Samsung’s new flagship Galaxy Tab S8 tablets have arrived, and there is a new “Ultra” member in the family. Much like its smartphone counterpart, the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra is larger, more powerful, and pricier than the other models. The premium slate is being positioned as a laptop replacement and its lofty price makes it a direct rival to Apple’s iPad Pro.
Announced alongside the Ultra at Samsung’s Galaxy Unpacked event are the Galaxy Tab S8 and Tab S8+, two cheaper tablets that, while not as attention-grabbing, are premium in their own right. The Tab S8+ is in many ways a scaled-down version of the Ultra while the Tab S8 is more of an iPad Air competitor that trades luxury features for a more agreeable price.
With these new releases, particularly the Ultra, Samsung is doubling down on Android tablets, and making a daring bet that cutting-edge hardware and its DeX software platform can offset the limitations of an operating system that, not long ago, seemed destined to be replaced on large-screen devices.
The Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra is packed with new features, and the standout is a 14.6-inch, 2960 x 1848-pixel Super AMOLED display with a 120Hz refresh rate. We’ve seen this panel tech before on the S7+ (and now S8+) but not at this scale. As you can see below, the S8+ is considerably larger than the other models and gives you more screen real estate than even the 12.9-inch iPad Pro.
Consequently, the S8 Ultra is rather unwieldy as a tablet, measuring 12.9 x 8.2 x 0.22 inches and weighing 1.6 pounds. But carrying this device around might be worth waking up with sore arms; the oversized panel looked gorgeous at a brief hands-on session we attended, and could very well make this the best tablet for streaming movies. We’re eager to place it side-by-side with the miniLED panel on the iPad Pro to see if it earns that title.
Samsung’s reasons for expanding the screen are twofold: to make videos more immersive and to improve multitasking. The first bit it achieves not only with a larger panel but by trimming the bezels to 6.3mm, which gives the Tab S8 Ultra the best screen-to-body ratio of the bunch. It draws your eyes toward the bed of pixels and makes it feel as if you’re walking around with your own miniature TV (which, coincidently, Samsung previously attempted with the ill-fated Galaxy View). Those slim frames come at the expense of a notch nestled at the top of the screen, a design element destined to irk Samsung fans who got pleasure from picking on Apple (just as Samsung did with a certain commercial).
“As we rely more on videos to stay connected and entertained, we know that a tablet’s most compelling feature is its large screen and portability,” TM Roh, the president and head of MX Business at Samsung, said in a statement announcing the tablet lineup. “We built on years of innovation in mobile experiences to refine the Galaxy Tab S8 series, and to push the boundaries of what’s possible on a tablet with the first Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra.”
The Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra, which is available only in graphite, looks and feels like a premium product. It should also be reasonably durable considering the exterior is clad in “Armor Aluminum,” an alloy Samsung developed. It’s the same stuff used to make Samsung’s foldable phones more robust than they once were, and it promises to boost the Ultra’s scratch resistance by 30% while making it 40% less prone to bending (we recommend resisting the urge to test these claims).
One of the best hardware features of the series returns in the magnetic stylus garage. The teardrop-shaped magnet keeps the S Pen in place when you’re done sketching so you don’t lose it between couch cushions—an inevitable outcome for this forgetful reviewer. Speaking of the S Pen, Samsung revamped the digital writing utensil with “prediction algorithms” to drop latency down to 2.8 milliseconds. I don’t know exactly what that means but Gizmodo reporter Florence Ion said the pen felt responsive in the short time she used it and was impressed by the comfort of its slender shape. We’ll do more testing to see if it stands up to Samsung’s “gliding a pen across paper” claim.
Digging into the technical specs, the Tab S8 Ultra is powered by an unnamed four-nanometer octa-core processor (presumably the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1) and paired with 16GB of RAM and up to a 512GB SSD. If you need more space for photos and videos, storage can be expanded to 1TB via a microSD card.
You might need the room, because the Tab S8 Ultra comes with a 13-megapixel standard camera and a 6MP ultra-wide lens on the rear along with a pair of 12MP (wide and ultra-wide) cameras on the front. What will really eat up storage is the ability to record 4K video using either the rear camera or wide-angle selfie lens. This should ensure sharp video calls while Samsung’s new “auto-framing technology” takes a page from Apple’s Center Stage iPad Pro feature and keeps you centered within the frame. It’ll even zoom in when a participant leaves and zoom out when they take a seat beside you.
