Hands on: Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 review

Samsung's pro tablet gets touched up with new features

What is a hands on review?
Samsung Galaxy Tab S6

Early Verdict

The Galaxy Tab S6 is a faster, slimmer upgrade with a handier stylus – but its quality-of-life improvements might not be groundbreaking enough to unseat the iPad Pro as the king of professional tablets. Still, if you liked its predecessor, the new device is worth sizing up as a powerful work device.

For

  • S Pen is much better integrated
  • Finally, pro specs!
  • Keyboard case is finally good

Against

  • Pricey for its utility
  • Unclear if fancy stylus gestures will be useful

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 brings the mission statement of the series – a non-Apple tablet serving as a laptop-replacing professional machine – closer to reality. Thanks to a few crucial upgrades, it seriously contends with the most recent iPad Pro 11, but at a somewhat lower cost.

Some of these refinements are obvious, like slimming down the body and integrating the S Pen stylus to clip onto, and recharge from, the Galaxy Tab S6 itself. 

Others are less clear, like giving the tablet-as-desktop feature DeX a shortcut on the revamped optional Book Cover Keyboard. It's not quite the generational leap that justifies hopping from the previous Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 to the Tab S6 (Samsung opted not to release a Tab S5, and instead focused on its more affordable Galaxy Tab S5e) but it's still progress.

As a result, the tablet is more appealing than ever. With the most powerful mobile chipset yet, it's a strong alternative to the iPad Pro with its lower price tag and included stylus. Keep in mind that Samsung's devices are often even cheaper during deals seasons, elevating their value over Apple's rarely-discounted tablets.

Whether it's worth the money, though, is partly down to personal preference, as the starting price is a good chunk of the way towards picking up a discrete 2-in-1 or laptop. Despite packing arguably the same S Pen as the brand new Samsung Galaxy Note 10, the Tab S6 has the added real estate of a tablet, which is a must for most productivity.

If you're set on a top-tier professional tablet, your options pretty much boil down to the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 vs. iPad Pro (2018). If you're set on the Samsung Tab series, the choice is mostly between the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 vs. Samsung Galaxy Tab S4, just going for its now-discounted predecessor.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S6

(Image credit: Future)

Price analysis

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 release date for the Wi-Fi-only variant is September 6, and it will be available online and in stores starting at $649 / AU$1,099 (about £530) for the base 6GB RAM/128GB storage model. We don't have specific prices for other regions yet, but it will be available in stores and online in late August.

Galaxy Tab S6 pre-orders begin at Samsung.com on August 23, while an LTE edition will be available later in the year at an undisclosed price.

You can pick up the tablet in Mountain Gray, Cloud Blue, and Rose Blush colors, and if you pre-order or pick up a Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 before September 22, you can get the refreshed Book Cover Keyboard for 50% off.

Samsung has also announced its Galaxy Watch Active 2 smartwatch separately from the tablet, and it's also expected to be introducing the Galaxy Note 10 at an Unpacked event scheduled for August 7.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S6

(Image credit: Future)

Design

Let’s get the design tweaks to the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 itself out of the way first, because all of the most welcome refinements have been made to things other than the tablet.

The Tab S6 looks much the same as its predecessor, the Tab S4, but it’s been slimmed from 7.1mm thick down to 5.7mm, putting it just under the iPad Pro 11’s 5.9mm thickness. At 420g, it’s also lighter than the Tab S4 (480g) and iPad Pro 11 (468g).

Otherwise, the tablet is much like its predecessor, with somewhat thick bezels surrounding the 10.5-inch screen, quad Dolby Atmos-tuned speakers, and a single front-facing camera – although Samsung has trimmed 5mm from both the width and length while keeping the screen size consistent. Sadly, that comes at a price, as the 3.5mm headphone jack has disappeared.

An even bigger change? A second 5MP rear-facing camera which offers the same ultra-wide 123-degree field of view as the wide-angle lens in the Samsung Galaxy S10 phones, in addition to the 18MP main camera. The cameras are located on the rear in a circular camera bump, and below them sits the S Pen.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S6

(Image credit: Future)

S Pen stylus and keyboard cover

Unlike the Tab S4, which kept its S Pen in a holster attached to its version of the Book Cover Keyboard, the Tab S6 has a divot running down one long edge of its rear in which its stylus nestles and magnetically stays put.

Like the latest iPad Pros, the Tab S6 recharges its S Pen when it’s locked in place, and refills completely in 90 minutes.

