(Pocket-lint) - The Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e is the best mid-range Android tablet around, particularly if you stream video a lot. It's roughly the same price as the new 10.2-inch iPad but has a more advanced screen with a movie-friendly widescreen aspect. Its speakers are better too.
The Tab S5e is a great tablet sold at a good price that does everything 95 percent of people need. We'd still pick an Apple tablet for gaming and drawing, but if Android if your jam then this Samsung tablet is the perfect balance of price and features. Here's why.
- Gold, silver or black aluminium casing
- 245.0 x 160.0 x 5.5mm / 400g
You have to be a little out of touch to call the Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e a cheap tablet. This is no Kindle Fire. Drop it and you'll probably be sad or angry for quite a while. But there are also very few signs this the S5e is any lower-end than the £600-plus Samsung Galaxy Tab S6.
The two Samsung tablets are roughly the same size and both have delightful aluminium shells. That means the S5e is super-slim, fairly light, and has screen surrounds slimmer than those of an iPad 10.2. And that is the other tablet you're most likely to consider if you have no more than £400 to spend.
Even when you look a bit further, there are only a couple of pieces of exterior tech to separate the S5e from Samsung's top-end tablet. The fingerprint scanner is one: the Tab S6 has an in-screen scanner, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e has a pad on the side.
This may be less trendy than the in-screen kind, but there's actually a solid argument this one is better in practice. It is part of the power button, and brings the Tab S5e out of sleep even without pressing the depressing the button itself. Sure, it's not quite as fast as that of a top phone, but you still get from black screen to home screen in under a second.
The Galaxy Tab S5e's speakers are excellent too. You get four AKG-tuned drivers, effectively an iPad Pro-style array for the price of the standard iPad, which only has two. These speakers are unusually loud and beefy, particularly useful if you want to watch some YouTube while cooking. That extractor fan is no friend to meek-sounding tablet drivers.
We're still slightly baffled by Samsung's choice to leave out a headphone socket, though. Sure, we miss it in our phones even more, but if you use a tablet to avoid having to watch something your partner wants to see without you having to leave the room, a 3.5mm headphone jack is a godsend. Exclusively use wireless headphones? Maybe it's not such a big issue. Samsung also includes a USB-to-3.5mm adapter in the box.
- 10.5-inch Super AMOLED (2560x1600)
- No stylus functionality
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e stands out as a tablet for video. It has a 16:10 widescreen aspect ratio, matching the iPad Pro models and, like most mid-range Samsung tablets, great screen tech.
This is a 10.5-inch AMOLED screen, so it's bright, bold and rich-looking. It also has more customisation potential than the Tab S6.
There are the same four colour modes seen in the Galaxy S10 phone, from the sober Basic to the almost sickeningly saturated Adaptive Display, which maxes-out the colour depth of the OLED panel. But it's a bit much if you ask us.
This isn't the fanciest OLED around. It has the standard 60Hz refresh rate and the way the panel doesn't look black at an angle tells you it doesn't have the most advanced architecture around. It can't use the S-Pen stylus of the Galaxy Tab S6, either. This is a shame, as drawing on that top-end tablet is a lot of fun.
But this is probably the best tablet screen you can get at the price. Apple's iPad 10.2 has a nice LCD, but it's non-laminated so lacks some of the pop of the iPad Air models and up.
- Google Android 9 operating system
- Samsung One UI
- Samsung DeX
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e runs Google's Android 9 operating system and looks just like a blown-up Samsung phone. There are home screens and apps pages, rather than a big vertical scroll of all of your installed apps.
Flicking around the interface feels almost as quick as a high-end tablet. On a few occasions we noticed a tiny pause getting between menus shortly after bringing the tablet out of standby. But there are no glaring lag issues.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e also has DeX. This is the software Samsung designed to make you think its tablets are ready to replace your laptop.
You can access DeX from the settings drop-down menu, and it provides several visual elements of a laptop. There's a Start menu, toolbars at the bottom, and icons become much smaller than they are in the standard Android view.
You'll need to buy the £109 keyboard accessory to get anywhere near a laptop-like feel. Samsung didn't send us one of these to test out, but it's not hugely exciting anyway. It does not have a trackpad, so you have to use the touchscreen for any kind of navigation. It'll make the S5e much better for long-form typing, but we're not going to trade in our laptop.
- Snapdragon 670 CPU (2x 2.0GHz + 6x 1.7GHz), 4GB RAM
Then there's the question of performance. The Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e has a mid-range Qualcomm CPU, the Snapdragon 670. This processor is powerful enough to do just about anything you're likely to need, even if it is the absolute fastest in that series.
The S5e is also great for gaming. We expected to see some slow-down in Android's toughest games when the graphics are maxed-out. Sure enough, we do, but it's not quite as pronounced as we expected.
