A new iPad Air sounds a lot less tempting now that I've tried Samsung's new tablets

Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra
(Image credit: Future)

I generally don't like big gadgets. I hate having to stretch my fingers around a giant phone, or clamp bulky smartwatches around my wrist, or crane my neck to look at massive screens. That's why the iPad Air 4 seemed perfect for me - it was a lovely, portable little champ that, in terms of size, was just right.

With news that Apple has confirmed its March launch event, rumors are swirling about what we'll see - and an iPad Air 5 is one of the top choices. Leakers seem pretty convinced that Apple's next mid-range tablet is on its way.

You'd think that I'd be excited by this news: a successor to this lovely Air tablet might be coming! However I recently had my head turned by something I thought I'd hate - the absolutely gigantic Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra.

Bigger is... better?

I often find it hard to predict how I'll feel about gadgets until I've fully tested them out, and I regularly get blindsided by devices I didn't expect to like (or didn't expect to dislike).

That was the case with Samsung's new 14.6-inch super-tablet, a device which is much bigger than any other slate on the market, and which I initially thought would be too unwieldy to use properly.

iPad Air 4

The iPad Air 4. (Image credit: TechRadar)

Well, I was wrong. I really enjoyed using the thing for taking notes, doodling, working, watching Netflix - it was a dream. My qualms about this baby-sized tablet quickly vanished while using the thing. 

In short, I liked the thing a lot more than I expected to, which made for an easy review to write. But it's not as great now that this Apple event has been announced.

How big is 'big'?

Going from the 14.6-inch Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra to my 12.9-inch iPad Pro felt like quite a step down in terms of size - I had to rest the slate a little closer to me when streaming things, and I often went to sketch or doodle and found me accidentally using up all the canvas too quickly.

Rumors suggest the iPad Air 5 could be 10.9 inches across, which is another case of serious shrinkage for me.  I'm going to have to squint to see anything.

Of course, this is a very limited problem. Not everyone tests gadgets for their job. But there are other things that the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra convinced me tablets need, that I don't imagine the new iPad Air will have.

Samsung's wins

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra comes with an S Pen stylus. For iPads, you always have to buy the Apple Pencil separately. That alone is a major reason that the iPad Air might seem like a tough sell - you have to shell out loads of extra cash.

Plus, there's a good chance that the new iPad Air will have an LCD screen, as previous iPads (save a few Pro models) have had. This just pales in comparison to the AMOLED panels on the Galaxy Tab S8 devices. AMOLED has much more vibrant colors, far better contrast, and higher max brightness.

Since I use my tablet lots for streaming, this is a major win for Samsung.

I was also impressed by the battery life in the Tab S8 Ultra. Now, I know 'bad battery life' is a complaint about Apple devices that's so common that it's lost its meaning, but in my 2018 iPad Pro, I often find I can't simply go to a coffee shop and write without having to plug the thing in while I'm there.

Before you start to write emails 'of course battery life would drop over four years' - I haven't actually been using it that long, I'm just referring to which model it is.

Of course, there are also reasons to prefer iPads over Android tablets. They have a better selection of apps, they play well with other Apple devices, and there's a much bigger selection of third-party accessories to buy for them.

But I always used to claim Apple held the 'best tablet' throne in an iron grip - after testing the Tab S8 Ultra, though, I'm a little less excited for whatever the next iPad might have to offer.

Tom Bedford

Tom Bedford was deputy phones editor on TechRadar until late 2022, having worked his way up from staff writer. Though he specialized in phones and tablets, he also took on other tech like electric scooters, smartwatches, fitness, mobile gaming and more. He is based in London, UK and now works for the entertainment site What To Watch.

He graduated in American Literature and Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. Prior to working on TechRadar, he freelanced in tech, gaming and entertainment, and also spent many years working as a mixologist. He also currently works in film as a screenwriter, director and producer.