Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro S review: An overpriced first crack at the 2-in-1 crown

With Microsoft and Intel by its side, Samsung has entered the two-in-one market with a creditable stab at the laptop-tablet hybrid.

The Samsung Galaxy TabPro S marks the first Galaxy to run an operating system other than Android, and is in many ways unique in the product category, due to its Super AMOLED screen, slight size and included keyboard. But how does it stack up against what most regard as the reigning champ of two-in-ones, the Surface Pro 4? And can this device truly hope for mainstream success? I spent a week with the TabPro S to attempt to find out.

Specs

  • Display: 12-inch Super AMOLED 2160 x 1440 touch screen
  • Width: .69 kg (1.5 pounds)
  • Thickness: 6.3mm (.25 inches)
  • Internal storage: 128 GB
  • RAM: 4GB
  • Processor: Intel dual-core 1.51GHz M3-6Y30 SoC
  • Graphics: Intel HD 515 Graphics
  • OS: Windows 10
  • Camera: 5-megapixel front and rear-facing cameras 

Classy exterior, flashy display

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The TabPro S makes a great first impression. The device’s included faux leather keyboard case makes it look like a classy folio. It’s more demurely professional than the Surface Pro 4’s fabric keyboard covers and may in fact even challenge the 12.9-inch iPad Pro in sleekness.

It’s also only 6.3mm thin and .69 kg (1.52 pounds), making it noticeably thinner and lighter than the Surface Pro 4, which clocks in at 8.4mm and .76 kg (1.69 pounds). It outdoes the iPad Pro too, which is 6.9mm thick and .71 kg (1.57 pounds) for the Wi-Fi-only version. The keyboard case adds another 4.9mm of width, but still leaves it feeling slim and light.

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The thing that really wowed me upon my first interaction, however, was the display. The TabPro S’ display features Super AMOLED technology, leading to crisp blacks and brilliant contrast. Just like on Samsung’s smartphones, the beautiful display almost blinded me to certain legitimate issues.

For instance, to facilitate its svelte physique, the TabPro S only offers a single USB-C port and 3.5mm audio jack. While USB-C may be the way of the future, for now it makes the TabPro S a lot less accessible, all but necessitating the added purchase of an adapter hub. In comparison, the Surface Pro 4 has a USB 3.0 port, MicroSDXC card slot, Mini DisplayPort and charging port.

Awkward and rigid, like me in middle school

tabpro-1

On the left, the TabPro S keyboard. Bottom right, the Surface Pro 4 type cover. Top right, Surface Pro 3 type cover.

A crucial element of any two-in-one device is its keyboard. It defines whether or not the device can endure serious usage as a laptop. Skimp on the keyboard and the entire device suffers. Unfortunately, Samsung skimped on the keyboard.

It’s just not in the same league as the Surface Pro 4. The Surface’s keyboard has island-style keys, meaning they’re spaced apart from each other like on most modern laptops, as well as a smooth-scrolling trackpad.

The keys on the TabPro S are squished together and the track pad is significantly stickier and more unpredictable. Cutting and pasting links, for instance, often resulted in a chaotic jumble of tabs opening and closing, while the scrolling was somewhat stuttering.

tabpros-15

Its case also has an exceedingly rigid form factor. While the Surface Pro 4 has a kickstand built in that can rotate to any angle, the magnetic case of the TabPro S has exactly two angles: upright, for desk work, and reclined, for lap use. Neither are optimal.

One good thing about the case, however, is that it’s included in the box, which is not so with the Surface Pro 4.

Light but sufficient processing power

tabpro-11

The TabPro S is equipped with an Intel Core M3 processor, the same SoC that the Surface Pro 4 packs in its 128 GB version. It’s more than enough to perform day-to-day work tasks, like web-browsing and document editing, but if you’re computing needs are more heavy-duty – say video editing – this device isn’t ideal for you.

The TabPro S isn’t meant to be turbo charged, however – it’s lack of an internal fan makes that a necessity. On that front, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it did not notably overheat at any point during use.

Owning a Galaxy smartphone opens up cool additional features. Since the TabPro S is NFC-enabled, anyone with a recent Galaxy device can tap the keyboard case, then scan their fingerprint on their phone to unlock the device. Users can also can check and reply to phone notifications.

Enough juice for a working day

tabpros-17

Just like the processor performance, the battery life of the TabPro S was satisfactory. With my moderate work use – browsing, Word, Slack – the device lasted 13 hours before shutting off, much over a full work day. It promises 10.5 for heavier use. It also states that it should take two and a half hours to charge the 5,200mAh battery, which I found to be accurate.

