Hands on: Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.5 (2018) review

A quick look at Samsung's budget tablet

What is a hands on review?
Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.5 review
Image Credit: TechRadar

Early Verdict

Samsung's budget tablet definitely 'feels' budget – and it's a little hard to recommend when an iPad barely costs any more.

For

  • Low(ish) price tag
  • Latest Android OS
  • Bright display

Against

  • Slow performance
  • Heavy build

While the smartphone market is booming with competition, the tablet market is a less diverse affair with Apple dominating with its iPad range. There are still competitors though, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.5 is one of the slates taking a swing at the tablet king.

Samsung's Galaxy Tab A range is the South Korean firm's answer to the entry-level iPads, most recently the iPad (2018). With a cheaper price tag and lesser specs than the iPad, Samsung's aiming for the casual user, who isn't going to be using their tablet for intensive or work-heavy tasks.

But how does the Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.5 stack up, and if you're looking for a tablet, is this the way to go? We've spent some time with the slate to find out.

Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.5 (2018) price and availability

Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.5 review

Image credit: TechRadar

You can pick up the Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.5 in most countries, through a range of retailers including Samsung's online shop. 

One area the new Galaxy Tab A 10.5 isn't available is Australia, but other Samsung Galaxy Tab A models are, so you can still buy affordable slates if you want.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.5 price is $419 / £299 (roughly AU$600) for the LTE+ WiFi model, making it cheaper than Apple's most affordable iPad 9.7 (2018) which costs $459 / £449 / AU$669 for LTE+ WiFi. 

You are spending more than you would for one of Amazon's tablets like the equally-sized Amazon Fire HD 10 at $150/£150 (around AU$195), although there's no LTE connectivity here.

If you want to spend a little less, the Wi-Fi only Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.5 price is $329 / £249 (roughly AU$470), compared to $329 / £319 / AU$469 for the latest base iPad, so in the US the Apple tablet is actually the same price, but elsewhere Samsung undercuts it.

Design and display

With a 10-inch screen, the Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.5 is a fairly large tablet, and it clearly looks bigger than a phone, unlike some of the smaller Galaxy Tab A models. This display is an LCD screen, with 1200 x 1920 resolution, leading for a fairly low 216 pixels per inch. 

Images shown on the screen aren't particularly sharp, and icons on the home screen do look a little bit fuzzy round the edges. Colors shown on the screen look a little pale and washed-out, and the display has the common LCD issue of black reproduction being poor – black is shown by shining all the colors on for each pixel, instead of all turned off like in LED screens, making blacks look strangely dark.

The display does come with the main advantage of LCD too, which is that max brightness is impressively high – you'll definitely be able to use this in the sun. It also has a 19:9 aspect ratio, unlike the iPad's ungainly 4:3, making it a more natural fit when it comes to watching videos and playing games.

When you're holding the tablet, it feels a little heavy, and at 529g it's definitely a bulky slate. We found the Galaxy Tab A 10.5 much easier to hold in landscape, as in portrait this weight felt a little unbalanced.

In terms of dimensions, you're looking at  260 x 161.1 x 8 mm, and the screen takes most of the space – the bezels are rather thin compared to what you'd see on Samsung's older tablets. 

Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.5 review

Image credit: TechRadar

The bezel is occupied only be a front-facing 5MP camera, which is matched by an 8MP snapper on the back. Around the edges you'll find a USB-C port, headphone jack, SIM and microSD port, power button and volume rocker, which is everything and more you'd expect on a device like this. There are also sensors for various peripherals, as well as four stereo speakers.

In general the design and display matches the 'budget' nature of the slate – the display feels a little weak, but that's understandable for an affordable tablet, and the existence of a 3.5mm headphone jack and microSD card support will be extra useful for certain types of user.

Battery life and camera

The camera, as can be expected for a tablet, isn't particularly impressive – there aren't as many features for it as you'd normally find on a smartphone camera, and its resolution at 8MP is a little low.

It's the 5MP camera we'd expect to use more, for video calls and facial recognition for various apps and unlocking.

The main issue we had with the camera, both front and back, was that the app felt slow and jittery – this is a problem that is likely due to the weak processing power, which we'll get into later, but the camera noticeably slowed the tablet down. Face unlocking was very hit-and miss too, and we usually found ourselves ignoring it.

Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.5 review

Image credit: TechRadar

While the camera is weak, the battery definitely isn't – we played a few rounds of PUBG mobile without the charge percentage taking a noticeable hit, and charging up the device felt fairly fluid too.

We'll need to test how much streaming media, working, and everyday use drains the battery, as well as charging speeds, when we work on our full review of the tablet – but for now we're fairly confident in complimenting the Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.5's battery life, which is an advantage for it given that iPads typically don't last too long.

Specs and performance

The biggest problem we had with the Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.5 is that it just felt incredibly slow to use. Whether navigating the user interface (UI), downloading and opening apps, or playing games, the tablet felt jittery and slow. 

Games frequently froze, apps crashed now and then, and as we've already said the camera app felt incredibly slow.

This was most annoying when we tried to type with the on-screen keyboard, as it was often several characters behind us,

You can thank the low price tag for the slow performance – powering the slate is an Snapdragon 450 chipset, which we've seen in budget smartphones such as the Moto G6

When we ran some benchmark tests on the tablet, they returned a multi-core score of 3,507, which would be low for a smartphone but just feels sub-par for a tablet. 

Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.5 review

Samsung's One UI. Image credit: TechRadar

The tablet runs on Android 9, so it's advanced in that sense, and overlaid on top is Samsung's One UI, which changes the home page layout and app icon design slightly. 

We don't find this UI as garish as some others, but like all design changes it can be divisive, so check it out before you decide to buy a Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.5.

Early verdict

The Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.5 feels like an awkward middle child – if you're buying a slate for the extra screen real estate then Amazon's weak but cheap offerings are all you need, but if you're looking for better processing power for work or play then Apple has that portion of the tablet market under lock. 

Instead, the Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.5 provides medicore specs but at a strangely elevated cost.

In short, the Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.5 feels a little too expensive to justify its weak specs, and it's hard to recommend it when the iPad 9.7 (2018) costs barely any more money.

We're going to test out the Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.5 a lot more before we write our final review – at the moment we're not totally impressed with the tablet, but with devices like this, there's usually some great functions or uses that it takes a while to discover. Stay tuned for that full review in the coming weeks.

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.