Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 review: Samsung's best tablet screen is a sight to behold

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MSRP: $848.94

The Good The Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 is an elegantly designed tablet that comes with a capable stylus. It has a stunning AMOLED screen, fingerprint sensor for extra security and satisfyingly loud quad speakers. It's also the first HDR-ready tablet.

The Bad Despite the hype, HDR content is not available on the tablet yet. Large games take time to load. The keyboard add-on is an expensive extra.

The Bottom Line Samsung packs buzz-worthy features like S Pen and HDR support into its new premium Galaxy Tab S3, but without a keyboard packed in, it's still more about content consumption than creation.

Visit for details.

8.0 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7

If I had to pick one tablet to watch video on for the rest of my life, I would pick the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3.

It's a stylish, all-glass tablet with an impressively crisp and vibrant screen and four speakers, making it an excellent portable movie theater. It's also the first HDR-ready tablet, although there are a few asterisks to that bullet point. (HDR stands for high dynamic range, which means a spectacular, noticeable difference in contrast and color range in comparison to regular HD.)

That type of high-quality video content isn't even close to becoming as commonplace as HD content is today, yet Samsung is still flexing this future-forward feature as an advantage over high-end tablets such as the Apple iPad Pro 9.7, the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 and the Google Pixel C.

Included in the $600 base price is the revamped Samsung S-Pen stylus, a real treat for those who still relish good old-fashioned note-taking. The addition of the S-Pen adds a dash of productivity and creativity to a device that's otherwise best used for leisurely activities. Samsung hasn't announced official UK and Australian pricing and availability, but that base price directly converts to £480 and AU$790.

Using the S Pen with coloring apps is almost therapeutic.

Josh Miller/CNET

For a premium-priced Android tablet, there are a few missteps. Aside from the dearth of available and compatible HDR content, gaming performance isn't as snappy as it should be for a high-end tablet. The sold-separately keyboard case ($130; converts to £105 or AU$170) is an underwhelming performer. Though it costs the same amount as the Apple iPad Pro 9.7 and Google Pixel C, it's not at the front of the pack in performance.

But if a sharp screen, great audio and an excellent stylus is on your must-have features list, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 is a top choice for indulging in binge-watching style, wherever you go.

This is a tablet worth binge-watching with.

Josh Miller/CNET

Cutting-edge video quality

The Galaxy Tab S3 shines best when watching video. HD content looks razor sharp, colorful and bright. The excellent picture quality is complemented by four speakers, featuring AKG by Harman Kardon's expert tuning. With one speaker at each corner, they sound satisfyingly loud and clear, though it's best to avoid cranking it to max volume as the audio tends to sound tinny when pushed to its limit.

According to Samsung, the tablet features positional audio, which rotates what comes through the four speakers as you turn the tablet. It's supposed to push the dialogue and vocals to the top two speakers, no matter whether you're holding it in portrait or landscape mode. But I didn't notice a difference in audio between one orientation and the other.

Four speakers, one on each corner.

Josh Miller/CNET

The Galaxy Tab S3 proudly claims the title of the first (and as of now, only) HDR-ready tablet. This means it's capable of playing HDR content, which is like HD content but on steroids. HDR video has increased range of color and enhanced contrast between highlights and shadows, resulting in sensationally vivid picture quality.

Display details

  • 9.7-inch Super AMOLED
  • 2,048x1,536-pixel resolution

Those with 4K TVs might be more familiar with HDR, because that's currently the only way to watch it. At the time of review, there's no Samsung native HDR content or easily accessible way to view HDR content on tablets. According to Netflix, it doesn't have any plans to support HDR on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3. Amazon and FandangoNow both plan on supporting the feature, simply stating that HDR content will be available "soon." When reached for comment, VUDU did not clarify whether or not it would make its UHD content available for the tablet.


No HDR content means settling for HD -- for now.

