Samsung Galaxy Tab Active review

Is Samsung's WiFi-only tablet rugged enough?

Samsung Galaxy Tab Active review

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The Galaxy Tab Active, with an 8.0 inch screen aspires to be a ruggedized alternative to Google's 8.9" Nexus 9 and Apple's 7.9" iPad mini. While the Tab Active winds up at the high end of the price range, it's not competing with those models on processor power. The Tab Active, which runs on a 1.2 GHz, Quad-Core, Qualcomm processor, does not seem all that impressive when compared to the Nexus 9's 64-bit NVIDIA 2.3GHz Tegra K1 Dual Denver Processor or the iPad Mini 3's 64-bit A7 processor.

Features that will make the Tab Active appealing to businesses are it's internal security. Samsung touts the device as being "Built Enterprise-Ready" with their Samsung Knox security, in addition to it being Certified Citrix-Ready and SAP-Certified for SAP Work Manager and SAP CRM Service Manager. Those aren't shiny specs, but you don't see the Nexus 9 or the iPad Mini 3 coming out of the box ready for your team.

Samsung Galaxy Tab Active review

The one glaring omission from the Tab Active is a cellular radio. We're supposed to be buying into a $700 tablet that's meant for the elements, but loses most of its functionality when you are away from WiFi? You can get an iPad Mini 3 with the same size hard drive, with a cellular radio, for only $529. With the remaining money you can get a ruggedized case from a company like Logitech, Griffin, or Otterbox, and still have money left over, since all of those are priced at $80 or less.

The paltry 16GB hard drive space smacks of what Apple does with its entry level machines, but Samsung selling that size at this price is a shocker. You can get a WiFi only iPad Mini 3 with 128GB of storage and it will only run you $599. Meanwhile, the Nexus 9 has the same 16GB hard drive, sports a cellular modem that can connect to Quad-band GSM, CDMA, Penta-band HSPA, and LTE networks, and only costs $399. So with the Tab Active, you are paying a premium for the case's protection and their enterprise-specific software. I literally cannot imagine another use case.

Spec Sheet

  • Processor: 1.2 GHz, Quad-Core Qualcomm APQ
  • Display: 8.0" WXGA (1280 x 800) LCD Display with 400 Nits Brightness
  • Memory: 1.5 GB RAM
  • Storage: 16 GB GB SSD
  • Wireless: 802.11 a/b/g/n WiFi, BT 4.0
  • Camera: 1.2 MP front-facing camera, 3.1MP rear-facing Auto Focus camera with LED Flash
  • Ports: micro USB 2.0, Pogo charging port
  • Weight: 0.84 pounds (0.39kg)
  • Size: 4.97 x 0.38 x 8.39 inches (12.62 x .975 x 21.31 cm) (W x D x H)


As a computer, the Tab Active was a wonder to use. The battery lasted about 13 hours and forty-five fourteen hours of real life use. That test ran on Wifi only with brightness at a very strong setting, and went through Google Apps usage, Netflix & Spotify streaming, and various social media networks. When I ran the PCMark 8 battery benchmark, it delivered a work battery life of six hours 56 minutes.

Samsung Galaxy Tab Active review

Comparatively, the Tab Active does well against the competition, making the most of its size. It's worth noting that one of the Toughpad's most notable failures was a poor battery life of a mere six hours. The Nexus 9 recorded about 1.5 days of usage, while the iPad Mini 3 has a similarly strong battery. The iPad Mini 3 battery, according to our review, can last a few days if the use isn't rigorous, and the same can be said for the Tab Active.

During my testing, the screen's image quality didn't exactly leave me glowing with positivity, but it's of note that at this size, even Apple doesn't perform well for color gamut and accuracy.

Unfortunately, the ruggedness of the device did not prove itself. Samsung's claim that the device can endure up-to-4-foot-high drops onto wood floors did not live up to a test with a less than four-foot drop onto a coated and more shock absorbent floor. The screen would pop out, and pop back in, in the first two drop tests I did. A third fall, though, an actual accident and not an intentional test fall, led to the display no longer lighting up. The Tab Active continued to make noises with alerts, but without a functioning screen it was no longer worthwhile. (Editor's note: Samsung is looking into why this occurred and has promised to provide us with an explanation.)

Samsung Galaxy Tab Active review

A replacement unit sent stood up to the New York winter well. Taking photos out in the streets, it received random acts of water frequently, from ice melting off building facades and fire escapes to taking a tumble or two in the snow. That replacement unit was also a champ at the fall tests. The screen didn't even pop off, podcasts kept playing, and the screen kept going.

In a test in the Samsung office, a third unit survived several falls and was able to remain submerged under a foot of water without suffering any performance issues.

Samsung Galaxy Tab Active review

Hopefully that first unit was a rare lemon.


  • 3D Mark: Ice Storm 2859
  • PCMark 8 Work benchmark: 2662
  • PCMark Work Battery Life: 6:56

The Geekbench 3 benchmark test resulted in a single-core Score of 340, with a Multi-Core Score of 1156. Compared against the competition, the Tab Active doesn't stand up well here either, as the Nexus 9 averaged a 1939 in the Single-Core Score, and a 3326 Multi-Core Score, and the iPad Mini 3 posted a 1374 for single-core and a 2484 for multi-core.

Sure enough, Nexus 9 benchmarks indicate that behind the unexceptional display is a more than powerful chipset, as shown by its GeekBench 3 results. Tests indicated that the tablet averaged a 3326 multi-core score next to the iPad Air 2's 4500 multi-core score. As a dual-core processor, the Tegra K1's single-core GeekBench 3 score actually surpassed that of the new iPad. The Nexus 9 averaged a single-core score, while one core of iPad's three-core processor averaged an 1815 score in similar tests.

Bundled software

What can I say about Samsung's horrible TouchWiz user interface that countless critics haven't already mentioned? I'm guessing businesses won't care about that horrid experience, so I'll just be thankful on behalf of users everywhere that it can easily be supplanted with something like Nova Prime.

Samsung's pre-loaded apps, their alternatives to Google's free services? Again, it's no news that they're all even blander than their names (Contact, Email, Internet, Camera, Gallery, Music, Video, My Files, Settings, S Planner, Calculator, Memo) suggest, but if you're like me, you'll load them once and then go running to the Google Play store to replace all of them. Even the Tab Active's native camera app should be ditched in favor of Google Camera.

The Tab Active also comes with Hancom Office Viewer, an unknown office suite replacement. I don't know what team in their right mind would accept this app on sight. Again, it can be replaced.