Alongside Samsung's newest flagship Galaxy S22 devices, Samsung announced three new Galaxy Tab S8 tablets at it's recent Unpacked Event. Samsung is one of the few major OEMs that continues to make Android tablets and one of a handful of premium makers.
Currently, Apple's iPad lineup takes up most of the premium tablet market, followed by Windows 11 tablets and 2-in-1s and Android tablets. There are a couple of reasons why Android tablets are not a focus for the Android ecosystem, and Apple's iPad has been very successful since its inception. One reason directly relates to the laptop 2-in-1's and Apple's strategic decision to not bring touchscreens to any of its MacBooks. If Apple does not bring touch to its MacBooks, then an iPad is justified in the Apple ecosystem as a standalone device. I wouldn't say I like this strategy, and I know many people do not either, but it works for Apple. Apple's competition found success in exploiting this strategy and blowing up the 2-in-1 market for people who want a tablet experience but do not want to buy a second device. The unfortunate result of the 2-in-1 is that it knocked Android tablets out of a competitive spot. Windows was better than Android because 2-in-1s have keyboards, and there is much more you can do with a keyboard on Windows than on Android.
One of the reasons that the Samsung Tab series has been successful in the Android tablet space is because, in a way, it has been piggy-backing off of the success of the Galaxy Note series and the development of the S-Pen. This piggy-backing is not a bad thing. The Galaxy Tab series has seen a lot of innovation throughout the years, and the Tab S8 lineup is no different. However, with the newest Tab S8 Ultra, It is not clear what Samsung's intention is for the device, nor do I think Samsung knows its intention.
The Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra
The Galaxy Tab S8 is a unique device. It is the first "Ultra" Tab S device, and it has a 14.6-inch Super AMOLED display with a 120Hz refresh rate. It is super thin, especially for a tablet at 5.5mm. To put into perspective how thin that is, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro with M1 is 6.4mm thin, and the Surface Duo 2 unfolded, one of the thinnest devices on the market, is also 5.5mm thin. The Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra is incredibly large for a tablet and incredibly thin at the same time. While thinness is usually a good quality to have in a device, I do not see this as a valuable quality since, in my opinion, it breaks the threshold of "too thin." It also makes it difficult to understand where this tablet fits within the 2-in-1 and iPad world of tablets and begs the question of who is this tablet really for? Interestingly, I do not believe the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra is trying to play the same game as the iPad, 2-in-1's, or even the Surface Pro X.
The Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra is not looking to compete against the iPad Pro M1 considering the iPad Pro M1 has more CPU performance than any Qualcomm SoC. The Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 is the same SoC that Samsung has put in its Galaxy S22 devices, and the only way it is squeezing more performance out of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 is with extra memory and better heat dissipation. Even then, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 is behind the M1 in CPU performance. The Surface Pro 8 and X are a similar story; not so much in terms of performance but capability. The Windows ecosystem has many more years of software development and support. It also has support for more intensive apps and software for business.
The Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra is looking to be the most Samsung tablet that Samsung could ever make with the largest screen and best pen support of a tablet, and that is what makes it really cool and unique. Samsung is very familiar with Android and does Android devices better than most. The Galaxy S8 Ultra does not need the most powerful chip on the market if it will only run on Android.
Also, Samsung pioneered the rise of phablet devices, and for almost a decade, has made the most immersive and beautiful displays on a device the world has ever seen. It has even supplied Apple with the best iPhone displays, including the iPhone 13 devices. On top of its success in making the best and the largest displays, it is a leader in stylus and pen technology for its Note lineup and its Tab series, not only from a hardware perspective but also from a software perspective. Every year, Samsung has found a way to improve the S-Pen, including the ability to write on its own foldable screens. In Android, Samsung pioneered the ability to have multiple applications open at the same time, its desktop environment (DE) called Dex, and what its S Pen could do. All of these factors play into the immersive experience that the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra gives that no other device, even the iPad Pro or Surface Pro X, could give.
Samsung's One UI 4 is better at multitasking with the ability to open as many apps as the memory can hold. The larger display means more apps open at the same time for peak multitasking experience. It has up to 16GB of memory and up to 512GB of storage with support for a microSD card. The display also has a 120Hz refresh rate and 2.8ms latency speed with the S Pen, making for an optimal writing experience and arguably the best writing experience for a tablet. The Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra is arguably the best tablet for drawing. It has great S Pen support and a large 14.6-inch canvas and a USB-C port for fast transfer speeds, and microSD card support for quick transfers to a different computer or from a camera.
