Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 Review

March 24, 2017 - Written By Nick Sutrich

The ultimate in mobile entertainment and productivity.

This post is brought to you by CJ Affiliate’s VIP Content Service. Thank you Samsung for sponsoring this post. While this was a sponsored opportunity from Samsung, all content and opinions expressed here are my own.

Buy the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3

As tablets seem to have faded from the mindset of the average consumer in many ways, companies are looking to fill just the right niche and exceed consumer expectations. Samsung has learned that there is a specific group of users looking for that ultimate entertainment tablet, one that both performs admirably and looks premium, all while still functioning as a business or productivity device. The Galaxy Tab S3 aims to fulfill all those goals, with quad speakers, a gorgeous HDR display, premium build, and for the first time ever, being bundled with the venerable S-Pen. For $600, is this the tablet you’ve been looking for, or is it too out of reach for the average consumer? Let’s find out.

Specs

Given the fact that the Galaxy Tab S2 debuted well over a year ago, it shouldn’t be a surprise to expect some major spec upgrades to the Galaxy Tab S3. Sporting a gorgeous 9.7-inch HDR Super AMOLED panel with 2048 x 1536 resolution and a brand new all metal and glass body, the Tab S3 is certainly love at first sight. Inside sits a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 chipset for US customers, and an Exynos chipset for international customers, while both SKUs feature 4GB RAM and 32GB internal storage with expandable memory via microSD cards. Samsung has bumped up the camera game too, including a 13-megapixel camera on the back and a 5-megapixel camera on the front. A 6,000mAh battery sits inside for loads of hours of playback, and the tablet supports super fast charging via the USB Type-C port found on the bottom.

Quad 0.64-Watt speakers, tuned by AKG, can be found all around the chassis, and rotate their orientation automatically to match the screen being in either portrait or landscape mode. Android 7.0 Nougat comes pre-installed on the Tab S3, along with the Samsung Experience skin, and you’ll also find Samsung Flow is making an appearance here as well, allowing you to easily link your Samsung branded phone with the features of the Tab S3. Folks who need data on the go will be happy to know that Samsung is shipping a version of the Tab S3 with a Cat 6 LTE WiFi radio inside, capable of the absolute fastest LTE speeds available today. Samsung is shipping the Galaxy Tab S3 in black, silver and gold variants, and all models come with the new, larger S-Pen. The Tab S3 measures 237.3mm x 169mm x 6mm, making this one unbelievably thin, weighing 429 grams for the WiFi-only model, and 434 grams for the LTE version.

In The Box

For the first time ever in a non-Note branded device, Samsung is including the famous S-Pen inside the box of every Galaxy Tab S3 sold worldwide. As a standard pack-in, the S-Pen can give users more functionality than just the base tablet alone would provide. Inside the box you’ll also find a USB Type-C to Type-A cable, a Samsung Adaptive Charging fast wall charger, and a set of manuals and a SIM/microSD card tray removal tool. Samsung is also including a handful of S-Pen tip replacements, as the rubber tip on the S-Pen can become worn down over long periods of time (months), but can be easily changed out using the included tool and tips.

Buy the Samsung Book Cover

Display

Unlike last time, Samsung is only shipping the Galaxy Tab S3 in a single size. The 9.7-inch screen on the tablet has proven to be the most popular size for tablets in general, and offers both enough room to be productive and enjoy movies, but not too much room as to make it awkward. While the resolution of this Super AMOLED panel is the same as last time, 2048 x 1536 pixels, its ability to display HDR10 content makes for an unbelievable upgrade that needs to be seen to be believed. HDR is certainly the big innovation in displays over the past year or so, and now that we’ve got a good source of HDR content from the likes of Amazon and other content partners, it’s clear the hardware demand is growing strong for this new type of video. HDR10 is one of the standards out there for HDR video support, and offers a 10-bit color palette instead of the traditional 8-bit one on regular screens. These additional 2-bits reward viewers with four times the number of colors for each of the color channels; RGB, or Red, Green, Blue. This means instead of 256 different reds, greens and blues, you’re now treated with a whopping 1024 different reds, greens and blues in each pixel, resulting in a display filled with colors you simply haven’t seen in video before.

