Android tablets are not the best option on the market for many people due mostly to Google's own failings but a review of Samsung's Galaxy Tab S6 shows that it isn't the usual tablet. For those who absolutely must have Android and must have a tablet, Samsung, it turns out, has you covered.
Priced at $649.99 for the test unit I received or up to $730 for double the storage, this is not a cheap machine. But it isn't is over-expensive either.
In fact, for the price, it isn't unfair to say Samsung is offering up quite a big bang for your buck. Throughout my review, I dug and prodded to find a weak point I could point to in order to balance out all of the good. I may have found that in the camera, as we'll discover later on.
But overall, this tablet is a masterclass in how tablet designs should move forward. Not only is it slender and powerful, leaving a great impression on both performance and aesthetics. Samsung's Galaxy Tab S6 is loaded with experiences and a UI overlay that really delivers what should cost over $1000. That's more than worthwhile to dig into.
Galaxy Tab S6 represents the best of Samsung design
The design of Samsung's Galaxy Tab S6 tablet is unlike anything the company has launched in the past. It still follows closely on the design of its previous devices in that it follows that of its flagship smartphones. But in this case, it has a much sleeker and more robust design language to follow.
My review unit of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 was the Cloud Blue variation. That's as opposed to the more traditional Mountain Gray or Rose Blush, almost black and pink respectively. Essentially, this color is a silvery blue that's reminiscent of a bright but somewhat cloud-covered day, as its name implies. But it's the overall shape of the design that's most catching.
Samsung has slimmed back this device significantly from its last several tablet designs. It no longer feels quite so brick-like. Instead, it feels and looks premium. Its sleek rounded corners accent a smooth but still somewhat sharp curve to the back panel and front from the edges. Its edges are rounded and the overall bulk is as trim as possible without feeling like it would be easily broken.
The quality of the speaker ports, pogo pin contacts, and the USB C port are also smooth. There simply aren't any rough edges to find. That, combined with a lightweight feel and a metal frame, equates to a design that feels modern and expensive. Now, this tablet does cost nearly $730 for the 256GB variant — $650 for the 128GB version I tested. But this feels much closer to $1000, in-hand and in-use.
…with accessories and a full-size pen to match
Now, Samsung's Galaxy Tab S6 ships with a full-size pen-style S Pen. That attaches via Bluetooth, allowing some control over the device even at a distance. But that's not the aspect of the Galaxy Tab S6 that I used the most during my review.
Instead, I used the S Pen for artistic purposes. And on that front, it excels. The pen feels like the most accurate stylus Samsung has built to date. Although it's lightweight, it doesn't feel so lightweight as to be cheap. Its battery lasts for long enough that at least a couple of hours of use can be had between attaching it to the back of the tablet — magnetically — for charging.
Charging the pen doesn't take long at all either, though I didn't actually time that.
The most interesting accessory for the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6, however, is one that's purchased separately that Samsung sent as part of the review. That's the Book Cover Keyboard case.
That comes in two pieces. One is a panel that attaches to the tablet back, the other attaches to that panel. The second of those is a keyboard. The former is a hard backing with two hinges. The first hinge is where the S Pen is stored, kept from falling off the back of the device by its placement underneath a hardcover even when it's jostled. The second hinge is a metal, flexible hinge that can be set at any number of positions.
When attached to the keyboard half of the cover and used as a laptop, the device goes into DeX mode. That allows a more desktop-like experience that's closer to Windows than stock Android, enabling a higher level of productivity.
The keyboard itself is easier to use than any other keyboard of this type I have laid my hands on. That's not to say it's quite as good as a full-sized desktop keyboard or even a laptop keyboard. The keys don't quite feel like they have enough give and they press just a bit too easily. They're also much closer together than I might like but that makes sense with a sub-11-inch device.
In a pinch, the keyboard works marvelously and it brings a whole another level of productivity to this already high-productivity tablet. It's going to be a worthwhile purchase for anybody who needs that, even at almost $180. That's setting aside its clean, modern appearance and its great-in hand experience. In fact, both accessories genuinely feel like they're a part of the product that they go with.
The display here is bright, high-res, and responsive
One of the first things that struck me about the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 through my review process was just how bright and clear the screen is. That's something that's relatively uncommon among Android tablets, if not outright rare.
The display comes in at 10.5-inches at a resolution of 1600 x 2560. That puts it nearly on par with a better pixel density than the Chromebook I'm currently using to type this review up. Since this is a near top-tier Chromebook, one of the best on the market, that's impressive. That clarity, as with other Samsung devices, can be adjusted in the Settings app for color, saturation, and temperature.
