“An almost perfectly-designed Android tablet for your home, the Galaxy Tab S5e is a great companion for games and movies.”
- Slim and lightweight
- Stunning AMOLED screen
- Attractive, simple software
- Long battery life
- Audio disappoints
- Camera is basic
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We all want a little slice of luxury. A slightly more expensive hotel than usual when we go on vacation, ticking the leather trim box when we order a new car, and buying a mobile device that feels more expensive than it really is. That’s the definition of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S5e, and along with the stunning screen, it’s one of the main reasons you’re going to pick one up in the store.
I’ve spent a few weeks with the tablet and can happily say that if you do take it home, you won’t put it back on the shelf.
Samsung has excelled with the style of the Galaxy Tab S5e. It doesn’t break new ground — it’s a tablet, and therefore pretty fixed in appearance — but it does manage to get all the crucial individual aspects right. The screen is the right size at 10.5-inches, the metal unibody weighs only 399 grams and is astonishingly light, while the 5.5mm thickness practically defies belief. Any thinner and lighter, and it’d be a piece of paper.
The bezels around the screen are slim, yet there’s still enough to grip and hold the tablet. But they’re right on the edge of being acceptable — you have to grip it loosely — otherwise it’s too easy to accidentally touch the screen and rewind when watching content, even with normal-sized hands. The slim, cool-to-the-touch metal body and thin screen bezels give the Tab S5e that all-important luxury air. You really do want to hold it, and it puts a smile on your face when you do.
On the back, the thin chassis means the camera lens is inside a bump, and this in turn means it comes into contact with any surface the tablet’s placed face-up on. Apart from Samsung and AKG’s branding on the back, the camera lens and antenna bands are the only distractions. It’s incredibly clean, simple, and stylish. Continuing along the sides, there is a connector to attach a Samsung keyboard, four speakers, a MicroSD card slot, and a USB Type-C charging connector. It does not have a 3.5mm headphone jack, which is a shame.
Any thinner and lighter, and it’d be a piece of paper.
Where’s the fingerprint sensor? it’s in the power button on the right edge, just above the volume rocker. Samsung used this to great effect on the Galaxy S10e, and while it’s accurate and fast on the Tab S5e, it’s a little bit too small, and perhaps set a little too high on the body. I found myself searching for it too often, feeling my way along the side with my thumb. I’d eventually resort to looking for it, and that’s unfortunate. It’s not like Samsung is stuck for space on the side of the Tab S5e, and a longer sensor — like the one on the Sony Xperia 10 Plus — would have been a welcome ergonomic addition.
The Galaxy Tab S5e’s enticing slimness is one thing, but it did give me some anxiety. Although it never came to any harm, the thin frame made me worry about durability. I took it on a long flight and it spent plenty of time in a backpack, where I was concerned it would suffer stresses that would bend the frame. It never happened and even physically twisting the tablet doesn’t reveal excess movement, I’d be happier to keep the svelte, attractive Tab S5e in a case or sleeve when out and about.
Samsung makes good screens. No, not good, I mean stunning screens, and the Tab S5e is another to gaze upon in wonder. The 10.5 AMOLED panel has a 2,560 x 1,600 resolution, and it looks glorious in every situation. There’s just so much color and life, that even videos you’re familiar with take on a new look. I watched the final two episodes of Stranger Things 3 on a plane, and had to turn the brightness almost right down, yet the image was still superb and the shadows and dark scenes didn’t suffer at all.
It’s not just video that’s great either. The lightweight nature means it’s also an excellent ebook reader alternative, and great for gaming. I read for many hours using the Amazon Kindle app, and provided I changed the background color from white to a paper-like tone, it didn’t tire my eyes. The light, easy-to-hold body allows for extended play sessions when gaming, too. Reckless Racing 3 is fun, and it’s visually enhanced thanks to the stunning colors and screen.
There’s no question about the Tab S5e’s credentials when it comes to the visual experience, but what about sound? There are four speakers on the Tab S5e, and they’ve been tuned by AKG — the Samsung-owned audio experts — and the speakers support Dolby Atmos. The audio reorients when the tablet moves to landscape from portrait, and vice-versa. For all this effort, the sound is good, but not great.
There’s plenty of volume, but voices are often lost in the mix, and upping the volume just makes the situation worse. The chassis vibrates with noise, but not really with bass, as there just isn’t that much. This is to be expected, as there can’t be much room for speakers and sound chambers inside the body, plus it’s easy to muffle the speakers when holding the tablet. We also had a similar listening experience with the Galaxy Tab S4.
On paper, the Galaxy Tab S5e won’t impress with its specs, as they’re worthy of a relatively basic smartphone — a Qualcomm Snapdragon 670 processor, and 4GB or 6GB of RAM (that’s equivalent to what’s inside the Google Pixel 3a). In reality, it’s more than enough to drive the tablet for the tasks it’s intended for — watching movies, browsing, and reading. I never experienced any problems playing games either.
Here are some benchmark results:
- AnTuTu 3DBench: 152,646
- Geekbench 4 CPU: 1,604 single-core; 5,627 mulit-core
- 3DMark Sling Shot Extreme: 1,536 (Vulkan)
These figures can’t compete with the more expensive, higher-performance tablets, but it doesn’t show in everyday use. The Galaxy Tab S5e never feels like a midrange smartphone, despite the figures and processor. It is obliterated in the tests by the Apple iPad Air, its direct competitor in terms of price.
The Tab S5e’s willingness to only sip energy increases its usefulness.
