Samsung Galaxy Tab S9: Dream Tablets for Content Creators, Movie Lovers and Mobile Gamers
All of Samsung's new Android tablets are water resistant and have AMOLED displays and S pens.
Scott SteinEditor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
ExpertiseVR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tabletsCredentials
Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
At its Galaxy Unpacked event Wednesday, Samsung showed off its new Android tablets in the Galaxy Tab S9 family, which include the entry-level model at 11 inches, the Plus mode at 12.4 inches and the Ultra model at 14.6 inches. The Galaxy Tab S9 series, available Aug. 11, will compete with other strong Android tablets out this year, like the Google Pixel Tablet, the OnePlus Pad and Lenovo's Tab Extreme, and feels a lot like a preview of the upcoming Apple iPad Pros with OLED support.
I had a chance to look at the Galaxy Tab S9 Plus and S9 Ultra ahead of Samsung's Unpacked event, and in my brief time with them, I came away pretty impressed, although not much seems to have changed. With even the entry-level model at 11 inches, all of the Galaxy Tab S9s have big screens. The Ultra, in particular, feels like Samsung just detached the top half of a laptop. That was the case last year too, but just in case you hadn't been following… it's a lot of screen.
Watch this: Samsung Galaxy Tab S9: AMOLED Android in Three Sizes
That's great news for anyone who's been dreaming of a big Android AMOLED display for movies, but you'll also pay the price: the entry-level 14.6-inch Ultra is $1,200 (£1,199, AU$1,999), while the S9 Plus is $1,000 (£999, AU$1,699) and the S9 is $800 (£799, AU$1,299). In comparison, the Google Pixel Tablet is $500, and the OnePlus Pad is $479. There's also a 5G-enabled Tab S9 Plus Connected model that starts at $1,150 (£1,149, AU$1,949).
Samsung includes its versatile S Pen stylus with all of the Tab S9 models. The thin pen has a clickable button for extra functions and can charge on the back of the tablet just by magnetically snapping it on in either direction.
Displays: AMOLED all the way
Samsung's specialty is AMOLED displays, and these tablets are here to show that off. Last year, we saw the impact of the large-screen Tab S8 Ultra AMOLED screen on our eyes, but it was a good reminder here how nice a big high-res screen like this can be. It's a luxury, for sure.
The wider aspect ratio on Samsung's tablets makes them a good choice for movie-watching, and in larger sizes, they work well for side-by-side app multitasking. The 14.6-inch Ultra definitely feels like working on a monitor or a large laptop. The 16:10 aspect ratio, however, doesn't always feel as natural for document editing in a single-app format. Google's Pixel Tablet has the same 16:10 aspect ratio, while the OnePlus Pad has a 7:5 ratio, offering more vertical screen space in landscape mode.
Also, keep in mind that the Ultra has a bit of a camera cut-out in the display to accommodate the front camera, a tiny sliver of an angled notch that the Plus doesn't have.
The displays have a dynamic refresh rate switching between 60Hz and 120Hz, smoothing out the picture for fast-moving video and games but saving battery when unnecessary. The Tab S9 can also auto-adjust color temperature based on ambient light. The HDR displays are likely to be the best you'll find on Android tablets, for sure.
Design: sleek and minimalist
The hard edges and aluminum frames of these Tab S9 tablets are similar to the iPad's feel: they're like sleek slabs of glass and metal, almost all screen.
I don't have a ton of expectations when it comes to tablet designs. The Tab S9 has four AKG-tuned speakers positioned on the edges of the body, which Samsung says are 20% louder. (Trying them in an open area, I didn't appreciate the difference, but they sounded good.)
The Pen's rear-attach charging is convenient but adds a weird bump to the back. On a table, it almost acts like a tablet riser. Then again, it also protects the dual rear cameras from bumping against anything.
The tablet line's two colors -- beige and graphite -- are subtle and laptop-like. You won't find any bold colors here, which is a shame.
Samsung has made these tablets dust- and water-resistant with an IP68 rating (they're safe in up to 5 feet of fresh water for up to 30 minutes of immersion), although water-resistant isn't the same as waterproof. You'll be OK for a random spill or an accidental drop in the tub, but I wouldn't suggest any dips in a pool. Samsung also claims the bodies are made from more durable aluminum and the front glass is stronger Gorilla Glass 5.
Beefy specs, on paper
All the tablets have Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processors, promising performance that should be on par with Samsung's newest phones. That's applied to larger displays with these tablets, but multitasking seemed fast in my quick demos. RAM options vary: the standard Galaxy Tab S9 has 8GB with a top-end 12GB configuration, while the S9 Plus has 12GB standard and the Ultra starts with 12GB or 16GB in the highest config. Storage starts at 128GB, ranging up to 1TB. (There's also microSD card storage as an option.)
Keyboard costs extra
Samsung promises some extras for the Tab S9 series that I didn't get to try out yet: smooth drag-and-drop compatibility with Galaxy phones and laptops, a more laptop-like multitasking mode for apps called DeX that Samsung's had on its devices for years and keyboard cases that snap into the magnetic connector pins on the bottom of the tablets.
The keyboard cases are trackpad-equipped and look like great accessories, but I'll let you know more once I get to snap one on.
Is Android ready? Or your wallet?
CNET's Josh Goldman commented last year that the large-screen Tab Ultra should be a Chromebook, especially with its optional detachable keyboard. Having such a large Android premium tablet is a bit of an oddity, especially since Samsung also makes Windows laptops. It's mostly Android's lack of tablet flexibility that has made the proposition so weird before.
Google made moves this year with the Pixel Tablet to make better Android tablet experiences. Will that carry over to Samsung's lineup? Samsung already has its own Android interface for tablets and its own multitasking UI, but it's not the same as Google or OnePlus. Side-by-side apps can be easily resized to any degree, and another app floated on top. There's also DeX, which I didn't try on the Tab S9 yet, which transforms the interface into more of a windowed app experience like a PC.
Extremely expensive Android tablets have often felt like overkill compared to what software they can run well. This year, Samsung's lineup rides in a higher-priced zone than what Google or OnePlus offer. Will it be worth it?
Also, these tablets are expensive. The Tab S9 lineup, if you get an accessory (likely), is roughly a $1,000-plus proposition. Samsung does offer discounts on its products regularly, and currently has a 50% off deal for the keyboard case with pre-orders on the Tab S9. But still, you could get a Pixel Tablet -- or OnePlus Pad -- for a lot less.