Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4 and 10.1 Reviewby Jarred Walton on March 22, 2014 9:30 PM EST
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.