Galaxy Tab S6: Why It Can (and Can't) Replace Your Laptop
Samsung isn’t mincing words --- the company told me that the Galaxy Tab S6 is meant as a laptop replacement. That's an ambitious goal for an Android tablet, but one that, in many ways, the Galaxy Tab S6 achieves. As a tablet, the Tab S6 is excellent, offering a premium design, vibrant display and speedy performance. It even succeeds as a primary device thanks to DeX and its new keyboard.
However, after spending a few days with the Galaxy Tab S6, I’ve come across plenty of reasons for why some people are better off buying a laptop --- or even a different 2-in-1 detachable --- over Samsung’s latest flagship slate.
Here is how the Galaxy Tab S6 succeeds and fails at being a proper laptop replacement, and which users should use it as one.
Why the Galaxy Tab S6 can replace your laptop
The Galaxy Tab S6's ability to serve as a laptop boils down to DeX, Samsung’s desktop interface. Let’s face it, a pure Android tablet just doesn’t offer the productivity you get from a desktop operating system (which is why Google made Chrome OS).
DeX adds a desktop interface to Android that supports up to 20 windowed programs. The ability to open multiple programs and resize them onto a familiar desktop interface made me forget that the Galaxy Tab S6 runs on a mobile OS. And the main improvement Samsung made to DeX --- extending the taskbar and spacing out the icons --- made it much easier to navigate on the Galaxy Tab S6's small 10.5-inch display.
I found myself using DeX for everything other than simple tasks like watching videos, checking social media or browsing the web. For instance, I wrote this article in DeX mode because it was easier to manage my windows as I listened to music on Play Music, typed in Google Docs and browsed the web in a Chrome tab.
Apart from downloading third-party programs, there are few things I couldn't do on DeX that I can do on Windows or macOS. In fact, the DeX interface even looks practically identical to those two OS', with a taskbar at the bottom, an app icon in one corner and shortcuts pinned to a home screen.
DeX is better on the Tab S6 than it has been on any other Samsung tablet. That's partly because you can now transition from Android to DeX via a dedicated DeX key that, when pressed, switches you between the two modes. It's a small but welcome addition that makes Android and DeX feels more cohesive.
Another reason the Galaxy Tab S6 makes for a good laptop replacement is that the new Book Cover keyboard has a touchpad. There are several advantages to cursor support, but the biggest is that you don't have to reach up to touch the Galaxy Tab S6's display when you're typing on the keyboard.
And with the Galaxy Tab S6, performance finally isn't an issue. While you shouldn't expect to see Core i7 speeds, the Tab S6's Snapdragon 855 chip didn't have any problems running multiple browser windows, each with a dozen tabs running.
Why the Galaxy Tab S6 can't replace your laptop
A true laptop replacement needs a good keyboard and the Galaxy Tab S6 doesn't have one. At least, not out of the box.
The Tab S6's detachable Book Cover Keyboard is optional and costs a hefty $180 on its own, which brings the bundle to $830. At that price, you could buy the HP Envy 13, which offers faster performance, a full-sized keyboard and an actual desktop operating system.
Price isn't the only problem. The Book Cover Keyboard has the same pitfalls as every other detachable keyboard we've tested. My main complaint comes down to what we call "lapability," or how comfortable the keyboard is to use on your lap.
I tried using the Tab S6 while sitting on one of those oversized airport chairs, and it was a disaster. I had to keep my legs together so that the kickstand would rest against them. Even then, the Tab S6 pounced up and down as I tapped on the keyboard. Also, the keyboard itself is quite cramped and the touchpad is small.
Then there are the software limitations. As close as DeX comes to simulating a desktop OS, there are still some things the Galaxy Tab S6 can't do. Because it runs Android, you won't be able to download third-party programs. I found this particularly challenging because I need to connect to a VPN to post content at work. Also, DeX doesn't support every Android app, so you can't use them all in a windowed interface.
With that said, would I use the Galaxy Tab S6 as my primary device? In short, no.
There are too many third-party programs that I can't access on the Galaxy Tab S6. I also use my laptop on my lap more than I do a desk, and I find that the detachable keyboard isn't comfortable to use on anything but a flat surface.
But that doesn't mean the Galaxy Tab S6 can't replace your laptop. If you don't plan on downloading any third-party software, then the Android+DeX combo won't be an issue. And if you're a student who will sit at a desk most of the day, then you'll largely avoid the poor lapability of the Tab S6's detachable keyboard.
Overall, the Galaxy Tab S6 isn't the laptop replacement Samsung is touting it as, but it will do the job for folks who want a basic desktop experience on premium hardware.