Apple may have beaten Google in the tablet war, but Samsung is keeping Android tablets alive. The Korean tech giant could have thrown in the towel years ago and focused on Chromebooks. Instead, Samsung continues to put pressure on the iPad by updating the flagship Galaxy Tab line with exciting new features.
The Galaxy Tab S6 proves that those efforts aren't in vain. With fast performance, a premium design with integrated stylus charging, and a bright, vivid display, the Galaxy Tab S6 checks a lot of the right boxes.
If only the detachable keyboard accessory were included in its high price, the Galaxy Tab S6 wouldn't just be an excellent alternative to the iPad Pro, but would also be a viable laptop replacement.
Pricing and Configurations
We reviewed the base model Galaxy Tab S6, which starts at $649 and has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 SoC, 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage.
If you need more storage, you can upgrade to 256GB for another $80. Samsung includes the S Pen with the Galaxy Tab S6 but the detachable BookCover Keyboard sells separately for $179.
The Galaxy Tab S6 is a slim, stylish slate that looks every bit as premium as the iPad Pro.
Although the Galaxy Tab S6 isn't a huge departure from the Tab S4, Samsung did make a few improvements to the new model. Most notable is the shallow indent on the back where the magnetic S Pen attaches. Here, a slim groove charges the stylus and keeps it in place when it's not in use, similar to how the Apple Pencil attaches to the top edge of the iPad Pro.
I find the charging dock on the Galaxy Tab S6 to be a more elegant solution than that on the iPad Pro. However, the pen isn't flush with the back of the tablet, so the Galaxy Tab S6 doesn't sit flush on a desk with the S Pen attached.
The matching magnetic strips on the stylus and tablet are quite thin so you have to be precise when placing the S Pen on the back cover. The stylus didn't budge when I shook the Galaxy Tab S6, but it popped off when I slid the tablet into the laptop sleeve of my backpack.
The folks at Samsung told me that the magnet isn't meant for storing the stylus, but, rather, for charging when the tablet is in use. Knowing that, we recommend buying a stylus holder or the BookCover Keyboard to house the S Pen when you're traveling.
Aside from the S Pen integration, the other design element that stood out to me were the Galaxy Tab S6's unique colors. Our review unit flaunts a beautiful metallic blue/gray that I haven't seen on any gadget before. I now really want to see how the Mountain Gray and Rose Blush look.
The Galaxy Tab S6 doesn't have a home button. Instead, slim display bezels surround its 10.5-inch display. This helps keep the tablet compact. At 9.6 x 6.3 x 0.2 inches and 0.95 pounds, the Galaxy Tab S6 is smaller and lighter than the Apple iPad Air (9.8 x 6.8 x 0.2 inches, 1 pound), the 11-inch iPad Pro (9.7 x 7 x 0.2 inches, 1 pound) and its predecessor, the Galaxy Tab S4 (9.8 x 6.5 x 0.3 inches, 1.1 pounds).
Sadly, the Galaxy Tab S6 is the first of its kind to abandon the 3.5mm headphone jack. The only input on the tablet is a USB Type-C port on the bottom edge while a microSD card reader, power/Bixby and volume buttons are on the right edge.
The Galaxy Tab S6's 10.5-inch, 2560 x 1600-pixel Super AMOLED display can get extremely bright and vivid.
When I watched a trailer for the film The Aeronauts, the panel was so clear that I could see the stitching in Eddie Redmayne's vest. The red and turquoise-blue colors on the hot air balloon used by the film's protagonists burst off the glass, while the green and blue hues of the period dresses were saturated, as if they had never been worn before.
The Galaxy Tab S6 has a light that adjusts the peak brightness of its display based on how much light is hitting it. In a our dimly lit lab, the screen peaked at 290 nits but jumped to 473 nits when we shone a flashlight at the sensor.
Even in the brightest conditions, the Galaxy Tab S6's panel is dimmer than those on the Galaxy Tab S4 (463 nits) and the 11-inch iPad Pro (572 nits). However, it does outshine the average tablet (368 nits) and the iPad Air (425 nits).
