Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 full review
The iPad Pro is the tablet that aims to replace your laptop but it's had very little competition other than Microsoft's Surface Pro. Well Samsung has taken its Android tablet range and updated it to compete with a keyboard case, quad speakers, and DeX software built-in. Here's our full review.
There have been a few Android tablets with keyboards over the years such as the Google Pixel C, Huawei MediaPad M5 Pro and the unusual Lenovo Yoga Book. However, none have really hit the nail on the head.
That's what Samsung is hoping to do with the Galaxy Tab S4 and we've spent some time with it to see if that's true. Check out our Galaxy Tab S5e review - it's like the Tab S4 but cheaper, and better is some ways.
Galaxy Tab S4: Price and availability
In Apple-esque fashion, the Tab S4 is the same price as the previous model. So it starts at £599 in the UK with a higher storage capacity option at £699 – they are Wi-Fi only, with LTE models starting at £649. In the US, the tablet is priced at $650 of $750.
Like a lot of similar devices, the almost necessary Book Cover Keyboard is £119/$149 and pre-orders will come with one for free. There's also a docking station that's £49, which seems very steep.
This is a high-end tablet then so you'll need to shell out a lot of cash for the complete kit. This is still cheaper than a lot of phones and laptops, so maybe it's not so bad if the device can really replace your laptop.
It is cheaper than the equivalent iPad Pro, though, which starts at £619 and the Smart Keyboard is £159. That's £60 more with the same storage capacity. You can now get the Galaxy Tab S5e, which is remarkably similar yet more affordable.
Galaxy Tab S4: Design and build
When it comes to design, the Tab S4 is similar to the Tab S3 from 2017. Samsung has made a few tweaks and improvements, though.
The main change comes at the front where Samsung has managed to shrink the bezels around the screen significantly. So the display is bigger but the overall size of the slate isn't much bigger than before – it's just 1mm thicker, which you won't notice, a little taller and actually not as wide.
Smaller bezels mean that the traditional Samsung physical home button and accompanying touch sensitive buttons are gone. You'll need to rely on the on-screen buttons instead.
The back of the device is once again glass and looks stylish but does mean it's both slippery and gets grubby easily. Samsung has kept the headphone port which is always good to see.
Then there's the keyboard cover which is an optional extra but really this is needed to use the Tab S4 in its fullest. The tablet slots in nice and easy with metal pogo pin connectors meaning you don't need to faff around with Bluetooth.
It acts as a protective case and also has a slot to hold the S Pen stylus (it doesn't slot into the tablet itself like the Note phones).
If this tablet is going to replace your laptop then you'll need to be able to do a lot of typing. Our first impressions are fairly good with minimal mistakes. There are however, some annoyingly small keys such as delete.
We're also a bit miffed by a dedicated key for summoning the on-screen keyboard rather than some navigation buttons for home, back and recent apps.
You can also connect a Bluetooth mouse to help with productivity and using the DeX mode a lot easier – we'll talk about that later.
There's also a pogo charging dock which, when in position, will show the new Daily Board on the screen. It's a sort of handy desk clock with information such as weather and calendar events.
£49 for this dock is overpriced if you ask us, it's just a small piece of plastic with a USB charger built-in.
Galaxy Tab S4: Specs and features
Tablets may be a little behind phones in terms of things like bezels, but larger screens within a chassis that's a similar size is something that's here.
Samsung's tablet is more of an iPad Pro rival because it's followed in Apple's footsteps by increasing the screen size from 9.7- to 10.5in. It sounds like a small change but it's a noticeable amount of additional real estate that helps a lot when trying to do various things.
The display, as we've come to expect from Samsung, is brilliantly crisp, colourful and bright. It's got a decent resolution of 2560x1600 resulting in a pixel density of 287ppi. There's a shift to 16:10, still with HDR support.
Processor, memory and storage
Inside is Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835 processor rather than the newer 845 which is a shame. It's still a quick chip but it doesn't future proof the tablet as much. There's 4GB of RAM which should be enough for most tasks, although many phones come with more.
As standard, the device has 64GB of storage but you can jump to 256GB if that won't be enough. The iPad Pro comes in a 512GB model, but the Tab S4 does at least have a micoSD card slot that can take 400GB.
Generally the tablet performs well but it does take a few seconds to switch in and out of DeX mode, though. As you can see in our benchmarks, the Tab S4 is a little way off the iPad Pro 10.5 in some areas and even the cheaper iPad (2018).
It's supposed to replace your laptop, but unless you have something pretty budget the tablet isn't going to have the same raw performance. Whether it means you can ditch your laptop depends on what you want to do with it. We'll explorer DeX mode later.
Connectivity and audio
As before, the tablet has four speakers (just like the iPad Pro) and they're tuned by AKG. There's now Dolby Atmos support, too which give a more spacious sound when switched on like the Galaxy S9 phones. For a thin tablet, the sound quality is excellent.
You have, of course, the metal pogo pins to connect to the keyboard case. There's also a USB-C port and a headphone port.
