(Pocket-lint) - The Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 is the best Android tablet of 2019. And because of the never-look-back way tech works, that makes it the best Android tablet ever.
Ready for the caveats? That doesn't mean the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 is the best choice for everyone, or that it eclipses the iPad Pro. It isn't, and it doesn't, as the Samsung's £619 asking price is sure to make a few react as they would to a car service bill. It's always more than you expect.
Buy an iPad Air and Apple Pencil and you get similar skills for similar money. And the Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e offers a surprising number of the same highlights for £379. But if a top-end Android tablet if what you want, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 is it.
- Cloud Blue/Rose Blush/Mountain Grey colours
- 244.5 x 159.5 x 5.7mm / 420g
Why you pay so much for the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 isn't initially all that obvious. It looks a lot like the Tab S5e, which is around £250 cheaper.
Both their backs are aluminium, they have even slimmer screen surrounds than an iPad Pro. The metal finish looks and feels great, and doesn't feel as fragile as the glass of the earlier Galaxy Tab S4.
Flip the Samsung Galaxy S6 over and you'll see one reason this is a higher-end tablet than the Tab S5e: there's a shallow magnetised groove where the new S-Pen stylus can rest.
Much like the pen of the Galaxy Note 10+, this is a wireless stylus with Bluetooth and a battery, letting it communicate with the tablet from several metres away. What can it do? Plenty, but the sane options you might actually use are limited, like drawing, annotating, pausing your music or using it as a remote camera shutter.
We can't imagine many people using the Air Gestures to flail around like a cut-price conductor to alter the playback volume (as flicks upwards can increase volume). And would you realistically want to use it to set off a stopwatch timer or to flick through photos in the Gallery app, unless you're torturing your family with holiday photos like it's 1997. Of course, this is really just Samsung being Samsung, packing in more features than you'd ask for; showcasing what it can do that other less adept makers can't.
Drawing is the real appeal of the S-Pen. It is great for that. The stylus has a tip that makes sketching feel natural, and while the pre-installed Pen Up app is better for kids than actual aspiring digital artists, Google Play now offers several excellent drawing/painting apps.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 S-Pen isn't quite as good as an Apple Pencil though. There's a hint of input lag and it doesn't have the clever tilt recognition of Apple's stylus. But you don't have to pay £119 extra for it - this Samsung one comes in the S6's box.
- 10.5-inch WQXGA (1600 x 2560 = 287ppi)
- Super AMOLED panel
The Tab S6's 10.5-inch screen is a good fit for doodling too, as it is not too far off a sheet of A4 paper in terms of shape and size. This is a widescreen display, like those of most Samsung tablets over the years, but not quite like the squarer iPad Air. It matches the iPad Pro line instead, with a 16:10 ratio.
Many people prefer the iPad approach for apps. But a widescreen is better for most video. We've used both the classic entry-level iPad and Galaxy Tab S6 while exercising at the gym recently. Fire up Netflix and the iPad leaves you with much thicker black bars, whether you watch a movie or a TV episode. Almost nothing is filmed at the original iPad's 4:3 aspect these days. Perhaps that's a reason Apple uses a 16:10 aspect in the iPad Pro 11.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 has other benefits too. This is an OLED screen, one that provides very rich colour, incredible blacks and super-bold contrast. Top brightness is great for a tablet, and the image looks sharp. It has even better contrast than an iPad Pro, although Apple's Pro tablets do mostly close the image quality gap in most conditions.
Samsung has removed the basic colour calibration mode seen in the Galaxy Tab S5e, most likely because few people used it. But this is only really a concern if you want super-laid-back colour without the OLED punch that many are after.
- Google Android 9.0 OS
- Samsung One UI
- Samsung DeX
At 10.5 inches the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6's display gets close in size to that of a small laptop. And Samsung wants you to consider using this as a laptop-replacement.
The S6 has a feature called DeX, which turns Android into a system that looks more like Windows 10 or MacOS. You can run apps in windows, to make multi-tasking feel less awkward. And there's a nav bar of mini shortcuts to put more stuff at your fingertips.
Add the £159 keyboard to the mix and you have a usable work machine. However, it's worth thinking about what DeX actually is before throwing your old Dell XPS 13 on the fire. This is a front-end for Android. It alters how multi-tasking looks, but not really how it operates that much, as some apps still enter a parked state when you leave the window.
You're also limited to Android apps. If you just need a browser, a word processor, and Netflix or YouTube for when work gets a bit too much, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 will do the trick. But we'd find it too hard to give up on apps like Photoshop CC, Steam and Ableton to go full tablet for our daily computer use.
Features & Performance
- Optional 4G
- In-screen fingerprint scanner
- Snapdragon 855 CPU, 6GB RAM
You can't knock the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 for the lighter jobs, though. For example, its speakers are remarkably good for a tablet, outdoing some much heavier, thicker laptops. There are four AKG drivers, two to the left and two to the right when you hold the Tab S6 out in front of you to watch a movie.
