Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4 Subjective Analysis

When I first started using tablets a few years back, I was generally in the “bigger is better” crowd – within limits of course. Basically, I liked the 10” form factor. As time has passed, I’ve started to gravitate towards a slightly smaller screen. Smartphones are still a bit too small for some things I do (hey, I’m getting old so staring at a 4-5” screen and reading text isn’t all that fun anymore), but carrying around a 10-inch tablet can be a bit cumbersome. That leaves 7-inch and 8-inch devices, and since I have a 5-inch smartphone (Nexus 5), I like the 8-inch class devices as a nice middle ground between smartphones and laptops.

I’ve seen some noise about Samsung going with an 8.4-inch device (as opposed to 8.0-inch). I haven’t had a chance to use a lot of tablets (yet – that’s coming with future reviews), but I do have the Dell Venue 8 still hanging around. That’s a budget 8-inch tablet, so it’s not necessarily the best comparison, but while the screen on the Samsung 8.4 is visibly larger, the dimensions aren’t really that different – it’s maybe a quarter inch taller and actually slightly narrower than the Dell. The actual screen however feels quite a bit larger than that; the Samsung display diagonal is about 8.43” while the Dell display is 8.0”, but the Samsung LCD measures 7.15”x4.45” compared to 6.8”x4.2” on the Dell – basically more than a quarter inch in each dimension. Perhaps the bigger factor is that Samsung uses a dedicated Home button on the bezel with capacitive task switcher and back buttons next to it, so you don’t lose some of the screen real estate to these buttons…except, in practice I’m not so sure I like this approach.

Moving over to the physical characteristics, having these buttons on the bezel sounds nice in theory, but I have two issues with this design. First, Samsung locates the buttons such that the Tab Pro 8.4 is designed to be held in a portrait orientation. That’s fine most of the time, but if you happen to switch to landscape orientation, suddenly your home/back/task switcher buttons aren’t where they’re supposed to be – which is at the bottom of the device. The second problem is that the capacitive buttons in particular are quite sensitive, so if you use the Pro 8.4 in landscape mode (which is what I do for a lot of games as an example), frequent inadvertent activations of the navigation buttons on the bezel occur. I’m not sure I can say that either approach is universally better, but after having the navigation cluster as part of the display for every other Android tablet I’ve used, having them locked into positions on the bezel feels less…intuitive I guess. Apple also has a discrete Home button, but note that there’s only one button instead of three, which in my experience doesn’t present as much of a problem.

In terms of the port locations, there’s not a whole lot to discuss. There’s a micro-USB port on the bottom (used for charging and connecting external devices) along with stereo speakers, a headset jack is on the top, the microSD slot is behind a cover on the left, and the power and volume controls are on the top-right edge along with an IR port in the center. That IR port location is a bit odd once again – the device is clearly designed to be held in portrait mode, but if you want to use it as a remote, you’ll need to switch to landscape mode. That’s not really a problem, but now your navigation buttons are going to be right where your right thumb typically rests while holding the device. Also note that the speaker location means you’ll only get audio from the right (or left) side of the tablet in landscape mode – it’s not a problem with headphones, of course, but it’s slightly distracting without them.

Outside of those small complaints, however, the Samsung Tab Pro 8.4 is a great tablet. Performance is good, and the display is absolutely beautiful. Samsung has also used a bonded display with fewer layers, so you don’t get that “sunk down” appearance that you’ll see on budget displays (e.g. the Venue 8). Colors are bright and vibrant (and oversaturated, but I’ll get to that later), and the touchscreen is responsive as well. As for the resolution, at 2560x1600 in an 8.4-inch LCD, there’s no way I can resolve individual pixels without a magnifying glass or microscope. I’m pretty sure this is the highest PPI display I’ve ever encountered, and it’s a bit funny that I now have the same resolution display on an 8.4-inch tablet as what I’ve been using on my 30-inch desktop for about a decade. It’s also interesting that even with such a high resolution, in general I didn’t have any issues with performance – in 3D games or elsewhere. There’s probably some scaling going on in some cases, but if so it wasn’t enough to be distracting (and of course we’re not trying to render Crysis level visuals either).

