Android tablets are supported by life. The iPad has run away with the tablet market for consumers, and where it left some scraps, Amazon & # 39; s range of Fire tablets picked them up. Even Google has finished competing with premium Android tablet hardware.
But that does not stop Samsung. The Galaxy Tab S6 of $ 649.99 is the latest attempt by the company to use a device that can use both content and productivity. And yes, it runs on Android.
The Tab S6 is an excellent tablet for the consumption of content. It has a great screen and speakers, and it is thin and light enough for long viewing sessions. It even has enough battery life to last at least three Marvel films. On the other hand, Samsung & # 39; s attempts to turn the Tab S6 into a productivity device are inadequate, there are some annoying bugs in the software, and it's not a device big enough to replace your laptop.
Samsung makes excellent hardware and as the company's flagship, the Tab S6 is no exception. It is a thin sheet of metal and glass that weighs less than a pound, and is easy and comfortable to hold.
The star of the show is the 10.5-inch OLED HDR (HDR10 and HDR10 +, but no Dolby Vision) display. This screen is really a treat to look at: colors pop, blacks are ink black deep and it becomes bright enough for outdoor use. It is an excellent screen for watching movies or YouTube videos & it has sufficient resolution for text to look sharp at a comfortable viewing distance. It is basically the same pixel density as the iPad Air or iPad Pro.
However, the screen is not perfect. Just like the Galaxy S10, the Tab S6 has a fingerprint scanner embedded in the screen. Samsung uses an optical scanner here, in contrast to the ultrasonic in its phones. The scanner not only works slow and unreliable, but also does not work at all when the blue light filter is activated in the evening. Other manufacturers that use similar optical scanners on their phones, such as OnePlus, force the screen to turn off the blue light filter for the second needed to scan the fingerprint, but Samsung has not enabled that on the Tab S6.
The 16:10 aspect ratio on the screen is great for watching video and it doesn't feel very awkward when you hold the tablet in a standing position to read. But it's pretty tight for productivity work when using the attached keyboard or browsing the web in landscape. Although the screen is the same size as an iPad Air on paper, the differences in aspect ratio (the iPad uses a 4: 3 screen) mean that the Samsung screen is considerably smaller in practice.
Finally, there is a noticeable jelly effect when scrolling in portrait mode, which is disappointing to see so expensive in a tablet. These errors may not be of specific interest to you, but when you pay $ 650 for a tablet, you should expect everything to work without these kinds of problems – especially when the competition doesn't have such problems.
Around the screen are four Dolby Atmos-compatible speakers that sound great and give value to even the more expensive iPad Pro from Apple. Unfortunately, the Tab S6 lacks a headphone connection, so you need a Bluetooth headset or a USB-C dongle to listen privately.
There are cameras on the front and back, including a setup with two cameras on the back with a standard camera and an ultra-wide option. Strangely enough, there is no LED flash, which is useful when you use a tablet to scan documents.
The Tab S6 contains a Snapdragon 855 processor and 6 GB or 8 GB RAM. It has up to 256 GB of storage, plus support for microSD cards for expansion. I have used the basic model of 6 GB RAM / 128 GB storage and have had no problems with performance, even during intensive multitasking and regular switching between apps.
For the life of the battery, the Tab S6 can last all day when in use, even when I'm hammering away with productivity apps and playing video all day. However, it has a bad standby time: more than once I left the tablet for a few days without using it, and it was dead when I picked it up again.
Samsung contains an S Pen in the box with the Tab S6, and this is very similar to the S Pen that comes with the Galaxy Note line of smartphones. It is a bit thicker and does not have a small storage silo as the phones offer, but it has the same functions and possibilities as the phone version. To charge the pen, attach it to the back of the tablet via magnets and it will be charged wirelessly, just like the iPad Pro charges the Apple Pencil. Just as with the Apple Pencil, it is very easy to hit the S Pen from the back of the tablet, but if you get one of the optional folio or keyboard covers from Samsung, the stylus is held in place by a flip.