In addition to this, HDR also increases the gamut of shadow reproduction, and brings light to shadows that simply cannot be displayed in standard video. Just as with photos, HDR also tones down those extra bright areas, and in general helps normalize the scene and take some of the harsh darks and lights out of a scene that shouldn’t be there. As this is an AMOLED panel, true blacks are displayed when needed, and colors are punchy and gorgeous in general. Brightness is also a winning point for Samsung’s latest panels, and this screen is just as easily viewable in direct sunlight as it is in the dark, so long as there’s no direct glare off the glass of course. White balance borders on perfect, with whites as close to natural as they come.

Samsung includes a number of different display modes to enhance your viewing pleasure, with the default being the highly saturated, high contrast selection that tends to wow folks at first glance. You’ll definitely want to switch to the AMOLED Cinema mode when watching videos though, as the ultra high contrast of the default setting is a bit too much for videos and tends to crush the black levels. These 3 other display modes change the white balance too, and tend to give a more natural appearance to colors instead of the punchy colors that help make gaming and app usage more attractive in the default display setting.

The biggest hit here is that it only has a 2048 x 1536 resolution, which is lower resolution than Samsung’s Galaxy S phones feature, all while being at least 50% larger than your average smartphone. This means a lower pixel-per-inch density than modern smartphones, but it’s still enough to keep things crisp and clean while operating the device. What’s important to note is that this is likely higher resolution than most gaming monitors that folks have hooked up to their computers, and still higher resolution than most consoles can render games at. The appearance of pixels will melt away as you watch videos, and anyone using this for a productivity device will find that there are more than enough pixels to go around, displaying clean, clear text when typing, and lots of detail when drawing or writing with the S-Pen.

Hardware and Build

Just as they did with their phones back in 2015, Samsung has now outfitted their most premium tablet with a metal frame and a glass back.  Oddly enough this doesn’t mean it’s water resistant, just as the Galaxy S6 family was not, and odder still is the lack of wireless charging like the Galaxy S7 family features. You also might have some very real concerns that the glass build of the tablet could be easily broken, especially given how fragile glass phones have proven to be in general. We watched first hand as the Tab S3 was dropped onto a solid wood floor from table height, and there was nary a scratch or crack anywhere to be found. While this certainly isn’t going to be representative of every drop the tablet might incur, it’s certainly reassuring for the tablet’s durability levels despite the fragile materials used. Utilizing a case, such as Samsung’s Keyboard case for the Tab S3, will certainly help protect it too.

Samsung’s build quality over the years has improved so drastically, it’s difficult to believe that this is the same company that became famous or its plastic devices. Every single curve and edge on the Tab S3 looks and feels premium, from its ultra slim build, to its smoothed metal edges and glass back. It’s not just that it feels super premium either, this look actually makes it wholly unique in the world of tablets, as many out there are either metal clad or cheaper plastic. The body itself is a good weight for the build, and while 400 grams or so sounds heavy on paper, it doesn’t feel heavy on a device of this size. Also worth noting is that since it’s a 9.7-inch tablet it’s not exactly pocket friendly, but of course it’s not really designed to be. Samsung has outfitted the left side of the tablet with POGO pins for connecting the keyboard folio case that it sells for the Galaxy Tab S3, and it’s these little clues that tell you how this device is designed to be used. Samsung stated that research has shown tablets in this price range are generally not shared, and thus are someone’s personal or business tablet exclusively, thus the choice for a more premium, and possibly more fragile, build.

At 6mm thin it’s pretty incredible to think so much power is packed inside this tablet. Around its metal frame you’ll find two speakers situated at the top, while the bottom holds two additional speakers in the same locations. At the bottom you’ll also find the USB Type-C port and the 3.5mm audio jack centered between the two speakers. The right side of the tablet holds the power button near the top, with the volume rocker situated just below it, as well as the SIM/microSD card tray and a set of microphones for noise cancellation. This button placement helps keep from accidentally pressing them, as you’ll likely be holding the tablet more towards the middle when carrying it around. The left side holds the aforementioned POGO pins as well as slots to help line up they keyboard with a magnetic click. On the front is the familiar oblong Samsung home button with built-in fingerprint scanner, as well as a multi-tasking Overview button to the left, and a back button to the right. Above the screen sits a front-facing camera, and the bezels around the display are enough to aide in holding the larger tablet, but small enough to where they aren’t a distraction. Around back is a completely flat, gorgeous glass panel with a single rounded-square camera lens centered toward the top, and a single LED flash module below it.

