The Samsung Galaxy Tab Active didn't receive nearly as much attention as the bending TVs or the curved Note Edge smartphone, but it's no less a remarkable product. Rather, its apparent brightness is dimmed only because the Tab Active is aimed at business professionals rather than consumers.
In fact, Samsung won't even be selling the Tab Active in retail. But if you work in an industry that requires a powerful tablet companion to get the job done, you may want to ask your IT department for an upgrade.
The Tab Active is the first rugged, water resistant, business-built tablet that consumers would actually want to buy. And given the bring-your-own-device trend that's been hitting the enterprise, the Tab Active will likely please both employees and IT.
The Tab Active is dustproof and shockproof, meaning it can withstand some dirt, drops, and tumbles. Try doing that with your iPad Air. The tablet has built-in NFC, a removable battery, and a POGO pin charging port for powering multiple tablets. And one of the best things about the Tab Active is that it looks better than a lot of consumer-oriented Galaxy devices.
Design & Usability
I don't think I can emphasize this enough. As business tablets go, the Tab Active is hot, hot, hot. This isn't your old Panasonic ToughBook.
The body is rugged with a special rubbery plastic protecting it. There are also metal accents on the back that almost look like laptop feet. The back plate can also be removed to replace the battery, as well as pop in a SIM card or a micro SD card. This makes it easy for professionals to swap out storage and batteries on the go.
Despite the protection and removable backplate, the Tab Active is only 9.75 mm thick. With its 8-inch size and light weight, the tablet was pretty easy to hold one-handed, although people with small hands may have a hard time.
The 8-inch, 1280 x 800 screen looks great. Under the Gorilla Glass, the display is surrounded by a silver-grey finish. The only issue I immediately spotted was the lack of glare resistance. Samsung's booth had very harsh lighting that reflected badly off of the tablet.
The camera quality is a clear concession to the fact that this is a business-oriented tablet. The rear camera is 3.1 megapixels while the front-facing camera is 1.2 megapixels, and it really shows. I snapped a few pictures and a quick selfie on the showfloor and they all came out pixelated and noisy. It will probably be good enough for business-related pictures, but you aren't going to get anything high quality out of these cameras.
Then there's the C-Pen. It's designed to work when wearing gloves (i.e. factory floors, job sites, etc.) so it's likely quite sturdy, but it lacks the finer qualities of the Note S-Pen.
Much of Samsung's messaging around the Tab Active has been in regards to security. IT professionals in companies large and small are frequently harangued by co-workers who want to use their mobile devices for work, only to be held in check—quite rightly—due to security concerns.
Samsung KNOX is the company's solution to a world in which leaky Android devices are inevitably coming into the workplace, being used to store and distribute sensitive information. KNOX works by creating a virtual container around job-related data and apps, walling them off from the personal data and services you have stored on the same device. IT professionals and the hopelessly geeky can read all about how it works.
While there are certainly headaches involved in creating safe frameworks for bring-your-own-device (BYOD) workplaces, at the end of the day KNOX is the best solution on the market for Android devices.
There is one odd addition to the software on the Tab Active, and that's a phone dialer. It isn't unusual for tablets to have cellular connectivity, especially when you're in a business environment, but a full-fledged phone dialer on an 8-inch tablet? You can probably agree that you will look pretty ridiculous using the Tab Active as a phone. But I suppose this will effectively replace two work devices, which could save businesses a lot of money in the long term.
The Take Away
Given the limited latitude that one can have on a trade show floor, I can still say that the Galaxy Tab Active is one of the best Samsung devices I've tried out. And it's a real shame that this tablet will only be sold to businesses, not consumers. The tablet is compact, light, and built to take a beating. It's also a pretty beautiful piece of hardware.
With a few minor mods—a better camera and stylus, notably—Samsung could have a solid consumer product on its hands. But that's not the objective this time around. The Tab Active is squarely aimed for the professional sphere, and particularly environments in which an iPad or a Note would be deemed too fragile.
Combined with business-grade security software, the Tab Active meets many of the requirements for the enterprise and grittier fields like construction or shipping. You might be able to adapt an iPad Air to those needs, but Samsung is betting that professionals will prefer hardware that is more tailored to their needs. With all the consumer focus in tablets, it's refreshing to see the Tab Active offer something more unique.