Ups –                                                                   Downs – 

Beautiful, sharp display                                          S Pen feels cheap, useless

Big battery                                                            Keyboard cover blocks speakers

Modern, sleek design cover                                     Expensive after adding keyboard

Snappy performance

Productive DeX interface

 

Android tablets have been floating in limbo for quite some time. Google never pushed developers to create apps designed specifically for tablets, unlike Apple did with the iPad, and that left a lackluster user experience when you wanted to get some work done. A Bluetooth keyboard or stylus never really helped. For productivity, your best bet was going the Windows route with a two-in-one like the Microsoft’s Surface line, or with Apple’s iPad range. Samsung’s trying to change all that with its latest tablet, the Galaxy Tab S4.

At a quick glance, the Tab S4 — a gorgeous device — looks like any other Android tablet. But Samsung has brought over its DeX desktop mode from its smartphones, which enables a far more productive interface. Let’s take a closer look, and we’ll explain what what we mean.

The Galaxy Tab S4 has a much more contemporary look over last year’s Tab S3, and that’s thanks to uniform bezels around the 10.5-inch screen. The larger screen size (up from 9.7-inches last year) doesn’t mean the tablet is bigger, as the shrunken bezels helped Samsung maintain almost the same size.

There’s no more home button or Samsung logo on the front, so it looks clean and minimal. In landscape orientation, the power button sits at the top edge, next to a volume rocker. You can double-tap the screen to turn it on, eliminating the need for a physical home button.

On the bottom edge in the same orientation is the pogo pin connector that can attach to Samsung’s keyboard cover (more on this later), and on the right edge is where you can plug a USB Type-C cable in to charge the Tab S4. There’s a headphone jack next to the charging port.

The Galaxy Tab S4 has a much more contemporary look over last year’s Tab S3.

Like last year’s Tab S3, there are four speakers tuned by AKG, the Austrian acoustics company, in the four corners of the Tab S4, but Samsung said the tablet sounds “louder than ever before” thanks to support for Dolby Atmos sound. The sound is spatial, but it didn’t get as loud as we’d like in a room with some background chatter. It doesn’t sound as good as the iPad Pro’s quad speaker setup, and we also noticed the Tab S4’s keyboard cover completely muffles the speakers, making them sound incredibly poor. It’s odd, considering you’ll likely want the tablet sitting upright with the keyboard cover when you’re playing music or videos, but we’ll have to do more testing to make sure this is a persistent problem.

The AMOLED screen is a different story — it’s absolutely gorgeous. With a 2,560 x 1,600-pixel resolution, the display is sharp, gets incredibly bright, and is vibrantly colorful. The 10.5-inch size also doesn’t feel too small. It’s lightweight and compact enough to carry around, and it will fit in your backpack or purse without any problems. There’s enough bezel around the screen to comfortably hold the tablet without touching the screen, too.

The back of the tablet is all glass (Gorilla Glass 3 on the front and back), which means you’ll want to take extra care handling it. There’s not much happening on the back — except for all the fingerprints it picks up — but the rear camera design, which seems inherited from early Galaxy devices, looks a little dated.

The lack of a fingerprint sensor is a step back. It may be more convenient to type up passwords with the keyboard, but in tablet mode, it’ll be a nuisance. We’d have liked to see it added to one of the edges of the device, like the Moto Z3 Play. Samsung said you can utilize the iris scanner through the front-facing camera to unlock the tablet, but it can’t be used to log into secure apps.

The Book Cover Keyboard costs $150 (although there’s a deal through September 8 that cuts the price in half), and it’s comfortable to type on. Placing the tablet inside is relatively quick and simple, though it’s due to this keyboard that the audio sounds muffled — there are bumpers covering the speakers, which seems like an oversight. Samsung also has a cover available without the keyboard.

The S Pen looks more like a fountain pen; it’s a lot more elegant.

Attached to the keyboard cover is a little cap you can slide the S Pen stylus into, which is included with the Tab S4. The S Pen looks more like a fountain pen; it’s a lot more elegant than previous iterations. It’s feels nice to hold and use, but we’d have liked if it had a bit more weight to it. It’s a little too lightweight, which makes it feel cheap and easily breakable.

Samsung has brought several S Pen features from the Galaxy Note 8 over to the Tab S4, including Screen Off Memo, which only works in tablet mode, but it lets you write on the screen without having to turn it on. There’s also Air Command, which lets you press the button on the S Pen to open up a list of apps for quick access; Live Message, where you can draw on photos and turn them into animated GIFs; and Translate, which translates text the S Pen is hovering over. In our brief time with it, we still don’t feel like the S Pen is a necessary addition to the Tab S4, and we’re more likely to utilize a Bluetooth mouse.

DEX INTERFACE

The highlight of the Tab S4 is the new DeX interface. Previously, you’ve only been able to place a Galaxy S8S9, or Note 8 on Samsung’s DeX Station or DeX Pad docks, and connect it to a monitor to access Samsung’s DeX Android desktop interface. Now, when the Tab S4 connects to the keyboard, it automatically launches DeX.

DeX is Samsung’s desktop Android mode, which adds a traditional operating system dock at the bottom with the Android navigation keys and an app drawer, and there’s a system tray on the bottom right so you can access settings and notifications. Apps sit on the home screen like a Windows laptop. You can open multiple app windows, and you can resize them all to your liking.

It’s immediately clear you’ll want to keep using DeX mode when this device is docked with a keyboard.

While every Android app will work in this mode, not every app will convert to a tablet interface. Almost all of Samsung’s apps will, and the company has gradually been adding support for more third-party apps. We spent a month last year using the DeX interface through a Galaxy S8 as a replacement to our laptop, and it was perfectly capable of handling most of our tasks, though we largely used Samsung’s web browser app. Things might get more tricky if you need to run specialized software, though DeX does work with virtual computers, and you still have access to every Android app available. We’ll be spending more time in this mode to see if it has improved.

You can switch back to the tablet interface at any time. It’s not as fast as we’d like — you need to open the quick settings menu, tap the DeX tile, and it will then take around 3 seconds to swap to tablet mode. A one-button switch on the system tray would have been a nicer alternative.

Standard Android 8.1 Oreo  is perfectly capable, though it’s immediately clear you’ll want to keep using DeX mode when this device is docked with a keyboard. We’d have liked Samsung to build a trackpad into the keyboard cover, so we wouldn’t have to rely on the touchscreen or a separate Bluetooth mouse.

STRONG SPECS

The Galaxy Tab S4 is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 processor with 4GB of RAM. We haven’t done a lot of testing yet for this first look, but we didn’t run into any glaring problems with performance. It may be last year’s processor, but it should still be able to run almost everything you throw at it.

There are 64GB and 256GB models available, but a MicroSD card slot lets you add more space if you need it. The Tab S4 has a 13-megapixel camera on the rear and an 8-megapixel camera on the front, though we haven’t had a chance to test either yet.

Samsung has also thrown in a massive 7,300mAh battery inside, which the company said will make the tablet last through 16 hours of video playback. That’s quite impressive if it’s true, and we’ll certainly be testing those claims.

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