Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 review: An excellent tablet at a premium price

Searching for a particular piece of video content returns results sorted by delivery system. In other words, if you search for "Thor," Watch On returns a number of matching options. Choosing the "Thor (2011)" movie option takes you to an information page with its Rotten Tomatoes score, sharing options, IMDb info, and related content. Then, tapping the "Watch Now" button shows a list of video delivery services like Samsung's Media Hub and Blockbuster Video. You then choose through which service to watch the movie, and that service's app will launch and take you directly to the "Thor" page, where you can choose to stream, purchase, or rent the video.

I know that this is available on Netflix. Screenshot by Eric Franklin/CNET

The service requires that you've both created and signed in with your Samsung account. Unfortunately, it's not yet compatible with all media apps. After searching an episode of the original "Star Trek," I only had the option to watch it via Samsung's own Media Hub service or Hulu Plus. Not Netflix, despite its availability there. The app also doesn't appear to be compatible with TV shows and movies available on the Google Play store.

Hardware features
The 8-inch Tab 3 houses a 1.5GHz dual-core Exynos 4 Dual (4212) CPU and 1.5GB of RAM, and includes support for 802.11 a/b/g/n (2.4GHz and 5GHz) Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, and GPS, as well as gyroscope, accelerometer, and a digital compass.

Performance
The Tab 3 houses an 8-inch screen with a 1,280x800-pixel-resolution screen. That's 189 pixels per inch (ppi) compared with 163 on the iPad Mini, and the relative difference in clarity is immediate and dramatic, especially with fonts. Fonts on the Note 8 lack the jaggy, unpolished look they deliver on the iPad Mini. Tab 3 fonts are clear and sharp, and the screen's sharpness is only buoyed by its extremely bright and colorful plane line switching (PLS) panel. Three screen presets are included: Dynamic, Standard, and Movie. Each adjusts the screen's contrast to be more appropriate to the setting.

Tested spec Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Apple iPad Mini Google Nexus 7
Maximum brightness 395 cd/m2 458 cd/m2 399 cd/m2 288 cd/m2
Maximum black level 0.39 cd/m2 0.47 cd/m2 0.49 cd/m2 0.28 cd/m2
Maximum contrast ratio 1,012:1 974:1 814:1 1,028:1

The screen responds quickly to swipe requests and delivers page turns smoothly at 60 frames per second; however, there is a second-long, but still noticeable, delay after pressing the home button as the tablet sometimes appears to stall.

The Mali T400MP4 GPU is a capable if unimpressive chip for gaming. Riptide GP ran at a very playable frame rate, but never came anywhere near the 60fps smoothness I look for and have only seen rarely in tablets. Other 2D games like Angry Birds, however, look beautiful thanks to the screen's high ppi and large color palette.

Games on the Tab 3 take up the full screen. Screenshot by Eric Franklin/CNET

Just to give you an idea of its 3D performance, here are a few 3DMark test results I conducted. As with the Note 8, notice that while the Tab 3 trails behind the Nexus 7 in GPU prowess, it more than holds its own on the CPU front. Unfortunately, 3DMark has yet to be released on iOS. Once it is, I'll update this review with iPad Mini results.

Device CPU GPU RAM OS tested
Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 (8-inch) 1.5GHz dual-core Exynos 4 Dual (4212) Mali T400MP4 (quad-core) 1.5GB Android 4.2.2
Samsung Galaxy Note 8 1.6GHz quad-core Exynos 4 Quad (4412) Mali T400MP4 (quad-core) 2GB Android 4.1.2
Google Nexus 7 1.2GHz quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 ULP GeFOrce (12-core) 1GB Android 4.2.2
Apple iPad Mini 1GHz dual-core Apple A5 PowerVR SGX543MP2 (dual-core) 512MB iOS 6.1.3

3DMark (Normal)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Graphics Test 1, 720p (GPU)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Graphics Test 2, 720p (GPU)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

The 1.3-megapixel front camera features typical "only good enough for crude video chatting" quality, with washed-out colors and plenty of screen "snow." However, the 5-megapixel rear-facing shooter is fairly capable as tablet cameras go. The camera's aperture appears to be set fairly high, so it has trouble capturing enough light, but with enough ambient light in the mix, it captures more details than the iPad Mini's rear camera.

Here are our official CNET Labs-tested battery life results. More tablet testing results can be found here.

Video Battery life (in hours)
Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 10

The family of Tab
The 8-inch Tab 3 is one of three Tab 3s now in the market. There's also a 10.1-incher and a 7-incher . We got the 10.1-inch version at the same time as the 8-incher, but have yet to receive the 7-inch Tab 3.

What other Tab 3 can do this? Well, pretty much all of them , but the 8-incher most likely does it best. Josh Miller/CNET

If you're wondering what Tab 3 to get, I can emphatically say the 8-incher is definitely the pick of the litter. The 10-incher includes many of the same features, but is missing the multiscreen option, has a much lower screen ppi, and makes errant presses common because the hit boxes for the back and menu buttons are too large. I've yet to see the 7-inch in person, but judging by its disappointing specs, I'm not expecting too much.

Conclusion
The Galaxy Tab 3 costs $300, which is maybe a tad much. I would have been much happier with something in the $270 range. But with all the features it offers, it's a bit difficult to raise too big a stink about the price. It's the best non-Note tablet Samsung's produced, and as 8-inch tablets go is the best Android alternative to the iPad Mini.

It includes oodles of useful software features, has a light comfortable design, and good performance. There's nothing here that will necessarily blow you away, but there's enough good here to easily earn a recommendation. Just know that the tablet market is in the middle of a transition right now, and the next few weeks will likely reveal many new and even more powerful tablet choices.

Editors' Top PicksSee All

 

Join the discussion

Conversation powered by Livefyre

Quick Specifications See All

  • Wireless Connectivity IEEE 802.11b
  • Type Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean)
  • Weight 11.1 oz
  • Storage 16 GB
Hot Products