It is, summarily, a brilliant screen that makes watching videos or playing games a real joy. Icons, imagery, and graphics are crisp and easy to read or see. The display is also quite bright. Indoors, almost turning the display off keeps everything visible even under bright artificial lighting. Outdoors, 70-percent is the highest I ever needed to take it.
Using a lower brightness means that battery life is better than it might otherwise be as well but the biggest perk to that is something else entirely. The HDR-compatible display with AMOLED technology gives excellent contrast that puts this device, in terms of overall feel, more on par with a multi-thousand dollar portable like a Surface device. At least that's the case in terms of the display.
The responsiveness of touches on that panel live up to that same level. They're smooth and instant, without requiring too much pressure. The same can be said of the S Pen, which adapts to the pressure of the input depending on the app used.
I never noticed any input lag at all during my review of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 whatsoever.
So how does the underlying Galaxy Tab S6 hardware perform?
In terms of performance under the hood, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 simply performed throughout my review. Not once did it lag out or become unstable, and that's saying a lot since I used the tablet a lot.
Interestingly, apps that have typically lagged on my older Galaxy Tab from Samsung didn't show any signs of latency. That includes apps that are more intensive than they might appear at the surface such as Free Rider HD. But it carried over to apps that are obviously more intensive such as Adobe's Lightroom or Photoshop.
Even multitasking between those apps while watching a movie in pop-out didn't slow things down at all. When I needed to swap out one of the running apps for another, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 did so without complaint.
None of that is to say this experience quite lives up to an iOS tablet or a Windows slate. Android is, for all of its improvements, still not a great tablet operating system. Instead, it performs more like a phone. But those are things that have improved and Samsung takes full advantage here.
Whether in games, apps, DeX mode, multitasking, video editing, or anything else that's possible on an Android tablet, Samsung does not disappoint. It's unlikely this tab will be disappointing for years to come either unless some comparatively drastic changes happen with the OS over the years. But since this is new, this tablet should get those updates too. And that offers up significant promise since I was never able to force this tablet to slow down.
Battery life just about exceeds expectations
When I first unboxed the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 for my review, the device's battery was already completely drained. That usually doesn't happen but it did present an opportunity to test out immediately how long it takes to charge. The alteration to how I usually test a battery made for an interesting review period overall but I was actually surprised at how quickly the 7,040mAh cell regains its charge.
Via the Samsung-branded in-box 15W charger, the process took just under 2 hours. That's great but of course, there's no wireless charging either. While n0t unusual for a tablet, it's somewhat disappointing to see Samsung fail to take that leap with its newest design.
Now, it's safe to say that the opposing side of the battery test is hardly scientific. I didn't test the battery with the optional Book Cover Keyboard that Samsung sent in place. Since that's going to switch everything into its Dex mode and the Galaxy Tab S6 battery powers the keyboard, that's going to drain it somewhat faster. It didn't seem to go all that much quicker but is something to be aware of.
Additionally, I didn't test this tablet's battery in its DeX mode, which may in and of itself alter battery life.
Having said that, the battery test portion of my Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 review was still fairly thorough. As always, I divided my test into four categories. Namely, those are gaming, with relevant gaming features turned on, as well as video streaming, screen-off music streaming, and standby time. The latter of those includes messaging, video calls made — which I generally keep short — and light web browsing.
The other common factor across each of those was that I kept both the screen brightness and volume at their system-level redline. That's the level where the system first warns users about battery drain.
28 hours and 17 minutes were spent on standby for my test. Of that, four hours of sleep mode standby, without usage, drained the battery just a single percent. So, overnight, only one or two percent should be lost. For gaming, I played a moderately intensive racing and drawing title that requires a web connection. That was played for an hour.
Finally, I streamed music for two hours and UHD video for five. Considering the impact a large screen can have on the battery, the eight hours minimum screen-on time was impressive, to say the least. Users should expect a varying experience but, from my experience, this tablet is going to last a lot longer on a single charge than most but not all.
Tablets aren't made for taking photos
One area Android tablets have always fallen short is in their photographic capabilities. That's unfortunately still the case here, although there's a lot to say that's good about how the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 camera performed during my review.
That sentiment can perhaps best be described by simply saying that this is not a flagship camera.
Now, all of the features you'd expect from a flagship are present with the exception of a high-level zoom. In fact, it nearly emulates the experience of taking photos on a Samsung Galaxy Note 10 series gadget. There's even a dedicated Night mode. But there are also only two lenses at the back.
