Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 review: Finally, a good Android 2-in-1

Samsung Galaxy Tab S6

Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 review: Finally, a good Android 2-in-1

“Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S6 finally gives Android fans a great 2-in-1 that can replace a laptop.”
  • Excellent 10.5-inch screen
  • Strong performance
  • Built-in trackpad in the keyboard
  • Nice design and build quality
  • Good battery life
  • Storing S Pen requires close attention
  • Keyboard is expensive, isn't backlit
  • DeX mode has its quirks

Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S6 can replace your laptop, if you can live with some quirks and if you don’t rely on specific desktop applications to get your work done. Those are some big caveats when you’re looking at spending close to $830 (with the keyboard attachment), but I think there’s a niche group of people that are looking for an Android alternative that doesn’t just offer a tablet experience for playing games and watching movies, but a device that can get some work done.

Excellent lap comfort

The Tab S6 is small enough to fit in some of my smallest bags, and it’s lightweight. While the bezels are slim around the 10.5-inch screen, there’s still enough room to hold the tablet without interfering with the touch display. That said, there were moments I wished for a bigger screen, especially when multitasking in DeX mode. It’s a shame Samsung doesn’t offer another size like Apple does with its iPad Pro range.

Speaking of the iPad Pro, the Tab S6 shares a likeness with the 11-inch model. There’s not much you can do to differentiate large, rectangular slabs; the uniform bezels look similar, and the rear design isn’t far off either. Samsung has ditched glass for aluminum, so it won’t shatter if it’s dropped.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S6
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Is that an S Pen hanging off the back? Yep. There’s an oblong indent on the back where the S Pen rests, and it’s effectively kept in place via strong magnets. It’s not just for storage, as this is how the S Pen recharges, and it does need recharging now that it has Bluetooth.

Samsung is following Apple’s lead. Apple last year made it so you can plop the Apple Pencil on the top edge of the iPad Pro, connecting it magnetically for safekeeping and wireless charging. I have to say, Apple’s implementation is superior.  The S Pen’s storage pocket is behind the tablet, making it difficult to see where to stow it. The Apple Pencil also has one flat side, so it’s easy to know that’s the side that attaches to the tablet. Both sides of the S Pen are flat, and you can only tell the “right” side by a symbol. It’s not a great system.

Both sides of the S Pen are flat, and you can only tell the “right” side by a symbol. It’s not a great system.

The Tab S6 comes in Mountain Gray, Cloud Blue, or Rose Blush, but you’ll hardly notice the colors if you slap on Samsung’s Book Cover Keyboard case. It doesn’t come included, but it’s a worthwhile addition despite its steep $179 price.

I’ve worked with this 2-in-1 sitting on my lap in the airport, at the park, and on a plane. It never felt awkward on unstable. It’s also dead simple to adjust the kickstand on the back, something Apple’s iPad Pro and the Smart Keyboard can’t claim.

A fingerprint sensor hides under the display, but it’s not using the ultrasonic technology found on the Galaxy Note 10 Plus. It’s optical, so it’s not as secure, and not as reliable, though I didn’t have much trouble with it. I opted to use the face unlock feature instead. It’s not as secure or as effective as Apple’s Face ID, however. For example, it struggles in low light.

Typing on the keyboard, writing with the S Pen

The keyboard’s individual keys are deep but could stand to be a little bigger. They’re also not backlit, and I found it hard to reliably type on it in the dark. Still, it’s a more pleasurable experience than Apple’s Smart Keyboard, where the keys are so thin you can barely feel them move.

But the best part is the trackpad, which greatly helps with navigating the software (particularly in DeX mode) when you don’t want to lift a finger to the screen. Sadly, text selection isn’t as intuitive as a double tap, at least in most apps. It works in Google Docs, but I needed to revert to using my finger for text selection almost everywhere else. You can swipe up and down with two fingers on the trackpad to scroll through apps, which is nice.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S6
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Short of drawing, I haven’t found much of a reason to use the S Pen on the Tab S6. There are Air Actions, just like on the Note 10, where you can make wand-like gestures to trigger certain actions in select apps, like the camera. They work well, but I haven’t needed to use them.