According to our colorimeter, the Galaxy Tab S6's display covers 122% of the sRGB color gamut or 192% in vivid mode. That makes it more colorful than the panel on the iPad Air (132%) and the 11-inch iPad Pro (112%) but not quite as saturated as the Galaxy Tab S4's screen (219%). The tablet category average is only 108%.
DeX mode returns to the Galaxy Tab S6, giving users a familiar desktop interface for when you want to be more productive.
If you've used a Chromebook or Windows 10 laptop, then the DeX will look familiar. A task bar is at the bottom of the display and gives you access to open apps as well as important settings, like volume, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Instead of programs, Android apps are pinned to the DeX desktop. Note, however, that not all apps are supported on DeX.
Samsung made a few notable improvements to DeX over the years. First, the task bar was extended so icons are now easier to tap. It's a nice change, but I find navigating the interface is still best done with the S Pen or touchpad.
Samsung also added a DeX hotkey to the BookCover Keyboard so that you can easily switch between modes. That process starts instantly and the Galaxy Tab S6 switches between Android 9's main interface and DeX in a matter of seconds.
The main benefit of DeX over Android 9 is that it lets you keep multiple windows open at once. Along those same lines, DeX also supports split-screen for more than two windows (you can open up to 20 windows simultaneously). I browsed a Chrome tab on the right half of the Galaxy Tab S6 while watching a YouTube video in the upper left and keeping notes down in the bottom left corner.
I just wish DeX had let me easily snap those windows onto the sides of the screen using a key combination or by dragging them into place. Getting everything lined up can be needlessly time consuming.
Despite some limitations, DeX is a good solution for turning an Android tablet into a laptop replacement and I found myself switching back to it every time I wanted to do more than browse a website or watch a video.
The new BookCover Keyboard is a mixed bag.
At $179, the optional keyboard is quite expensive and yet necessary if you want the Galaxy Tab S6 to be your primary device.
There are two parts to the BookCover: the keyboard (which now has a touchpad) and a kickstand cover. The only thing keeping the cover attached to the back of the Galaxy Tab S6 is a thin sticky surface. I found that if you don't press the cover hard enough against tablet, it will peel off when you try to open the kickstand.
Everything else about the cover is great. The textured surface makes it easy to grip the Galaxy Tab S6, and the sturdy kickstand rotates about 120 degrees before the cover pops off. I also love that the section covering the S Pen folds down so you can access the stylus.
The BookCover Keyboard snaps onto the Pogo connector on the left side of the Galaxy Tab S6. When that connection is made, the Galaxy Tab S6 immediate enables DeX mode. If you prefer to stay on the Android interface, don't worry, you can quickly switch back using a keyboard shortcut (Fn + |).
The keyboard itself is decent, although people with larger hands will find it quite cramped. The ovular keycaps are small, especially the tiny number row, and there's not a lot of space between keys. On a positive note, the keys feel clicky, have decent travel (1.1 millimeters) and I was able to type at my usual speed once I got used to their small size thanks to their 71 grams of actuation force.
I typed at 108 words per minute with a 95% accuracy rate on the 10fastfingers.com typing test, which is only slightly slower than my typical 108 wpm at 94% accuracy.
Although it's small and feels cheap, the BookCover Keyboard's touchpad gives the Galaxy Tab S6 a leg up over the iPad and is a big step toward making the Galaxy Tab S6 a true laptop replacement.
The Galaxy Tab S6's included S Pen stylus is excellent for drawing or jotting down notes.
Using the PENUP app, I was able to carefully color in a floral pattern outline with varying line widths, thanks to the S Pen's 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity.
The pen's edges are flat, allowing it to sit flush with the back of the Galaxy Tab S6. The odd shape doesn't make the pen any less comfortable to hold; in fact, it feels even more ergonomic. However, the pen's lightweight frame might be offputting to those who like the heft of an actual writing tool.
The lone button on the side of the S Pen lets you remotely take pictures or play/pause slideshows via Bluetooth connection with the tablet. You can also remap the button to open an app or launch an S Pen feature.
Speaking of which, when you're using the stylus, a small icon appears on the edge of the screen that gives you quick access to S Pen apps for quickly taking note, drawing over a screengrab or translating written text.
Another major addition to the new S Pen is called Air actions, a feature first introduced on the Galaxy Note series. With Air actions, you can perform certain actions by moving the S Pen through the air.
