Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra: Elevating the Android Tablet Experience
During the latest Unpacked event that Samsung held virtually this week, the smartphone leader launched its latest flagship phone as well as three new Android tablets: the Galaxy Tab S8, the S8+ and the S8 Ultra, its first-ever Ultra tablet.
Looking at the specs, it is immediately obvious these latest tablets are all born out of lockdown and ready for hybrid work. Large screen, quad speakers, ultra-wide cameras, three mics with noise-cancellation and intelligent auto-framing software all speak to long hours of video calls. Given the impact of Omicron and habits that have now cemented in our day-to-day lives, it is fair to assume that some behaviors are here to stay. Samsung, for instance, remains confident that video consumption will remain strong, coming to represent more than 80% of consumers’ online traffic in 2022.
The Galaxy S8 Ultra pushes the boundaries for a tablet with a 14.6-inch Super AMOLED display, the largest screen seen on a Galaxy Tablet thus far with also the thinnest bezel yet really maximizing the screen real estate for the user. The 120Hz refresh rate of the display and the quad speakers with Dolby Atmos make the Galaxy S8 Ultra an excellent choice for entertainment whether you want to game or watch video content. From a productivity side, Samsung’s DeX support and the in-box S Pen add versatility to the device to support the blended life we all live where the lines between work and play are more and more blurred. DeX has a new feature that allows users to work in portrait orientation and turn the Tab S8 Ultra into a wireless touchscreen monitor for a paired PC or phone. In addition, the S-Pen prediction algorithm has been improved to reduce latency by more than 30%, and support has been given to Microsoft apps.
Given the Tab S8 Ultra size, many users are likely to want to buy the optional keyboard that Samsung has revamped with wider, backlit keycaps now glass-coated, customizable shortcut settings, and adjustable standing angles. Whether with S Pen or with the keyboard that supports Wireless Keyboard Share, Samsung has shown during the event the ability to use phone and tablet together to enhance an experience. I wrote about the importance of bringing computing experiences together in my article last week when talking about Windows PCs, but the same point is relevant here. Whether it is using the phone as a color pallet for a painting app like Clip Studio Paint on your tablet or using the tablet to quickly reply to a text message on the phone, users will be able to focus on the task at hand rather than where to get it done.
The Tab S8 family uses the Snapdragon Fast Connect to deliver Bluetooth 5.2, and Wi-Fi 6E cause something else the pandemic made clear was that one could never have enough bandwidth. While I am and always will be an advocate for cellular connectivity in any computing device, I can understand why 5G was not a talking point for these tables. Considering we have yet to return to a pre-pandemic level of mobility, adding additional cost to a lineup that is already competing with laptop price points would have been difficult, especially as the carriers might not be as keen right now to subsidize these devices as they are more focused on 5G phones.
Samsung has been consistently releasing Android tablets, admittingly alongside Microsoft ones, over the years. According to IDC’s market share, the South Korean brand holds second place behind Apple in the worldwide ranking, followed by Lenovo. One of Samsung’s strengths has always been the ability to customize its tablets for business customers, assuring that these devices were not just entertainment devices on a free-fall price tag but considered primary computing devices for specific business roles. So, it only seems timely that as organizations finally start to pay the right level of attention to front-line workers, Samsung decides to double down on its offering with the Tab S8 family.
The time also seems fitting, as we have seen just this week that Google appointed one of the founders of Android, Rich Miner, as its CTO of Android tablets. This, coupled with the better support offered by Android 12L to larger screens and foldables, might help address one of the most significant shortcomings of Android tablets over the years: software!
While in 4Q21, worldwide tablet shipments recorded a decline for the second time since the pandemic began in 2020, reaching sales of 46 million units according to preliminary data from IDC, sales for the full year 2021 were up 3.2% year over year. They reached 168.8 million units, the market’s highest level since 2016. Meanwhile, Chromebook shipments declined 63.6% year over year in 4Q21 but managed to grow 13.5% for the entire year. Long term, I believe there is more opportunity in the tablet space than in the Chromebook space, especially in the enterprise. Chromebooks grew during the pandemic despite the poor experience they often delivered. Yet, as the clear decline showed in 4Q, with the PC supply chain improving slightly and the education emergency ending, buyers are returning to have more choice.
Another opportunity for tablets is the Metaverse. While the full-blown Metaverse is still a long way away, I thought it was interesting that Samsung built a version of its New York event space in Decentraland, a cryptocurrency-focused virtual playground. The audience could access the experience through a browser and navigate the space with a good old-fashioned mouse. This proved my initial suspicion that Samsung might be thinking there is an opportunity for tablets, and of course phones, to play a role at the beginning of the Metaverse but also as the long tail of deployment while VR headsets might remain out of reach for most users.
Starting at $700 with the Tab S8 and going up to $1099 for the Tab S8 Ultra, these tablets are getting to PC prices, which might make most people pause. Yet, Samsung delivers on a high-resolution and high-refresh-rate display, a wide-field 12mp front camera and a tight integration with the phone addressing users’ most critical wants and needs. It has been a while since I got excited about trying out an Android tablet. I really hope the experience will match what seems like great hardware.