Samsung finally has a proper competitor to Apple’s 10.5-inch iPad Pro, and it’s called the Galaxy Tab S4.
The successor to the Galaxy S3 tablet has a larger screen, longer battery life, and four speakers for louder sound, but it’s most important feature is something entirely different: It’s the built-in Samsung DeX functionality that transforms it from an ordinary Android tablet experience into a more desktop-like one.
Samsung DeX, for those who aren’t familiar, is an accessory Samsung cooked up for the Galaxy S8. With the phone plugged in and connected to a external monitor, keyboard, and mouse, it essentially provided a desktop-like experience complete with multi-window support just like with Windows.
Citing the fast-changing ways people are working on the go these days, Samsung’s Senior Vice President and General Manager Alanna Cotton said the company needed to build a tablet that offered more than just keyboard and stylus support.
“People are doing work differently than they’ve ever before,” Cotton told media at Samsung’s flagship 837 store in New York. “Our goal is to power the individual, to power the enterprise.”
Available on Aug. 10 and starting at $649.99 for the WiFi model, the Tab S4 is clearly priced to compete with the 10.5-inch iPad Pro, which starts at the same price.
The WiFi version will be available on Samsung.com, Amazon, and Best Buy. There will also be an LTE model, which will be available on Verizon (other carriers such as Sprint, AT&T, and U.S. Cellular will stock later) with pricing TBD.
Galaxy Tab S4 basics
The 10.5-inch Super AMOLED screen (2,560 x 1,600) is larger than the previous 9.7-inch display on the Tab S3, but the tablet’s overall glass and metal dimensions are barely bigger. Samsung achieved this by slimming the bezels on and removing the home button.
Embedded into the Tab S4’s top bezel is an 8-megapixel camera. Around back, there’s a 13-megapixel shooter with autofocus and LED flash capable of recording video in 4K resolution at up to 30 fps.
The Tab S4 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chip and 4GB of RAM. It comes in two storage configurations (64GB or 256GB) and there’s also a built-in microSD card slot for storage expansion up to 400GB. The tablet runs Android 8.1 Oreo with Samsung’s own TouchWiz UI skin.
Most impressive is the huge battery. The Tab S4 packs a 7,300 mAh battery (up from the Tab S3’s 6,000 mAh), which Samsung claims will last for up to 16 hours of video playback. The tablet also supports Samsung’
s Fast Charging technology via its USB-C port.
Firing out of the tablet’s sides are four speakers. Like the stereo speakers on the Galaxy S9, these are tuned by the audio experts at AKG and support Dolby Atmos Sound. They sound pretty good.
Included with the Tab S4 is an S Pen. It’s not as elegant-looking as an Apple Pencil or a Surface Pen, but at least you don’t need to pay extra for it. It works just like any S Pen on Samsung’s Galaxy Note phones and previous Tab S tablets.
Bring the S Pen near the Tab S4 and you’ll be able to access S Pen software staples like Air Command, Screen-off Memo, Live Message, and Translation.
Built-in Samsung Dex for a PC-like experience
The Tab S4 is a good refresh for an Android tablet, but like I said earlier, it’s the built-in DeX functionality that differentiates it from the iPad Pro.
Pop the Tab S4 into Samsung’s own $149.99 Book Cover Keyboard case and the tablet automatically switches out of the usual icon-based Android home screen into DeX mode. The mode can also be manually turned on if you have the tablet connected to a wireless mouse and keyboard and external monitor.
In DeX mode, Android’s interface morphs into one that resembles a PC desktop. Android’s navigation buttons move to a bar on the bottom along with open apps and and all your notifications.
Apps optimized for DeX mode — Samsung’s own email, gallery, and files apps are a few off the top of my head — aren’t just phone-sized apps that open up on a larger screen. They actually support resizable windows and have right-click options. Samsung says the tablet supports up to 20 open app windows.
For working professionals, DeX mode should bring a boost for productivity. Though it’s not quite a full-blown PC, you get a many of the same features you’d get on a PC or Mac. For example, there’s drag-and-drop support for many apps. In one demo, a Samsung rep dragged a photo from the files app into a new email.
Games that have mouse and keyboard support will also play more like on PC. Somebody tell Epic Games to bring Fortnite to Android with DeX support, please!
In my brief demo, DeX mode worked pretty well and only took a couple of seconds to switch between modes. The only thing that seemed to stump many tech reporters was how to turn DeX mode off. You’d think disconnecting the tablet from Book Cover Keyboard would also automatically switch it back into regular Android mode, but that’s not the case. Turns out you have to manually switch back to Android mode via a button in the navigation bar.
Still, built-in DeX mode looked really sweet. Not having to lug around another dock accessory is a huge plus.
Tablets are back, baby
Apple’s iPad has dominated the tablet market for years with most competition falling to the side of the road.
But tablets look to be making a comeback this year, mostly thanks to companies refocusing their features on productivity.
Microsoft’s launching the Surface Go. Samsung’s now got the Tab S4. And Apple beefed up its cheapest iPad with Apple Pencil support. Not to mention, the iPad Pros are rumored to getting a big refresh later this year with slimmer bezels and Face ID.
Tablets are back, baby. Oh heck yeah, are they back.