The Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra still owns the top end of the Android tablet market, but that remains a relatively niche audience and the new higher pricing may be even tougher for buyers to swallow.
Gorgeous AMOLED 2X display
Powerful Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset
Bundled S Pen
Enhanced quad-speaker array
Useful DeX Mode and Second Screen features
Even more expensive
Larger models are unwieldy
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The Galaxy Tab S9 lineup is here and we got a chance to spend a little time with Samsung's updated tablet trio ahead of the announcement. There's a lot of shared DNA between the three, so while it is hard not to focus on the 14.6-inch behemoth at the top, I'll be taking a brief look at all three models.
If you are just after the specs and pricing, check out our Galaxy Tab S9 announcement article as that covers all of the basics. Here I'm looking at what has changed for 2023 and a glimpse into using the tablets ahead of our full review.
Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra video review
Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra: Design
Outwardly the Galaxy Tab S9 series looks very similar to the Galaxy Tab S8 lineup from 2022, but there are a number of updates under their Armor Aluminum skin. From a purely aesthetic standpoint, the Galaxy Tab S9 series remains gorgeous. While the 14.6-inch Ulta still seems like it might be more tablet than I need in my life, all three Tab S9 models are improbably thin-and-light given their relative sizes.
And while the black or silver aluminum may feel a little basic, Samsung adds a little interest to it with the oval area for the S Pen on the back and thin lines ringing the back of the tablets to avoid the feeling that they just completely punted on design.
Much like the foldables, one of the more notable upgrades to the design of the Galaxy Tab S9 tablets this year is enhanced durability. Now boasting an IP68 rating, users can feel comfortable toting their Galaxy Tab S9 to the beach or by the pool without concern that dust or water will cut short the life of their tablet.
Another internal upgrade is a 20% boost to the size of the quad-speaker array, we were in a crowded space with horrendous acoustics for our hands-on, so we'll need to withhold judgment until we have our review unit, but as the Tab S8 speakers were already quite good it sounds promising anyway.
I'll never stop wishing there was a way for Samsung to fit a silo for the S Pen into the Galaxy Tab, but the math just doesn't work out, so you'll either need to pick up a case with a silo or like me you will repeatedly find your S Pen in the bottom of your bag after it got knocked from its magnetic perch on the tablet in transit.
Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra: Display
We'll need to get the Galaxy Tab S9 into our labs for a scientific analysis of their performance, so for now I can only say that all three look fantastic with the base model Galaxy Tab S9 upgrading from an LCD to join the rest of the models with Super AMOLED 2X.
Even in the aggressively lit space we were in for our hands-on, all three of the Galaxy Tab S9 models were easily able to overcome the lighting and remain clearly visible whether displaying a webpage or watching a YouTube video.
The dynamic refresh rate on the displays ranges from 60Hz to 120Hz, so you aren't consuming too much power when you are just looking at relatively static content.
Samsung can do virtually no wrong in the display space these days and while we'll wait for the official ruling from our testing lab, it doesn't seem like the Galaxy Tab S9 will break that streak.
Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra: Performance
We didn't have enough time for the Galaxy Tab S9 to really put it through its paces, but scrolling around websites, multitasking, and bouncing between apps at high-speed were all well within the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 powered wheelhouse for the Galaxy Tab S9.
Given what we've seen on much more thermally constrained devices, we are expecting incredible benchmarks and real-world performance from the Tab S9. Samsung specifically touted the new custom vapor chamber design, claiming that it is the "most heat-efficient Galaxy Tab lineup ever...." They certainly didn't get hot while we were using them, but we'll see how that holds up to benchmarking, gaming, and other rigorous tasks.
Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra: Cameras
The Galaxy Tab S9+ and Tab S9 Ultra both feature a 13MP primary and 8MP ultrawide camera, while the Tab S9 is limited to the 13MP primary. The Tab S9 and Tab S9+ offer a 12MP ultrawide front-facing camera, while the Tab S9 Ultra adds a secondary wide-angle 12MP front-facing camera to that.
We'll put the cameras through their paces, but if you have a Galaxy S phone released in the last 5 years it has better cameras than these tablets, so please do not rely on them for anything more than video chats or scanning documents.
Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra: Software
While we often find that trying to use a tablet as a laptop replacement is a flawed notion, Samsung certainly does more than perhaps any other manufacturer to try to make that dream a reality. Whether it's DeX Mode to give you a full PC layout, multi window to give you up to 3 apps at once, or Pop-up View to give you a windowed experience, there are a multitude of ways to try to get more done on the Tab S9.
If you are looking to augment rather than replace your laptop you also have Second Screen which will let you mirror or extend your PC on your tablet, and safe bet the Galaxy Tab S9 has your laptop display beat.
The Galaxy Tab S9 feels and looks amazing, but that was true of the previous generation as well. We're excited to spend a little more time with the Galaxy Tab S9 to see if Google's labor in revitalizing the Android tablet ecosystem is bearing any fruit for Samsung.
However, particularly at their new higher price point starting at $799, $999, and $1,199 respectively for the Tab S9, S9 Plus and S9 Ultra, it seems like an uphill battle to win over tablet buyers that still mostly default to the iPad. However if anyone on the Android side has the brand loyalty to make that happen it's Samsung.
Sean Riley has been covering tech professionally for over a decade now. Most of that time was as a freelancer covering varied topics including phones, wearables, tablets, smart home devices, laptops, AR, VR, mobile payments, fintech, and more. Sean is the resident mobile expert at Laptop Mag, specializing in phones and wearables, you'll find plenty of news, reviews, how-to, and opinion pieces on these subjects from him here. But Laptop Mag has also proven a perfect fit for that broad range of interests with reviews and news on the latest laptops, VR games, and computer accessories along with coverage on everything from NFTs to cybersecurity and more.