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Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 review: Replaced by the Tab S4, but far better value

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
599
inc VAT

At launch, the Galaxy Tab S3 was the best Android tablet to date. Now it's been replaced – but it's far from defunct

Pros 
Gorgeous AMOLED screen
Brisk performance
S-Pen included in the box
Cons 
Seriously pricey
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When we first reviewed the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3, we were more than impressed. Not only was it the best Android tablet that had ever come out, but it even stood up to Apple's iPad Pro – the only real competitor. In fact, the Tab S3's only fault was its high price tag, which seemed to punish Android lovers who didn't want to succumb to the beckon of iOS. Since its original release, however, it has dropped down a full £200 from £599 to £399.

That's a cracking bargain, especially considering that the newer Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 will set you back well over £500. Although the Tab S4 is, technically speaking, the superior machine, it's hard to recommend it over the Tab S3 because of its numerous shortcomings. It really wasn't the revolutionary upgrade from the Tab S3 that we'd been hoping for, with its outdated internals and various design flaws. If it's value for money you seek, the Galaxy Tab S3 is the better choice right now.

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Our original Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 review continues below.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 review

It’s a while since an Android tablet really gripped my attention. We’re living in an era dominated by iPads after all, with Apple effectively owning the big-screen mobile experience. But Samsung’s surprise announcement of the Galaxy Tab S3 at this year’s MWC has piqued my interest once more.

It looks to be the biggest leap forward in the tablet game since the 9.7in iPad Pro landed back in 2015. It’s a seriously strong contender for the Google Pixel C’s crown, which otherwise remains the only Android tablet I’d ever really recommend.

The Galaxy Tab S3 doesn’t look much different to Samsung’s last premium tablet offering, the Galaxy Tab S2. It’s still got that gorgeous 9.7in AMOLED display on the front (more on that later) and it’s still seriously thin and lightweight. The big difference this year? Samsung lobs its enhanced S Pen in the box for free. And that’s almost worth the price of admission alone.

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Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 review: Price and competition

The Tab S3’s obvious competition is Apple’s new iPad. It’s Apple’s cheapest tablet offering, with prices starting at £339 - yet there’s no sacrifice in performance, and its battery life is stellar. Basically, it’s an affordable iPad, and people will flock to buy it.

For the Galaxy Tab S3, on the other hand, you’ll have to fork out £599. That’s £260 more than Apple’s newest iPad, and £200 more than the 9.7in Galaxy Tab S2, which retailed for just £399 two years ago. I wouldn’t go putting all the blame on Brexit, though: there’s a decent set of improvements inside to justify that price bump.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 review: Specs

Samsung Galaxy Tab S3Samsung Galaxy Tab S2
ProcessorQuad-core 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 820Octa-core 1.9GHz Exynos Octa 5433
RAM4GB RAM3GB RAM
Display9.7in 2,048 x 1,536 AMOLED9.7in 2,048 x 1,536 AMOLED
Storage32GB32GB
Battery6,000mAh5,870mAh
Android versionAndroid 7.0 NougatAndroid 5.0 Lollipop

Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 review: Display and sound

Now, let’s get to the thing you first see when you crack open the box - that stunning display. The 9.7in screen completely dominates the front of the Tab S3, despite those reasonably chunky side bezels. Surprisingly, there’s no change in resolution, which remains at 2,048 x 1,536, but the screen does now support HDR content. It’s seriously bright too, at a maximum 301cd/m2 - and as it’s an AMOLED display, its contrast and colour coverage are both excellent.`

What does that mean in practice? The Tab S3 is well suited to outdoor use, even in near direct sunlight, and anything you watch on it - from Netflix to YouTube - will look positively stunning. Colours are remarkably crisp, and images are filled with punchy detail. If you’re after something for on-the-go media consumption and Facebook feed scrolling, this is it.

Sound, meanwhile, is provided by a four-speaker arrangement. All of the quad-speaker tablets we’ve seen so far – the iPad Pro 12.9in, the iPad Pro 9.7in and the Huawei M2 10 – have sounded great, and Samsung hits this one out of the park. Audio quality is excellent, and thanks to an AKG-branded “quad-stereo” array, which automatically detects the orientation you’re holding the tablet in, you get a proper stereo image in both landscape and portrait modes.

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Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 review: S-pen and keyboard

The attraction of this tablet lies partly in its optional keyboard and bundled S-Pen stylus. The keyboard (which we haven’t yet tried for ourselves) attaches via a magnetic pogo-pin connection on the left edge of the tablet, folding over and propping up the tablet just like the iPad Pro 9.7in's Smart Keyboard. It also doubles as a case when it's not in use; it’s a neat accessory, but an expensive one at £119. Expect a review in due course.

As for the stylus, it’s Samsung’s most advanced S-Pen yet, with a smaller tip than ever, measuring just 0.7mm across. While I’m certainly no artist, I found it lovely to write with on the Galaxy Tab S3's screen. My favourite thing about it is a new feature called Screen Off Memo, which allows you to scribble quick notes on the screen without having to unlock the tablet or even turn it on.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 review: Performance and battery life

How about those internals? The Galaxy Tab S3 gets a bump up from its predecessor to a spec that’s decent by today’s standards, if not cutting edge. A quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor runs the show – a little behind the times in smartphone terms, perhaps, but the overall experience is lightning quick.

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That’s reflected in a Geekbench 4 multi-core result of 4,208 and a single-core score of 1,751. Obviously, the Tab S3 blazes past Google’s Pixel C and the older Tab S2, but is marginally bested by Apple’s new iPad, with its 4,204 and 2,490 scores.

There’s also 4GB of RAM, 32GB of built-in storage and a microSD slot for expansion, which will take cards up to 256GB in size. A 4G/LTE model is available too, promising download speeds of up to 300Mbits/sec for road warriors.

While the battery is slightly larger than the Tab S2’s, the bump to 6,000mAh doesn’t seem to have paid off. The S3 lasted 11hrs 43mins in our continuous video playback test with the screen set to 170cd/m2 - that’s nearly three hours short of the Tab S2’s 14hrs 33mins, and further behind the new iPad’s 14hrs 47mins. That Snapdragon 830 must be pretty power-hungry; on the upside, it recharges speedily via the USB-C port on the bottom.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 review: Verdict

The Galaxy Tab S2 was already great, but the S3 really kicks things up a notch. With its speedy performance, bundled S-Pen and pixel-perfect display, it’s a very nice tablet indeed.

Unfortunately, that absurdly high price has to be taken into consideration. Prior to the announcement, I’d have guessed a price of under £500, to undercut Apple’s 9.7in iPad Pro. Asking punters to pay £260 more than the cost of a new iPad feels like a greedy gamble that might not pay off.

Even so, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S3 is undeniably an impressive device. If you’ve got the cash at hand (lucky you) and prefer to stick with Android, rather than following the iPad crowd, the Tab S3 is definitely the tablet for you.

Hardware
ProcessorQuad-core 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 820
RAM4GB
Screen size9.7in
Screen resolution1,536 x 2,048
Screen typesAMOLED
Front camera5-megapixel
Rear camera13-megapixel
FlashYes
GPSYes
CompassYes
Storage (free)32GB
Memory card slot (supplied)microSD
Wi-Fi802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Bluetooth4.2
NFCN/A
Wireless dataN/A
Dimensions237.3 x 169 x 6 mm
Weight429g
Features
Operating systemAndroid 7.0
Battery size6,000mAh

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