Ever since its debut over a decade ago, Apple’s iPad has always been the best tablet on the market for “fun,” thanks to a superior app ecosystem and a smoother/better UI than competitors. But Apple’s recent additions—introducing true multi-tasking; a file system; trackpad support—it made the iPad Pro the best tablet for work, too.
Rival tablets simply couldn’t master both work and play: Microsoft’s Windows is great for productivity work, but absolutely terrible as a touchscreen tablet, with tiny buttons and tabs meant for mouse arrows and not fingers and a laggy UI overall. Android on a tablet screen, meanwhile, works well as a machine for “fun,” (going on Instagram, watching movies, etc.), but struggles as a productivity machine on a large screen because most Android apps aren’t well optimized for a tablet screen.
Samsung’s latest tablet, the Galaxy Tab S7 Plus, is an attempt to address the above problems by combining the best of Android and Windows: it’s an Android tablet with a gorgeous screen, so it excels for “fun” stuff, and then Samsung built a system-within-a-system feature (named Dex) that turns the Android UI into something more resembling a Windows machine.
After using it as my primary work machine for a week, I am happy to report this attempt mostly works, and the Galaxy Tab S7 Plus is the best non-iPad tablet for those who need a machine for both work and play.
Design: it’s basically a larger Galaxy Note 20 without the fancy cameras
The Tab S7 Plus, as the name suggests, is the larger version of a product. This one features a 12.4-inch screen compared to the non-Plus version’s 11-inch. And this screen is an absolute stunner: 120Hz OLED panel. And it’s not just any OLED, but Samsung’s Super AMOLED. Essentially, Samsung has given this tablet the same best-in-class screen that it uses for its smartphones. Considering the standard for smartphone screens are so much higher than for tablet screens, that means this Tab S7 Plus screen is the best display on a tablet by default.
Apple’s iPad Pro, for those wondering, also refreshes at 120Hz, but it’s an LCD panel, which are objectively inferior display tech to OLED due to its inability to show true blacks.
The bezels around the display are modern and there is an in-display fingerprint reader for security.
The tablet is really thin and light at just 5.7mm (0.22-inch) and 1.2lbs respectively, and packed inside is a Snapdragon 865+ processor from Qualcomm, paired with 8GB of RAM.
There’s an 8-megapixel selfie camera and a dual camera system on the back covering the standard wide and ultra-wide focal length. The tablet also has a SIM card slot and supports phone calls and 5G connectivity. All these components are smartphone components, so basically, the Galaxy Tab S7 Plus is like a blown-up version of a Samsung smartphone.
The accessories that turn it into a computer
The Tab S7 Plus includes a stylus (S-Pen) with purchase, and it works just like the S-Pen in Samsung’s Note line of phones. Latency between stylus input and screen reaction is just 0.9ms of latency, low enough for all but the most demanding of artists.
Going by specs, the S-Pen rivals the Apple Pencil, but I find Apple’s stylus to be slightly superior with more pressure points and ability to shade by holding the Pencil sideways. Still, the stylus experience here is very good and better than most previous Android tablet offerings.
Where Samsung did better than Apple is the keyboard folio case. This one is a separate purchase, but the keys are evenly spaced, with better tactile feedback and travel than Apple’s “Smart Keyboard” accessory. I also love that it’s a two-part case (the keyboard clips to the bottom, and then there’s a kickstand back part that attaches to the back), because having a dedicated kickstand allows for the tablet to be propped up at various angles. Apple’s Smart Keyboard case locks you in at just two angles. This makes Samsung’s machine a lot more versatile, as it can be used on a lap, a dining table, or a higher work desk, whereas the iPad Pro’s fixed angle means you really need a table with the right height for comfort.
The trackpad on Samsung’s keyboard case is also responsive, although a bit short vertically. Because I need to constantly lift my fingers off it to continue scrolling, I find there are unwanted accidental mistouches. On this front, Apple’s trackpad is better.