S-Pen

In the past Samsung has chosen to include the S-Pen only with Note family devices, whether those devices are tablets or phones. Including an S-Pen with a device that’s not a Note branded device is something new for the company, and with that they’re introducing a new style of S-Pen to go along with this new ideal. The S-Pen that comes with the Galaxy Tab S3 is larger in every respect than any S-Pen before it. This lends itself to be considerably more comfortable when using for any period of time, and also gives it the look and feel of a regular pen. Even the clip up top looks like it belongs with a notepad or similar professional setting, and it’s this new design that makes it far more in line with the Wacom digitizer that’s built into the screen. As always the S-Pen never needs to be charged, something that flies in the face of nearly every rival Samsung has encountered in the digital pen space.

Much like the S-Pen on the Galaxy Note 7, the S-Pen here features 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity, all while still retaining the incredible thin 0.7mm rubber tip. The build of the pen is solid and doesn’t feel cheap at all; there’s no nasty hollow places that feel like it’s going to break when holding it, and it’s heavy enough to fool someone into thinking they’re using a classic pen instead of an advanced stylus. It’s even got a nice soft-touch material on the outside that gives the subtle feeling of something much less rigid than plastic, and doubles as a grip enhancement for cold weather. The rubber tips keep the feeling of writing closer to using a pen on paper than writing on a glass screen, and you can even take notes while the screen is off without having to unlock the tablet. A simple tab on the screen with the S-Pen while holding down the button on the pen will initiate a screen-off note.

The biggest problem with the pen isn’t necessarily the design itself, it’s the challenge of where to keep it. Galaxy Note owners will know that there’s traditionally always been a slot for keeping the pen right in the body of the device. This time around Samsung made the Tab S3 too thin to comfortably fit a pen inside, especially one this size, and thus it presents a bit of a challenge when considering where to store it. The likelihood that you’ll leave it somewhere and not be able to use it regularly is certainly a very real concern, especially since there are no “lost pen” features like the Note series has. This feature relies on sensors inside of the pen’s sheath, and since there is no sheath here, there are no sensors to detect when the pen has been left somewhere. Thankfully if you have the Folio Keyboard case, there’s a perfect spot to keep the S-Pen holstered right on the left side of the case, something purchasers of the Tab S3 may want to consider investing in.

AirView is back and better than ever, allowing users to store up to any combination of 10 functions or app shortcuts. AirView is invoked by pressing the S-Pen button while hovering it just over the screen, bringing up a circular row of icons that can be scrolled around like a rotary phone dial. Samsung has brought back the same functions we saw added to the Galaxy Note 7, including Translate, Magnify, Glance, Smart Select, Screen Write and Quick Note. Translate allows users to hover the S-Pen over any word on screen, whether that’s on a web page, chat window or even below an icon on the home screen, and translate the text real-time using a built-in Google Translate function. There are dozens upon dozens of different languages that can be translated, and you can choose to have many of them read back to you for correct pronunciation too.

Magnify essentially turns the S-Pen into a magnifying glass for the screen, and Smart Select will let you crop the contents of the screen and extract text from all sorts of images and other places so it can be easily copied or shared. Writing on screenshots is done in a single step with Screen Write, allowing you to quickly screen capture and share memos with other people. Glance places the currently running app in a corner of the screen for quick reference, letting you see the app full-screen by hovering over the icon, and the app will minimize again after moving the S-Pen cursor away from it. This is a great way to copy information between apps that might not support other forms of multi-tasking, or behave oddly while using multi-window mode.

Buy the S Pen

Keyboard case

While tablets used to basically just be a large phones used for watching videos or playing games on a bigger screen, modern tablets attempt to replace laptop computers with ever-growing numbers of peripherals and apps. One such peripheral that Samsung has made exclusively for the Tab S3 is the new keyboard folio case, which retails at $129, and attaches magnetically to the left side of the tablet. The Tab S3 uses POGO pins which ensure simple, instant connectivity without the hassle of pairing or the uncertainty of Bluetooth connections. This also means the keyboard doesn’t need its own batteries either; yet another win for Samsung’s peripherals for the Tab S3.

