Samsung Galaxy TabPro S Laptop Review
Samsung's Galaxy line enters the world of 2-in-1s
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When it comes to mobile tech, 2-in-1s are the ultimate “have your cake and eat it, too” product. It’s a tablet when you want to lounge in bed scrolling through Twitter and an ultrabook when you need to get some work done at the office.
The Samsung Galaxy TabPro S (MSRP $899.99) is Samsung’s attempt to mesh the spirit of its highly-respected smartphone line with the flexibility of a Windows-powered 2-in-1.
For the most part, however, the TabPro feels like an admirable, well-made tablet with all of its 2-in-1 features tacked on top of it. The included keyboard is more than a little clunky, Samsung’s Galaxy software feels undercooked, and for the same price, you could procure a reasonably-priced ultrabook with a better-functioning keyboard.
But there’s a good deal to appreciate about the Galaxy TabPro S, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t give it props where props are due. If you can get past some of its warts, the TabPro is a premium tablet that should treat most people well.
About the Samsung Galaxy TabPro S
When it comes to 2-in-1 computers, the name of the game is portability, not power. Without the keyboard, the Galaxy TabPro S is just a quarter of an inch thick and clocks in at a hair above 1.5 pounds. It ships with its detachable keyboard, which folds over the screen when traveling. Underneath it all is a machine built for zippy, reliable performance, not high-impact computing. Here are its specifications at a glance:
• Intel Core m3-6Y30 processor
• 4GB DDR3L RAM
• 12-inch 2160x1440 AMOLED touchscreen
• 128GB SSD
• WiFi AC/Bluetooth
• 5200 mAh battery
Though the TabPro comes in both white and black, this is the only configuration of it from a hardware standpoint that Samsung currently offers, so if 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage space seems a little light, you might want to keep shopping around. Included in the box is the TabPro's keyboard, which is a huge value when you compare it to something like Microsoft's Surface Pro 4, which doesn't include a keyboard.
What We Like
Its lightweight and compact frame make it great for traveling.
I have a couple of issues with the TabPro’s accompanying keyboard and case (which I’ll get into in a bit) but there’s no denying how conveniently the entire package moves about, whether you’re stowing it under your arm or in a messenger bag.
When the keyboard and its cover are collapsed into the quarter-inch-thick, notebook-sized frame, its svelte profile is effortlessly transportable.
It’s obviously not for gaming, but good for everything else.
Like most 2-in-1s in this modest price range, the Samsung Galaxy TabPro S isn’t equipped with high-octane hardware; they are devices built to handle basic, everyday tasks quickly and reliably. With that in mind, the TabPro is quite successful.
Its Intel Core M3 processor and 4GB of RAM are well-equipped to tackle heavy, multi-tasked workloads. Better still is the TabPro’s 5200 mAh battery, which performed at an impressive level in our lab test, which clocked in at over three hours for one charge.
Most importantly, however, the TabPro passes the unofficial, science-free “sniff test”—at no point did I ever feel desperate for more horsepower, or that I was being cheated out of a potentially better experience. Given the TabPro’s price tag and the space it occupies in the ultrabook marketplace, it’s reasonable to think that most people will get exactly what they’re hoping for with the Galaxy TabPro.
One of the simple joys of using 2-in-1s is having the flexibility to use a pen. Although the TabPro doesn't ship with one in the box, Samsung's pens are readily available online for a not-so-bad price. It's a little disappointing to have to shell out extra cash for one, but if you ask me, I'd rather have a keyboard than a pen right out of the box.
The AMOLED display
At this point, Samsung fans should be fairly well-acquainted with AMOLED displays; after all, the company’s been outfitting its smartphones—like the Galaxy S6 Edge+ and the Galaxy S7—with AMOLED displays for a few years now.
The main benefit of AMOLED is its ridiculous, near-infinite contrast. Since each pixel illuminates independently, the display can achieve pitch-black darkness and juxtapose it with bright highlights. The steep contrast ratio plays a big part in how rich and true-to-life colors look on the TabPro, particularly when the display is set to Samsung’s “Basic” mode.
