Samsung Galaxy TabPro S Review: The Best Windows Tablet Deal In the Galaxy

Samsung Galaxy TabPro S Review: The Best Windows Tablet Deal In the Galaxy

Published on: 11-05-2016 | by Misty in Mobile, Tablets, Samsung Galaxy TabPro S

Dan Ackerman writes this review for CNET.

Samsung's latest PC takes the name of its Galaxy line of Android phones and tablets, despite running the Windows 10 operating system. The Galaxy TabPro S is a new tilt at one of the most persistent windmills in technology -- crafting the perfect Windows tablet.

Cracking the Windows tablet code has been a quest that computer makers have obsessed over for years. It's a quest that goes back to the days before Windows 10 or even Windows 8, and even before Apple's iPad made slate-style tablets everyday household objects. Some would say it's less of a quest and more of a fool's errand, full of false starts and overhyped promises.

Most of the time, the Windows operating system and the PC apps that run on it just aren't designed with the same single-tap access, consistent navigation, and optimal screen scaling as apps that live in the walled garden of iOS and the iPad. Even when Windows 8 introduced a tablet-friendly interface, it failed to scratch that particular itch, and instead just made everyday computing tasks more cumbersome.

Why is it so hard to make a Windows tablet that feels both useful and intuitive, while also providing the kind of instant gratification the best gadgets offer? It's because we still need these devices to do double duty as everyday workstations for email, office documents and shopping, on top of the easy tap-swipe-flick of media watching and games. Most PC makers have settled on hybrid machines that are full-time laptops and part-time tablets, such as the Lenovo Yoga series, but these are not iPad alternatives and never will be.

Microsoft has come the closest to date, with its evolving Surface line. Over the course of four generations, the Surface tablet has become an excellent overall product, thanks to extensive work in tweaking the physical design, including perfecting the adjustable kickstand and magnetic keyboard cover. I'd recommend the latest Surface Pro 4 as the go-to Windows tablet, but it has a fatal flaw -- it's expensive. That's because the keyboard cover -- by every account a required accessory for even basic everyday use -- doesn't come with the Surface. It instead must be purchased separately, for a not-insignificant $129, on top of a tablet that runs from $899 (£749 or AU$1,349) to $1,799. That puts even the most affordable Surface Pro 4 north of the thousand-dollar mark, an important psychological and practical barrier.

The Samsung Galaxy TabPro S sets out to emulate the best parts of the Surface line, while also correcting some of its flaws. The biggest news here is that the single currently available configuration, combining a 12-inch AMOLED display (more on that in a minute) with an Intel Core m3 CPU and a 128GB solid-state drive, is $899 (£849, AU$1,499), which includes a very familiar-looking and -feeling keyboard cover. With that simple move, including the keyboard in the box, Samsung earns a tip of my virtual hat for showing some respect for consumers.

But the Galaxy TabPro S isn't perfect, even though it represents an excellent overall value. The keyboard cover, while solid-feeling and very usable, isn't as evolved as the one on the latest Surface, the Surface Pro 4. The Surface keyboard has moved to island-style keys, closer to what you'd find on a traditional laptop, while the Samsung keyboard has tightly packed keys that do not feel as natural to use.

Samsung's new Galaxy TabPro S comes with a snazzy keyboard case that offers two comfortable typing positions.

The Samsung keyboard is also loud and clunky; as opposed to the soft-touch quiet keyboard on the Surface (maybe that's why Microsoft insists on charging an additional $129 for it). Both have strong magnetic connections that hold the two halves securely together, but the Samsung cover wraps all the way around, covering the front and back of the tablet, while the Surface version is a front cover only, leaving the back of the tablet exposed. That offers more protection, but the slate also popped out of its cover a few times when I was snapping the screen into place.

You'll Miss the Kickstand

Ergonomically, there's one area where the Galaxy TabPro S beats the Surface Pro 4, and one where it falls behind. Removed from its cover, the actual slate portion of the TabPro S is amazingly thin and light, weighing just 1.52 pounds (689g), versus 1.76 pounds (798g) for the Surface Pro 4.

But, the Surface body includes a well-designed kickstand, which allows you to position its screen at nearly any angle. That's a huge advantage over the TabPro S, which lacks a kickstand, instead using its keyboard cover to snap into just two different angles, one nearly upright, and the other much farther back.

Neither felt perfect for me when tested across a variety of desks and chair positions, but the lower angle does work well when you're seated on a couch and want to casually lap-surf. For someone of the exact height and seated in the exact position predicted by Samsung engineers, good for you. For everyone else, being locked into just two angles is a strong negative.

Also missing in action is a promised active stylus pen. Microsoft includes one with every Surface, but the specialized TabPro S pen is delayed, and should be available as a sold-separately accessory in the near future. I got to briefly try one at a Samsung press preview, and it performed quite well for drawing and sketching.

Besides the included keyboard cover, the biggest selling point of the TabPro S is its AMOLED screen. A close cousin of the OLED displays found in the highest-end TVs, it's a technology that's very slowly making its way to laptops and tablets, and in short, it looks stunning (Samsung uses AMOLED screens in many of its phones already). The screen's native resolution is 2,160x1,440 pixels, and the image looks clear, bright and sharp even from extreme side angles. If you're looking for a way to show off your tablet, a good high-definition video file played on this AMOLED screen is your best bet.

The Core M Conundrum

One of the reasons Samsung is including a keyboard cover and AMOLED display for only $899 is because the system is powered by an Intel Core m3 processor, which isn't as powerful as the Core i5 and Core i7 CPUs found in most mainstream PCs. This is the second generation of Core M chips, which means better performance and battery life than the underwhelming first generation (seen in products such as the 12-inch Apple MacBook), but it's also the lowest-end of three available processors, behind the Core m5 and Core m7.

In everyday use, it was robust enough for Web surfing and high-res video playback, but the system still stuttered at times. Sticking to Microsoft-native apps, such as Edge for Web browsing, you'll get an even smoother experience. The Surface Pro 4 also starts with a Core m3 CPU, but offers upgrades to Core i5 and Core i7 CPUs. Sticking with just Core M does give the TabPro S the low heat profile it needs to be completely fanless.

Battery life was a pleasant surprise, besting a series of comparison systems, including the Surface Pro 4 and 12-inch MacBook. The TabPro S ran for 9:23 in our online streaming battery test, which is more than enough for a full day's work, and more than 4 hours longer than the Surface Pro 4.

The Samsung Galaxy TabPro S doesn't do everything right, but its few missteps are in service of a greater good -- providing a top-notch Windows tablet experience at a reasonable price. The overall value here is excellent, especially considering the advanced display and very long battery life.

But the biggest news here is that a Windows tablet doesn't need to break its keyboard cover off into a separate box to be sold separately. Just including that must-have accessory makes this system so much more useful out of the box, and isn't giving people practical, useful tools the entire point?

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