Ark: Survival Evolved isn't smooth at epic graphics settings, as it is on the Tab S6, but it's not a juddery mess. You just need to scale the resolution slider back a bit to pump up the frame-rate a bit. The game uses dynamic resolution scaling to fit what is a PS4 game onto Android.
PUBG Mobile runs very well, even at the top selectable graphics setting. The 10.5-inch screen really shows off that it doesn't run at the tablet's native resolution. But that's not Samsung's fault.
Thankfully, Netflix does stream at 1080p. Not all Full HD (or higher) tablets support this as they have to be certified by Netflix to get above SD quality.
So is it worth upgrading to the Tab S6 for gamers? This partly depends on how long you'll think you will keep the tablet before upgrading. Want to keep it going for years and years? A Tab S6 will age a bit better, as its graphics chipset is three times as powerful. However, according to graphics test app 3DMark, the Snapdragon 670 is a little more powerful than the Apple A10 Fusion used in the iPad 10.2. So the spend-to-power trade-off makes sense.
- Single 13MP 1/3.4in f/2 rear camera
- 4K 30fps video (non stabilised at 4K
- 8MP 1/4in f/2 front camera
We wouldn't advise worrying too much about the Tab S5e (or Tab S6's) cameras, though. The Tab S5e has a single 13-megapixel on the rear, of quality comparable to that of a decent entry-level phone.
It benefits from Samsung's software processing, which does a fair job of improving dynamic range to make image exposure look more consistent. Even shots taken with indoors lighting look OK. But you don't get anything like the ability of the best phone cameras at the price, like the Google Pixel 3A.
You also lose out on the ultra-wide angle view of the Galaxy Tab S6's secondary camera. The Tab S5e will shoot video at up to 4K resolution, but you may be better sticking to 1080p as 4K loses image stabilisation. This is where the tablet crops into the image and uses the outer part of the sensor's "vision" to buffer movement. 4K footage looks shakier given the lack of this ability.
The S5e's main camera produces photos of similar quality to the Tab S6. They are not identical, though. We found the Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e's pictures are often slightly sharper, but the Tab S6's tend to have better dynamic range. This may be down to a generational shift in the processing algorithms used rather than a big disparity in hardware, as they sound similar on paper.
The S5e's selfie camera does seem a downgrade despite, again, having similar specs to the Tab S6's. It's an 8-megapixel sensor with an f/2 lens, both respectable specs. But fine detail is softened away to a smear in lower light, detail isn't that great in good lighting, and handling of light level variance is not great. You often end up with skin tones that look a little off.
Use your phone for selfies, but the Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e is still perfect for those face-changing apps that keep the kids entertained.
- Up to 15 hours video playback
- 7040mAh battery
- 18W charger
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e has the same 7040mAh battery rating as the Tab S6. Samsung says it lasts for up to 15 hours. This is slightly optimistic for most real-world uses, but we do find it lasts for around 12 hours when streaming video.
The power consumption of iPad and Android devices varies a little depending on what you do, but in some circumstances at least the Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e can outlast the basic iPad and iPad Air.
The tablet has a USB-C charge socket, and comes with a good 18W fast charger, similar to the kind included with higher-end Samsung phones. It doesn't take an aeon to charge, like some of Amazon's Fire tablets.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e is similar to the Tab S6 in several key ways, which is impressive given the price difference. They look and feel alike, have similar screens and speakers, all of which are top-of-the-line specs.
In short: you get the fundamentals of Samsung's top-end tablet experience but for hundreds of pounds less. Sure, the Galaxy Tab S5e doesn't have S-Pen stylus support or a top-end processor, but not everyone's going to notice the difference all that much.
Therefore the S5e will be the right Android tablet to buy for many. Does it also beat the iPad 10.2? It has a better display shape for video, superior speakers and also a better GPU. Spec-for-spec the Samsung sounds like the winner. But we still prefer the games and apps library of iPad OS.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S6
Samsung's top-end tablet has a much more powerful CPU and comes with a great S-Pen stylus. But for the average person who just wants a fun way to kill some time, the Tab S5e may be a better choice as the pricier option does not have a markedly better screen or speaker array.
Huawei MediaPad M5 10 Pro
This tablet is getting on a bit now, and you may have to dig around to find it online. It is one of the few good non-iPad alternatives, though. The LCD screen doesn't have quite the same pop, the screen surrounds are larger and the processor doesn't have quite the same graphics power. But as it's available at £270, this is recommended if you want to save even more money.
Apple iPad 10.2
Apple has reworked its cheapest iPad. It now has a larger screen and supports the first-gen Apple Pencil. However, it still has an old chipset, the 2016 Apple A10 Fusion, and a non-laminated LCD screen. Samsung wins out on the tech, but iPads have an undeniable appeal of their own.