The WQXGA+ 14.6-inch display and Quad speakers with Dolby Atmos should deliver the most premium media-consuming tablet on the market. It also has a 5G option and Wifi 6E support for quick downloads and content streaming. It also wouldn't be a post-pandemic device if it did not have a reasonable video call setup. The Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra has a 12mp front-facing camera with 4K video quality and Samsung's auto-framing technology.
I think Samsung should educate on the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra is its battery performance and its thinness. It is made with Samsung's Armor aluminum, so I have no doubt that its made from tough materials. However, there is a threshold that I believe Samsung is flirting with between thinness and size. We would not want another incident like the iPhone 6 where the device bends unintentionally. Making a 14.6-inch tablet is more complicated than upping the size of the largest tablet. Correctly balancing the tablet's weight without making it too heavy or too thin is a difficult process.
On top of that, filling in the extra space that the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra would get from having more area is not easy. It is not a matter of filling it with more mAhs considering more battery is more weight and batteries.
I also think pushing a 14.6-inch 3K 120Hz display can take a lot out of the battery. Without getting my hands on the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra, its 11,200 mAh battery is large but could be larger if Samsung made it slightly thicker. Suppose Samsung nailed the battery performance on the Galaxy Tab S8. In that case, I believe it could have many use-cases, including drawing tablet, media consumption device, the best tablet for video call, and a laptop replacement in the Samsung ecosystem.
Galaxy Tab S8 and S8+
The Galaxy Tab S8 and S8+ are more familiar to what we have seen from Samsung in the past. Samsung skipped a year with its new Tab S8 meaning these tablets will be a large upgrade over the Galaxy Tab S7.
Like the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra, the Galaxy Tab S8 and S8+ come with quad speakers with Dolby Atmos, 4K video recording, three mics with noise-canceling, and Samsung's auto-framing technology for advanced video calling. Having a dedicated 4K webcam on the Galaxy Tab S8 devices is impressive, considering not many devices support even 1080p.
The Galaxy Tab S8 has an 11-inch WQXGA display, and the Galaxy Tab S8+ has a 12.9-inch WQXGA+, the same as the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra display. The Galaxy Tab S8 and S8+ are thicker than the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra, at 6.3mm for the S8 and 5.7mm for the S8+. From my experience with the Galaxy Tab S7, these are great sizes to have, and the 12.9 range is a great size for a tablet. While the larger Tab S8 Ultra model may have difficulty scaling apps when full screen, I don't think the Tab S8 and S8+ would have as much of a problem. Android has gotten fairly good at scaling its applications to fit larger screens.
The Galaxy Tab S8 and S8+ are also running the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor with 8GB of memory and 128GB of storage models and 12GB of memory and 256GB of storage models. Both tablets also have microSD card support, so I wouldn't be too worried about the 128GB of storage on the lower variant, but there could be some limitations with the 8GB of memory.
Just as the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra has the best pen experience on a 14.6-inch display, I believe the Galaxy Tab S8 and S8+ should give just as good of an experience in their respective sizes with Samsung's Note features the vibrant 120Hz display and the quick 2.8ms response time. The iPad models that are of equal value to the Galaxy Tab S8 and S8+ are running the A15 Bionic chip, so there is not as much of a performance gap. Samsung's One UI 4 has more to offer in terms of multitasking than iPadOS.
At the starting price of $1,099, the same as the smaller iPad Pro with M1, the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra is a hard sell. It is not as powerful as the iPad Pro. Considering the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra is already sold out about a week after its release, performance isn’t as important as some might think . The Galaxy S8 Ultra holds its value in giving the most Samsung tablet experience that Samsung can give, and I think its done that with the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra. It is great for video calling, any function with the S Pen, tablet productivity, and content consumption. I would recommend the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra to anyone who wants a reliable 14.6-inch laptop replacement that is not expecting to be doing high-end tasks.
If you are looking for a reliable tablet experience and are deep in the Samsung ecosystem, the Galaxy Tab S8 and S8+ are also great tablets that rival the iPad equivalent. Although the 8GB of memory model may limit performance, I'm excited to see how well the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 performs on the Galaxy Tab S8 and S9+. The Galaxy Tab S8, S8+, and S8 Ultra have welcomed the Galaxy Tab lineup upgrades.
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy co-op Jacob Freyman contributed to this article.