet encourages. Samsung claims you’ll get 10 hours standard use between trips to the mains, given our limited hands-on time with the device, however, we can’t yet vouch for these claims.

Pair this with Android 7.0 Nougat and you’ve got a tablet that’s simple to use and which offers a fluid, user experience. There’s a few bonus software tweaks such as Samsung’s Game Mode thrown in too.

Overall, based on our first impressions, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 is up there with the likes of Google’s Pixel C as the best Android tablets going and is a true challenger to the iPad Pro. Android still doesn’t feel as well attuned to the tablet form as iOS, but Samsung’s TouchWiz skills help smooth the supersized transition. It looks great and is stacked with potential. We can’t wait for a more detailed play.

Giz UK is on the floor at MWC in Barcelona! We're going to have plenty of coverage coming in over the next few days, and you can catch up on it all here.