The folio case helps keep the Tab S3 completely covered while closed, although it doesn’t feature any sort of locking mechanism to keep it closed. The material outside is a soft-touch leather-type material, and features a magnetic component in the large folding section to hold the tablet in place. This section folds about ¾ of the way down the back, and allows the Tab S3 to reside at about a 30-degree angle for comfort while typing. The bottom of the case (when opened) is a rigid plastic inside, keeping it from falling over or folding inward when sitting on any type of surface. I used this case to more easily watch movies while on the couch because of the rigidity of the bottom part, letting the tablet sit on a pillow while I relaxed. It also features a small carrying ring for the S-Pen that adheres to the bottom left of the case in a specifically made spot for convenient access and travel.

Buy the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 Keyboard Cover

The keyboard itself is designed to feel closer to a laptop keyboard in many ways, and features similar spacing and travel to many laptop keyboards. I found myself typing naturally on it within just a few seconds, and typing without additional errors that a strange layout might otherwise incur. The keyboard features a few special keys on it, including a dedicated search button, language changing key, and a button that will instantly bring up the virtual keyboard too. The plastic keys are the same shape as the icons presented on Samsung’s home launcher, a rounded square, and feature a very pleasant click when pressed. These keys are not loud at all, and they aren’t spongy or squishy either, the way some laptop keyboards can feel. The only keys that feel a bit small at all are the backspace key, which I’m accustomed to taking up the space of two keys, and the up/down arrow keys, which fit in the same vertical space as the left/right arrow keys.

 

Performance and Multi-Tasking

Right now in the mobile market, we’re in a bit of a transitional period between the 2016 flagship processors and the 2017 ones. So far we’ve only seen devices announced with the Snapdragon 835, Qualcomm’s 2017 flagship SoC, but none that have launched with it. Given that the Tab S3 will be available in the third week of March, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it’s still using the top-of-the-line chips from 2016. With that said there is more than enough performance to go around, something folks will likely know if they’ve used any high-end phone from 2016. The Snapdragon 820 that powers the US version of the Galaxy Tab S3 is no slouch when it comes to performance, and is about double the performance of the Snapdragon 810 that launched the year prior.

This translates into some fantastic real-world performance, whether you’re watching videos, surfing the web, scrolling through data-intensive apps, or playing the latest 3D games. Outside of the occasional wait for loading Internet-based resources, I never saw the Tab S3 hitch or stutter in any meaningful way, and performance was exactly what I had hoped for out of a premium tablet in 2017. One huge improvement to gaming performance with the Tab S3 is the inclusion of support for the brand new Vulkan API that’s been made available to developers in the latest version of Android. The use of this API in games significantly increases frame rate and loading times, and on average games that use Vulkan see at least a 30-50% increase in overall performance. If you’re looking for an excellent gaming tablet, this is definitely one of the absolute best you’re going to find anywhere.

For many years now Samsung has been at the forefront of multi-tasking on its devices, starting with the Galaxy Note 2 so many years ago and its introduction to Multi-Window mode. Multi-window works even better on a screen this large, and it’s easy to see just how useful having two apps running side-by-side can be on a productivity device. Most apps at this point can run in multi-window mode, except for required full-screen experiences like games (and even then some might be able to). The number of supported apps has grown exponentially too since Google officially added multi-window mode to Android, although Samsung’s implementation of it takes that official support to even greater heights. Pressing the multi-window icon while in the Overview multi-tasking window will show the app on half of the screen, with the ability to choose any supported app to run on the other side. The line between the two can be adjusted on the fly, and you can switch the apps sides at any time. Having a physical keyboard only helps make this mode more functional by not having a virtual keyboard on screen, and the S-Pen once again makes it even better.

Samsung also has support for another feature that might be even more useful to some folks: Pop-up View. With Pop-Up View, apps can be floated as if they were running on a laptop PC, and moved around the screen in the same fashion. These apps can be resized to any size you’d like, and even minimized to a floating icon that can be dragged around the screen. Full-screen apps can be resized into a window by simple pressing and dragging down from the top corner of the screen; a brilliant way to perform windowed mode without having to press any additional buttons at all. Pop-Up View can also be called via the multi-window screen by clicking the pop-up button, or by dragging an app’s icon to the blue pup-up square that appears on screen. There’s even some incredible full-screen multi-tasking too, with alt+tab support and behavior that works just like a PC. Pressing alt and tab together will switch between the current app and the last used app, allowing for quick switching between apps without having to lift a finger to the screen. Holding alt and repeatedly pressing tab will open the Overview window and cycle through all available apps.