Windows 10 features

The TabPro S runs Windows 10, the first of its Galaxy ilk to do so. I quite liked the user experience, which brings professional gravitas to the two-in-one. In particular, I enjoyed having access to features such as Microsoft’s voice assistant Cortana, Snap Assist, and the ability to stream Xbox One content.

tabpros-12

Snap Assist, which allows you to pin different windows in set positions on your screen and use them simultaneously, is useful but undoubtedly works better with the Universal Windows Apps than third-party apps, which sometimes have to be resized or take too long to snap in place. Similarly, Edge, the Internet Explorer reboot, works a lot more smoothly than Chrome.

The special Canadian price

One of the most important aspects of any device is the price, but it’s perhaps especially important for the TabPro S as it stakes out its place in the market. To my mind, its best bet would be positioning itself as an attractive prospect for the mid-range buyer.

But while the price in the U.S. might back up that idea, here in Canada it does not.

In the U.S. the TabPro S is $899, keeping the device behind the $1,000 mental barrier. In Canada the TabPro S is $1,299 before tax. One could buy a MacBook Air (which has an Intel Core i5 processor) for about $200 less.

tabpros-10

But even if I allow for the idea that Samsung’s plan is not to take a slice of the laptop demographic, but to tap in to the existing two-in-one market, the business case doesn’t make much sense. It’s offering a cut-budget version of the Surface Pro 4, for almost the same price.

The Surface Pro 4’s regular Canadian price for the 128GB model is $1,179, but it’s important to keep in mind that it doesn’t ship with a keyboard. That costs an extra $199.99. Taking the keyboard in to account, the Surface Pro 4 is then $1,378.99.

That’s $80 more expensive than the TabPro S, which, honestly, is worth it merely in consideration of the better keyboard.

tabpro-8

Meanwhile, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is $1,249 for the 128GB version sans keyboard.

One last thing to keep in mind: for regular use, most people would require a USB-C hub. Samsung’s model comes with HDMI and USB-A plug-ins and retails for approximately $100. The accompanying S Pen is also not included in the box, and is expected to begin shipping later this quarter.

Can it beat the Surface Pro 4?

tabpros-9

On the left, the TabPro S. On the right, the Surface Pro 4.

After a week with TabPro S my verdict tends towards no. Its rigid form factor makes the TabPro S fall short of two-in-one excellence. My addendum, however, is that it is an impressive first try, and with a retooled keyboard and a lower price point, could certainly give other devices a run for their money as a quality budget option.

As for the future of two-in-ones, it remains difficult for me to see a convincing argument for their value. The current argument is: you get a tablet and a laptop for the price of one. The reality is, because the keyboard is in the protective case, you end up rarely detaching the tablet for solo use, and so end up with a small, subpar laptop for the price of a real laptop.

But that analysis only relates to things as they stand now. Perhaps the entire laptop computing industry will tip towards two-in-ones, ramping up the specs until they become the new normal. If the two-in-one becomes the master of all, I’ll be the first to line up for mine, but the TabPro S certainly brings us no closer to that future. Despite its beautiful screen and decent performance, I’d still have to call it a master of none.

tabpros-13

Pros

  • Lightweight and portable
  • Beautiful Super AMOLED screen
  • Keyboard included

Cons

  • Hefty Canadian price tag
  • Awkward design
  • Small keyboard and sticky touchpad
  • Only has a USB-C port

Patrick O’Rourke contributed photography to this review.

Comments

  • Jérémy Letendre-Côté

    As a surface owner, I would keep on buying surface in the future, Microsoft really nailed it with this product. This Samsung Tablet is 1. Overpriced in Canada
    2. Only USB C
    Samsung is trying too much to copy Apple sometime.

    • youretard

      get a load of this cuck

    • thomas nguyen

      nailed it? far from it i believe.
      It had it’s fair share of issues from the RT version up to the latest sp4 and sb. It’s a great product but it’s a far cry from the quality and smoothness you would expect from a device at that pricepoint.

  • stevedion

    Wait a few months, should drop by 200$ when retailers are stuck with them on the shelves. I’m interested but not at this price point.

  • Mo Dabbas

    I think Samsung released this as an iPad pro competitor more than a surface pro one.

