Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S8+ Is a Great Android Tablet That You Shouldn’t Buy

Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S8+ Is a Great Android Tablet That You Shouldn’t Buy
Photo: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo

Rather than abandon Android tablets as others have done, Samsung this year bolstered its efforts by adding a third member to its Galaxy Tab S8 series. With a huge 14.6-inch display, the new “Ultra” model has stolen the spotlight from the Galaxy Tab S8+, the successor to what was previously Samsung’s premiere slate. With a bigger, badder option on the market, this sub-flagship model not only competes against Surfaces and iPads, but now must justify its position amid cheaper and more capable Galaxy devices.

But don’t count out the middle child. We dubbed the previous model the “best Android tablet around” and the Galaxy Tab S8+ is much the same device. Amounting to a modest refresh, the Tab S8+ retains everything we liked about last year’s version and debuts a few welcome upgrades, including an ultra-wide camera, an enhanced S Pen, and faster internals. With that said, if you’re in the market for a tablet for entertainment and some basic productivity work, and don’t have $2,100 to spend, the Galaxy Tab S8+ is a compelling choice.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S8+

WHAT IS IT?

A 12.4-inch Android tablet

PRICE

Starts at $1,400 (plus $160) for the optional Book Cover Slim keyboard)

LIKE

Breathtaking AMOLED display, sleek aluminium design, good cameras, upgraded stylus with magnetic charging, DeX improves multitasking, Decent battery life

DON'T LIKE

Android has limitations, expensive, no headphone jack, Charger not in the box, overshadowed by the 'Ultra' model, where's the charging brick?

The Galaxy Tab S8+ falls in the middle of Samsung’s tablet trio in terms of pricing, though don’t be fooled: this is a premium product. At $1,499 for a Wi-Fi model with 128GB of storage, the S8+ is more expensive than the previous version. Doubling storage to 256GB adds $150 while adding 5G is a $200 upgrade. The S Pen is included in the box, but an optional Book Cover Keyboard Slim is another $159.

First-rate hardware

Commanding such a high price is a tablet that feels every bit as refined as its smartphone counterparts. The rectangular slab is encased in smooth “Armour” aluminium and flaunts Gorilla Glass 5 over a 12.4-inch panel that’s flanked by thin bezels. Samsung claims the metal increases scratch resistance by 30 per cent while making the back panel 40 per cent less prone to bending. I’m not going to test this out (and I recommend you don’t, either) but we can take some reassurance from these claims.

Photo: Phillip Tracy/GizmodoPhoto: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo

The Tab S8+ has an understated appearance; its surfaces are interrupted only by discrete Samsung and AKG logos on the rear and some prominent antenna bands. There is a volume rocker and power button on the top edge (in horizontal mode) and speaker grills flanking each end with a USB-C charging port on the right side. Facial recognition for biometric login was speedy and an in-display fingerprint scanner is a great backup, especially when wearing a mask. The Pink Gold model Samsung sent me looks nice, though this year’s colour options (Graphite and Silver are the other two) are a bit too conservative for my tastes.

Photo: Phillip Tracy/GizmodoPhoto: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo

All that said, there are two main standout hardware features to this tablet. One on the back is a black teardrop-shaped magnetic charging cradle for the S Pen. It droops down from the rear camera array and charges the pen when docked. The magnetic garage held the pen in place as I transported the Tab S8+ around my apartment, but the accessory got knocked loose when I slid it into my backpack. Though it isn’t the most secure holster, the magnet is a godsend for folks like me who immediately lose everything they touch.

It’s all about the display

The other highlight — you guessed it — is the 12.4-inch, 2800 x 1752-pixel WQXGA+ AMOLED display. It is, in a word, magnificent. Bright (378 nits), detailed, and exuding rich colours, this panel is so gorgeous, it’ll make you want to rewatch all of your favourite movies and shows on the Galaxy Tab S8+. And with a 120Hz refresh rate, everything moves buttery smooth.

Photo: Phillip Tracy/GizmodoPhoto: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo

Apart from the Ultra model (and perhaps the iPad Pro), there’s no other tablet I’d rather finish watching The Expanse on than this one, and it’s all down to that AMOLED screen. And so I did just that, and it felt as if I’d shrunken my OLED TV and placed it on my lap. Space was a deep, dark abyss and the flashing red and blue lights inside the Canterbury’s shuttle (the Knight) radiated off the notch-less screen.

