There seems to be a huge divide (at least, online) between Apple and Android users, where the general perception is never the two shall mix. Between stories about how Apple users will dump Android owners based on the color of their chat icons and Apple’s general monolithic marketing machine, it seems like this has somehow become an important issue. If, however, you happened to be shopping for a new tablet and stumbled across Samsung’s nearest—their flagship Tab S3—it’s entirely understandable how you might mistake it for a brand new iPad.
The Tab S3 may be the single greatest not-iPad tablet we’ve seen, but perhaps Samsung’s dogged desire to beat Apple at their own game is hurting their sense of individual design. Where their new Galaxy 8 phones are going with nearly bezel-less housings and no physical button designs, the new Tab S3 looks a lot like previous iterations. It’s sleek, shiny and about a quarter of an inch thick, with a brilliant 9.7 inch AMOLED screen.
Slightly smaller and lighter overall than the 9.7 inch iPad Pro, this isn’t just Samsung’s top tier tablet, it’s the flagship Android-based tablet, period. It just looks an awful lot like an Apple product.
Admittedly, those looks come with a price tag. At $599.99, this isn’t a budget tablet. It’s all top rung materials in and out, with some bells and whistles that go beyond most such devices. Currently available only in the 32GB model, which feels rather light to me, the Tab S3 is priced identically to its Apple equivalent. There’s some significant differences though. Where Apple charges you $100 for its Apple Pencil, the Samsung version (the ‘S Pen’) comes standard.
The $130 keyboard cover is also slightly cheaper than the $150 iPad version and surprisingly comfortable to type on. The Tab magnetically locks to the cover and connects to the keyboard via small magnetic contacts. Keys have a nice feel, enabling the S3 to feel like an incredibly portable laptop when the need arises. Admittedly, tablets aren’t laptops. They occupy a nebulous middle ground between the smartphone and PC.
For most people, that means a lightweight browser and social machine with heavy duty streaming abilities. On this front, the Tab S3 excels. The screen supports a resolution of 2048x1536 (which is very good) and HDR—a color enhancement technology previously only seen on 4K TVs. Without getting into tech jargon, the end result is a gorgeous picture with bright, vivid colors that make it actually worthwhile to watch your favorite shows and movies on a smaller screen.
Of course, the biggest difference between the Tab S3 and iPad Pro is the operating system. Android generally works nicely on larger screens, but Android app developers haven’t exactly been studious about truly optimizing their apps for the increased real estate. So, a lot of apps tend to feel more comfortable on phones. There’s plenty of decent productivity to be had here though—both Google Docs, with its Docs, Sheets and Slides apps, and Microsoft Office offer an impressive ability to get actual work done and are optimized for tablets.
The Tab also sports an SD card slot, which no Apple product has, meaning downloading movies, books and other media (but not, sadly, actual apps) doesn’t have to waste precious system space. There’s even a password (or pass code, gesture, or fingerprint) protected secure folder for those extra special pictures and videos.
Possibly best of all is the battery life. Samsung claims up to 12 hours, and that seemed to hold up with normal browsing and streaming usage. The Tab S3 is definitely the tablet to take on those long flights as defense against airplane movies, creepy seat mates and mind-numbing boredom. If you’re not locked into the cult of Apple, Samsung’s Tab S3 offers a superb alternative to the iPad Pro and, if you consider the inclusion of the S Pen, at a cheaper price.