Samsung’s meteoric rise to becoming a global powerhouse has been fuelled by its popular Galaxy Android smartphone and tablet range. Alongside the seemingly unstoppable flow of consumer devices, Samsung has grown a small but profitable ruggedised portfolio of devices of which the Galaxy Tab Active3 rugged tablet is the newest member. This product targets companies looking for a compact, hardwearing Android-based tablet to be used by field-based operatives and outdoor employees.
Pricing and availability
The Galaxy Tab Active3 looks like an enhanced version of the Galaxy A 8-inch tablet although truth be said, there’s not much that they share other than the form factor and parent company. The corners on the Active3 rounded and reinforced giving it a slightly retro look; that is necessary to prevent screen damage when hitting a hard surface on the said corners. Ditto for the large bezels that make it look more like a photo frame than a tablet.
At 126.8 x 213.8 x 9.9mm for a weight of only 429g, it is surprisingly compact and maneuverable albeit with two hands. A 5,050mAh battery accounts for a big portion of the weight; it is removable and hides behind a toolless backplate. That’s not the only removable accessory though; there’s also what Samsung calls an “inbox cover” which houses the dust-and water resistant S Pen, Samsung’s iconic stylus.
The 8-inch screen is a WUXGA PLS TFT LCD with a 16:10 aspect ratio (and a 1920 x 1200 pixel resolution) and is fairly bright, with good readability even in bright sunshine. There’s also a microSD card slot with a single SIM card holder on the left above POGO pins. At the front is a 5-megapixel front facing camera as well as three physical navigation buttons - great for when you use gloves - while there’s a 13-megapixel camera at the back.
On the right hand side side, there’s a dedicated button called the “Active Key” which gives instant access to the apps or programs used most often; that comes handy great for emergency calls, scanning or Push-to-Talk and much more. Note that Samsung has the volume rocker, the active key and the power button on the same side.
The bottom hides a speaker grill, a Type-C connector and an audio jack, the last two are not protected by any flap which can be a problem if there’s dust, lint or water ingress. Note that there’s no status LEDs, so you won’t know when the tablet is fully charged.
As expected, the tablet is MIL-STD-810H certified, great for most extreme environments; Samsung says that its enhanced shock absorption will withstand drops of up to 1.5 meters with the bundled inbox protective cover. It is also IP68 rated which makes it dustproof and water resistant.
Here are the full specs of the Samsung Galaxy Tab Active3:
CPU: Exynos 9810
GPU: Mali-G72 MP18
Screen size: 8-inch
Ports: 1 x USB 3.0, 1 x USB-C, audio jack, charging port
Connectivity: Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC with EMV Level 1
Dimensions: 213.8 x 126.8 x 9.9 mm
Rear camera: 13MP
Front camera: 5MP
OS: Android 10
Battery: 5.05 mAh
At the heart of the Active3 is the 2018 Samsung Exynos 9810, an 8-core processor that was also used by the Samsung Galaxy S9 (at least some versions) and Galaxy Note 9. It is still a very capable processor that supports 4G and is paired with 4GB RAM and 64GB internal storage.
Alongside Wi-Fi 6 connectivity with MIMO, there’s the user replaceable battery that supports fast charging through USB (up to 15W) and POGO pins, Bluetooth 5.0. The Tab Active 3 also supports NFC with EMV Level 1 for payment.
Performance and in use
Don’t expect miracles with the Active3, Samsung hasn’t pulled all stop to produce a flagship tablet. That means that you get the level of performance you’d expect from an entry level smartphone but with souped up storage. If there’s one thing that Samsung didn’t skimp on, that’s the storage; read/write speeds, on sustained and random benchmarks, are very good.
This is how the Samsung Galaxy Tab Active3 performed in our suite of benchmark tests:
Geekbench: 706 (single core); 2095 (multi core); 4130 (compute)
PCMark (Work 2.0): 5877
Passmark CPU: 24714
Androbench (sequential): 872MBps (sequential read); 247MBps (sequential write)
Androbench (random): 137MBps (random read); 139MBps (random write)
3DMark Wild Life Vulkan: 2307
3DMark Slingshot: 3021
3DMark Slingshot Extreme: 3947
Samsung has added a new feature to the tablet called a “No Battery Mode” for power without a battery which is useful for example, when powering an interactive kiosk. Also part of the package is Samsung Dex, a proprietary technology which allows PC-like experience when plugged into a compatible (or even non-compatible) docking station, enabling dual-screen functionality.
Knox by Samsung is also a welcomed addition; this defense-grade security platform can also be customized by IT administrators to manage the programs and apps used across a business, running alongside existing MDM services.
The Galaxy Tab Active3 can make phone calls (for the LTE version) and is also optimized for camera-based barcode scanning, an add-on that will help retailers easily manage inventory and scan products for purchase.
Another useful feature is Touch Sensitivity which allows professionals to continue using the Tab Active3 while wearing gloves. Beyond the hardware, Samsung has confirmed that it will support up to three generations of Android OS upgrades, from Android 10 to Android 12, the latter being expected to land in September 2021.
Rivals to the Samsung Galaxy Tab Active3 will be rugged by default with a new Android OS, 4G connectivity and a fairly decent hardware setup (eight cores, at least 4GB RAM and 64GB onboard storage).
The Panasonic Toughbook A3 is perhaps the most potent rival albeit with a much higher price point and although it runs on Android 9.0 and is bigger (at 10.1-inch), it has a number of features that make it a better choice for larger enterprises. Features such as dual hot-swappable batteries for uninterrupted work, a wide range of accessories (1D or 2D scanners, smartcard reader) and three-year warranty.
The Zebra ET56 is an 8.4-inch alternative to the Active3 with a much higher screen resolution and battery capacity. However, it offers IP65 only and its onboard storage capacity is only half that of the Active3. Like the aforementioned Panasonic tablet, it targets large scale deployment by offering a more versatile set of accessories and a deeper level of support.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab Active3 is an unrivalled rugged device if you’re looking for an Android tablet that will be operated by field personnel or anyone looking for an outdoor, durable slate powered by Google’s ubiquitous operating system.
It is as close to perfection as you will probably get. Thin and light with 4G connectivity, Android 10, the sort of support you can expect from a global company like Samsung and little touches like a fingerprint sensor, Dex, Knox, the removable battery and the customizable button.
There are some weak spots: the lack of flaps for the connectors, the absence of status LEDs, the rather poor camera sensors and, given what the tablet has inside (essentially a Samsung Galaxy S9 Active with a bigger screen), it is rather expensive.
However they are minor cons compared to the overall value for money that the Active3 procures.
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