I am in productivity hell. For the past week, I’ve been using Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S3 to read Twitter, correspond on Slack, and write articles for this website. The Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 is capable of doing all these things — in some cases, it’s even capable of doing them quite well — but it’s not capable of doing them anywhere near as well as a proper laptop. And in the week I’ve had it, I’ve spent a lot of time wondering why I’d use this tablet as a portable work device instead of a cheaper, more functional computer like a Chromebook.
Apple’s (AAPL) original iPad was the standard-bearer for tablets. But a lot has changed since the company debuted its first slate 7 years ago. Straight-up tablets are falling out of style, as consumers increasingly turn toward productivity laptop-tablet hybrid devices like, well… the $599 iPad Pro.
Which brings us to Samsung’s new Android-powered Samsung Galaxy Tab S3. Available March 24 for $599, the Tab S3 is designed to let you use basic productivity tools like Microsoft’s (MSFT) Office suite, edit photos using Photoshop Express, draw directly on the device’s display using the included S Pen stylus and, of course, watch movies and browse the web.
But the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 has stiff competition in the Pro. And while the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 bests the iPad Pro with its stunning display, comfortable keyboard and included stylus, it falls short in others like battery life and audio. And its hefty price tag doesn’t help.
An entertainment powerhouse
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S3’s design is attractive but derivative, hewing closely to the look of the company’s Galaxy S7 smartphone from its aluminum edges to its glass-coated rear panel. The slate is roughly the same size as Apple’s iPad Pro, save for a tenth of an inch or so here or there.
The most important part of any tablet, though, is its display, and that’s where the S3 shines. The Tab’s 9.7-inch, Super AMOLED screen, as all similar Samsung panels, produces vibrant colors and when you add in its HDR (high dynamic range) compatibility, which increases a display’s contrast ratio so you can see a wider range of hues, images practically jump off the screen.
Everything from app icons and text to movies and photos look absolutely stunning. Next to the iPad Pro, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 offers brighter, more vivid colors and more detailed images. The difference between the tablets’ panels is so striking that similar photos look completely different on the S3 and iPad.
Samsung has also made a lot of noise about the Galaxy Tab S3’s surround sound speakers. Tuned by AKG by Harman, the speakers produce loud, clear, crisp audio. Whether you’re watching a movie or listening to your favorite guilty pleasure (late ’00s pop-punk), the S3 offers excellent audio quality.
The iPad Pro, though, is just a bit better. Bass drums hit harder, high notes sound higher and vocals come through cleaner. If your main concern is listening to music with your tablet, the iPad Pro is the easy choice. For most people, though, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3’s display quality will trump the iPad’s audio.
Productivity at a price
To ensure the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 isn’t just another entertainment tablet, Samsung added a magnetic keyboard cover to the mix. That keyboard, however, isn’t included with the price of the tablet, so you’ll have to shell out an extra $129 if you want to get the full experience. That’s a pricey proposition for something that adds basic typing functionality. Of course, Apple charges $149 for its Smart Keyboard cover, which is also a lot to ask of customers.
That said, Samsung’s keyboard is surprisingly well built. Keys are nicely spaced and offer plenty of travel. Touch typists used to hammering out emails on their laptops will probably find the keyboard a bit cramped, though. I often found myself having to readjust my hands, but the experience is worlds better than using the mushy keys on Apple’s Smart Keyboard