Samsung squares up to Microsoft's Surface with twin two-in-one tablets.
Samsung came oh so close with the TabPro S.
It was supposed to be a Surface killer, a Windows 10 tablet that was just as good at desktop duty as it was as a media machine.
It mostly succeeded, too - but the price was a little too high, the keyboard wasn’t the best and if you wanted to plug something in… well, you were basically out of luck.
Now it’s time for round two, and it comes with the new name. Enter the Galaxy Book, a 2-in-1 that looks to improve on the initial effort and finally shut down the Surface for good.
Does it manage it? Tough to say after only a brief hands-on session, but I definitely walked away impressed. Here’s why.
SAMSUNG GALAXY BOOK DESIGN: SKINNY SLATES
The Galaxy Book comes in two flavours: a bite-size 10.6in and a full-fat 12in.
Both are metal-bodied, glass-fronted slates with keyboard covers that turn them into work-ready laptops, but at 8.9mm and 7.4mm respectively, they’re perfectly portable when used on their lonesome.
Those screens might be larger than the average tablet, but at 640g and 754g, you’ll barely notice them in a bag when it’s time to head outside.
They might not be quite as stylish as the glass-backed Galaxy Tab S3, but I’m not sure you’d actually want glass on such a large slate. It’s just asking for trouble, isn't it?
There’s still room at the sides for a microSD card slot and USB C ports at the sides, at least - one on the 10.6in and two on the 12in. The TabPro S made do with one, and we didn't think that was enough - so the 12in Galaxy Book looks on track to be our favourite of the pair.
SAMSUNG GALAXY BOOK PERFORMANCE: POWER ME UP
The 12in model has the edge when it comes to power, too. The 10.6in uses a low-power Intel m3 CPU, which will be fine for most desktop duties but may struggle when it comes to more serious lifting, like Photoshop.
Its bigger brother has room for a much more powerful Core i5 chip. I threw a high-resolution image file into Photoshop CC and it handled it without turning into stutters mess - not bad at all for a near silent running tablet.
You get the latest Kaby Lake version of Intel’s silicon, too, which should be fairly frugal when it comes to battery life. Either way, you're looking at around ten hours between trips to a plug socket, but the larger laptop should be able to squeeze out an extra 30 minutes.
Both models have 4GB of RAM, but the 10.6in Book makes do with 64GB of onboard storage. The 12in version gets a choice of SSDs, starting from 128GB.
I’m still in the school of thought that anyone taking photos with a tablet are worse than the devil himself, but they too are covered here. You get a 5MP snapper on the 10.6in version, but the 12in model gets a superior 13MP rear camera with autofocus. It’s a big improvement, although I won’t be able to make a proper comparison until I get final review units a little closer to launch.
SAMSUNG GALAXY BOOK DISPLAY: HIGH-RES HERO
Samsung is no stranger to AMOLED screens, so it’s hardly a surprise to see one here - but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still brilliant.
The 12.6in panel has a 2160x1440 resolution, which is more than enough to make your photos look crisp and text look perfectly sharp for reading at arms’ length. Viewing angles are spectacular as always, and colours are unquestionably punchy.
You also get that feature du jour, HDR. If you can feed it compatible content, you’ll get incredibly bright, vivid video that uses the OLED panel’s vibrant colours to full effect - and keeps dark hues and blacks looking inky at the same time.
It looks stunning in action, and even if there’s not a huge amount of content out there for the PC right now, there’s plenty on the way. Good old HD videos looks pretty great too, so you won’t feel too left out while you wait for HDR to arrive in earnest.
The 10.6in version isn’t quite so well-equipped, with a 1920x1280 resolution TFT screen. It won’t play nicely with HDR content, either.
I didn’t spend as much time with this as the larger AMOLED model, so won’t be making a judgment call on image quality just yet, but if you like your films to have deep blacks and high contrast, it might be worth saving up for the 12.6in version.
SAMSUNG GALAXY BOOK KEYBOARD: JUST MY TYPE
Samsung has spent a lot of time redesigning the TabPro S’s overly shallow keyboard, and the flip-out ‘board unveiled alongside the Galaxy Book is a massive improvement.
The keys have plenty of travel, superfluous function buttons have been removed, and a backlight has been added for night time working. I can’t see why you wouldn’t want to pair the Galaxy Book with one.
The magnetic pins that hold the tablet in place also dock it with the keyboard, instead of using Bluetooth. That means no faff when it’s time to type - just connect and start bashing those keys.
The touchpad felt a lot more responsive than I remember the TabPro S being, but again I’ll need to wait until I’ve got both side-by-side to see how much of an improvement Samsung has made.
The whole thing is more flexible this time around, with two different angles to tilt the screen for working at a desk, or leaning over the screen with a stylus in hand, just like an easel. And speaking of styluses…
SAMSUNG GALAXY BOOK S PEN: BIGGER AND BETTER
I doubt you’d find a single Surface owner that would give up their device for one that didn’t have a stylus - it really makes all the difference to artists, graphics pros and designers. It’s great for note taking, too.
That’s why the new S Pen, updated for 2017 with a chunkier barrel for better grip, makes all the difference in the Galaxy Book. It'll come bundled in the box, even though there’s no room inside either tablet to store one.
The larger barrel makes it much easier and more natural to grip, and the 4096 pressure levels worked perfectly with Adobe Photoshop. Samsung has teamed up with other big name software devs to make sure it’ll work properly at launch, so your favourite apps should play nicely with it. You still don’t need a battery, which is a big advantage over the Surface Pro, but the S Pen still comes with a shortcut button for jumping straight into Samsung’s Notes app.
The redesigned rubber nib made a huge difference in terms of feel, too. I’ve always noticed the difference when drawing on a screen with other tablets, but this is a close to actually scribbling on paper as I’ve seen so far.
SAMSUNG GALAXY BOOK INITIAL VERDICT
The Galaxy Book looks like a tablet I could happily use all day for work, then detach the keyboard and binge on Netflix into the early hours. Which is kind of the point.
The screen is gorgeous, especially if you feed it some HDR content. The S Pen and refined keyboard are both genuinely useful too; they work flawlessly with established Windows programs like Photoshop, and are handy for however you like to take notes.
Twin USB C ports on the 12.6in version are great inclusions too - even if it means packing a dongle.
Keyboard and connectivity were our two issues with the TabPro - two things Samsung has addressed with the Galaxy Book. This could be the Surface alternative we’ve been waiting for - if the price is right.
With a while to go before launch, and no word from Samsung on how much one will cost, we’ll just have to wait for a full review to see how it stacks up against Microsoft’s game-changing convertible.