Josh Miller/CNET

What's the point of buying an HDR-ready tablet if there are no HDR movies or TV shows to watch on it? Great question! Buying this tablet for HDR content is like showing up to the hottest new restaurant in town before it's even been furnished. While it's an impressive future-forward feature, it's too new for you to actually take advantage of and enjoy.

But even without a catalog of HDR content, you're still getting one of the best visual experiences on any screen, because this is an AMOLED display, which is a close cousin of the OLED displays found in the very best TVs, and starting to turn up in some phones and laptops.


The tablet's design is similar to the Galaxy S7 phone.

Josh Miller/CNET

Sexy like an S7

According to people I showed the Galaxy Tab S3 to, it looks like an iPhone. To me, however, it's more like the Samsung Galaxy S7 ($500 at Walmart). No matter which phone you think it looks like, one thing is for sure: It's one good-lookin' tablet.

Ports and connections

  • Fast-charging USB-C
  • Fingerprint sensor on home button
  • Headphone jack

Most tablets are made of plastic or aluminum. The Galaxy Tab S3 is made of glass (just like the S7) and comes in silver or black. The tablet's unique, all-glass design is also comfortable thanks to its smooth, rounded aluminum edges.


It has one USB-C port that supports fast charging.

Josh Miller/CNET

The review unit I had was silver and smudges weren't visible on its back panel, but I've also seen the black version of the Tab S3 and I definitely can't say the same thing about that model -- it's a fingerprint magnet.

New and improved S Pen

Similar to the Microsoft Surface Pro 4, the Galaxy Tab S3 comes bundled with a stylus -- and a few stylus tip replacements for good measure. The revamped S Pen, previously exclusive to Samsung's Note series, has one button and is short and oblong in shape to prevent it from rolling off a desk. It's comfy to grip and writes like a silky smooth ballpoint pen. The fact that it never has be to synced or charged is the icing on the cake.


The S Pen is included in the base price.

Josh Miller/CNET

There's some software integration that makes the Galaxy Tab S3 stylus-friendly. When the screen's unlocked, pressing the S Pen's button and tapping the screen launches a customizable carousel that you can load with your favorite apps.

Notes can also be easily jotted down, even when the tablet is locked. When the screen is in sleep mode, tapping it with the stylus while pressing the S Pen's button (as you would to launch the carousel) opens a simplified black and white note-taking screen, almost like a digital chalkboard.


The simple software integration met all of my needs.

Josh Miller/CNET

Honestly, I wasn't expecting to like the S Pen as much as I did. I've never been a big stylus fan but found myself actively enjoying the feeling of writing with the S Pen. The smooth movement of the rubber tip on the glass felt oddly therapeutic for coloring apps. Writing with it flowed like ink on paper. Apple's iPad Pro Pencil and the stylus included with Microsoft's Surface products are also excellent in their own ways, but offer different features and have a different feel.

There's a bit of a learning curve when it comes to applying the right amount of pressure, but otherwise it's easy to get the hang of. Best of all, the basic software integration satisfied all of my note-taking needs. While I was excited to try the Galaxy S3 for its high-end screen, it's the stylus that kept me coming back for more.


The digital notepad I never knew I wanted.

Josh Miller/CNET

Keyboard? You can keep it

One of the most disappointing things about the Galaxy Tab S3 is its unremarkable Pogo keyboard case. It's similar to the iPad Pro 9.7's, connecting magnetically to its edge without Bluetooth.

It feels cramped to type on, doesn't automatically shut off the screen when closed and can be unresponsive despite being connected properly. Plus the keys aren't backlit and it only offers one viewing angle, so it can't be adjusted to your liking if, for example, you're using it on your lap. Its only redeeming quality is that it offers a place to store the S-Pen stylus.


I suggest a hard pass on the Galaxy Tab S3's keyboard.

Josh Miller/CNET

To add insult to injury, the keyboard caused performance issues. After disconnecting the tablet from it, the on-screen keyboard would occasionally fail to appear. I was still able to tap the area where the on-screen keyboard would be and letters would appear in text fields, but the on-screen keyboard would remain invisible. I had to restart the tablet to get it back to normal.