I like writing notes with the stylus. It’s a better experience than writing with the S Pen on the Galaxy Note 10. The screen is bigger, so there’s more room to write. While Samsung’s palm rejection technology has improved, you need to make sure your palms aren’t touching the edges of the screen, as it activates the scroll bar in the Samsung Notes app, which in turn disrupts the S Pen. It’s frustrating.

If your handwriting is legible, the Notes app can automatically transcribe them. The formatting will need a bit of work, but it does a good job with the transcribing, and if you’re someone that likes to handwrite your notes, it makes transcription far quicker.

A beautiful screen

As usual, the super AMOLED screen on the Tab S6 is beautiful. It was perfectly readable as I edited stories at a cafe outside on a bright, sunny day, and everything on it looks crisp thanks to its 2,560 x 1,600 resolution.

Colors are rich and blacks are dark as night. Dim scenes in videos aren’t difficult to see because of how bright the screen can get. There’s HDR10+ support too, so if you watch HDR movies you’ll benefit from the added contrast.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S6
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

I enjoyed several episodes of Netflix’s The Spy, which look fantastic on this tablet. Topping it all off is the quad-speaker setup. It provides clear and dynamic sound, making the Tab S6 an excellent entertainment system.

However, there’s no headphone jack. I have Bluetooth earbuds, but there are times when I’ve forgotten to charge them. It’s a disappointing omission.

Worry-free performance

The Tab S6 has yet to let me down with its performance, and that’s because it’s powered by the flagship processor found in most Android phones this year: Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855. The model I tested had 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage as well as a MicroSD card slot in case more space is needed (an 8GB RAM and 256GB storage model is also available).

With multiple tabs open in Samsung’s Internet browser and several app windows open on top of each other, the Tab S6 never slowed down. Apps launched swiftly, resizing them was a snappy affair, and games like Alto’s Odyssey, Pako: Forever, and Grand Mountain ran without any stutters.

Here are a few benchmark results:

  • AnTuTu 3DBench: 352,209
  • Geekbench 5 CPU: 725 single-core; 2,392 multi-core
  • 3DMark Sling Shot Extreme: 4,819 Vulkan, 5,395 OpenGL

The scores are on par with other Snapdragon 855 devices, though the Geekbench numbers are lower (this may be an error with Geekbench as several users are reporting issues after the benchmarking app’s most recent update). The AnTuTu score is not as high as the iPad Air, but it’s close.

Still, benchmark scores aren’t always indicative of real world performance, and the Tab S6 will keep you happy.

Getting work done with DeX

Samsung has pushed forward where Google hasn’t with a desktop mode for Android, adding a system tray at the bottom right with access to notifications, navigation buttons, and the app drawer on the bottom left, as well as windowed apps that you can resize.

Not all Android apps can be resized, even if you “force” them with a software setting. Instagram is a notable example. That said, posting on Instagram from a 2-in-1 is something I’ve never done before, and while it’s possible on other tablets, it’s a significantly better experience on DeX.

Minor quirks do detract from the overall desktop experience. Tapping the search button on the keyboard opens up the app drawer, but you need to type a letter twice to be able to start searching for an app. Weird. Alt-tabbing quickly to switch to a previous app isn’t fluid, either. The trick is to press and hold alt and tap tab slowly, which feels cumbersome.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S6
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The highlight is Samsung’s Internet web browser, which proves surprisingly important. It almost always pulls the desktop version of websites, unlike Chrome, which shows the mobile version.

I wrote this review on the Galaxy Tab S6, and because text selection works with the trackpad on Google Docs, it’s easy for me to add in links without much trouble (a problem I faced using the iPad Pro last year). I can put two Samsung Internet tabs next to each other in splitscreen for references as I write, and it’s easy to move windowed apps around and resize them so I can look at other apps at the same time.

