Hands-on Preview: Samsung Galaxy Tab S4

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Hands-on Preview: Samsung Galaxy Tab S4

Samsung takes on the iPad Pro, again.

Getting someone to buy a new tablet is not easy.

We know people whose only tablet demands are to be able to play Candy Crush and run Facebook. And we mean the original Candy Crush. They don’t even need to upgrade from the cheap Tesco tablet they bought five years ago. What hope do tablet makers have?

And yet, Samsung hasn’t given up on them yet. The £599 Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 wants to be the only computer you’ll need - at least, that’s the idea. Watch out, iPad Pro?DeX: Who needs Windows?

DEX: WHO NEEDS WINDOWS?

Samsung has exploited the “tablet with a laptop identity crisis” angle for years. And at first the Galaxy Tab S4 may seem a lot like the Tab S3. 

It’s a large-screen tablet you can plug into a keyboard base. 

DeX is the big difference this time. Where the Tab S3 looked like an Android tablet when plugged into the base, the Tab S4 switches to a distinct interface close to Windows 10 or MacOS. 

It’s a visual trick. DeX is still Android. But by making the icons a little smaller, moving them about and bringing out some features that normally sit in a drop-down menu, the Tab S4 seems like a productivity machine. 

You can also use the DeX interface without the keyboard too. Plug the Tab S4 into a monitor (cable not included) and you can use the tablet as a keyboard and trackpad, with DeX up on the big screen.

You’re more likely to see this used in an ITV hacker series written by people who can barely use a computer than you will in real life, but it is a handy way to get web pages or video up on the big screen.

Until now you could only get DeX in the desktop dock for the Galaxy S8 and S9. It makes more sense in a tablet like this.

KEYBOARD & S-PEN: FANTASTICALLY FUNCTIONAL

Its keyboard is solid too. Apple’s MacBooks and even the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 may have keyboards as shallow as a Love Islander’s poetry, but the Galaxy Tab S4’s is quite deep and chunky. It’ll do the job for the odd thousand words or so, even if it feels a little cramped and doesn’t have a touchpad. You can use a Bluetooth mouse, though. 

Like just about every Samsung phone and tablet, the Galaxy Tab S4 comes with Microsoft’s Office suite preinstalled. For once, it seems justified. 

The keyboard dock also functions as a case. It has a plastic lip that grips the tablet’s sides, and there are metal contacts that physically connect the screen to the keyboard - no messing about with wi-fi is needed. 

There’s also a loop for the S-Pen stylus, which is included with the Galaxy Tab S4. This S-Pen is a little more curvy than the last, but the tech is similar. You get 4,096 pressure levels, a button on the side, and there’s no need for a battery in the stylus itself. 

A cutesy art app called Penup is preinstalled, and like previous Samsung stylus tablets, you can “handwrite” messages and the software will use optical character recognition to decipher it. Handy for saving to Evernote or another cloud-based note app.

SCREEN: BACK TO OLD HABITS

But what’s new in the actual tablet? The Galaxy Tab S3 had a 9.7-inch 4:3 aspect screen like an iPad. Samsung has switched back to the 16:10 style it preferred years ago, perhaps because it allows for a longer, less cramped-feeling keyboard. 

Like other S-series tablets, the Galaxy Tab S4’s display is fantastic. It’s sharp, with 2560 x 1600 pixels, and the Super AMOLED panel delivers great colour and contrast. It makes the bog-standard Apple iPad look a bit naff, as it probably should do given the price. 

Samsung has also trimmed down the screen surround. There’s no fingerprint scanner or even a home button, but this helps make sure the Galaxy Tab S4 doesn’t seem too big or clumsy when you use it like an iPad rather than an Android laptop. 

In place of a fingerprint login you get face and iris scanning, which seemed to work pretty well during our short time with it. 

DESIGN: PURE GALAXY

Like most other Galaxy devices of the moment, the Tab S4 is all glass on the front and back, with a sliver of aluminium running down its sides. It’s a fingerprint mecca, but does feel about an expensive as tablets get. 

And at just 7.1mm thick and ultra-dense, it once again makes the standard iPad seem a little pedestrian. 

Let’s not go as far as to call the Galaxy Tab S4 a beauty, mind. The stripped-back hardware design makes it even more of a blank, black rectangle than the Galaxy Tab S3. Too much black for you? It also comes in grey. 

The speaker array is one of the best hardware changes for this year. Like an iPad Pro, there are four drivers around its frame, tuned by AKG. They’re very loud, that much is clear. But are they louder than the iPad Pro 10.5’s get-up? That’s one part we’ll have to leave for our full review.

PERFORMANCE: COULD BE BETTER?

Not every part is meant to match or beat Samsung’s phones either. The tablet’s cameras are, sensibly, more ordinary than a Galaxy S9’s. There’s a 13-megapixel sensor on the back with an f/1.9 lens, and an 8-megapixel one for selfies on the front. 

We’d rather hang around on a sightseeing bus with a bumbag and an “I Love London” baseball cap than walk around the capital taking photos using a 10.5-inch tablet’s camera, so we’re happy with these just-OK specs. The processor power is a little different, though. 

The Galaxy Tab S4 has 2017’s Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 CPU rather than the Snapdragon 845 used in 2018’s top phones. There’s 4GB RAM rather than the 6GB or 8GB we might have hoped for, and 64GB storage in the standard version. A 256GB model will be available in some areas, but no confirmation where as yet. 

Samsung also says the tablet lasts for up to 16 hours of video playback - more than Apple's claimed 10 hours - although its 7300mAh capacity is actually slightly lower than the iPad Pro 10.5’s 8134mAh.

SAMSUNG GALAXY TAB S4 FIRST IMPRESSIONS

So, should you buy one? Well, the Galaxy Tab S4 is certainly a better laptop-replacer than the Tab S3, if that's what you're after. Its new shape and new software make its attempts to moonlight as a hybrid much more convincing this time round. 

Plus when you want it for fun, Android actually has lots of games that benefit from a big screen. XCOM: Enemy Within, Baldur’s Gate II and Ark Survival Evolved will love the Tab S4. 

Before you consign laptops to the past, though, don’t rule out a laptop like the HP Envy x360. Its Windows software may not seem like much fun, but the graphics chipsets HP packs in means they’re more ready for a good time than you might expect. 

But if the idea of a tablet with laptop aspirations still appeals, be sure to check back for our full impressions soon.

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