Samsung's Galaxy Tab S7 wants to be your premium work and play tablet
It does a lot right, but Apple's latest iPad updates still win on price.
Dan AckermanEditorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications.
"Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
ExpertiseI've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever.Credentials
Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
I've previously had some hands-on time with a non-final version of the larger and more expensive of the two, the 12.4-inch Tab S7 Plus. Now I have the retail version of the slightly smaller 11-inch Tab S7, along with its sold-separately keyboard cover.
At the time, I said of the S7 Plus: "The display is a high point. Android's current monopoly on xCloud is another point in its favor, and probably more compelling for gamers than Apple Arcade. I'm unlikely to become a DeX regular, but it's evolved over the years to something I could use for 'real' office work in a pinch."
There's much more to read about the keyboard cover, DeX and other Samsung-specific features there, so for the more basic Tab S7, which costs $200 less ($649 or £619 for Galaxy Tab S7, and $849 or £799 for
Galaxy Tab S7 Plus
), I'll focus more on what I liked and didn't like.
Here's what I liked about the Samsung Galaxy Tab S7
The smaller size seems easier to handle, the weight is better balanced. I found this size much better for in-bed Netflix viewing, handheld reading and even sketching. For propping up on a table and working laptop-style, or for playing games with a gamepad, the Tab S7 Plus is better.
In its keyboard-and-touchpad configuration, the typing and general feel for work was excellent in apps like
Docs. I'm typing this on the Tab S7 right now, and it feels at least as good as a Surface Pro.
The display here is not the same AMOLED one as in the Tab S7 Plus, but just a regular TFT one, with a decent 2,560x1,600-pixel resolution. That said, it's capable of 120Hz refresh rates (or can go lower to save battery life), and I still thought the screen popped better than that of a basic iPad.
With a stranglehold among mobile devices on streaming platforms like Stadia and xCloud, there's a strong gaming case to be made here. The Tab S7 doesn't have any proprietary features specifically for those platforms -- besides being able to run the client software -- but I love the idea of knocking down that wall between console and mobile games.
Keep in mind those streaming platforms are much more at the mercy of your internet connection and the remote servers the games reside on than your local tablet hardware.
Here's what I didn't like
The collision of Android and Samsung universes don't always complement each other. Does my tablet need two different web browsers? Does it need two different app stores? It might very well, but consumers have no guidance as to the difference.
I also had some unexpected connectivity hiccups. The Wi-Fi would drop occasionally, even after rebooting and resetting the connection, and it took two tries to accomplish some Bluetooth pairing as well. In a nonfinal unit, like the Galaxy Tab S7 Plus I looked at earlier, I'd let it slide, but this is supposedly a finalized, retail-ready device.
By default, the screen timed out after 30 seconds, barely enough time to even look the device over without having to unlock it again. Naturally, I turned the facial recognition and fingerprint recognition on right away. From just the right angle, in just the right light, facial log-in worked, but it wasn't a sure thing, especially in the dark -- the system helpfully offered to automatically boost the brightness in dark environments to help it. Er, no thanks -- that doesn't sound very restful.
But consider the TCO, the total cost of ownership
Like the Surface line, the Galaxy Tab S7 feels lost without its sold-separately clip-on keyboard cover. If there's a reason to choose this as a stand-alone slate over the just revamped $300 basic iPad, I'm not sure what it is. Streaming games through xCloud? Casting PowerPoint presentations to a TV? Better screen quality? Those are actually all very good reasons, but they still don't make up for the value packed into that cheap iPad. Even the upgraded iPad Air is cheaper (although it doesn't include a stylus). The price may end up being the biggest hurdle for either of the new Tab S7 tablets to overcome.
I'm currently running battery and benchmark tests on the Samsung Tab S7 and will update this post with final results when they're available.