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Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 review: A premium tablet great for entertainment, but no PC replacement

Premium tablets are at a crossroads. It’s no longer good enough to have great performance, an amazing display and stellar sound. If you’re going to charge laptop prices for a tablet, you better make one that can be used for productivity tasks, too. 

Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S4 ($650, £599) attempts to do that, but instead of running a desktop OS, Samsung’s done some clever software acrobatics to give you a desktop-like interface and the capability to use a keyboard, mouse and a secondary display if you want. And Samsung includes a full-size S Pen that extends the Tab S4’s usefulness even further. 

Powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor, the Tab S4 is essentially an Android competitor to Windows 10 two-in-ones like the Asus NovaGo,  HP Envy x2 and the Lenovo Miix 630 ($850 at Amazon.com). The big selling points for those are long battery lives and optional LTE connectivity so you can more safely work anywhere. However, Android performs better than Windows with the Snapdragon mobile processor, giving the Tab S4 an edge. 

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Still, priced at $650 for the Wi-Fi-only version from AmazonBest Buy and Samsung’s website, the Galaxy Tab S4 is pricey and that’s without a keyboard (another $150). It starts at £599 in the UK, which converts to about AU$1,060. An LTE version (a Verizon exclusive to start, but will come to other major carriers including SprintT-Mobile and US Cellular later in Q3 2018) makes it a better idea for mobile workers. In a market filling up with inexpensive Windows two-in-ones and premium Chromebooks that can run both web and Android apps, the draw for a premium tablet like this is a little unclear. 

Key specs

  • Snapdragon 835 processor 
  • 4GB of memory
  • 64 or 256GB built-in storage; support for up to 400GB microSD cards
  • 13-megapixel rear and 8-megapixel front cameras
  • 802.11ac MIMO Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0
  • LTE version available
  • Android 8.1 (update to Android 9.0 at a later date)

The pen is mightier than the keyboard

The bundled S Pen is an excellent addition to the tablet experience. It’s a full-size pen making it comfortable to hold and use and it doesn’t need charging. 

Press the button on the barrel while hovering over the screen and you’ll get a menu of pen productivity tools. You can even write on the display without opening an app or even unlocking the tablet, which makes it particularly handy for jotting down a quick to-do or shopping list. While writing on glass still doesn’t feel quite the same as a pen on paper, the S Pen tip has the smooth glide of a gel pen with just a modicum of delay. 

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Sarah Tew/CNET

For however useful and fun to use the included S Pen is, it’s the Book Cover Keyboard that’s really the driver for Samsung’s productivity push for the Tab S4. That and the new DeX desktop-like interface that changes the tablet’s Android interface into a desktop-style experience. The feature first popped up in Samsung’s Galaxy phones using the DeX Dock and pad and for the most part the experience is the same, which is to say it’s not going to replace an actual PC or even a Chromebook, but it works in a pinch. 

You can switch to DeX from the S4’s Quick Panel settings or, if you have the keyboard cover, you can have it change automatically when you sit the tablet up for typing. Attach a USB-C adapter with an HDMI output and you can work on an external display while simultaneously using the Tab S4 as a giant touchpad, or grab the S Pen and use the S4’s screen like a Wacom tablet. 

You can also continue to use the S4 as an Android tablet, so you could keep a video playing on the tablet while you continue to work on a PowerPoint presentation on another display. There’s USB and Bluetooth mouse support, too, so you don’t have to rely on the touchscreen for navigation.   

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The S4’s display can be used as a giant touchpad when connected to an external display. 


Sarah Tew/CNET

What’s irritating is there is no touchpad on the keyboard cover — Microsoft managed to squeeze a usable one onto its smaller Surface Go cover since that device has a built-in kickstand. Actually, there are several irritating things about the keyboard cover starting with the fact that it’s not included and is pricey at $150.

While I was able to type reasonably fast on it, it’s definitely cramped and not backlit. The cover also sits the screen at a single viewing angle, which works for desks, but not much else. And despite being connected to the tablet by a set of magnetic pogo pins, the keyboard would intermittently stop responding.


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