Yes, the S Pen can be easily jostled out of its magnetic housing, so we can't see you just stashing your Tab S6 in a bag as-is – you'll likely need a case. Both first-party cases (the simple Book Cover and the Book Cover Keyboard) fold over the S Pen and lock it in place – which kind of makes them essential if you plan on using the S Pen, well, ever.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S6

(Image credit: Future)

The S Pen retains its button, which can be mapped to shortcuts (in our demo, it opened the camera app), with software developer kits set to be introduced to allow developers of third-party apps to add their own functionality.

The big addition to the S Pen this time around is Air Actions, which (while holding down the button) allow you to, in theory, control various functions. While this worked with simple directional jabs – say, flicking the S Pen left and right to switch photo modes – the more complex gestures (like circular twirling to zoom in and out) were harder to pull off. 

Given that we saw a Tab S6 with early software, we’ll give Samsung the benefit of the doubt and anticipate that this feature will get better... but right now it's not that useful.

(Image credit: Future)

The Book Cover Keyboard has also been revamped - most notably by splitting it in two. Folks were encumbered if they didn’t have enough space to deploy the full keyboard, according to a Samsung rep, so they split it in two: now you can yank off the bottom half if you just want the stand, which sticks securely to the back via press-hard suction adhesive strips. 

The keyboard half is worlds better than its predecessor: it’s extended to include a decent trackpad (and surrounding wrist rests) with a less-cramped key spread. And, of course, it’s got new shortcuts that make things a bit easier, like switching to DeX. 

All told, the new Book Cover feels like it would be just fine for casual to moderate typing, and arguably a necessity for anyone attempting to seriously work with their tablet.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S6

(Image credit: Future)

Display

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 inherited its 10.5-inch (2,560x1,600) Super AMOLED touchscreen from its predecessor, and it doesn’t look like much has changed: it’s the same bright, usable screen, though with about 2.5mm less bezel on each side.

The Tab S6 does get one new thing: an in-screen fingerprint sensor, much like the rest of Samsung’s device slate in 2019. 

This should relieve anyone annoyed by the Tab S4’s reliance on facial recognition to log in and authenticate, and a nice little bragging point over the iPad Pro.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S6

(Image credit: Future)

Camera

We didn’t have much chance to use the cameras, but they don’t seem to be much changed from the Tab S4, with a returning 8MP front-facing camera and 13MP main rear shooter. 

The new 5MP ultrawide lens is the big news here, and like we saw on the Samsung Galaxy S10 phones, it pulls back to fit more context into your shots.

How much that will matter is up for debate - it’s unclear how many Tab S6 owners will actually use it to take photos. But at a hands-on roundtable, Samsung made clear they still cater to those who duly whip out their tablet to take shots. 

Samsung Galaxy Tab S6

(Image credit: Future)

Specs, performance and battery

We didn’t think the Tab S4 particularly suffered from running a year-old Snapdragon 835 processor, but the Tab S6 has upgraded anyway - it packs the new Snapdragon 855 chipset, which we’ve only seen in a handful of phones thus far this year. 

The RAM has also been bumped up to either 6GB or 8GB options, with corresponding increases to 128GB storage or 256GB, respectively. 

While this will make general browsing even smoother, we expect this to make the Galaxy Tab S6 run seamlessly during processor-intensive tasks. 

We didn’t see any slowdown when running DeX, for example, on a 24-inch monitor with Netflix playing on the tablet while we browsed around on the big screen. We’ll have to put the tablet through more rigorous testing for our full review to see if it crashed when running non-Samsung apps, as we experienced with the Tab S4.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 has a smaller 7,040mAh battery than its predecessor (7,300mAh), though Samsung is still claiming a full day of battery on a charge. 

Samsung Galaxy Tab S6

(Image credit: Future)

Early verdict

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 is an upgrade over the Tab S4 in some key ways - not innovations that radically change the tablet industry, but quality-of-life improvements that make the device better for casual and professional use. 

Whether it will unseat the iPad Pro as the best laptop replacement for professionals everywhere isn’t clear from here, especially with the more tablet-tailored features coming to iPadOS. DeX may be easier to access, but it’s still short of the windowed desktop experience that makes laptops and 2-in-1s simply more familiar for workflows.

What is clear: if you’re a Samsung diehard, or at least locked into the Android ecosystem, the Tab S6 is a solid and powerful tablet with specs to keep it running snappy for years. 

What is a hands on review?

Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.