Other aspects of the tablet worked as expected in the limited amount of time I had to use the 8.4. The GPS picked up a signal and tracked location better than some of the other (cheap and/or old) tablets I’ve used, WiFi was nice and snappy, and including support for 802.11ac is always appreciated. The camera is also pretty decent as far as tablets and smartphones go – I’d rather use a point-and-shoot or smartphone, personally, but at least the photos it captures are serviceable.

One thing I didn’t appreciate as much: TouchWiz UI. It’s another “personal preference” thing, but having used a Nexus 5 smartphone as well as the Dell Venue 8, both of which use stock Android, I wasn’t as keen on the “extras” Samsung’s TouchWiz brings into play. It’s not that it’s bad, and I’ll have more to say about the software after discussing the general impressions of the Pro 10.1, but there’s definitely some choppiness in the UI at times. That’s sort of the way of Android though – it can be buttery smooth and then suddenly it’s not. If that sort of thing bothers you a lot, you might need to switch to a different OS.

The feel in hand with the Pro 8.4 is excellent, with slightly rounded corners that don’t become uncomfortable to hold. There’s a metal trim around the outside, and the back has a white faux-leather backing (made of plastic). While battery life isn’t exceptional, it should get most users through a full day of use (outside of playing games for several hours). I think most of us are at the point now where we are used to plugging in our smartphones at the end of each day (and sometimes during the day), and I basically do the same thing with tablets. If you’re using a tablet constantly for work and navigation during the day, however, you might want something that can last longer than the rated 9-10 hours of the Pro 8.4.

I’ll be honest in stating that I’m usually a fan of budget tablets, just because they’re so economical. I have children as well (ages 2, 4, and 11), and I’d much rather let them play with (and potentially damage) a $150 or $200 tablet as opposed to a $500 tablet. Plus, most things that I do on a tablet (besides games) don’t really need more than a budget offering. That said, remove the kids from the equation and the difference in feel, responsiveness, and just general quality is very palpable, making devices like the Samsung Tab Pro 8.4 very compelling. $400 is as much as you’ll pay for a budget laptop, but instead you get a premium tablet. I usually have several laptop options around that I can use if needed, and yet there are plenty of times where I now grab a tablet simply because it’s more convenient. I do wish Samsung had opted to go with 32GB of storage (even if it added $25 to the price), but the display, performance, and overall design are all so good that I can almost overlook the lack of storage space.

Introducing the Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro Lineup Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1 Subjective Analysis
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  • SilthDraeth - Saturday, March 22, 2014 - link

    On my note phone if I want to take a screenshot, I hold the power button and the Samsung Home button. Give that a try. Or, on my wife's note 10.1 first edition, it has a dedicated screenshot softkey that appears where your normal android home keys, etc appear. Reply
  • FwFred - Sunday, March 23, 2014 - link

    LOL... 'Pro'. Surface Pro 2 just fell off the chair laughing. Reply
  • Brian Z - Saturday, March 22, 2014 - link

    Antutu? Really... Maybe somebody kidnapped Anand and Brian. Frigging Antutu Reply
  • grahaman27 - Saturday, March 22, 2014 - link

    Better than just posting the browser speed tests for CPU, and draw final thoughts from that, which they have gotten in a habit of doing. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Sunday, March 23, 2014 - link

    What's wrong with running one more benchmark and listing results for it? Sheesh... most of the time people complain about not having enough data, and now someone is upset for me running AnTuTu. Yes, I know companies have "cheated" on it in the past, but the latest revision seems about as valid in its reported scores as any of the other benchmarks. Now if it wouldn't crash half the time, that would be great. :-\ Reply
  • Egg - Sunday, March 23, 2014 - link

    You do realize that Brian has, for all intents and purposes, publicly cursed AnTuTu and mocked the journalists who used it? Reply
  • JarredWalton - Sunday, March 23, 2014 - link

