Yesterday, Samsung announced a boatload of new products, including the latest version of its popular Note smartphone and the next folding phone in its portfolio. Also in the mix was the new Galaxy Tab S7 and S7 Plus, the company’s latest high-end Android tablets designed to go blow-for-blow with the iPad Pro.
As expected, the Tab S7 duo stack the spec sheet, at least as far as Android devices go. They have everything from 5G to 120Hz displays to quad-speaker systems. But they also cost a stack, starting at $649.99 for the 11-inch Tab S7 and $849.99 for the 12.4-inch S7 Plus. Adding Samsung’s keyboard folio case to the mix tacks on another $199.99 (11-inch) or $229.99 (12.4-inch) to the tally, meaning you can easily spend over a grand on one of these tablets.
I’ve been able to test-drive a Tab S7 Plus for a few days, and here are my thoughts on the highs and lows of the experience. Don’t take this as a full review; this is a preproduction unit, and Samsung isn’t planning to ship it until this fall, so a formal review will have to come later. But I can give you an idea of what it’s like to use the Tab S7 Plus for both work and play after a few days. Let’s start with what’s good.
OH MY GOD, THIS SCREEN
Unsurprisingly, the absolute best thing by far about the Tab S7 Plus is its display. This 12.4-inch OLED panel is bright, vibrant, and pixel-dense. Colors practically jump off the screen, and the blacks are as inky and deep as they are on the LG OLED TV hanging in my living room. Topping it off is the 120Hz refresh rate, which makes every interaction buttery smooth. Yes, the iPad Pro has had this feature for three years, but it’s just as much of a delight here as it is on Apple’s tablet. In fact, given that this is an OLED panel, I might even argue that this is the nicest screen I’ve ever seen on a mobile device.
My only gripe is that it’s significantly smaller than the 12.9-inch iPad Pro due to its more rectangular shape and shorter diagonal measurement. It feels a bit more cramped when I’m trying to get work done. But when it comes time to watch HDR video, Samsung wins every time.
PERFORMANCE IS FAST
The Tab S7 Plus has Qualcomm’s latest and greatest Snapdragon 865 Plus processor inside, plus 8GB of RAM. In my three or so days of using the tablet, I’ve never had a slowdown or chug, even when I’m bouncing between multiple apps and running a handful of tabs in the browser. I was able to chat with my colleagues in Slack, compose articles in our CMS, browse Twitter, watch Doug DeMuro videos, and keep up with my RSS feed just like I do on a laptop every day of the week. Yes, technically Apple’s processor is faster than the Qualcomm in a benchmark test. But in the real world, the Tab S7 Plus feels no slower than the iPad Pro.
THE SPEAKERS ARE LOUD AND SOUND GREAT
Samsung put four speakers into the Tab S7 models and dolloped a bit of Dolby Atmos and AKG tuning on top. The result is a loud, full experience that sounds great whether I’m watching a YouTube video, listening to some Spotify, or dialing into a Zoom call. The last time I was this impressed with the speakers on a tablet was on the iPad Pro, so I’d say Samsung did well here. They are almost good enough for me to forgive Samsung for not including a headphone jack.
THE FRONT CAMERA IS IN THE RIGHT SPOT
Look, one of the most annoying things about using an iPad as a primary computer is that when you have to be on a video call, the camera is off to the side. You can either look at the camera or look at the people you’re talking to, but not both at the same time. Samsung was smart enough to put the camera on a different edge of the screen, so when you’re using it in the keyboard case the camera is on the top, not the side, just like a laptop. It’s not the best camera I’ve ever seen, but it does run laps around most laptop webcams at this point. Here’s a quick and dirty sample I took as I’m writing this article:
THE KEYBOARD CASE LOOKS GOOD BUT HAS FLAWS
All right, here’s where I started running into some hiccups on the Tab S7 Plus. The keyboard case, which costs $229.99 (no small sum), has some good ideas but just as many irritations.
I like how the keyboard can be separated from the tablet and there’s still a part of the case protecting the back and providing a kickstand for watching video or drawing. It’s way more flexible than Apple’s Magic Keyboard, which basically forces you into having all or nothing.
But that flexibility comes at a price when I try to use the Tab S7 on my lap, where it’s all kinds of wobbly and unstable. I can make it work, but it’s way less comfortable than an iPad Pro, Surface Pro, or traditional clamshell laptop on my actual lap.
The keyboard and trackpad have good feel and action. I particularly like the new multifinger gestures that let me navigate the software with swipes on the trackpad. But there are annoyances here, too, such as the function row that can’t be set to media controls by default. I have to press the Fn key every time I want to pause music or adjust the volume. The number of times per day I need to press F9 is approximately zero, while I’m adjusting volume all day long.
The trackpad also has terrible palm rejection, which sends my cursor flying across the screen erratically all day long, and you can’t disable the inverted (or “natural”) scrolling on it, which frustrates me.
DEX IS, WELL, STILL A MESS
It’s not a controversial statement to say that the weakest part of Samsung’s tablet offerings is that they run Android, which hasn’t really worked well on tablets in, well, ever. To try to overcome some of Android’s large-screen shortcomings, Samsung developed DeX a few years ago to provide a more traditional desktop-like experience, complete with overlapping windows and a taskbar at the bottom.
The problem is that DeX still feels like an unfinished project. DeX’s rudimentary window management makes Windows 95 feel advanced. The fact that I can’t use the trackpad to select text in a webpage irritates. Then there are the bigger issues, like when apps refuse to open in DeX mode (hello LastPass) or don’t want to cooperate with Samsung’s hacky window resizing controls (looking at you, Pocket). Apps frequently just crash when I’m in the DeX environment, and if I close up the tablet and open it up later, I can expect that all of the apps I was working in will be gone. It’s just not something I’d want to rely on for work every day.
(Also, this is exceedingly pedantic, but the mouse pointer is rotated counter-clockwise a few degrees more than the one in Windows or macOS, and it looks odd and off-putting to me.)
Then, of course, there is the fact that the vast majority of Android apps just kind of look stupid on such a big screen. Samsung has done a good job of making sure its own apps work well on the canvas, at least. If you bail on DeX and use it in the standard Android mode, you can use Samsung’s feature that lets you run three apps at the same time (much like you can on the Galaxy Fold). That’s nice, but it can’t make up for the fact that most apps look like stretched-out phone apps or don’t offer support for keyboard shortcuts.
THE BATTERY WILL NOT LAST AN ENTIRE WORKDAY
If you’re planning to use the Tab S7 as a daily workhorse, be prepared to charge it up often. I’m not sure if it’s the high-res, high-refresh display, the fact that I’m bouncing between at least six different apps all day long, or what, but I’ve been consistently able to kill the battery in less than four hours when I use the Tab S7 Plus as a laptop. Fortunately, there’s 45-watt fast charging support, because I have to plug it in about two times every day.
You’ll probably get better battery life if you just use the Tab S7 to watch videos, read ebooks and articles, or lightly browse the web, but I haven’t had it long enough to really test those scenarios fully. Stay tuned for more on that when we do a formal review.
There are other parts of the Tab S7 Plus experience that will have to wait for the full review. (I am not an artist, so I couldn’t fully appreciate the lower latency on the S Pen. I did use it to sign a few documents, and my handwriting was as terrible as ever.) Samsung hasn’t yet announced an exact release date (just that it’s coming “this fall”), and there is time for it to address some of the issues I experienced this week, such as the trackpad’s poor palm recognition and limited customizability. But the company says the hardware I’m using is final, so it’s indicative of what you can expect when the tablet hits shelves later this year.