Samsung didn’t provide specific battery life ratings but it claims the Tab S8 series tablets have an “all-day battery” that supports hours of video playback (let’s hope so). When they’re running low on a charge, the 11,200 mAh cell in the Ultra can go from 0% to 100% in 90 minutes. The 10,090 mAh and 8,000 mAh batteries in the Tab S8+ and Tab S8, respectively, charge in just 80 minutes thanks to 45W fast charging. And when connected via USB-C, the tablets can act as a portable charger for your Galaxy phone.
The Tab S8 Ultra is intended to be used for work and play, which can only happen with a keyboard. The one Samsung built specifically for the Ultra is enticing. It’s called the Book Cover Keyboard and comes with wide keys, backlighting, customizable shortcut settings, a glass touchpad, and adjustable stand angles—everything you need from a hardware perspective to transform a tablet into a laptop.
The Tab S8+ is a true middle-ground option that adopts features from the Ultra and entry-level model. For instance, the Tab S8+ has a smaller 12.4-inch, 2800 x 1752-resolution display but uses the same Super AMOLED technology as the Ultra. The standard Tab S8, on the other hand, is the smallest of the group at 11 inches (2560 x 1600) and has a standard LTPS TFT panel with lower contrast and weaker black levels. And where the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra and S8+ have under-display fingerprint sensors, the standard model has a physical one on the side.
What makes the largest tablet “Ultra” are its beefier specs. Where the high-end model reaches 12GB of RAM and 512GB of storage, the Galaxy Tab S8 and Galaxy Tab S8+ are limited to 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. However, they can match the Ultra with a 1TB SD card. Another difference is the cameras: All three tablets have the same dual-camera rear setup but only the Tab S8 Ultra gets a 12MP ultra-wide selfie cam.
I’m eager to get my hands on the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra’s backlit keyboard accessory, and just as intrigued by the Tab S8+’s Note View Cover, a transparent cover that lets you write with an S Pen while the tablet is protected. The smallest of the tablets gets its own custom accessory: a Strap Cover that lets you hold it in your preferred orientation.
One advantage of going with the standard options is the choice between three colors: graphite, silver, and pink gold. They certainly aren’t the most interesting hues we’ve seen from Samsung, but at least you get some options.
Since they are part of the same premium flagship series, it’s no surprise that several features are shared across all three tablets, including quad speakers tuned by AKG, fast charging, Wi-Fi 6E and 5G connectivity (in certain markets), three noise-canceling microphones, S Pen support (the stylus is included!), facial recognition, and a metal chassis.
There is no doubting Samsung’s ability to produce first-rate hardware. My concern is Android, and whether an operating built for smartphones and long criticized as, well, “not great for tablets” is the right platform for premium devices. Potential saving graces come in the form of DeX and Android 12L as well as Samsung’s Galaxy ecosystem.
Starting with Samsung’s effort: DeX, when enabled, transforms Android into a more traditional desktop interface akin to Chrome OS or Windows. Multi-tasking has been enhanced to allow for three windows in four layout options and DeX mode now functions when the tablet is positioned vertically. I’m generally a fan of DeX but we’ll see how it holds up when I attempt to use the Galaxy Tab Ultra as my work laptop, erm, tablet. One feature I’m particularly excited about is the ability to turn these tablets into external touchscreen monitors, though the functionality is limited to Samsung’s hit-or-miss Galaxy Book PCs.
The Galaxy Tab S8 series will ship with Android 12 with Samsung’s One UI Tab 4 skin but Android 12L is on the horizon to fix some lingering issues with Android tablets. Optimized for large displays, the update promises to revamp user interfaces and debut new features to enhance multitasking and fix app compatibility issues. Google is currently mid-way through its test and development cycle and Android 12L is expected to arrive by the end of Q1 this year. Samsung promises four generations of Android OS upgrades and five years of security updates, a commitment that goes further than even Google does with its Pixel 6 phones.
Of course, these tablets will play nicely with Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones and laptops. You can jot notes down on your tablet then pull them up on your phone or use Quick Share to transfer photos, videos, and files from one device to another. The tablets also support Auto Switch so your Galaxy Buds will automatically pair to your Galaxy S22 phone when connected to your Tab S8. Samsung Health also makes its tablet debut, and the company is touting partnerships with various programs, including LumaFusion for video editing, Clip Studio Paint for drawing, and Google Duo for video calls.
The Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra will be available for preorder Feb. 9 with a starting price of—you might want to sit down for this—$1,099. The Galaxy Tab S8 and Tab S8+ will be available to preorder on the same date and start at $699 and $899, respectively.
Those who preorder the standard options from Samsung’s website get a free Slim Book Cover Keyboard, while folks willing to shell out for the Ultra get a free Backlit Book Cover Keyboard.