There was a time when tablets were ten a penny. Pretty much every manufacturer offered a range of tablets looking to entertain you with a bigger screen than your phone.
But that position shrivelled, with super-affordable tablets like the Amazon Fire mopping up the entertainment end of the market and more premium tablets looking to replace your laptop with a little more portable power.
Looking to be as much a business tool as a play thing, the Galaxy Tab S4 is the latest Samsung tablet with serious working aims, offering as much for entertainment as it does for hard graft.
Skinny design, satisfyingly light
- 249.3 x 164.3 x 7.1mm, 482g
- Glass design
- 16:10 aspect with narrowed bezels
At only 7.1mm, you can't call the Tab S4 fat. It's plenty skinny and in the hand it feels surprisingly light. With a 16:10 design, this tablet avoids the 4:3 trend of some recent devices, reminding us of those glory days of the Sony Xperia Tablet Z.
The glass back is super glossy (we think it's glass, if it's plastic then it looks and feels like glass), while the colour-matching edges are perforated with the buttons, four speakers, pogo pins and ports.
Gone from the face is the old Samsung button - there's no fingerprint scanner here - with conventional power and volume buttons on the edge instead. The bezels are narrowed a little with this change, but there's still a reasonable border around the display on all sides.
It's somewhere to grip the tablet, but in the ages of bezel-busting Infinity Displays, we're surprised that Samsung hasn't increased the size of display on offer - it's rather conservative and we can't help feeling that Samsung could have radically changed things here.
Ultimately, it's a polished and good looking design, fitting neatly into the accessory keyboard (which will cost you £119), which results in a quality finish. The keyboard cover does add some bulk, but the keyboard itself offers a great action, party thanks to its size.
The S Pen also gets a design tweak, with a small nubbin that will stop it rolling. While this S Pen doesn't slot into the tablet (like the Note series), it offers the same range of functions from its passive design. It's also comfortable to hold and use as a writing implement, thanks to being a little larger.
Hardware and display
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, 4GB RAM
- 64GB storage + microSD
- 7300mAh battery
- Wi-Fi and LTE versions
- 10.5-inch, 2560 x 1600 pixels, AMOLED, 16:10
The hardware story for the new Galaxy Tab starts with Qualcomm Snapdragon 835. This might be 2017's hardware, but there's still plenty of power in it, offering performance close to the newer Snapdragon 845 that's in so many leading smartphones.
Given the limited time we've spent with the Tab S4 so far, we can't tell if there will be any real limitations from using older hardware. We suspect the configuration has been devised to keep the price realistic (although it's expensive, it's not as expensive as the Galaxy S9). But we suspect that it will be perfect powerful to run those productivity functions - your core services of Gmail, browsers and Word, for example - without a hiccup.
There's a huge battery at 7300mAh, which offers fast charging. Again, we've not had the chance to see how long this lasts, but Samsung is saying 16 hours of video playback. What you really want from a device like this is to be able to jump on a long haul flight and use it all the way, whether that's working on documents or watching downloaded movies - or both.
Then we come to the all-important display. The 16:10 means that his tablet feels right when it's in landscape, watching movies without huge black bars top and bottom. It lends the Tab S4 a laptop-like feel when docked on the keyboard - and that's how Samsung thinks you're going to be using this device.
The 2560 x 1600 pixel resolution results in 288ppi, which is a little higher than the 10.5-inch iPad Pro, but it's the same sort of ballpark. It is a Samsung AMOLED display, supporting HDR - great for those Netflix movies - and first impressions are of a bright and capable display. We tested it alongside huge windows with the sun streaming in and had no problem viewing the content - suggesting it will be bright enough for all conditions.
We've also had the chance to view some video content and found this looked great, so if you are watching Luke Cage 2 while flying across the Atlantic, you're in for a treat. This is boosted by four speakers, AKG tuned and with Dolby Atmos, making for a wider sound stage that's actually very immersive.
The big change: DeX
- Desktop mode
- Samsung Flow
So far we've outlined a load of features of the Tab S4 that will make it great for your entertainment - great display, enough power, potentially good battery life - all in a package light enough to port around with you.
But the real challenge is providing a working environment that suits those who want to be a little more productive. It's here that this tablet needs to accommodate the needs of those who want to leave the laptop at home, but without compromising on productivity.
The big play here is the introduction of DeX. DeX first appeared on Samsung's phones, letting you connect your phone to a dock and then work on the big screen. But on a phone it really makes no sense - you have to have a setup to accommodate your phone and in the age of cloud services, signing into a remote location isn't a challenge.
But DeX on a tablet makes a lot more sense. Not to connect to the big screen (although that is an option, as is connecting to Bluetooth accessories like a mouse), what DeX really enables is sensible multi-window desktop working on your tablet. Combined with the keyboard, this makes things a lot easier to handle when working across multiple apps.
You'll be able to drag and drop, resize and move things around on the display like a desktop and while Samsung has offered split-screen for many years, it's just not as easy to use as freeform windows. In that sense, DeX is the killer feature of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S4, especially if productivity is going to be one of your main aims.
You're not only well served by Google's apps (Docs, Sheets, etc), but with Microsoft having done a sterling job of enabling mobile versions of its Office apps, you're in a great place for working. Being in desktop mode also means you can open an app in a window, rather than having a stupid vertical-only app.
Samsung Flow also then swings in to make sure that your devices work in sync, letting you easily move files from phone to tablet to work on (for example), as well as carrying over your phone notifications, so you can get those on your tablet. It's not hugely important in the age of Google Docs, Office 365 or WhatsApp Web, but it's good to know that there's the option to easily move things around.
Keyboard, S Pen and dock
We've mentioned the keyboard a couple of times. It's a £119 accessory (although it's going to be bundled free if you pre-order the Tab S4) and the keyboard really does make the difference here - making the Tab S4 into something you could reasonably replace your laptop with.
There's a nice chiclet keyboard and our initial tests reveal a reasonable action to this keyboard. It's comfortable to tap away and although we've not had time to write extensively on it, it seemed to work pretty well. The keyboard also has pogo pins to connect to the tablet, hopefully avoiding the sort of Bluetooth vagary that can affect some tablet keyboards - like when we first saw the Pixel C.
The S Pen then unlocks a lot of interaction. Not only can it be used for navigation, hovering to select and offering 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity, but you can also use it for writing notes - which is really convenient on a tablet - perhaps more so than a phone. The new design of the S Pen is great, it feels comfortable to hold and manipulate.
This is also a passive pen, getting its power from the display, so there's no need to charge it.
Finally there's a docking accessory too. This will let you park your Tab S4 so that it can sit like a smart display in your home or office, delivering information like weather and calendar appointments on the display thanks to the Daily Board function. This dock is reassuringly solid.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 isn't a huge surprise. In many ways it's a sensible evolution of the Tab S3, but moving to become a more compelling offering for those wanting to remain productive on the move. As an entertainment tablet, although the S4 will excel, it's hugely expensive compared to something like the Fire 10.1.
So you really have to be into productivity for the Galaxy Tab S4 to really make sense. For the £599 asking price (Wi-Fi only), you're looking at a tablet that's cheaper than the iPad Pro (but not by much), and quite a bit more expensive than the new Microsoft Surface Go.
While Apple has been aggressively ramping up support for iPad users (with talk of a full Photoshop for iPad coming too), the Surface has been offering a laptop-replacement tablet for some time in Surface. Android hasn't always done so well in competing.
Is the addition of DeX going to be enough to make Android users ditch the laptop? We'll bring you a full verdict as soon as we've fully reviewed the Samsung Galaxy Tab S4.