    I just have few comments for this review:
    – in pc and laptop realm, ram capacity is crucial to mention (it’s only 4Gb, I Googled it).
    – I know you mentioned the MacBook Air. But, remember that Apple direction with future MacBooks are in the line of the new MacBook which this tablet is priced at the same price point (don’t think it’s coincidental). Also, this tablet has the some similar sucky features as apple MacBook (like only one port, and Intel M3 processor).

    Other than that it’s a great review. Price of this will hurt the sales for sure.

    • Rose

      Thanks for the comments! Should’ve realized I forgot to put RAM.

  • thomas nguyen

    @patrick, you made a comment: The reality is, because the keyboard is in the protective case, you end up rarely detaching the tablet for solo use, and so end up with a small, subpar laptop for the price of a real laptop.

    isnt that similar to the Surface Pro, and even the current ipad pro?

    • MassDeduction

      With the Surface Pro, it’s almost effortless to attach/detach the keyboard. I know lots of people who rarely attach them, rarely detach them, or frequently attach and detach. I’m in the frequent attach/detach category myself. So it depends on how you’re using it. Lots of times I’ve used it in ways that would be somewhere between inappropriate or impossible had it been a laptop rather than a Surface Pro.

    • thomas nguyen

      very interesting, I myself have a surfacebook, and I feel that strikes as the best 2-in-1 since it functions well as a laptop, and functions well as a tablet. only problem is with the portability is nowhere the same as a SP4 / iPad pro.

      Though for both the SP and IP, I don’t know if the detach and attach function of the keyboard/case is a negative as outlined in the article (unless I read it wrong)

    • I didn’t write this review, this one is all Rose Behar.

      Though, I do agree with her statement. The Surface Pro is a great device and really the only 2-in-1 worth buying in my experience. While the iPad Pro has some strengths, its use case is just too limited to warrant the expensive price tag.

    • Rose

      I would say yes, but I don’t think the Surface Pro 4 is subpar. Also– interesting to see MassDeduction’s comment below. Ultimately, I can get behind a two-in-one that doesn’t sacrifice form or functionality.

  • ChrisPollard77

    Having used the keyboard on the Surface Pro 4, I have to say it’s a tough act to follow. It’s a far nicer keyboard than most laptops possess. That said, I couldn’t bring myself to pay the price for a device like this. At least with the SP4, I have the option to go up to an i5 for a little more processing grunt. And Surface Pen is quite nice, and gives you most of the benefits of a dedicated graphics monitor like a Wacom Cintiq. (MOST, not all.) But to get up to the i5 with 256GB onboard, the price is far more than it should be.

    I ended up going the convertible route this spring with the Acer Aspire R14. 14″, 1080p touchscreeen, 360 degree hinge with a great tablet mode, includes a USB-C port with the USB3 and USB2 ports, card reader, HDMI, and backlit keyboard. Nowhere near as nice of a keyboard as the SP4, I do have to admit, but it only set me back $800 bucks with a 6th gen i5, 8GB ram, and a 256GB SSD. It’s snappy, boots quickly, doesn’t hiccup at Photoshop/Illustrator/Lightroom, and I’ve gone well past 9 hours on battery.

    I’ve never been the biggest Acer fan, and I did have to return the first one I got because it crashed a dozen times a day right out of the box, which gave me some pause within my return window, but the 2nd one has been rock solid and I love it. If I had to fault it anything, it’s that the screen isn’t particularly bright. That is a universal criticism, and is well deserved. But it’s never given me any problems viewing it. Normally I have the brightness down around 20-30% indoors anyway. Is it a couple of pounds heavier? Sure is. But I’m willing to sacrifice weight and thinness for a little extra processing power and having my ports built-in.

    • sgtpepper & walrus

      How can the keyboard on the Surface Pro 4 possibly be ‘far nicer’ than a keyboard most laptops possess? I’m sure it’s a really nice portable keyboard, but nicer than most laptops? Laptops have really matured over the years with array of keyboard styles, ergonomics and things like backlighting. Does the Surface Pro 4 keyboard do all this in such a slim form factor?

    • AlphaEdge

      4 Ibs vs 1.7/1.5 Ibs. Unfortanetly I need the portability.

  • sgtpepper & walrus

    Does Samsung make a similar device with keyboard, but for Android? I’ not some Android or Google advocate by any means, and have been using Windows for years. But damn, Win8/10 just seems overkill for tablet use. The OS for me is simply the preferred Desktop for traditional laptop and tower machines.

  • Lukeiphone

    Doesn’t take a SIM card?

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