All images: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo

Coming a year after the launch of Apple’s first 9.7-inch iPad Pro, the new iteration from Samsung feels daring. While it has the same sleek lines, is just as light, and possesses the magnetic connection on one side for easy keyboard cover attachment, Samsung’s iPad Pro for 2017 is, inexplicably called the Galaxy Tab S3, and unlike previous iPads this one runs on Android.

Technically, if you want to be “accurate” this is not an iPad Pro, but Samsung’s first premium Android tablet in over a year. In 2015 Android sort of lost the tablet war it had waged against iOS. While Google’s mobile OS rules the budget roost thanks to the cheap Kindle Fire, no one has really expressed a desire for a $600 media consumption machine running little green droid brains. Heck, at this point people don’t even buy iPads any more. The people who want tablets have them already.

The difference is size is very...small.

Samsung’s hoping it can change people’s minds with a shiny new device that just happens to bear a remarkable resemblance to the current bestselling premium tablet, the iPad. It’s only a hundredth of a pound lighter than the comparable iPad, less than a tenth of an inch shorter, and both devices are just .24 inches thick. They’re both also $600 for a 32GB version, and they handle everything from drawing to quickly written screeds on Facebook with zero lag. Maybe Samsung considers the remarkable similarities between its new product and last year’s iPad Pro to be a compliment to Apple, rather than a naked bid for a share of a dwindling market. Though Apple, and courts, tend to disagree.

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Some things are different about the two tablets. Besides running Android Nougat instead of iOS 10, the Tab S3 has a Qualcomm 820 processor (which is theoretically slower than the 835 reportedly planned for the Galaxy S8 phone), comes in only a 32GB version, and includes a nice little pen for drawing on its admittedly vibrant AMOLED display. As an Apple Pencil costs an additional $100, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 feels like a bargain. 

The VERY different magnetic connectors for the iPad and Tabs S3 keyboard covers. The iPad is the one on the bottom.

Neither device includes the keyboard cover. Apple charges $150 for a cover and keyboard that feels like your typing on canvas layered of bubble wrap. Samsung charges $130 for a keyboard and cover with chiclet style keys that are much more satisfying to type on. Though each key is just small enough and placed just oddly enough that I had to double triple quadruple spell check this review while using it.

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I was a little surprised at how handy the Tab S3 was as a productivity device. Android as an operating system really doesn’t work in a tablet form. Only a smattering of apps are actually optimized for the landscape mode we use tablets in. The OS has long been for phones first, and tablets a distant, distant second. So being able to write up this review or tweak photos on the tablet was a pleasant surprise. Yet if you want an actual laptop-like experience from Android you’re better off going with a Chromebook instead—as those are at least crafted with productivity as a focus instead of as a convenient bonus.

The big problem with the Galaxy Tabs S3, is that it is meant to exist in the same odd place as the iPad Pro. While it can help you crank out an email (or blog), or draw some nice comic art, it primarily exists to consume media, not create it. That’s why the 2,048 x 1,536 display supports HDR and why I’ve managed to go a week on a charge despite using it every night as I veg on the couch.

Past the iPad-like trappings, the Galaxy Tab S3 is, at its core, a supplemental computing device built for an audience I don’t think either Samsung or Apple quite knows. This isn’t for business use, or as a primary device for students, or a necessity for artists. Its a pure luxury item Samsung and Apple like to insist we need even we’ve already got phones and laptops that do everything the Tab S3 does. It’s what you buy because you’re tired of a computer on your lap while you watch TV or you want something light to carry on the plane for your next trip out of town.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 is very good at being a supplemental device. If you broke your iPad or finally saved up enough pennies to purchase your first premium tablet than the Tab S3 is a fine $600 choice. It’s a $100 less than an iPad Pro and Pencil and the only true downside is how tablet-unfriendly Android can occasionally be. That’s a pretty dang minor downside in my book. As iPad knock-offs go, the Galaxy Tab S3 reigns supreme.

README

  • It’s everything you want in the iPad Pro, but it runs Android
  • Android isn’t very friendly to tablets in landscape mode. Facebook looks nice, and you can pen a novel, but there isn’t a good Twitter app.
  • While the keyboard case costs $130 and has some keys placed in frustrating places, the Tab S3 includes a pen, making the combined package $100 less than the equivalent with the iPad Pro.
  • Samsung continues to have one of the most vibrant displays in the portable space. Everything looks good on this Super AMOLED.
  • Do you really need a $600 tablet that primarily hangs out on the couch for late night mahjong sessions and quick IMDB searches?