As much magic as Samsung put into this panel, there is no overcoming physics. The bigger the screen, the bigger the tablet, and at 11.2 x 7.3 x 0.2 inches and 0 kg, this slate is unwieldy. By that, I mean it’s impossible to use your thumbs while holding it with both hands, and carrying it with one hand requires a climber’s grip and a bodybuilder’s forearm. Also, Samsung continues to opt for a 16:10 aspect ratio, which is great for content viewing without ugly letterboxing but makes multi-window setups feel cramped.

Complementing the viewing experience are impressive AKG-tuned quad speakers. Ships shot through space with a grumble and I could easily understand the many dialects in The Expanse, including Belter Creole, a mish-mash of Earth’s languages. When I listened to Foxing’s “Go Down Together” and Kanye West’s “Street Lights” on YouTube Music, the sonics got stuck in the midrange with the treble lacking sparkle and the bass not giving much of a “thud.” The speakers were clear and loud, though. What I can’t get behind is the lack of a headphone jack especially when a charging port is the only place for a dongle.

S Pen and Keyboard accessory

If you’re using the Galaxy Tab S8+ for work, the optional Book Cover keyboard is worth considering. My first impressions weren’t great — the keys are on the smaller side and there is no backlighting. However, my appreciation for the accessory grew the more I used it to type this review. The keys have that cheap, high-pitched sound some might find familiar, and they are predictably shallow. And yet, I enjoyed typing on them thanks to their responsiveness, springy switches, and low actuation force (the strength needed to register a keystroke).

My fingers effortlessly bounced from one letter to the next as I completed a standardised typing test in 111 words per minute, a slightly better result than my average. I did make more errors than normal, which is likely a result of these keys being somewhat cramped.

Photo: Phillip Tracy/GizmodoPhoto: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo

Apple’s Magic Keyboard has its problems, but one advantage it enjoys over Samsung’s equivalent accessory is that you can adjust the angle of the display. In contrast, the Smart Cover connects to the tablet via magnetic pins and props the back panel up on a non-adjustable folding hinge. That fixed angle wasn’t much of a problem during my testing, but it did force me to change my posture every now and then to get the best viewing angles. One last thing to note about the keyboard accessory: On the hinge is a handy magnetic stylus holder where the S Pen firmly snaps into. It’s practically impossible to grab the pen once the tablet is docked so you need to do so before you move the slate into a forward position. You can also keep the pen on the tablet since the accessory has a cutout for the magnetic holder.

Photo: Phillip Tracy/GizmodoPhoto: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo

About that included pen: it’s great! It’s always been one of the better stylii but it is even better now that Samsung reduced the latency from 5.6 to just 2.8 milliseconds using “prediction algorithms.” I never had any problems with the previous S Pen, but that fancy technique allows digital ink to flow out of the nib just as it would from a physical pen. As advertised, colour appeared immediately on the screen as I dragged the stylus across the screen as I drew an elementary-level picture of a spaceship from The Expanse (OK so, I really like this show). The pen kept pace with my erratic scribbling and the flat edge makes its slender shape comfortable to hold.

Photo: Phillip Tracy/GizmodoPhoto: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo

On the back of the Tab S8+ is a dual-camera array with a 13-megapixel standard, a 6MP ultrawide lens, and a flash (which I use as a flashlight more than a camera assistant). These lenses take decent photos with that signature Samsung look — sharp, a bit saturated, a bit smooth, and very social media-friendly. The front-facing camera — the one that really matters — has been upgraded to a 12-megapixel ultra-wide-angle lens so you can fit more background or a second person in your shot without a selfie stick. It’s a nice update because holding this large tablet with your arm outstretched is a shoulder exercise nobody asked for. Another useful video chat feature is Auto Framing, which zooms in on the speaker and zooms out when someone else enters the frame. It worked just as well as Apple’s Centre Stage in my testing.