That means that the Galaxy Tab S6 just can't quite get to that same level in terms of quality. Everything is just a little grainier and colors feel just a little bit less accurate. Night mode doesn't quite capture colors properly either and in some cases struggles to catch colors at all, as shown in our sample gallery via Flickr. Zoomed photos show artifacts and pixelation like crazy.
In the same breath, this is a much better camera than most other Android tablets and, overall, I was thoroughly impressed. A tablet format device isn't typically bought with camera functionality at the forefront of the mind. But this camera can do that in a pinch and it won't complain about doing it. The software is just as fast and fluid, not to mention intuitive, as might be hoped.
So if Android is a must rather than iOS and the tablet might be used at some point for its cameras, this is still one of an exclusive list of tablets worth buying.
The audio matches up with connectivity, is better than expected
Audio with the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 was far better than I had expected throughout my review. It would even be fair to call the sound quality 'acceptable' in terms of speaker output. That's unusual for any mobile device since the size of the speakers is generally a major setback that OEMs have to overcome.
Here, there still isn't much by way of thumping bass but the audio is exceptionally well balanced. There are four speakers in total, two lining the top and two more along the bottom next to the USB-C port. Audio, of course, improves dramatically when using earphones either wired or wireless. Samsung's popular audio settings are present and accounted for as part of its OneUI Android 9 Pie overlay.
The audio is Dolby Atmos compatible, including a separate mode for gaming, specifically. That all equates to what is generally a great experience with a surround sound-like audio.
But there's no 3.5mm audio jack either. So there are no headphones included in the package and that's going to be a big problem for plenty of users. USB-C audio solutions simply aren't that common yet and audiophiles tend toward a specific listening device.
Setting aside the audio quality, connectivity is rock solid on both wireless and mobile data. In fact, everything on that front works as well as it does on my Samsung Galaxy Note 10 series flagship.
Bluetooth connections fall into that same category, working flawlessly within the confines of the technology.
Software and special features
Now, for software, Samsung is currently offering what is widely considered the second-best thing behind pure Android. In this case, that's Android 9 Pie overlaid with the company's OneUI operating system. In the simplest terms, that's one of the things about the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 that makes the device so good.
Not only does the new UI almost replicate what Android is, with a few tweaks for better customization and DeX mode. It's also loaded up with digital wellbeing-like features of its own, the latest Bixby — an AI that now works like a charm — and quite a bit of software not found elsewhere. That includes a suite of tools that allow for the S Pen to be taken full advantage of and the overall experience is almost identical to Samsung's flagships.
No. The biggest advantage of OneUI is that it puts everything that's interactive within easy reach of the thumbs. That remains true even here, where the size is nearly double that of a flagship. Things that aren't interactive stay up and where they won't accidentally be tapped thinking they can be interacted with. It's a great experience overall.
The sole drawback to Samsung's OneUI is that there's still plenty of bloatware and duplicate software on offer by Samsung. That's lessened significantly over the past few years but Samsung is still very obviously trying to push users to its services instead.
It's worth pointing out that isn't a bad thing. In many cases, Samsung's solution is better. But in some, such as comparing Samsung's browser to Chrome, Google's stock solutions excel immeasurably. Thankfully, most of the bloat can be removed, so this isn't a major caveat. I uninstalled Facebook immediately, for instance. But since Google isn't making its own tablets anymore, Samsung is likely to be the best software experience available from the system level to the camera.
If you must have a top-tier Android Tablet, Galaxy Tab S6 is it
Nearly everything about the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 makes this a device that's a pure joy to use. With the minor exception of diminished camera quality compared to the Korean tech giant's flagship smartphones, there's really not much to complain about.
Samsung started out by putting its best design foot forward. It led behind that with powerful internals and a highly optimized operating system. Where other Samsung devices might have met users with an annoying Bixby, Bixby here is more like DeX mode. If it's used, it's going to be great. But it doesn't really matter or make a difference for those who aren't going to use it.
Similarly, Samsung has severely cut back on bloatware. It's still there since Samsung is pushing its own solutions to problems Google has also solved. But it isn't in your face or annoying. It's there, like Bixby, if it's needed.
Sound quality is another area where this device suffers but no more so than any other device on the market. There's just no option for good sound in so small a package. But connectivity more than makes up for that, allowing for a solid Bluetooth or USB-C audio connection backed by strong mobile or home wi-fi connections.
Samsung's display work has grown in equal measure. So that experience likely couldn't be better.
All of that and more adds up to an experience that should be much more expensive. Rather than competing with a compact iPad, Samsung's Galaxy Tab S6 competes with its top-line product. It also competes, where applicable with Surface. There are obvious drawbacks to Android there, mostly surrounding software availability. But This is going to be the best tablet for the money on the Android side. Bar none.