    The big problem is people that *only* (or primarily) use AnTuTu and rely on it as a major source of performance data. I'm not comparing AnTuTu scores with tons of devices; what I've done is provide Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4 vs. 10.1 scores, mostly to show what happens when the CPU in the 10.1 hits 1.8-1.9 GHz. It's not "cheating" to do that either -- it's just that the JavaScript tests mostly don't go above 1.2-1.3GHz for whatever reason. Octane and many other benchmarks hit higher clocks, but Sunspider and Kraken specifically do not. It's probably an architectural+governor thing, where the active threads bounce around the cores of the Exynos enough that they don't trigger higher clocks.

    Don't worry -- we're not suddenly changing stances on Geekbench, AnTuTu, etc. but given the odd clocks I was seeing with the 10.1 I wanted to check a few more data points. Hopefully that clarifies things? It was Brian after all that used AnTuTu to test for cheating (among other things).
    Reply
  • Wilco1 - Sunday, March 23, 2014 - link

    The reason for the CPU clock staying low is because the subtests in Sunspider and AnTuTu only take a few milliseconds (Anand showed this in graphs a while back). That means there is not enough time to boost the frequency to the maximum (this takes some time). Longer running benchmarks like Geekbench are fine. I wouldn't be surprised if the governor will soon start to recognize these microbenchmarks by their repeated bursty behaviour rather than by their name...

    Of course the AnTuTu and Javascript benchmarks suffer from many other issues, such as not using geomean to calculate the average (making it easy to cheat by speeding up just one subtest) and using tiny unrepresentative micro benchmarks far simpler than even Dhrystone.

    Also it would be nice to see a bit more detail about the first fully working big/little octa core with GTS enabled. Previously AnandTech has been quite negative about the power consumption of Cortex-A15, and now it looks the 5420 beats Krait on power efficiency while having identical performance...
    Reply
  • virtual void - Monday, March 24, 2014 - link

    You cannot disregard the result produced by something just because the load generated by the benchmark comes in very short burst, that is the _typical_ workload faced by these kind of devices.

    The result in Geekbench give you some hint how the device would handle HPC-workloads, it give you very limited information about how well it handles mobile apps. Another problem with Geekbench is that it runs almost entirely out of L1$. 97% of the memory accesses where reported as L1-hits on a Sandy Bridge CPU (32kB L1D$). Not even mobile apps has such a small working set.

    big.LITTLE is always at a disadvantage vs one single core in bursty workloads as the frequency transition latency is relatively high when switching CPU-cores. Low P-state switching time probably explains why BayTrail "feels" a lot faster than what the benchmarks like Geekbench suggest. BayTrail has a P-state latency of 10µs while ARM SoCs (without big.LITTLE) seem to lie between 0.1ms - 1ms (according to the Linux device-tree information).
    Reply
  • Wilco1 - Monday, March 24, 2014 - link

    What is claimed this is CPU performance at maximum frequency, not a latency test of bursty workloads. It would be interesting to see Anand's browsing test reporting both power and performance/latency results as it seems a reasonable test of actual use. However SunSpider is not like a real mobile workload.

    The datasets for most of the benchmarks in Geekbench are actually quite large, into 20-30MBytes range. That certainly does not fit into the L2 on any SoC I know, let alone on L1. So I suggest that Geekbench gives a far better idea of mobile performance than a benchmark that only measures the set of JIT optimization tricks to get a good SunSpider score.

    Intel doesn't have magic that makes frequency scaling 10-100 times faster - PLLs and voltage regulators all use the same physics (until recently Intel was using the same industry-standard voltage regulators as everybody else). The issue is one of software, the default governor is not recognizing repeated patterns of bursty behaviour and keeping clocks high for longer when necessary. Intel avoids the Linux governor issues by using a separate microcontroller. I have no doubt that it has been well tuned to the kind of bursty behaviour that SunSpider exhibits.
    Reply

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