Fast performance and evolving software

Powering the Tab S8+ is a Qualcomm Snapdragon Gen 1 SoC, a 4nm chip that Samsung claims improved CPU performance by 24% and GPU performance by 52% over the predecessor. In our own benchmarks, the Tab S8+ with 8GB of RAM scored a 3,230 on the Geekbench 5 compared with the Tab S7+’s 2,850. In day-to-day use, I rarely encountered any sluggishness. I chatted with colleagues in Slack, opened dozens of articles, wrote a few stories, and listened to music, without any major issues. Some things took longer to load, and I eventually hit a wall that told me I needed to manage my dozens of tabs and windows, but I suspect only power users will run into such issues.

As for battery life, the Galaxy Tab S8+ lasted for 9 hours and 21 minutes on our video playback test with the screen set to 200 nits and 120Hz. That’s an improvement over the Tab S7+ and slightly edges out the iPad Pro, which lasted for 9:02. You should get even better runtimes dropping the panel down to 60Hz, but Verizon customers should beware of 5G and its battery draining tendency. To save a penny, Samsung didn’t include a charger with the Galaxy Tab S8+, an omission not even Apple is willing to risk.

So Samsung got the hardware right — that much was never in much doubt. The real question is whether Android, paired with DeX, offers enough functionality to justify this tablet’s high price. To figure that out, I risked my job and used the Galaxy Tab S8+ through most of a workday. First, I needed to install a few things. I started with Airtable, a collaboration tool we use (similar to Trello). To my pleasant surprise, the software wasn’t only available in the Play Store, but it was optimised for tablet screens. Everything scaled nicely and all of the features I use were there. The same goes for Slack and all of Google’s apps, which make up the brunt of my workflow.

Photo: Phillip Tracy/GizmodoPhoto: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo

Where Android starts showing some holes in the armour is with less popular apps and those meant for certain consumer segments. The photos you see in this review were edited in Affinity Photo, an app available on iPadOS but not on Android. In general, though, I encountered more problems with unoptimised apps than them being unavailable altogether. Social media apps like Instagram and Reddit don’t work in landscape mode (DeX mode flips them but they appear as phone-sized windows); Amazon’s Prime Shopping app has bloated, low-res images; and several apps — especially games — don’t scale properly.

I don’t want to overstate the app situation on Android tablets. It’s worse than the iPad, but certainly not bad. Most of the apps I downloaded worked just fine: I streamed shows on Netflix and Prime Video, looked for a new place to live on Zillow and Realtor.com; and kept tabs on work using email and chat apps. And let’s not forget all of the useful Samsung apps and Galaxy ecosystem features, like quick pair for Galaxy Buds or easy copy/paste between devices.

Photo: Phillip Tracy/GizmodoPhoto: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo

Those software holes I mentioned are partially patched by DeX, Samsung’s custom desktop interface. If you haven’t used it before, placing the Tab S8+ in DeX from the dedicated keyboard button or notification pane transforms the mobile Android interface into something that looks more like a Windows or Chrome OS system. This is where you go to work because DeX adds some useful multitasking functions, including a multi-window split-screen with adjustable layouts and a traditional taskbar.

DeX only does so much to hide Android’s flaws, but on the horizon is another potential saving grace: Android 12L. Samsung told Gizmodo it was committed to bringing Android 12L — an upcoming OS spinoff for large-screen devices — to its Tab S8 tablets. The OS is currently in beta and is slated to arrive early this year, so we’ll soon find out how far Google’s efforts go toward eliminating the gap that exists between the tablet experiences on Android and iPadOS.

Should you buy the Samsung Galaxy Tab S8+?

This tablet falls squarely in the “I would love to own but can’t justify buying” category for me. I would instead spend the cash on a laptop knowing it could handle my workload and supports all of the programs I use. Then again, the Galaxy Tab S8+ is ultra-thin, flaunts top-notch hardware, and has a nicer screen than just about anything else in this price range. For those reasons, the Galaxy Tab S8+ makes for an excellent choice for anyone needing a tablet to watch movies or play games. And with DeX, you can even get some work done, and in some ways, more effectively than you could on an iPad.

Photo: Phillip Tracy/GizmodoPhoto: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo

That said, the Galaxy Tab S8+ suffers a bit from middle child syndrome where the Plus model is neither the most premium nor most affordable option. Those wanting the very best media consumption tablet will be drawn to the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra while Android users looking for a more affordable alternative should consider the base model. At the risk of stating the obvious, you should only consider the Tab S8+ if the Ultra is either too large or too expensive.