A host of problems mean the Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra is not the iPad Pro killer it wants to be
- Superb AMOLED display
- Bundled stylus
- Competitive pricing
- A bit awkward to be used as a tablet
- Touchpad is hyper sensitive
Tablets masquerading as laptops are nothing new but Samsung’s latest offering takes the concept and stretches it to its limit. The Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra has a huge 14.6in display, making it the biggest non-Windows tablet around and it’s a good deal larger than the 12.9in iPad Pro, too.
Coupled with its optional keyboard cover and the bundled S Pen, the Tab S8 Ultra is more like a full-blown laptop than any Android device has ever been before. Even Apple must be looking at it with some interest.
The question is, does stretching the screen out this big make any sense on an Android device?
Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra review: What you need to know
If you were to go by the specifications alone, the answer to that question might well be in the affirmative because the Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra is an impressive beast.
It starts with that 14.6in display, which employs the sharpest, most vivid AMOLED panel we’ve ever come across on any device. It has a resolution of 2,960 x 1,848, a refresh rate of 120Hz, is topped with scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass 5 and supports HDR10.
Despite its size, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 is relatively slim and light: it measures only 5.5mm thick and weighs just 726g. It comes bundled with Samsung’s S Pen stylus and you can even use the Tab S8 as a camera (assuming you’ve been putting in plenty of work at the gym) with dual 13MP and 6MP cameras on the rear and another pair of 12MP cameras facing the front.
Inside is Qualcomm’s premium mobile SoC, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, running the show coupled with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage on the base model and two other options available for those who want more storage (256GB or 512GB). There’s also a 5G configuration for all versions if you want to spend even more money.
The only slightly disappointing thing is that the keyboard case isn’t included so if you plan on employing the Tab S8 Ultra as a laptop substitute, you’ll have to budget extra.
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Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra review: Price and competition
Even without the keyboard case, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra is a pricey product. The tablet on its own will set you back £999 for the base configuration (8GB/128GB) and this rises to £1,099 for the 12GB/256GB model and £1,249 for 16GB/512GB.
Purchasing the keyboard case adds a further £299 to the price, bringing the total to at least £1,298. It’s worth nothing, though, at the time of writing, there was a £150 discount on the tablet and 50% off the keyboard, bringing the price down to a much more palatable £998 starting price for the bundle.
That makes it much cheaper than the Apple iPad Pro 12.9in, which barely ever sees any discounts. The iPad Pro 12.9in starts at £999 and the Magic Keyboard costs a further £329, and Apple doesn’t include a stylus in the box as Samsung does. If you want to add that, it’s an extra £119.
If all you’re interested in is the screen size, the touchscreen and the ability to use a stylus, then there are plenty of 2-in-1 Windows laptops that offer similar features. Samsung’s own 13.3in Galaxy Book2 Pro 360, for instance, starts at £1,099 andincludes an S Pen in the price, while the larger 15.6in model is a tempting £1,199.
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Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra review: Design and key features
To my mind, there’s nothing particularly special about the way Samsung has designed this tablet. The most remarkable thing about it, physically at least, is how slim and light it is, measuring a mere 5.5mm from the front glass to the rear aluminium casing and weighing 726g. There isn’t much room for ports and sockets – there’s just one USB-C connector and a microSD card tray (with a dedicated SIM slot if you bought the 5G version) – but that’s not unexpected on a tablet like this.
Add the keyboard, however, and that elegance evaporates. It gets much thicker, heavier and more unwieldy and, to make things worse, it isn’t a particularly clever design. The two-part construction means the kickstand extends way out the back behind the screen and it’s a nightmare to use on your lap.
I can just about manage it but only with the front edge of the keyboard jutting into my midriff and the kickstand balanced precariously on the far extremities of my knees. Anyone significantly shorter than me (I’m 6ft tall) won’t be able to use it on their lap at all.
If that doesn’t bother you, then the rest of the keyboard is okay. The key action is reasonably comfortable, it has a three-stage backlight and a sensible layout with a host of shortcuts sitting in the top row. You can even use it as a Bluetooth keyboard for nearby devices by pressing Fn+Tab together and pairing in the normal way.
