Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e hands-on review

Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S5e tablet is a little slice of luxury

Don’t let the sensible price fool you, the Galaxy Tab S5e handles and performs better than you expect.
Don’t let the sensible price fool you, the Galaxy Tab S5e handles and performs better than you expect.
Don’t let the sensible price fool you, the Galaxy Tab S5e handles and performs better than you expect.

Highs

  • Super slim
  • Lightweight metal body
  • Colorful Super AMOLED screen
  • Versatile feature set

Lows

  • Lacks a true reason to buy
  • No S Pen stylus support

Samsung says its own research shows older Galaxy tablets are still popular with many people, mainly because they can be found for a lower price yet still offer strong features and performance. To make it easier for those considering an old Tab tablet, Samsung has made the Galaxy Tab S5e, which costs $400 and delivers the premium experience Samsung sees people wanting without a ridiculous price tag. The company has managed to succeed, too.

The most striking aspect of the Galaxy Tab S5e is the metal body — and just how thin it is. The metal unibody is only 5.5mm thin, which we worried would make the tablet too difficult to hold comfortably, especially combined with the 399 gram weight; but the design is spot-on. The S5e is well balanced, and the large body negates any problems holding the thin chassis. It’s a great combination for a tablet of the S5e’s overall size, and your arms won’t become quickly fatigued holding it while watching video.

Samsung’s dedication to ergonomics can also be seen in the wise decision to put the fingerprint sensor in the power button, removing it from the bezels around the screen. This slims them down for a more modern, picture-frame style look. It’s not as natural to use the sensor on the Tab S5e as it is on the Galaxy S10e though, due to the device’s size, and some may find the side sensor less speedy to use than a front sensor, particularly when the tablet is laid flat on a table. We overcame this by registering other fingerprints, rather than just our thumb.

It’s definitely built for entertainment. The 10.5-inch Super AMOLED screen looks great, and although we tested it in Samsung’s very bright booth at MWC 2019, the bright colors and strong contrast were noticeable. We listened to the S5e’s quad speakers, set at both ends of the tablet, in a demonstration of the Dolby Atmos system. Sadly, any surround sound effect was completely lost — Samsung’s booth was also very noisy —  but they were definitely loud, and you could feel plenty of vibration through the tablet itself. We liked that you could adjust your hand position so as to not cover the speaker grills.

The environment also made it impossible to test the voice-driven Bixby assistant features, which are available for the first time on a tablet, and use far-field microphones so you can chat to Bixby from across the room. Also, Bixby’s data is shown on a screen swiped in from the side, which adds a degree of personalization to the software experience. Say “hey, Bixby” and you’ll be able to access quick commands and activate apps.  Android 9.0 Pie is installed with Samsung’s One UI over the top, which is moderately successful. It looks pretty, and the icons are clear and recognizable, but it can feel slightly ponderous sometimes.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Arguably, the Tab S5e doesn’t do anything more, or anything much better, than many other tablets available today. So what? The S5e is as versatile as possible, and you’ll pay a reasonable price for it. For example, it works with a DeX dock, and a keyboard case will be available in the future. Plus, it’ll link up with your Samsung smartphone too, adding call and message support. It’s unfortunate there’s no S Pen stylus support though, which would have really enhanced the productivity and artistic capabilities of the tablet.

However, those features, along with a faster processor, are the reasons to buy the Galaxy Tab S4, and Samsung obviously doesn’t want to cannibalize sales from its top tablet with a Tab S5e that’s a bit too good. We’d argue that in general the tablet is best utilized as an entertainment device when it’s nice to have a screen larger than your phone, and the Tab S5e is ideal for this — the screen’s beautiful, there’s good audio, and the body is so slim, light, and well-made you’ll be surprised it didn’t cost a little more.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e is out before June in the U.S., and a version for use on mobile networks will be out before the end of the year.

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