Speaking of keyboards, the Tab S6 does not come with one in the box. The optional keyboard foil case for the Tab S6 has a steep $ 179.99, bringing your all-in price to an entry level Tab S6 with 128 GB storage up to $ 830 (provided you don't get the bundle on a sale or discount, which often available). The keyboard is attached to the tablet via magnets and a pogo pin connector – no Bluetooth connection here – and it is actually separate from the back and stand that sticks to the tablet via a self-adhesive micro-suction foam. With this design, you can use the tablet for video viewing without the keyboard in front of you, which you can't do with Apple & # 39; s Smart Keyboard for the iPad Pro, and it's a solution on small airplane tables . Prying the back of the tablet requires some work, but leaves no residue. Samsung tells me that it is not expected that people will remove the back part of the case very often, and I usually agree with that.
It is surprisingly easy to adjust to typing on the keyboard, although it has a smaller layout than a standard keyboard. At the top are function keys and the Tab S6 supports various shortcuts, although I wish they were more universally supported in the Android ecosystem. The keyboard has no background lighting, which makes working in a dark aircraft cabin a challenge, but most tablets like this also have no background lighting on their keyboards.
There is even a small trackpad under the keyboard to mice in Samsung's DeX software mode (more about that a bit), but it is small and frustrating to use. It has poor palm rejection while typing, making the cursor jump erratic. It is also limited in what it can do, even in DeX mode. I cannot select text with the trackpad in Word or use multi-finger gestures to switch between apps, for example. In the end, I often disabled it (via a shortcut key, handy).
It is also not easy to use the Tab S6 and the keyboard on your lap. The keyboard does not make a rigid connection to the tablet, so it flexes and moves unless it is on a rigid surface, such as a desk or table. The iPad's keyboard is not much better to use on your lap, but it is considerably more stable.
For software, the Tab S6 runs basically the same software as the Samsung phones: Android 9 Pie with the Samsung OneUI interface at the top. It all has the same features that you might know if you own a recent Samsung phone, including, yes, Bixby. I have no problem with the software for basic content consumption needs, such as Netflix or Hulu watching or reading in the Amazon Kindle app or Pocket.
If you have a Samsung smartphone, you can answer calls and respond to messages from the Tab S6, although I would have liked even greater integration between Samsung's own devices. It is not possible to remotely launch a mobile hotspot on my Galaxy Note 10 from the Tab S6, as I can do with an iPad and an iPhone.
In an effort to make the Tab S6 better for productivity, Samsung is now running its DeX desktop software directly on the tablet. (You can start DeX via a new keyboard shortcut, via a switch in the Quick settings menu or have it start up automatically when you connect the keyboard.) DeX on a tablet is basically the same as DeX on a large screen: it lets you run desktop-like versions of mobile apps, with multiple windows and the ability to see multiple at the same time. Unfortunately, DeX still has many limitations and unfinished functions. App windows do not remember their status when you switch between DeX and standard mode, so you have to re-create your window layout, and certain apps, such as LastPass, simply refuse to start completely in DeX mode.
The use of DeX on such a small screen is also frustrating because of the amount of scrolling and switching between windows that is needed to multitask. Virtual desktops would help with this, but DeX does not support them. There are also no functions for snapping windows that I could find; the size of the windows must be typed and dragged on the screen or using the clumsy trackpad on the keyboard. DeX on the Tab S6 is nice to turn off an email in no time while you are on the move, but it is not something that I would like to use as a primary computer or for a longer period of time.
There are other bugs in the Samsung software that I found frustrating to deal with. The night mode, which transforms the interface into a dark shadow in the evening, constantly forgets its settings; the brightness of the screen will aggressively dim to unreadable levels when I hold the tablet in the landscape because my hand is blocking the light sensor; searching in DeX does not work with the first keystroke, so I have to type "OOutlook" if I want to start my e-mail app; and I have to restart the tablet regularly to make the WiFi work.
In short, the Tab S6 is a very good tablet to use for watching video, provided that you do not block the light sensor with your palm. If you just want to sit back and watch videos on your couch, the Tab S6 is excellent for that.
The problem is that "good for watching video" is about the lowest bar for a tablet in 2019. The iPad was great for watching video almost 10 years ago and Amazon & # 39; s Fire HD 10 will do the job for about a third of the cost of the Tab S6 if that's all you need. You may get a slightly better screen and better speakers with the Samsung tablet, but it's hard to justify spending two or three times as much on those things.
To really justify the costs and their existence, the Tab S6 must be able to do more than just be a personal video player. It must also be a productivity machine, something that can be used to actually get work done. Despite the best efforts of Samsung, the Tab S6 falls short.
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