They're loud, have some meat to the mids and even a hint of bass. You'll probably block one or two of the ports when playing a console-style game, though. This doesn't ruin the sound but it does feel a bit odd. The speakers move enough air to make it feel as though there's something buzzing under your fingers if you partially cover the grilles.
The Galaxy Tab S6 also lacks a headphone jack. Samsung wants you to buy some Galaxy Buds instead, which is a bit annoying when you've just spend over £600. This tablet is definitely thick enough to fit a headphone jack in, and this feels like Samsung just copying the strategy it uses in its latest top-end phones.
The tablet shares quite a few bits of tech with its phones too. There's 128GB storage and an in-screen fingerprint scanner. This isn't quite as fast as the quickest pads used in mobiles, but most of us don't wake up our tablets a hundred times a day.
You can also get a 4G Samsung Galaxy Tab S6, for (almost) the full smartphone experience at 10.5 inches. This version costs £689. You can upgrade the storage to 256GB instead for the same price if that's more appealing (the full 4G/256GB model is £759).
The Tab S6 also has the same processor as some of today's top phones: the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855. It's bliss for gamers, as there are currently no new Android games designed for anything better.
You can play PUBG with the settings as maxed-out as the game allows. It runs as smooth as we've seen the game on Android. ARK: Survival Evolved, which is even more demanding, is a similar case. Sure, the game looks better on a PS4 Pro and doesn't actually run at the tablet's native 2560 x 1600 resolution. But you do get to experience Android gaming at its current peak. That's not the case with the Galaxy Tab S5e, which is significantly less powerful.
- 13MP f/2 and 5MP f/2.2 rear cameras
- 8MP f/2 front camera
- 4K 30fps video
Samsung even adds some smartphone gloss to the Tab S6's cameras, traditionally an area where tablets sit far behind phones. There's a standard-view camera and an ultra-wide lens. The wider view is handy for one of the classic tablet camera situations: taking a portrait of a bunch of awkward-looking family members.
But neither of these cameras are going to worry the Samsung Galaxy S10. Or even the Galaxy S8. The main one in the Tab S6 has a 13-megapixel sensor, the ultra-wide is a basic 5-megapixel one. Top phones take sharper images, have quicker focusing and better low-light performance. But this pair is about the best you'll get in the Android tablet world.
You really can take some respectable photos with the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6, although we did feel silly using this camera to shoot out in public. Both rear cameras can shoot video, and the primary one can capture at up to 4K resolution (30fps) with software stabilisation. You get a little more than the barebones basics, which is what we expect from tablet cameras.
The selfie camera has an 8-megapixel sensor. You could argue this is the most important camera in the tablet, if it is to be used in an entirely non-embarrassing fashion. Face-altering AR apps will have even more impact on the big screen. But this is a just an OK selfie camera, not close to the performance of the Google Pixel 3 XL's, which has the same megapixel count.
But, again, it is good enough. And taking selfies in public with a huge tablet is just as likely to raise eyebrows as wandering around London tourist-style with it, walking down the wrong side of escalators with a bum-bag bouncing around your waist.
- 7040mAh battery
- 15W charging
- Up to 14 hour battery life
Cameras in a tablet are important to some, and will go virtually unused by others. But everyone wants good battery life. The Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 has a 7,040mAh battery - just like the Galaxy Tab S5e does. This is slightly lower capacity than the 11-inch iPad Pro (7812mAh), but the screen size and shape is different too.
Real-world battery life for the Samsung is very good. In our experience it lasts for a little over 12 hours for video playback at moderate brightness. This tablet matches iPad stamina in some uses cases, but loses out in others to the iPad Pros. But it still reaches a gold standard of tablet stamina.
You also get a fast charger in the box. But the battery is so large it will take a few hours to recharge anyway.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 is the best Android tablet around. It's also a good alternative to an iPad, particularly if you'll watch video more often than doing anything else.
Apple has messed up Samsung's chance to claim much better value than the iPad, though. Now that lower-end iPads support the Apple Pencil, you don't have to spend mega money to get an Apple tablet for sketching. The iPad 10.2 and iPad Air can use the (first-gen) stylus, and cost less after you add the Pencil to your basket.
Are they better, though? We like iPads for their app and games libraries, but the Tab S6 has better speakers, better display contrast and some neat extras like an in-screen fingerprint scanner.
You can't really go wrong, therefore, although we recommend you think twice if you want this tablet to replace a workhorse laptop.
Apple iPad Pro
Samsung wants us to compare the Tab S6 to the iPad Pro (11-inch). It ends up costing £888 once you've added the Apple Pencil. A direct comparison isn't entirely fair from the techy side, though. Apple's A12X Bionic processor is far more powerful and Apple's stylus is more advanced.