I couldn’t work as quickly as I would on a normal laptop, but I’ve successfully replaced my laptop with the Tab S6 for the past few weeks, and it’s been an enjoyable and reliable experience.

Note, though, that my work revolves around using a browser, Google Docs, and that’s about it. If you rely on other services and apps, you’ll want to make sure there’s an Android app available (or an alternative). I’ve used Lightroom CC on the Tab S6 to edit some photos with the S Pen, for example.

Dual-camera system

Out of all the cameras on laptops and tablets, I only use the front-facing one for video conference calls; the 8-megapixel sensor does not disappoint. It offers  1,920 x 1,080 resolution. Quality is reasonable in good light, but grainy in poor light.

While I don’t take photos with tablets, a lot of people do; Samsung said 86 percent of Galaxy Tab S4 owners used the camera daily. What’s the experience like with the rear shooters? The main 13-megapixel camera can take detailed, colorful photos — that are at times a little too saturated — during the day. At night, the quality drops off, but the results are acceptable.

To add versatility, Samsung has added an ultra-wide-angle, 5-megapixel lens to the rear setup, so you can get a different perspective in your photos. The 123-degree field of view takes in more of the scene, and the sensor surprisingly delivers more natural colors than the standard lens. Sadly, the quality isn’t great even in good lighting.

A full day of battery life

The Galaxy Tab S6 can get you through a hard day of work. I used it for four hours straight on a plane and the battery dipped to just 60 percent. Add a few more hours of use at my hotel room, and the tablet was at 30 percent before it was time for bed.

If you plan on using this tablet non-stop from 9 to 5 p.m., it will last the whole time if you’re not gaming or using processor-intensive apps — but it won’t last much longer. I’ve had a similar experience with the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. While this performance is fine, it doesn’t quite hold up to Samsung’s claim of 15 hours of battery life.

In our standard video playback battery test, where we play a 1080p YouTube video over Wi-Fi with the screen brightness at maximum, the Galaxy Tab S6 lasted 11 hours and 1 minute. That’s better than the slightly more affordable iPad Air, which took 6 hours and 17 minutes to drain.

I think most people will be more than happy with battery life on the Tab S6. Juicing it back up isn’t notably fast though, taking a little more than 2 hours to go from zero to 100.

Price, availability, and warranty

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 is $649 if you go for the model with 6GB RAM and 128GB of internal storage. You can cough up $729 for the 8GB RAM and 256GB storage option, which might be the better buy as you’ll be doing a ton of multi-tasking and the extra RAM will help. It’s available now from Samsung and other retailers, and a cellular model will be released later this year.

Samsung offers a standard limited warranty that protects the device from manufacturing defects for one year from the date of purchase.

Our Take

If you’re looking for a tablet that can get some work done — and you don’t want to join Apple’s ecosystem — the Galaxy Tab S6 might be what you’re looking for. The problem is the price tag. Including the keyboard, you’re paying close to $830 for the base model. There’s a ton of strong competition here, so your buying decision will depend on how much you care for Android as an operating system.

Is there a better alternative?

For the best of both worlds, theiPad Pro offers a rich multitasking experience, especially with the new iPadOS interface. Or take a look at the iPad Air, which also receives the latest iPadOS updates and is more reasonably priced, starting at $499. Apple’s most affordable iPad can also now be used as 2-in-1, and at $329 to start, it’s a good budget alternative.

The Microsoft Surface Pro 7 is the best alternative at this price tag if you’re looking for a 2-in-1 laptop and tablet hybrid.

Alternatively, you can get the HP Chromebook x2 with access to Android apps, though the app experience is clunky.

Want more options? Check out our favorite 2-in-1s of 2019.

How long will it last?

The Galaxy Tab S6 should last you three to four years before the battery’s endurance noticeably lessens.

Should you buy it?

Yes, if you’re looking for a laptop replacement that also offers a decent tablet experience.

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