For example, I was able to turn up the volume of a YouTube video by long-pressing the S Pen's function button and swiping upward. The action takes some getting used to, and I found that it typically takes longer than just tapping on the glass. The feature is also limited to a handful of apps and basic actions.
What a surprise. I didn't expect a tablet to pump out such powerful sound. The quad-speakers on the Galaxy Tab S6 are loud enough to fill a medium-size room with clear, accurate tunes.
When I listened to From Indian Lakes' "ULS," the lead singer's hushed vocals were crisp and the electric guitar soared without being piercing. Even the electronic drum beats had a nice hefty kick to them.
Armed with the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor and 6GB of RAM, the Galaxy Tab S6 ran through my real-world performance gauntlet without a hitch. The tablet swiftly loaded 15 tabs in the Samsung internet browser and didn't show any signs of slowing when I pulled up a 1080p video in the YouTube app. I then switched to Dex mode so that I could pull more browser windows. Still, there wasn't any lag after I loaded eight Chrome tabs with everything else running in the background.
Despite the fast performance offered by the new Snapdragon 855 chip, the Galaxy Tab S6 still can't keep up with Apple's latest iPads. On the Geekbench 4 overall performance benchmark, the Galaxy Tab S6 scored a 10,387. That's a nice boost over last year's Galaxy Tab S4 (6,592) but far behind what the iPad Air (11,471) and the 11-inch iPad Pro (17,878) achieved. The average tablet (5,387) doesn't offer anywhere near the performance of these premium devices.
We saw similar results on the 3D Mark Ice Storm Unlimited graphics benchmark. The Galaxy Tab S6 scored a 77,386, which tops the iPad Air (77,385) by a point. Again, the Tab S6 proved more powerful than the Galaxy Tab S4 (39,563) and the average tablet (29,657).The 11-inch iPad Pro, however, is in a different league (105,770).
The Galaxy Tab S6 lasted for 8 hours and 58 minutes on our Laptop Mag Battery test, which involves continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits.
That's a rather disappointing result when you consider that the iPad Air (11:54) and 12.9-inch iPad Pro (13:14) both stayed powered for three additional hours. Even last year's Galaxy Tab S4 (9:34) and the average tablet (9:11) endured longer than the Tab S6.
We are currently testing the battery life of the 11-inch iPad Pro and will update this review when the results come in.
The 13-megapixel and ultrawide 5MP dual lenses on the back of the Galaxy Tab S6 take such good shots that you'll forget how awkward you look snapping photos with a tablet.
The primary 13MP lens on the Galaxy Tab S6 captured strong detail in a photo I snapped of the New York City Public Library. I could read even the smallest text carved into the pillars after I zoomed into the image.
However, most of the library's facade is missing in that shot, so I switched over the ultrawide 5MP lens, which was able to fit almost the entire building in its frame. Unfortunately, the images captured on this lower-resolution lens aren't as crisp.
I was happy with the vivid and accurate colors in the photos I took with the primary lens, like in a shot of a pink flower taken at Bryant Park in Midtown Manhattan.
The Galaxy Tab S6's an 8-megapixel front-facing camera also takes excellent photos, especially when you use the Live Focus mode to create artificial background blur. I could see individual strands of hair in my beard and my shirt was an accurate shade of purple.
Samsung has given us one of the best iPad alternatives, and at a time when Android tablets are losing steam. The Galaxy Tab S6 is a sleek tablet with a gorgeous 10.5-inch display and fast performance. Unlike the iPad, the Galaxy Tab S6 comes with a stylus, which can now be charged in a magnetic groove on the back of the Tab S6. Samsung also improved the Tab S6's other main accessory -- the detachable keyboard -- giving it a touchpad and a DeX shortcut key.
Speaking of which, the DeX desktop interface has also been tweaked so that users can be more productive. Those changes are welcome, but we're still not convinced that the Galaxy Tab S6 makes for a good laptop alternative. If you want a true desktop experience, we recommend the Microsoft Surface Pro 6.
That said, if you aren't tied to Apple's ecosystem and you like the idea of a hybrid mobile/desktop OS, then we strongly recommend the Galaxy Tab S6.