Benchmarks

Being slightly lower resolution than Samsung’s flagship phones last year, performance is a tad bit higher in benchmark results from what we saw on those devices. Utilizing the same CPU/GPU combination as the Galaxy S7 means you’re getting one beast of a machine here that’ll handle anything you throw at it with ease. Check out our benchmark suite run below.

Battery Life

At 6,000mAh the battery inside the Galaxy Tab S3 is roughly double the size of the average smartphone, which means you’ll be doing plenty of video watching, game playing and whatever else for hours at a time before needing a recharge. With heavy usage I got around 6 hours of screen on time with a full charge, with all of this time being devoted to battery-intensive tasks like watching movies, playing games and downloading apps. Lighter use days will stretch the battery life considerably longer, and with the excellent standby you can expect to use the tablet for days at a time before needing a charge when used in a normal way.

Charging this giant battery is quick, taking just over 2 hours to bring it from 0% to 100%. A 30 minute charge will deliver multiple hours of use too, so you don’t need to keep it on Samsung’s Adaptive Quick Charger for long to get lots of use. Folks that were looking for wireless charging won’t find it here though, and while it’s a bummer to see this one missing from the spec sheet, in reality wirelessly charging a tablet is probably more of a novel experience than one many would enjoy for the most part. Still it would be nice to see this added next go around, as more options are always better.

Sound

We’ve seen tablets with good speakers before, but most of the time tablets seem to get the same speaker treatment as phones. Generally it seems that manufacturers assume that users will primarily be using headphones, but when it comes to tablets that’s not always the case. Being an entertainment-centric device, it certainly makes sense for a tablet to feature good speakers, and Samsung has not only recognized that but taken it up a notch too. Featuring four speakers, two located at the top and the other two located at the bottom, these speakers are designed to provide maximum audio quality via proper stereo reproduction. Each speaker features a 0.64 Watt output, meaning you’re getting some pretty good audio even at higher volume levels. These speakers even automatically adjust their orientation based on whether or not you’re holding the tablet in portrait or landscape mode, giving true stereo sound without compromise.

The spec list isn’t just for show either; these speakers absolutely live up to the hype. Easily among the best speakers I’ve ever heard on any mobile device, the quality, clarity and volume of these quad-speakers are simply incredible. Virtual surround is a very real enhancement to any audio experience, and it’s fantastic to hear the sound seemingly surrounding you even though it’s only coming from the speakers on the sides of the Tab S3. Cupping the speakers while holding the tablet does help push the sound toward your ears a bit, but it’s not a requirement and the hassle of doing this really isn’t worth it, thanks to the design here. The range of audio presented from these speakers is nothing short of excellent, and everything from music to movies sounds phenomenal on the Tab S3. Using it as a speaker while cooking and following a recipe was as good as I could ask for from any portable device, and watching movies on it produced better sound than many TVs will. Volume is great too, as it’s plenty loud to hear, yet doesn’t distort or crackle at top volume.

You’ll also find high-resolution audio output via the 3.5mm headset jack on the bottom of the tablet. In fact Samsung’s audio software from its Galaxy S phones is back and as good as ever, giving the option to upscale the audio quality to 24-bit for receivers that are capable of the quality. Virtual surround works for both the external speakers as well as headphones, and there’s even a tube amplifier emulator to give the sound a soft timbre. Samsung includes a simple equalizer the consists of two dials, treble and bass, or the option for a more advanced equalizer that features the traditional adjustable sound bars.

Software

Samsung’s software experience has improved drastically over the years, and all the new software looks and features that debuted with the Galaxy Note 7 last Fall have been brought over to the Galaxy Tab S3 as well. Featuring the first Android 7.0 Nougat build out of the box for any Samsung device, the Tab S3 also sports the new Samsung Experience skin and features as well. This includes the brand new notification shade design we saw on the Note 7, which is not only a much better looking way of using notification quick toggles than previous Samsung skins, but also works much better too. Most apps feature the new coat of paint that was started with the Galaxy S6 line, and further developed into the Galaxy S7 and Note 7 as well.

Samsung has partnered with a number of different companies out there, including Amazon, Microsoft and some smaller names you might not have heard of yet. These partnerships bring many extras to the tablet experience, including one not yet achieved on most mobile devices: Amazon Prime video with HDR. Aside from the pre-installed Microsoft products like Office, Amazon Prime video with HDR is truly a gem that’s worth the price of admission for. While HDR video is a standard offer on the Galaxy Tab S3, there are still only a few sources to get this from, with one of the biggest being Amazon’s app.