You get dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0 and GPS. There's no fingerprint scanner but Samsung has implemented its Intelligent Scan technology which combines face and iris scanning.
We've found it to be very hit and miss, initially not able to scan iris despite multiple attempts.
There's a decent 13Mp camera at the back should you feel the need to do tablet photography. However, holding the tablet in landscape mode to take photos or video means you're very likely to cover the lens with your finger.
The front 8Mp camera also has an issue despite being pretty good quality. When in landscape mode (which you'll be using almost all the time if you get the keyboard case) the camera is off to the side so you look like you're gormlessly looking into the distance rather than engaging with the person you're talking to.
There's a decent 7300mAh battery which, according to Samsung, means you can get a whopping 16 hours of video playback.
In our Geekbench battery test which means we can compare it to rivals, the Tab S4 got an impressive 10 hours and one minute. The iPad Pro 10.5 got a little more at 10 hours and 57 minutes.
An adaptive fast charger is included in the box and means you can get 21 percent in 30 minutes. That's not too bad for a fairly large battery.
Including the S Pen in the box makes the Tab S4 a better value deal than the iPad Pro – the Apple Pencil is £89 on its own. The stylus might not be quite the same level as the Pencil, but it works well and will come in handy for many.
Like the iPad, there's nowhere to store the S Pen (it doesn't slot in like the Note 9). The keyboard case does have a little holster on the side, though.
One of the most useful features is Screen-Off Memo where you can quickly use the S Pen to write something down without having to unlock the tablet and open a suitable app first. You just tap the screen while pressing the button on the S Pen.
You get the Air Command menu like on the Note phones, giving you a range of handy features like smart select and the option to add shortcuts to apps.
Galaxy Tab S4: Software and apps
As you might expect, the Tab S4 comes with Android 8.1 Oreo and Samsung's Experience user interface.
It's all pretty standard if you're used to a Samsung device, with a cleaner and easier design and layout compare to TouchWiz of old. The firm adds plenty of legacy features buried away in the settings menu as well as more recent things like the Bixby assistant - for which there's not a dedicated button.
With the large screen, making use of thing like Multi-Window to use two apps at once makes more sense than a phone. We like the new Daily Board feature mentioned earlier which is like a desk clock which shows other useful information.
Luckily you can use it without buying the pricey charging dock but oddly it doesn't show the battery percentage while it charges up.
The big news here, though, is that the Tab S4 has DeX built-in so you don't need to buy a docking station to use it.
Previously DeX (desktop experience) was ued for Galaxy phones and you needed a Samsung DeX docking station as well as other things like a monitor to use it.
Now, there's simply a DeX icon in the quick settings so you can beckon it easily. It takes a few seconds to load and then you're off. It's Android, but in a Windows style environment where you can have a mouse cursor and your apps in different windows.
Connecting a mouse will help and you can also use the tablet as a second screen or an input device if you connect it to a larger screen.
You will need an adapter not supplied for this. The odd thing is that DeX doesn't support screen rotation: understandable for portrait perhaps but not when you want to use it the other way around propped up by the book cover.
It all seems great in theory but whether it can do everything you would on your regular laptop. We had a few reservations when reviewing the DeX Pad.
Here, it might seem exciting to have Microsoft apps pre-installed but bear in mind that you'll need an Office 365 subscription to use them fully. There are other alternatives that don't cost money, of course - Google's apps are also ready to go.
Whether the Tab S4 can really replace your laptop comes down to what tasks you need to do. If it's basic things like email, web browsing and watching video then it certainly can once you get used to the interface.
However, more complex things mean the device is likely to struggle and may not even have the software you need anyway - so it's worth checking first.
A proper rival to the iPad Pro is long overdue and Samsung’s new Galaxy Tab S4 is certainly up for the challenge.
The upgrades from the Tab S3 make it a legitimate iPad Pro rival, namely thanks to a larger screen and built-in DeX software which provides a desktop experience on Android. Battery life is good, too.
At £599 without the keyboard case, the Galaxy Tab S4 isn't a tablet for everyone but could make for a decent laptop replacement for some. That's if you only need to do relatively basic tasks and the apps you need are available.
There are a few quibbles, like the camera placements and dodgy biometrics but these are not deal breakers. If you're looking for an Android tablet with these kinds of features, then this is it.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S4: Specs
- Android Oreo
- 10.5in, SuperAMOLED, 2560x1600, 287ppi
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, octa-core processor
- 4GB RAM
- 64/256GB storage
- MicroSD (400GB)
- S Pen, 4096 pressure levels
- 13Mp rear camera, f/1.9 with auto focus
- 8Mp front camera, f/1.9
- Wi-Fi 11ac
- Bluetooth 5.0
- USB 3.1 gen 1
- Quad speakers with AKG tuning and Dolby Atmos
- 7300mAh battery with Fast Charging
- Up to 16 hours video playback
- 482g (Wi-Fi) 483g (LTE)
- Black or Grey