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There’s one further irritation, however, and this relates to the touchpad’s sensitivity to phantom palm ‘clicks’, which would often cause me to click away inadvertently into a different app while typing, or to relocate the cursor elsewhere in the document I was writing or editing. You can avoid this by turning off the touchpad with the Fn+Space keystroke but it’s hardly ideal.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be wedded to using the touchpad as your pointer of choice. You can simply use your finger on the screen, pair a Bluetooth mouse or connect a wired one to the USB-C port. You can also simply reach around to the rear of the tablet and grab the bundled S Pen Stylus from its magnetic mount on the rear of the tablet.
The stylus is a little skinny for my liking but I do prefer the feeling of the nib on the screen to the Apple Pencil 2 – there’s more friction and, as a result, writing and sketching has a more natural feel to it.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra review: Samsung Dex and Android 12
Perhaps a bigger concern with a productivity tablet such as the Tab S8 Ultra is how well suited the software – in this case Android 12 with One UI 4.1 – is to working in laptop mode.
Again, Samsung does its best to paper over the cracks. Hit the DeX shortcut key in the top row and the tablet switches from full-screen tablet mode into Samsung’s desktop mode, where Android apps can be windowed and snapped to the left or right of the screen for more efficient multitasking. The grey bar that appears above windowed apps is a bit of a waste of screen real estate but, otherwise, DeX works reasonably well. As with most operating systems, you’ll learn to work around its foibles in time.
Alas, there’s little Samsung can do about the paucity of Android apps optimised for use on a large screen. It’s infuriating to be forced to work with phone versions of essential apps like Slack, Google Drive and Twitter alongside other apps, such as Gmail, that are optimised nicely for larger displays. It’s this, more than anything else, that puts a dent in the overall appeal of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra.
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Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra review: Display
The one thing that might flip your opinion is the screen, which is probably the best I’ve ever come across on any mobile device, be that phone, tablet or laptop. Not only is it big at 14.6in and very sharp (2,960 x 1,848 pixels), it’s also incredibly vibrant and technically very accomplished.
In the default Vivid display mode, the Tab S8 Ultra’s screen is capable of presenting an astonishing 200% of the sRGB colour gamut, which translates into 141% of the DCI P3 colour space. Looking at the gamut coverage chart, in fact, the Tab S8 Ultra’s display is close to reproducing the entire BT.2020 colour space, which is better than most of the high-end OLED TVs we’ve reviewed.
Peak brightness in normal mode hits 366cd/m2 in normal mode and a super impressive 820cd/m2 in HDR and although colour accuracy isn’t quite as impressive, with the average Delta E colour difference measure hitting 2.3 in Natural mode versus sRGB, that shouldn’t impinge at all on your enjoyment of this display. Watching Netflix, YouTube and Disney Plus content on this thing is an experience not to be missed. It’s utterly brilliant.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra review: Performance and battery life
All around performance can’t match the jaw dropping display but it’s impressive nonetheless. Just like the iPad Pro 12.9in, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra is powered by a top-end mobile CPU – the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 – and although it can’t quite match the raw power of the iPad’s M1 chip, it feels perfectly responsive, whatever you throw at itIn the context of other Android tablets, it’s a little faster than the last generation of Samsung devices (for instance, the Tab S7 Plus) but it isn’t a huge jump forward.
If anything, it’s the 120Hz screen that makes the most difference to the way the tablet feels to use. It’s so slick and smooth, in fact, that laptops with 60Hz displays feel clunky and old fashioned by comparison.
And, thanks to that mobile processor, battery life is pretty impressive as well, with the Galaxy S8 Ultra lasting an impressive 11hrs 58mins in our video rundown tests (with the display set to a brightness of 170cd/m2 and the tablet in airplane mode). That’s a little longer than the iPad Pro 12.9in but not so much as you’d notice in real-world use.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra review: Verdict
That battery life, coupled with the incredible display, bundled stylus and competitive pricing makes me desperately want to recommend the Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra as an alternative to the 12.9in iPad Pro. It is, in many respects, a ground breaking product.
Alas, I can’t, and that’s due to a steady accumulation of negatives. The clunky keyboard case, the hyper-sensitive touchpad and most significantly, the continuing lack of Android apps that are specifically tailored for use on bigger screens undermine the Samsung Galaxy Tab S8’s broader appeal.
If Google were to change that, then it’s just possible a device like this make a serious challenge to the 12.9in Apple iPad Pro. As it is, however, it feels like a product that’s ahead of its time.