The Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 feels like it’s been a long time coming… it’s been two years since we saw the launch of the Tab S2, and that was the best Android tablet out (actually, it still is…), so a sequel has been desperately needed.
It feels so trite to call the Galaxy Tab S3 a direct iPad rival, as the Samsung / Apple rivalry is a tired trope… but given the specs and features of the new tablet from Samsung, it’s hard to call it anything other than a direct response to the iPad Pro.
Four powerful tuned speakers that fire in four directions? A high-res screen and optional keyboard? A stylus? We’ve seen that before.
In fact, there’s a touch of the Surface Pro in the mix as well, as unlike Apple’s Pencil, the chunkier S Pen comes bundled with every Tab S3, giving it an instant productivity boost.
Let’s be clear though: we’re not castigating Samsung in any way for taking elements of these rival products, as it’s not like these companies have a patent on speakers and keyboards.
(Well, they probably do somewhere, but not relevant here).
The Galaxy Tab S3 takes a lot of the good features it already has, such as strong battery life, expandable memory and great screen technology, and they’re fused well with the aforementioned speakers and stylus.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 release date and price
We don’t have a whole lot of information about the release date for Samsung’s new Android tablet, but we do know it’ll be coming to the UK and the US… just not when.
We haven't been told cost at the time of writing either, but the Galaxy Tab S3 price will come down to a lot of factors. The Galaxy Tab S2 cost $399, £319, AU$499 for the smallest storage size and 8-inch version of the tablet.It was $499, £399, AU$599 for the 32GB 9.7-inch version of the tablet.
We'd expect similar pricing this year, but there may be a few differences and it'll likely be even more if you go for a larger storage size model.
It looks like Samsung is quietly going for a new design language, stating the Galaxy Tab S3 would look like a 'brother or sister' to the Galaxy phone range.
However, it does already display some similarities to the current phones: there's a glass back with a metal rim around the outside, and it feels like the tablet is made with some higher-end materials.
It's rather light at 429g, which doesn't make it feel as expensive as it could combined with the thin 6mm depth, but overall it does feel like a classy design.
The large bezels remain, with the fingerprint scanner on the bottom of the display in the Galaxy-phone-style lozenge. It could be harder to activate there on a tablet than a phone, but the whole device is quite compact.
The Tab S3 is using USB Type-C, packs a headphone jack and also has support for an expandable memory card, supplementing the 32GB of onboard ROM.
There's a camera on the rear as expected, and the glossy finish of the Galaxy Tab S3 feels well put-together - if a little lightweight for a device of this size - in the hand.
Display and sound
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S3's 9.7-inch display is probably the reason you'd buy this tablet. The 2048x1536 QXGA resolution is pin-sharp, and combined with Samsung's Super AMOLED technology up there with the best we've seen on a tablet.
There's added HDR support as well (using the HDR10 codec), which seems to be the fashionable spec of 2017 for phones and tablets.
We do have some slight concerns over the addition of HDR10, as the screen did look a little dark when running the Amazon Prime Video preview mastered with the technology.
Upon further investigation, it appears that the Galaxy Tab S3 has a peak luminance of 500 nits, which is half what you'd expect from a larger TV.
Of course, some of that will be offset by the high contrast ratios of the Super AMOLED screen, which has pure blacks to make the brightness look crisper, and you'll be holding the tablet closer.
It just seemed a little on the dark side for our tastes... a touch of the Vader, if you will.
Samsung's also pretty proud of the sound quality from the Tab S3, using technology from AKG thanks to its purchase of the Harmon Kardon brand in 2016.
The four speakers do pump out sound impressively - perhaps not to the level of the iPad Pro 12.9, but very strong and clear.
The sound also inverts depending on which way you hold the tablet, which is a nice touch.
Keyboard and S Pen
Samsung's offering some accessories to make the Galaxy Tab S3 a real 2-in-1 device, allowing you to seamlessly move from watching a video to getting on with a report or writing your first novel.
The keyboard accessory is sadly an add-on and not included in the box, but is a better than passable attempt at being a good physical set of keys.
It connects using magnets and Pogo pins in a rather satisfying manner, and while it's a little on the cramped side (which makes typing difficult) it's got more travel than the iPad Pro's smart keyboard, so we've no doubt you'd get used to it.
The S Pen is in the box if you buy the Galaxy Tab S3 though, and it's chunkier than ever, making it easier to hold. Samsung is claiming the rubberised tip is more akin to sliding a pen across paper, and the resistance does help, but it's still not quite the same feeling.
It's pleasant to hold and the 0.7mm thin tip means you can get pretty accurate with the multitude of drawing apps available - apparently PDF markup will be possible too, but we couldn't find that app on the demo unit we tried.
There's a high degree of pressure sensitivity, and can register tilts to let you change the kind of sketching you're doing... although it seems to be mostly just sketching at this point, in terms of what you can actually do with the S Pen.
Battery and camera
The battery of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 is a 6000mAh power pack, which feels OK for a tablet this thin.
We do feel that the designers could have gone for a bit more thickness and made an iPad-rivalling 8000mAh option in there, but what we have will probably be good enough for around 8 hours' use (and less if you're using the keyboard).
There's inexplicably a 13MP sensor on the rear of the tablet, with a 5MP sensor on the front... why these aren't switched round is unclear, as the front-facing camera is more useful for video chatting.
Perhaps you don't really need anything high-res there... but you don't really need it on the rear either.
Samsung has curiously opted for a really high-end GPS chip in the Tab S3 too, with GPS, Glonass, Beidu and Galileo all making it very easy for the tablet to pick up where you are.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 is something we've wanted to see pop up since early 2016, when we became ready for an S2 sequel.
It's nothing mind-blowing in terms of innovation, but then again there's not a lot that people want from a tablet - they're after something that has a good screen, is portable, offers good sound and allows them to ditch the laptop once in a while.
The Tab S3 does that and more - if only the keyboard was bundled in the box rather than the S Pen, we'd have said Samsung had ticked every box we were looking for with this new tablet (assuming it doesn't come with a ridiculously high price).
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