Another irritating problem was how disconnecting the tablet from the keyboard would cause it to go to sleep. I often casually transition between tablet and laptop mode (and vice versa) in one sitting. When switching from laptop mode to tablet, I would have to annoyingly re-enter my pin or scan my fingerprint just to continue what I was doing.


It magnetically connects and doesn't require Bluetooth.

Josh Miller/CNET

The keyboard is sold separately and it's not a deal breaker, unless you really want a keyboard with your tablet. In that case, keep your options open. But to be a "laptop replacement" a tablet really does need a keyboard. We may fare better with the upcoming Galaxy Book, a Windows-based sister product that comes with its own, different, keyboard cover.


At least it gives you a place to store the stylus.

Josh Miller/CNET

Better than most, but not the best

When it came to note-taking, surfing the web, checking email, streaming HD video and playing simple mobile games such as Pocket Mortys and Leo's Fortune, the tablet performed smoothly.

Larger, more complex games such as N.O.V.A. 3: Near Orbit and Hearthstone were a bit slow to launch, but graphics looked spectacular and smooth during gameplay. In comparison to the Google Pixel C and Apple iPad Pro 9.7, it falls behind the pack in 3DMark benchmarks. While games look great on its beautiful screen, its performance isn't as fast and snappy as the competition's.

Geekbench 4

Microsoft Surface Pro 4
Apple iPad Pro 9.7
Samsung Galaxy Tab S3
Google Pixel C


Longer bars indicate better performance

3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited

Microsoft Surface Pro 4
Google Pixel C
Apple iPad Pro 9.7
Samsung Galaxy Tab S3


Longer bars indicate better performance

Google Octane

Microsoft Surface Pro 4
Apple iPad Pro 9.7
Samsung Galaxy Tab S3
Google Pixel C


Longer bars indicate better performance

We're still in the midst of testing the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3's battery, but so far it looks good -- really good. After one test, looping a local 720p file in airplane mode, the tablet lasted 12.4 hours. Anecdotally, while streaming video it lasted about 7-8 hours. Check back when we're done testing for the final results.

My time with the tablet was marred by some unexpected bugginess. A few games initially crashed upon launch (Suicide Squad: Special Ops, Hearthstone and Asphalt 8) and I had to uninstall and reinstall 3DMark because it kept crashing when attempting to run the Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark test.


Due to its performance, it's better for content consumption, not creation.

Josh Miller/CNET

Some of the issues can be fixed with future over-the-air updates, but if I, personally, just spent $600 on a new tablet, I damn sure wouldn't want to deal with this type of mess. Tack on the previously mentioned keyboard issues and the Samsung feels too expensive for what you're getting.

For the same price, the iPad Pro 9.7 and Pixel C may not include a stellar stylus, but at least their performance lives up to the expectations of a high-end tablet. And, the new 9.7 inch iPad (a successor to the iPad Air 2 ($213 at Amazon)), captures a lot of the high-end feel for hundreds less, although the display and camera aren't as good, and there's no stylus support.


Come for the stunning HDR screen, stay for the satisfying stylus.

Josh Miller/CNET

A premium and posh portable TV

The fashionable and future-forward Galaxy Tab S3 provides an excellent, unparalleled experience for watching your favorite TV shows and movies on the go, thanks to its OLED screen and excellent quad speakers. With its S-Pen stylus in tow, it can also work as a high-end digital notepad. The much-touted HDR video support is little more than a marketing bullet point for now, but holds future promise.

For the same price, you may choose to invest in a different tablet with more productivity potential. The iPad Pro 9.7 and Pixel C both offer better keyboard accessories and snappier gaming performance. Not everyone wants or needs a tablet for typing or gaming, though. If you want a great tablet primarily for watching video, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 is my new favorite.

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