There's always a good amount of hand-wringing when it comes to AMOLED's reputation for burn-ins, but our lab tests revealed that, although AMOLED and OLED displays are susceptible to some burn-in, the issue is not as catastrophic as people might think, particularly as the technology improves.
What We Don't Like
Docking the keyboard is inelegant.
A connecting keyboard is an important feature of 2-in-1s, because, well, presumably you’ll be spending at least some of your time using it. And how the keyboard feels isn’t the only thing to consider, because with 2-in-1s, there’s a whole lot of engaging and disengaging going on between the office desk and the living room couch.
The TabPro’s keyboard is in the style of a dust jacket where the inside of the back cover is the keyboard itself. At the top of the keyboard is a magnetic dock that brings the tablet upright. The front cover features two creases that fold inward to create a stand. If we continue with the dust jacket analogy, imagine folding the front of the jacket in a few places to create a kickstand for the hard cover of the book.
The actual mechanics of the docking components are kind of neat, but in practice, it ends up being more of a nuisance than a convenience. For one thing, there are only two reclining options—one at around a 65° angle, and one at around 35°—and both are just a hair away from what would be a preferred angle.
The other issue I find myself having with the cover is how little support it offers, especially at the more upright of the two reclining options. The TabPro is not a heavy device in the grand scheme of things, but its 1.5 pounds are quite formidable when up against the tablets wafer-thin cover. This makes the docked TabPro sufficiently top-heavy, and even resting it on your lap can make it wobble to a dangerous degree.
Samsung’s software feels undercooked and oddly-implemented.
Despite the Galaxy moniker, this is a Windows 2-in-1 through and through. Samsung has made an effort to incorporate some of its own bells and whistles into the mix, but unfortunately, they mostly range from frustrating to useless.
For starters, there’s a host of Samsung-specific settings buried away in submenus. Samsung’s software update tools are at least somewhat useful in terms of organizing and downloading updates, but it’s one of the few instances where Samsung’s presence smooths things over rather than wrinkle them.
And then there’s Samsung Flow—software that allows Galaxy smartphone users to unlock the TabPro from their phone’s fingerprint scanner as well as keep track of notifications from their phone on the TabPro.
It’s an interesting attempt to meld the Samsung Android experience with Windows, but I didn’t find myself using it nearly as much as I expected to. And, like some of the other Samsung elements transplanted into Windows 10, the features are awkward to use and hard to keep track of at times.
A lack of essentials
Being a 2-in-1, the TabPro doesn't need much by way of ports and storage in order to satisfy its basic functions, but it would ultimately be nice to have more than one single USB port. There's also no expandable storage slot, so the TabPro's rather paltry 128GB of memory is all you have to work with.
Should You Buy It?
The Samsung Galaxy TabPro S is arguably more successful as a tablet than a 2-in-1, and that’s mostly due to its cumbersome keyboard and awkward stand angles.
But if you can get past the shakiness of the TabPro trying to be your next ultrabook, there’s a lot to appreciate about it. From the sleek, highly-portable design, to the respectable hardware underneath, the Galaxy TabPro S truly feels like a premium device.
But as far as 2-in-1s go, the TabPro left me wanting more. I wanted the experience to be effortless, and frankly, it rarely did. At the end of the day, switching from “tablet” mode to “laptop” mode should be second nature, not groan-inducing.
If you’re looking for something closer to an ultrabook for roughly the same price, last year’s MacBook Air is an excellent competitor. It's obviously doesn't provide the flexibility of a 2-in-1, but if you're anything like me, you'll probably find the MacBook Air to be more of a "lappable" device.
There’s also the recent Microsoft Surface Pro 4, if you don’t mind forking over a little more dough for its keyboard, which isn't included out-of-the-box. Yes, the Surface Pro 4 is going to make a bigger dent in your wallet, but it's better-equipped for sitting on your lap and its kickstand offers greater flexibility.