Software and user experience
The tablet runs Android 10 with Samsung’s One UI on top. As a tablet, it behaves like any Samsung smartphone, just with an unusually large screen. But the big addition that separates this from any other Android tablet is Dex, that aforementioned system-within-a-system Samsung built into its One UI.
With Dex turned on, the tablet switches to a PC-friendly UI, with a task bar at the bottom, and apps open in resizable windows that are freely movable.
I’d say navigating within Dex closely resembles using Windows (or even a Mac) 95% of the time, but there’s 5% when shortcomings pop up.
The first problem is not all Android apps are optimized to be resized freely. Natively, smartphone apps show best in vertical shape, and if not optimized properly, forcing them to stretch across a widescreen could make the app unusable. NetFlix, for example, will open in a small window. But since it’s a movie-watching app, you’ll want it to stretch full screen, and everytime you try to, a message will pop up warning you that going full screen may not work. Luckily, NetFlix can be forced to stretch the full display canvas, but the layout is awkward.
Even for apps that can adjust to this tablet landscape screen aspect ratio without a warning notice, it’s usually just a blown-up version of the app, without taking into account the larger screen real estate.
App developers have incentives to build iPad specific versions of apps because the iPad is ubiquitous and Apple customers spend a lot more money on apps than Android users. With Android, app developers simply don’t care to build for the tablet experience.
It doesn’t help matters that Samsung went with a wide 16:10 aspect ratio here instead of the 3:2 aspect ratio used in many laptops and the iPad Pro. Android apps would look slightly less weird if the screen was taller, and less of a sideways rectangle.
This widescreen layout is also less ideal for word processing, because there’s simply less space from top to bottom than a 3:2 aspect ratio. The wide aspect ratio is a better fit for movies, however, as videos will play here with less letterboxing than on an iPad.
Multi-media beast … but keep a charger ready
And this is where the Tab S7 Plus shines above competitors. The hi-res OLED widescreen, paired with an excellent quad speaker system, makes this as good a movie watching machine as any portable machine can get right now.
Battery life is, unfortunately, not great. Despite the 10,000 mAh battery, the 120Hz panel just eats too much power. I’ve been using this machine as my main work machine for the past two weeks and I’d say a five hour work session consisting of writing articles, constantly checking email and Twitter and streaming Spotify is just about enough to drain the machine from 100% down to the critical sub-15% range. This is connected to solid WiFi the entire time. The good news is it charges via USB-C.
For those who want the most versatile machine that isn’t made by Apple
As I said at the beginning of the article, the iPad Pro has been hands-down the most versatile machine for both work and play for the past two years. Laptops simply aren’t as great for watching movies on trains and in bed; and mostly do not support the millions of apps built for iPhones and Android—many of whom are objectively better than desktop computer software.
That the Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 Plus gets close to giving that same iPad Pro-like versatility is a major win for Android enthusiasts or those who just don’t want to buy Apple for whatever reason.
I still find iPadOS a bit more refined as a computer replacement than Android and Dex, and iOS’ app ecosystem is stronger than Android’s. But the Tab S7 Plus has a better screen, a better keyboard case, and Android’s customization that Apple does not offer.
Samsung’s offering is a bit cheaper, too. The smaller 11-inch Tab S7 starts at just around $650 (HK$4,988 in Hong Kong), while the larger 12.4-inch machine I tested starts at around $850 (HK$7,888). The S-Pen stylus is included free of charge, while the keyboard case is an additional $130 or so. Apple’s 2020 iPad Pro is anywhere from $100 to $250 more expensive depending on model, and it doesn’t include any accessories.
Because I do a lot of video editing work at a near professional level, I have found myself needing a proper computer again in the past year. If I didn’t need to make videos, if my work consists of just writing, editing and other office tasks, I would no longer need to own a computer: an iPad Pro, or Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 Plus, are good enough computer replacements. In other words, for most people, this machine can replace the need of a laptop or a desktop machine.