A number of S-Pen centric apps have been included too, with more freebies and goodies on the Samsung Apps Store as well. Recolor is a great coloring book app that follows in the footsteps of the increasingly popular coloring books made for adults. This takes full advantage of the S-Pen by allowing users to not only choose different colors and textures for their works of art, but also utilizes the pressure sensitive nature of the S-Pen to create thicker or thinner lines depending on how hard you press.

Samsung Notes is also here, combining all the note taking services that Galaxy Note owners have come to know and love, into a single app. If you’ve already got saved notes from S-Note or Memo on previous Galaxy Note devices, you can import those here too, bringing everything you’ve done into a single location. Samsung Notes backs up to the cloud with your choice of Samsung Cloud or Google Drive, as well as local backups if you’d rather have it on a microSD card. Samsung Notes is the evolution of the note-taking platform Samsung has been working on for years, and brings together everything from notes to artwork, voice memos and even text memos too. Painting in Notes is surreal too, as different brushes and tools interact with eachother the way they would in real life, and painting with different colors will realistically blend and smear them together, letting you create some truly impressive works of art.

For the first time ever on a tablet, Samsung is bringing the Game Launcher and Game Tools to the Galaxy Tab S3. Game Launcher gives users a single place to find their installed games, as well as specify power saving profiles and even keep games muted upon start. These power profiles are some of the most powerful tools in the Game Launcher’s arsenal, enabling significant power savings by lowering a game’s resolution or even capping the frame rate so that the CPU and GPU inside don’t have to work so hard. Game Tools is a fairly new service from Samsung that brings a floating icon to each and every game that launches, giving users a quick a convenient way to take a screenshot, record video, lock the home and other capacitive physical buttons, and even turn the touch screen off if you’re playing with a controller.

Samsung Flow is a new feature to Android-based Samsung products, and brings with it the ability to link to your Samsung branded phone to your tablet for easy management of text messages, phone calls and other tasks. This means you can leave your phone in your pocket or bag while working on your tablet, as you’ll be able to do everything except for take a phone call straight from the Galaxy Tab S3 instead of having to constantly look at a second screen. Samsung+ is another Samsung service that provides users with easy access to help and customer service, as well as device health reports and ways to optimize your tablet including cleaning up junk files, optimizing settings and improving battery life with smart tools.

Users who need the peace of mind that encrypted data brings along with it will be happy to know that Samsung Knox is here, including drive encryption right out of the box without any further need to configure more than a simple password or pin code. Similarly Samsung’s Secure Folder is here too, bringing a special location on your tablet that features an extra level of encryption and password protection.  This folder allows you to place any data here that’s extra sensitive in nature, including files and documents, pictures and video, contacts, calendar, email, Internet browsing, Samsung Notes and anything else you can think of to add. You can even add any app installed on the tablet to this section, which clones the app and places the second copy in this extra secure portion of the tablet. You’ll have to add accounts and such to these cloned apps, as they won’t read system-wide data for security reasons, and give users a way to quarantine sensitive apps and data.

While Samsung doesn’t market this tablet as one for kids, or even as a tablet that’s necessarily intended to be shared due to the premium nature of the build, it still includes its excellent kid-friendly software and services. Kids Mode is built into the tablet and offers a safe environment for kids to use the tablet in, locking the tablet down to only the apps parents choose to allow, and keeping kids where they need to be in the digital world. Samsung Kids is a special app included with the tablet that offers a free trial to Samsung’s Kids service, a subscription-based model that offers new educational and fun apps and games all the time, as well as a place to monitor and limit access and even keep track of progress and things learned.

 

Camera

Samsung’s camera software is generally thought to be among the best in the industry, offering a great user interface, powerful features and good balance in shots. The version of Samsung’s camera software on the Tab S3 seems to be a mix of different styles we’ve seen in the past, more closely resembling the look of the Galaxy S7’s camera, with a few differences in features. When holding the tablet in landscape you’ll find the camera shutter button on the right, with a dedicated record button just below that, and the gallery preview button above. Settings are found in the top left, and the button to switch between front and back camera is on the bottom left. Swiping down anywhere on the viewfinder also switches between cameras.

