Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 Review: The Last of a Dying Breed

By Sam Rutherford on at

They just don’t make Android tablets like they used to. Actually, a lot of companies don’t bother making them at all nowadays. With more and more consumers opting for hybrid devices, Chrome OS has become a more popular choice for 2-in-1 tablets, while other companies, including Google, have gotten out of the tablet making game completely. That means if you want a fancy new premium tablet with Android that can handle both work and play, your only real option is Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S6.

For 2019, Samsung gave the Tab S6 several useful upgrades while also addressing some of my biggest complaints about last year’s model. So instead of getting a year-old processor like we got with the Tab S4, the Tab S6 gets a modern Snapdragon 855 chip with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage (or 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage for the higher-specced model), two cameras in the back instead of one (wide and ultra-wide), and a 10.5-inch screen with an in-display fingerprint reader – all for the same £620 starting price.

Galaxy Tab S6

What is it?
A premium Android tablet for both work and entertainment
Price
Starts at £620 (plus £160 for the optional Book Cover Keyboard)
Like
Great design, strong battery life, optional Book Cover Keyboard has a touchpad and stylus holder, stylus comes included
Don't Like
DeX Mode can still be kind of clunky, 16:9 aspect ratio display, no headphone jack, only one size.

Then in order to keep pace with Apple, Samsung installed a new magnetic slot on the back of the Tab S6, so when you’re not using the included stylus, there’s a place to stash and recharge it. And when you combine this with the Tab S6's thin, but still very sturdy aluminium body, you get a really nice tablet for playing games, sketching, and watching all the movies and TVs you want. In fact, Samsung says the Galaxy Tab S6 is the first tablet with support for HDR10+, so you’ll be able to watch things in all their colourful splendour.

Unfortunately, Samsung also kept pace with Apple in another department to the Tab S6's detriment. Last year, the Tab S4 had a headphone jack, while the Tab S6 does not. On phones, the typical excuse for this is that there’s only so much room inside the device, which OK, sure, I guess. But on a 10.5-inch tablet, that argument doesn’t hold as much weight, and it’s a shame things have come to this.

However, if all you’re going to do is watch videos and browse the web with your tablet, I’d argue that for £620, the Tab S6 is superb, but sort of overkill. Its build quality is excellent, its quad speakers are surprisingly rich and powerful, but for simple everyday usage, you could get by with tablets that cost half its price. Thankfully, with the Tab S6 featuring support for Samsung’s DeX desktop mode, you can also use the tablet for a bit of productivity. But there are some things you need to know first.

First, if you’re really serious about turning the Tab S6 into a work machine, you basically need to buy the £160 Book Cover Keyboard. Samsung's Book Cover Keyboard comes in two pieces: a folding keyboard that attaches to a magnetic connector on the bottom edge of the tablet, and a rear cover/kickstand that attaches to the back of the tablet using a big strip of sticky suction adhesive.

Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

Critically, unlike the Smart Keyboard for the iPad Pro, Samsung’s keyboard comes with a touchpad, which for productivity purposes, gives the Tab S6 an edge over Apple’s alternative. And while the keycaps on the keyboard are noticeably smaller than standard-sized keys (which can lead to a bit of a learning curve for touch typists), the Tab S6's keyboard offers superior feel and key travel compared to Apple’s Smart Keyboard as well.

Around back, the Tab S6's kickstand is quite stiff, which makes the tablet feel quite planted, while also supporting a wide range of movement. And as an added bonus, the back cover also has a flap at the top that covers up the stylus, so you don’t have to worry about it getting dislodged or falling off if you throw the Tab S6 in a bag.

Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

Online, some commenters have said they’ve encountered problems with the kickstand’s adhesive pad coming loose, causing the back cover to fall off unexpectedly. However, I haven’t run into any of these issues, and when I tried to remove the kickstand on purpose, I really had to wrench at it. Without knowing more, I have a feeling some of these problems may have been caused by attaching the kickstand to a dirty or oily tablet (which is something Samsung warns against in the instructions), thereby giving the cover a weaker than normal grip.

Meanwhile, when you’re ready to get some work done, you can switch away from the standard Android home screen and into a more standard desktop view simply by toggling on DeX mode from the tablet’s quick settings menu. This gives you a taskbar at the bottom of your screen, so you can quickly switch between all your open apps, while also supporting things like multitasking with several windows and apps on screen at the same time. For everyday productivity stuff like writing emails, creating PowerPoint presentations, or even typing a review, the Tab S6 is totally up to the task.

Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

However, every now and then, you’ll run into a situation that DeX can’t fully handle. For example, some Android games like Star Wars Galaxy of Heroes pause themselves when you switch focus to another window, which is most likely a holdover from developing an app for phones that would otherwise need to be suspended if you switch to another app. And because this happens on an app-by-app basis, it’s not really something Samsung can fix on its own.

Furthermore, I discovered that while running benchmarks, trying to log into Airtable (which is what we use to record benchmark data), the link Airtable sent to log into my account wouldn’t work on a phone or tablet, despite the Tab S6 being in DeX mode. That means I had to go back to my normal laptop to get the link to work or use Airtable’s Android app. The problem with the latter option is that the Airtable app was designed for phones, it wouldn’t let me open a spreadsheet in fullscreen view.

Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

To Samsung’s credit, DeX mode does have something called DeX Labs, which allows you to force Android apps to open in full screen for better use in desktop mode. However, less mainstream apps don’t always work quite right, which left me looking at a bloated and stretched spreadsheet that wasn’t much of an improvement. Granted, a lot of people may be able to use the Tab S6 for months without encountering many of these issues, but when they do crop up, they can turn into awkward inconveniences.

This forces me to question why Samsung continues to stick with Android for its tablets instead of going with something like Chrome OS or even Windows, as it seems Android has hit its limits when it comes to supporting a wider range of work needs. Hell, Apple even made iPadOS to address these kinds of concerns, while Google continues to work on Fuschia, which, right now, remains relatively far away.

OS aside, while the Tab S6's 16:9 aspect ratio display is ideal for watching movies, having less vertical screen real estate for productivity means that the Tab S6 doesn’t feel quite as nice when you’re working. And unlike the iPad Pro, there’s no 12 or 13-inch version for people who want a larger hybrid device to carry around.

Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

As the last of a dying breed, the Galaxy Tab S6 is a well built, long-lasting (11 hours and 25 minutes on our rundown test), and quite adaptable device, with a number of modern luxuries like an in-display fingerprint reader, dual rear cameras, and a nicely designed keyboard cover. For media consumption, the Tab S6 is a great (though pricey) choice.

However, for work, the Tab S6's small keys, 16:9 screen, and occasional software incompatibility can feel somewhat restrictive. Sure, some tweaks to DeX mode could make Android slightly more accommodating to productivity in the future, but at the same time, it feels like Samsung has pushed Google’s smartphone OS as far as it can go.

README

  • I don’t know why Samsung removed the headphone jack from its flagship tablet, but here we are.
  • The Tab S6's display is gorgeous, but its 16:9 aspect ratio makes it more suited to watching movies than getting work done.
  • If you want to use this thing for work, you basically need to buy the £160 Book Cover Keyboard.
  • Because there’s no XL version of the Tab S6, Samsung doesn’t really have an answer to the 12.9-inch iPad Pro.
  • DeX mode feels even smoother than before, but still suffers from a few incompatibility issues with certain apps and websites.