This week, Samsung officially unveiled its first wave of 2022 gadgets, including a trio of new Galaxy S22 smartphones. But for the first time in over a year, Samsung is also taking a big swing at the tablet market.
Enter the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra, a tablet with a screen so large it would seem ridiculous if it weren’t so thin. That size also comes at a price: $1,099 for the S8 Ultra, but Samsung announced two smaller, cheaper S8 tablets at the same time. And if Samsung and Google (Samsung tablets run Google’s Android operating system) get their way, these devices will herald a new wave of Android tablets that people can enjoy in ways that older models couldn’t.
The Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra is the kind of machine that seems purpose-built to beg the question: do you really need the right computer to do everything you need to do? If you’re really into watching movies, jumping into Zoom calls, and surfing the web, then no, probably not.
A tablet this expensive and amazing runs the risk of overdoing many of the same tasks, but Samsung says it’s what its most vocal tablet fans want.
Let’s take another look at how big this thing is. The Tab S8 Ultra packs a 14.6-inch screen — larger than the one on Apple’s largest iPad Pro — into a slightly slimmer frame than its rival. (That said, the S8 Ultra is also 0.1 pounds heavier than the iPad Pro, and every ounce counts when you’re talking about a device you can hold.)
Hassan Anjum, director of product management for Samsung Electronics America’s New Computing team, said 90 percent of people who bought its latest large tablet actually wanted an even bigger screen — closer to the 15-inch displays found on many laptops. This is not good news for people who want to watch a lot of things at once; it also means more room to display enlarged text, if your eyes, like mine, aren’t what they used to be.
But this design means the Tab S8 Ultra is simple and unappealing to use for some things. Of course, movies look amazing on it and there’s plenty of room to take notes with the included S Pen. (Meanwhile, Apple’s similar Pencil costs at least $99.) But holding it vertically and trying to honestly read a news article feels a little silly—it’s so long, you can’t help but wonder if it’ll eventually fall out of your hand. .
For those who want a manageable tablet, Samsung has two smaller models that use the same speedy Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor. The standard $699 Tab S8 is the most portable, with an 11-inch screen, while the $899 Tab S8 Plus model comes with a 12.4-inch display.
In typical Samsung fashion, not all of these tablets will share the same features when they go on sale later this month. The massive S8 Ultra is the only tablet of the three with dual front-facing cameras, making it the best choice for people who spend their lives on video calls. If you want a tablet you can connect to a 5G network to work on the go, the middle child that is the Tab S8 Plus is, for some reason, your only option. If you’ve had trouble with in-display fingerprint sensors in the past, only the smallest Tab S8 puts the sensor on the power button.
Blurring the line between tablet and PC
Beyond Zoom calls and movies, Samsung’s new Tab S8s claims to blur the line between tablet and PC. Your notes with the S Pen are automatically synced with an accompanying app for Windows PCs, and Samsung says you can use the Tab S8 as a wireless, external monitor for certain compatible PCs.
If you’re an Apple person, these features probably sound familiar—they were signs of the close relationship between the company’s products. But if there’s one area where Samsung’s tablets have an edge over Apple’s iPads, it’s their ability to act like proper laptops when needed.
When you connect a keyboard and mouse to an iPad Pro, the software doesn’t change much. Apple has added years of features to make it more enjoyable, but make no mistake—you’re still working on a tablet. But over the past few years, some of Samsung’s most brilliant tablets have been equipped with software that, with just a little fiddling, gives you the kind of desktop you’re used to.
This feature, called DeX, returns in new Samsung models and works much better than before. You can resize windows for more apps than ever before, and connect another screen if one isn’t enough.
As an Ersatz laptop, the Samsung comes out on top, but iPads have historically felt like better tablets for general use. This is because one of the biggest knocks against Android tablets is that many of their apps are simply stretched versions of what you can see on a smartphone.
According to Samsung’s Anjumu, the company is “working very closely with Google” to talk to app makers about optimizing software for larger screens, as the company owns Android tablets. But this is also beginning to change.
Google, which has made its generally well-received Pixel smartphones since 2016, hasn’t released an Android tablet since the end of the Obama administration. (In 2018, he made a tablet using software found on a Chromebook, but it didn’t turn out very well.)
But in a recent job listing, the company revealed it’s looking for engineers to help realize its vision, which says “the future of computing is moving toward powerful and capable tablets.” Among the people he tapped was Rich Miner, one of the original developers of Android and now Google’s chief technical officer for Android tablets. Additionally, Google is openly testing an updated version of its mobile software — Android 12L — specifically for tablets.
None of this is clear evidence that Samsung or anyone else, which was responsible for less than 16 percent of all tablets shipped last year, will knock Apple out of the top tier of the market. But that means you’ll soon see smarter, more sophisticated competition. This means that any company that wants your money will have to try harder.