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Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4 review: Premium small tablet for premium price

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The Good The Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4 packs a sharp pixel-dense screen, zippy performance, and oodles of software features inside a comfortable and lightweight slate.

The Bad The $399.99 starting price is expensive. It's too easy to block the speakers and trigger the capacitive buttons unintentionally when holding the tablet in landscape orientation. Performance lags when using the multiwindow function.

The Bottom Line The premium specs and high-end feel of the Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4 make it well worth the high price.

8.0 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 9
  • Performance 8

The Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4 may not be one of the most affordable tablets around, but you get what you pay for in the best way possible. The 8.4-inch slate offers a comfortable design, a bounty of software features, solid hardware with smooth performance, and one of the most pixel-dense screens to date.

In addition to Samsung's new Magazine UX, the tablet introduces a new standard with its 2,560x1,600-pixel-resolution screen. The Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4 is the smallest tablet to rock that high a resolution, a title once held by the slightly larger Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9, and the 8.4-incher now boasts the highest pixels per inch of any tablet.

The possible deal-breaker for many could be its $399.99 starting price, but considering it's almost the same price as the popular Apple iPad Mini with Retina Display, maybe a similar niche for a high-end Android experience on a small tablet will develop.

If you want a small but affordable tablet, options abound, like the Nexus 7 and Dell Venue 8, but those bargain buys can't hold a candle to everything the Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4 offers. If price isn't a concern and you want more than a basic slate, the Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4 is a great option that offers a premium tablet experience with smooth and speedy performance in a sleek package.

The 8-inch tablet rocks the same faux-leather back, fake stitching, and silver spine that other Samsung tablets have been donning for awhile. Personally, I'm not crazy about the look, but the texture is comfortable. The white-and-silver design is fashionably sleek and the rounded back gives the illusion that the Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4 is thinner than it is.

Tested spec Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4 Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 LG G Pad 8.3 Google Play Edition Apple iPad Mini with Retina Display
Weight in pounds 0.73 0.82 0.74 0.75
Width in inches (landscape) 8.62 9.1 8.5 7.87
Height in inches 5.05 6.2 5 5.3
Depth in inches 0.28 0.31 0.33 0.29
Side bezel width in inches (landscape) 0.6 0.7 0.63 0.7

The compact tablet is lightweight, yet it feels solid. The smooth, rounded corners of the Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4 allow the slate to comfortably melt into your palms when you're holding it for long periods of time, like through an episode (or three) of "House of Cards." It easily fits in one hand -- even with my small hands I didn't have to stretch my fingers uncomfortably -- and, at 0.7 pound, it doesn't weigh down your wrist.

The tablet is pretty light for how powerful it is. Josh Miller/CNET

The front facade of the Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4 is designed with a dominant portrait orientation, with the bottom bezel housing the home button, as well as two capacitive buttons. The top bezel houses a 2-megapixel camera and an ambient light sensor that was a little too dim for my preference.

Above the top bezel, on the wraparound metallic spine, sits the 3.5mm headphone jack. Not too far away, on the rear side, sits the back 8-megapixel camera with an LED flash right below it. The power button and volume rocker reside on the right edge, with the infrared port in the middle, for optimal remote usage. The bottom edge houses the two speakers with a Micro-USB port in between them, and the left edge is home to the microSD card slot.

Adjusting your palms to avoid blocking the speakers and capacitive button can be tricky. Josh Miller/CNET

A tragic downside to the tablet's design is the placement of the capacitive buttons on the bottom bezel. When using the tablet in landscape orientation, the capacitive buttons -- whether in your right or left hand -- can accidentally be triggered by the simple grazing of a finger. This is especially frustrating if you're in the middle of a movie (or a "House of Cards" binge).

Software features
Samsung's latest version of TouchWiz offers many of the same options as before, but the new Magazine UX adds a fresh Flipboard functionality. Instead of putting widgets on the same screen as normal app icons (which you can still do), the Magazine UX pages are completely composed of tile-like widgets. You can choose between news, social, and app widgets and the customization options are simple, but a bit time-consuming to set up. I found some of the news widget categories to be less interesting than others, with as few as one update per day, and the social widgets were too small and showed limited information, making it a constrained way to consume your social media.

The Magazine UX widgets are easy to customize and resize. Screenshot/Xiomara Blanco/CNET

Though the integration with Flipboard is nice, you're often just led into the app itself from the Magazine UX page. It's like a glorified shortcut made beautiful, only to take advantage of the pixel-dense screen. But I digress, because I eventually came around to liking it, since the Magazine UX added more photography, as well as colorful imagery, to the day-to-day tablet experience. However, it was a little buggy at times -- I was frequently asked to make my "first magazine" after trying to save articles, even though I already had many magazines set up, and swiping between pages sometimes lagged.

I like the new Windows 8-reminiscent experience of the Magazine UX pages, but also appreciate the regular ol' TouchWiz features just as much (I'm talking to you, WatchOn remote). If you're not a fan of the Magazine UX, you can minimize its presence on your tablet, but Samsung offers no way to opt out of it. For a different perspective on Samsung's Magazine UX, check out Eric Franklin's review of the Samsung Galaxy Note Tab Pro 12.2.

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