Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 Review: The best tablet, until you want to work

I love this device, and that’s why I want it to be better

The Pros

  • Beautifully designed hardware
  • S Pen works surprisingly well
  • AMOLED screen is a pleasure to watch

The Cons

  • The software holds it back from being a productivity powerhouse
  • The keyboard case is expensive and poorly made
  • Android tablets are more frustrating than they should be

If you’re looking for a tablet, there are a few options on the market.

If you’re aiming for something cost-effective and reliable, Apple’s entry-level iPad is always a great bet. However, when you want to step up and use a tablet for more than just browsing the web and watching movies, then there are a few more to choose from.

Samsung’s latest Galaxy Tab S6 tries to hit the sweet spot as a ‘do-everything device.’ It comes with a stylus and users can buy a keyboard case. This means that with the right setup, this tablet is very capable.

However, it can’t do everything perfectly and more often than not, it fails, resulting in a frustrating experience. The Tab S6’s apps are stuck in a tablet world — or even worse, the smartphone world — so doing work on a real laptop instead ends up making a lot more sense.

That said, there is a lot to like about what the Galaxy Tab S6 has to offer.

The nerd stats

When it comes to the setup for the Tab S6, Samsung has positioned it directly against Apple’s iPad Pro lineup in terms of power, price and functionality.

The device features a fantastic looking 10.5-inch AMOLED screen with a 1600 x 2560 pixel resolution. Text and images are sharp and the black levels and contrast are fantastic. In terms of tablets, It’s one of the best screens around. The screen also has a less square ratio than Apple’s iPads, which I found more useful with several apps.

Inside the Tab S6 is packing the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8150 mobile processor. This chipset has eight cores, although there are three different clock speeds ranging from 2.8GHz at the highest end down to 1.7GHz. The battery is a 7,040mAh cell and in my usage, lasted for a few days with moderate use.

Depending on what configuration you buy, you could have either 6GB of RAM with 128GB of storage, or 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. For this review, I used the lower end spec.

The tablet also runs Samsung’s One UI which is the company’s version of Android 9 Pie. For security, the Tab S6 features an in-display fingerprint scanner and facial recognition.

For Creativity

As I said above, Samsung is pushing this device to compete with the iPad Pro and its creative appeal.

To combat the Pro, Samsung includes a new magnetic S Pen with the tablet. It’s not as large as a regular pencil, but it’s pretty close. It feels nice to hold and is comfortable to use for a long time, but not so light that it feels cheap and fragile like the Galaxy Note’s pens.

It still offers all the S Pen features you’ve come to expect from Samsung: quick notes, smart select, screenwriting and more. There is even a button on the Pen that can be held to trigger one of these features or open an app quickly.

The Tab also has a built-in drawing app called ‘Penup.’ It offers users a slate of drawing tools that can actually be put to good use. I also think that the size of the tablet is easier to use on the go or in a relaxed position like sitting on a couch.

I’m a terrible artist, but the app includes a teaching mode that helps you learn how to draw, and through that, I was able to play around with a lot of the tools. Everything seemed responsive and worked well as a high-level sketching app. Penup also includes challenges where you can see what other people have drawn on Samsung tablets, and some of the results are incredible.

Overall, if you just want a good tablet to draw with occasionally, you can’t go wrong with the Tab S6. Its size and included stylus make it perfect for the drawing enthusiast who doesn’t want an iPad.

For Productivity

This section is going to be a little less glowing than the creativity one, even though in theory, the Tab has all the right parts to make a great laptop replacement. The way I keep thinking about it is that Samsung has all the puzzle pieces together, but some are from the wrong puzzle and others are in the wrong spot.

First up, if you want to do any serious typing beyond a few emails a day, you need a keyboard attachment. If not, having a dedicated wireless keyboard to use is a good option as well. Samsung knows this, and sells a keyboard case, but it costs $249 in Canada and isn’t very good.

Samsung’s keyboard case is two separate parts and the stand that sticks to back uses sticky silicon and a weak magnet to stay attached. While writing this review, it’s already fallen off about six times. Consumer reviews on Samsung’s website detail other people also experiencing this issue.

One of the most significant problems with using any keyboard with an Android tablet is that navigating apps that are designed for touch input becomes an odd act of finger gymnastics that seems like it should be easier than using a mouse, but in reality, it’s frustrating.

When I was in high school, my main computer was an iPad with a Smart Cover. While the on-screen keyboard did take up about half of the screen real estate, I think having my fingers already on the screen made typing and interacting with documents in real-time a lot easier than this mix of touch and keyboard.

Are you wondering if things can get worse? Well, you’re in luck. When you’re using Dex, which is Samsung’s desktop-like skin for Android, these issues are amplified. Navigating the desktop screen feels better with the trackpad since Dex uses a mouse pointer, but the positive aspects stop there.

You’re still stuck using apps that were designed for touch, but now with a mouse pointer, which is even worse. For instance, highlighting text in a Google Doc means I have to click and hold on a word and then drag the two large blue handles to highlight the rest of the sentence. When you’re in Dex, it’s also harder to interact with things via touch.

If you’re using Dex on an external monitor, then the tablet reverts back to tablet mode and the connected display becomes the Dex interface instead of being Dex across two screens. Take my word for it, this is also a lesson in patience as you battle the frustration of trying to work on both screens. It’s probably better to just use Dex on a single screen.

Overall, I wasn’t satisfied with my Dex experience, but I do think it might be worthwhile in moderation. For instance, if you just wanted to plug in and answer some emails or write a short document, this isn’t a terrible interface to do that with, but if you’re looking for the perfect device that offers both a tablet and a desktop-like experience, this isn’t it. It’s likely as close as you can get from the tablet side, and I love the idea behind it.

It’s also hard to recommend this as a productivity device because, for a similar price, you can get a more capable Surface tablet that’s running Windows 10.

As a tablet overall

As a tablet, the device shines. It has specs that make it fast and the screen is a perfect aspect ratio for watching content.

It also feels incredible to hold without a case. The Galaxy Tab S6 is sleek, premium and its weight is so light it feels like the future. As a feat of hardware, it's the most delightful feeling tablet I've ever held.

Gaming on it is also a joy, and tons of mobile games can benefit from its giant screen. The processor and RAM can push everything around smoothly so games feel fluid and responsive.

My only real issue is that it runs Samsung's OneUI. This version of Android has tons of extra features and gestures that are just slightly different from the rest of the ecosystem, making it seem like the only reason they're implemented is for Samsung to be different. If you use a Samsung phone, you won't notice this, but anyone coming from any other device will experience a learning curve.

All that said, I still like the Tab S6 a lot. Design-wise it's got a lot going for it -- the hardware makes up for the high price, but the software leaves something to be desired. I don't even entirely blame Samsung for this one since Android tablets are generally bad because apps don't support larger displays.

With as many gripes as I have with the Tab S6, I still think that it's a fantastic Android tablet --possibly even the best available right now. Still, It hasn't swayed me from recommending the base-level, $439 iPad to most people, especially since the Galaxy Tab S6 starts at $899 in Canada.</p>

"With as many gripes as I have with the Tab S6, I still think that it's a fantastic Android tablet -- possibly even the best available right now."