Changing modes is always found on the left page of the viewfinder, accessed by swiping to the right anywhere on the screen. Out of the box there are 8 included camera modes, with 4 downloadable extra modes as of this writing. The selfie camera features 4 modes out of the box, including a rather useful Wide Selfie mode that makes a panoramic shot of the crowd. The front-facing camera also features camera filters on the right page, something the rear facing camera doesn’t. Out of the box you’ll find 9 different camera filters, with dozens of additional ones downloadable through the Samsung Apps store. You’ll find a quick Download button at the top right of any screen that features additional, optional downloadable components. The rear camera features a manual mode that the front doesn’t, and allows users to change the white balance ISO level, exposure levels and metering.

As a whole you’ll find the 13-megapixel camera on the rear of the Galaxy Tab S3 to be far above the quality of most tablets. In many cases the camera encroaches on higher-end phone cameras, only falling short in a few scant areas. The biggest drawback is the HDR mode, which is hampered by two things. First off there’s no automatic HDR, meaning you’ll need to switch to HDR mode to really bring out the colors and best balance in your photos. It’s likely this decision was made because of the second drawback, and that’s lack of the instant HDR mode we’ve seen in the Galaxy S7. When taking shots in HDR mode you’ll see a yellow ring around the white shutter button, denoting that you should try not to move the tablet, if possible, while taking this ring is moving.

It’s really a shame the shutter isn’t faster too, because the quality of the HDR here is nothing short of excellent. Colors are punchy, yet realistic, and both shadow and highlight detail is phenomenal. The standard Auto mode does a great job of overall balance in most cases though, and you’ll find this default mode to deliver the best overall results in most situations. Lower light photography is quite a bit better than most tablets you’ll find, and a big step up in overall tablet photography. You’ll find lots of detail is picked up in darker situations, and Samsung’s denoise algorithms do a good job here of cleaning up additional noise created by high ISO. The 5-megapixel front facing camera fares a little worse in lower light, giving a softer image than the rear facing camera, but in good light it produces great images. Still this is most likely going to be used for video chatting since it’s on a tablet rather than night time selfies at a club.

What’s really impressive is the video recording abilities of the Tab S3, and might be the biggest highlight of the camera experience overall. Samsung has packed in full Ultra HD 4K recording on the Tab S3, and the results look simply stellar. Great lighting and color balance mix with ultra high resolution to deliver some of the most crisp video you’ll find anywhere, tablet or otherwise. Image stabilization is only available on 1080p or lower video, which is a bit of a disappointment, but overall it’s not super jittery when moving around in 4K. Something that’s not always thought about is audio recording quality, and the Tab S3’s spatial audio recording abilities sound nothing short of phenomenal when played back, especially on the tablet’s quad speakers. Overall this is one seriously excellent set of cameras, and a huge step forward over most any tablet you’ll find. Check out the gallery below for all our sample shots taken during the review period.

The Good

Gorgeous build

Redesigned S-Pen is super comfortable and useful

Mind blowing screen quality

Incredible quad speaker setup

Optional keyboard case is near perfect

Above-average camera for a tablet

Lots of software partnerships and extras

Tons of features

Great battery life

Fast charging

High-end performance

High-res audio output support

Expandable storage support via microSD card

The Bad

No built-in storage for the S-Pen

Glass back means it’s likely to be more fragile than a metal tablet

No rated water or dust resistance

Conclusion

It’s pretty clear that Samsung means business when it comes to its high-end tablets, and the Galaxy Tab S3 fits this description in every way, shape and form. Everything from the built quality to the specs, the speaker and screen, and even the software experience shines. Surprisingly enough Samsung put a good camera on a tablet, something not everyone will expect in such a device, one that’s not only capable of 13MP photos, but of recording 4K video too. Samsung’s software partnerships with Microsoft and Amazon bring great software out of the box, and the availability of HDR video through Amazon and other partners means watching movies and TV shows on the Tab S3 is a thing of glory. The included S-Pen adds a layer of productivity and functionality few tablets on the market can claim, and all without having to charge it or buy anything extra too. Samsung’s keyboard folio case completes the package, and although it’s an extra cost, it truly adds a whole new dimension to the tablet for those that need a real laptop replacement. If you’re in the market for a tablet right now, this is the one to strive for, no matter what you need to do with it. It’s truly the ultimate in mobile entertainment and productivity.

Buy the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3