The battery running the show has a 7,040mAh capacity, and provides more than enough energy for sustained use. Daily use for a few hours, using apps and watching video, saw the battery happily last for five days before needing a recharge. Best of all, it sits in standby for days on end and consumes almost no power at all. Tablets don’t always get daily use, so the Tab S5e’s willingness to only sip energy increases its usefulness.
Another great performance aspect of the Galaxy Tab S5e is the Wi-Fi, which I found received signals more reliably than my phone when far away from my router. That’s important if you’re streaming video around the home.
You want to take photos with your tablet? Sure, it’s not ideal, but in a pinch the Galaxy Tab S5e will take them with its single 13-megapixel f/2.0 aperture lens on the back. Around the front is an 8-megapixel camera with the same aperture. The results are decent, with some attractive colors and contrast, detail in the shaded areas, and lovely blue skies without over saturation.
There isn’t much life to the pictures, and you won’t want to take many in low light; close-up images suffer from a lack of detail. The camera app has an editing suite, with filters and basic tools to adjust your picture. Use the selfie camera and there are Snapchat-style face filters, and a Live Focus mode for a software-generated bokeh effect. All operate very well, but their appeal will be niche.
For the amount of times the Galaxy Tab S5e’s camera will be called into action, it delivers more than adequate results, but you can get a better camera experience on Apple’s iPad Air.
Samsung has its own One UI version 1.1 software installed over Android 9 Pie. The experience is very similar to that of a Samsung Galaxy smartphone and it’s pleasant. One UI is uncluttered, logical, and neatly laid out. No, it doesn’t look like Android on a Google Pixel, but its uniform layout makes it stylish and modern, and that’s a major plus point. App icons are consistent in size and shape, and navigation is slick and responsive, if a little slow at times.
The slowness isn’t a performance issue, it’s more of a design choice, as Samsung wants you to admire the transitions and scrolling. I don’t — sometimes it’s a bit blurry — and I just want to get on with finding my app.
One issue that may affect others as it did me is transferring video content across from a computer to the tablet. Connect it to a MacBook using USB, and you’re out of luck if you want to transfer files. Android Device Manager doesn’t work, and neither does Samsung’s own outdated Mac app. It simply refuses to recognize it, which is a pain when I have video I want on my tablet. I used Google Drive to load some video in the end. Yes it worked, but it’s terribly long-winded.
Then there’s Bixby. Swipe right on the home screen to show Bixby Home, where a selection of cards provide information from some apps, Google Play, news stories, YouTube, and the tablet’s gallery. Among the helpful cards like the news, there are some oddments like Giphy. Luckily you can edit which cards are shown, but can’t shuffle the order around.
The Galaxy Tab S5e’s software is easy to use, simple to customize, and pretty too.
Bixby Home is certainly not something I used often, but Samsung has worked hard to improve the virtual assistant. The Galaxy Tab S5e has Bixby Voice, and you can wake the virtual assistant using the power button. Set this up, and what can you do? Bixby’s voice is surprisingly lifelike; it recognized my commands most of the time, and the “Hey Bixby” wake-up word made sure it always activated. Many of the functions are geared towards use on a smartphone, rather than a tablet that stays at home. For example, Bixby’s Quick Commands are useful when changing profile settings for work or in the car. I don’t take my tablet much out the house, making this and many other commands superfluous.
This aside, the Galaxy Tab S5e’s software is easy to use, simple to customize, and pretty too. It goes a long way to making the Galaxy Tab S5e pleasant to live with and use.
The Galaxy Tab S5e is $400 with 64GB of storage, or $470 with 128GB, and can be purchased from Samsung, Amazon, Best Buy and other retailers. In the U.K., the 64GB Tab S5e is 380 British pounds, and 420 pounds for the 128GB. If you want a 4G LTE version, it’s only available with Verizon in the U.S. and costs $480 plus your choice of data plan. In the U.K., the 4G LTE model comes unlocked and starts at 430 pounds. If you want more deals, check out some of the best cheap Samsung Tab deals that are available now.
Samsung provides a one-year warranty in the U.S. covering the tablet against manufacturing defects, but not accidental damage. In the U.K., the warranty lasts for two years.
An almost perfectly-designed Android tablet for your home, the Galaxy Tab S5e is the perfect companion for playing games and watching movies and videos. The slick software and performance ensures it doesn’t irritate, and the long-lasting battery means it’s always ready to go. It’s also reasonably priced at $399 MSRP, with and sales often drop the price to around $350.
Is there a better alternative?
Yes, and it’s the tablet most people will consider buying — the Apple iPad. You will want to look at the Apple iPad Air, which has a 10.5-inch screen. It starts at $500. The smaller 9.7-inch iPad starts at $330, but the larger screen bezels makes it look older. The iPad’s software is superb, app support is better, the screen is similarly excellent, and it will hold its value for the future too — important if you want to sell it on to fund an annual update.
If you want a more productivity based Samsung Android tablet, then the Galaxy Tab S4 remains a good buy if you’re on a tighter budget. On the other hand, the new Galaxy Tab S6 is available if you’d like the very latest Samsung Galaxy Tab hardware.
Check out our guide to the best tablets for more.
How long will it last?
The Galaxy Tab S5e is not water resistant, and it’s not especially durable either, so you’ll have to treat it nicely if you want it to last. Do this, and there’s no reason the Tab S5e won’t last for years. Unlike smartphones, tablets don’t become as outdated so quickly, and because drastic improvements in subsequent models are rare, there is less temptation to change them regularly too.
There’s no reason you won’t get three to four years use out of the Tab S5e, if you’re only using it as a media player and for basic apps.
Should you buy it?
Yes. The Galaxy Tab S5e is luxurious, capable, and not overly expensive. It’s not the best tablet, but it’s a solid mid-range pick and will appeal to Android loyalists.
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