Samsung is returning to computers, well, sort of. Fresh off the back of new and successful smartphones in the S7 range, the company responsible for the “Galaxy” range of devices is returning to Windows for a notebook on a diet.
It’s been a while since we’ve seen a Samsung computer, but the company is on the return to the category, focusing and refocusing its efforts into something else, with a device that is both a tablet and a computer, yet has some of the design sense in common with a Samsung Galaxy S phone.
That design is something we’ll get into in just a moment, but the specifics include a 12 inch Super AMOLED display running the resolution of 2160×1440 and providing a screen clarity of 216 pixels per inch.
Inside the computer, you’ll find an Intel Core M processor from the sixth-generation of Core chips, also known as “Skylake”, with this one a dual-core m3-6Y30 clocked at roughly 1.5GHz (each core sits at around 0.9GHz), with 4GB RAM and 128GB storage.
Microsoft’s Windows 10 arrives on the Galaxy TabPro S out of the box, with either Windows 10 Home or Windows 10 Pro depending on the version you buy, and there are even a few Samsung bits of software sitting on top.
Connections for the computer are a little subdued in comparison to what a modern laptop or tablet might have, with wireless catered for via Bluetooth 4.1 and 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, as well as GPS and Near-Field Communication, though wired merely offers one USB Type C port and a 3.5mm headset jack.
Cameras can be found here, too — it is a tablet, after all — and you’ll find a 5 megapixel camera on each side with no flash for either and Full HD video capture on both.
Buttons are found here, too, with a power button up top next to a volume rocker, and then a Windows home button for the Start menu on the left side corner.
Charging the tablet happens through a USB Type C port, and that will charge a 5200mAh battery inside the tablet.
Samsung is doing some serious work in the phone and tablet space lately, and design is a big part of what the company is paying attention to.
Here in the TabPro S, you get the feeling that the simplicity from the standard Galaxy S6 and S7 is what is being channeled, because there are no steep curves and there are no defined edges.
Rather, this is a tablet with a soft metal frame holding everything together, with what feels like an only slightly textured back and of course a massive glass panel up front.
Or in other words, it’s a tablet, because tablets tend to be large screens with computers on the inside. and that’s precisely what this is.
We do like the edges, metal and premium, with magnesium employed here, and the whole device has a nice top-end experience to it, like you’re getting something that has been agonised over in the decision making process, one of which would easily be the fix-ins.
Easily one of the more complained about things from Microsoft’s Surface range is the lack of an included keyboard, and it’s not just reviewers criticising this, but customers, too. It’s hard not to get frustrated by the obvious point-out that when push comes to shove, after spending whatever it is you spend on the Surface machines, you still need to fork out between $140 and $200 on a fabric-backed Type Cover keyboard to make the Surface more of a computer.
With Samsung’s Galaxy TabPro S, however, a pleather backed keyboard comes in the box, and this is part of the design simply because it — like the Surface — relies on a magnetic dock connection, and it even keeps the size down when collapsed, offering a folio design that looks uber-professional, as if you’re carrying around something important.
Even if you don’t have professional projects to make yourself look super swish, you’ll still find a decent machine waiting for you underneath, with Intel’s sixth-generation Core M processor providing just enough speed to get you through the day, ideal for productivity, web surfing, email and the like, though you can do more if need be.
We found Photoshop could run perfectly well here, though the lack of RAM doesn’t help the images load quickly, so it would have been nice to see a boost.
Bugs were noticed, however, with shut down issues that occasionally popped up stopping the device from actually switching off, as well as some overheating issues while the tablet stays dormant in your bag. That’s similar to what we experienced with Microsoft’s Surface Book when it first appeared, so we suspect these are just teething issues, even if we feel obligated to note them.
Mostly though, it’s a decent performer, reminding us more of a lightweight business and productivity friendly notebook, even though it’s quite obviously a tablet connected to a keyboard.
If you wanted to, you could use the tablet as merely that — a tablet — and Windows 10 would surely let you, with both a tablet and a computer operating inside the one operating system, complete with a touchscreen keyboard.
That’s fine, and Windows 10 can certainly function this way, but we’re a little surprised to see no stylus included in the box since this tablet supports it. Samsung says this is coming later, though, so at least be happy with the inclusion of that keyboard case, as this links up with a physical docking connector on the bottom of the tablet and even brings a trackpad to the table.
The outside of the case is nice enough and pleasing to the eye, but more interestingly is how the case works, and how the keyboard makes the Surfac– sorry, Samsung TabPro S experience more complete. Simply put: you’ll want to use the keyboard case the TabPro S comes with, as it’ll make the whole experience just that much more usable overall.
Let’s talk about that case, though, because it comes with some folds on the back.
If you’ve ever used an iPad case, this “origami” style will be familiar, simply because it means there’s a stand built into the design. But hold on there, because this is a little different.
The back of the TabPro S has a fairly large magnet inside, which the case is only too happy to connect to, and slapping it into place while creasing the right origami fold means the keyboard will stand up in one of two ways: at a slight angle just off that of perpendicular, or laying down at a slight angle.
The first of these is the one people will no doubt most often use, but the laying down one we found was a little more useful on transport where the sudden jerking motions of brakes or trains stopping meant a possibility that our tablet could disconnect and go flying out of the case (trust in magnets only extends so far, especially when the magnets don’t seem quite as strong as you might otherwise think).
Then there’s the keyboard, and this is interesting because Samsung has opted for a design more like an older keyboard, with keys that don’t offer the same individual island key styling modern keyboards tend to offer.
Instead, we’re reminded of the original generation of Surface Type Cover keyboards, with keys that don’t offer the tiny gutter of space we’ve all come to expect, and yet provide that familiar QWERTY layout in a 12 inch space.
It’s comfortable enough, we’ll say that, and after a week of typing, we’ve gotten over the majority of the errors we’d normally have by recognising that the keys are a little too large. It’s a tiny thing that can actually amount to a big deal, partially because what you get used to in modern keyboards should be replicated across the board, and when it isn’t, it can mean a problem with how you type and consequently an adjustment period.
We test our computers by writing on the keyboards they come with, usually to the point of wanting to throw them out the window, and if we like the keyboards, we test them further by writing chapters of books on them (because this reviewer is a writer outside of work, too).
Samsung’s TabPro S keyboard got us through to the second part — the one where we test the keyboard more thoroughly — and despite the reverted key size, we found it wasn’t a bad typing experience, just one you had to get used to.
At least you get a Caps Lock key that lights up and a full-size right shift key, things tablet keyboard makers tend to skip, and there’s even a real touchpad here, providing another way of talking to the Samsung Galaxy TabPro S when you don’t have that stylus (which no one does at the time of publication).
We would have liked to have seen backlit keys, though, because using this keyboard in the dark is not super fun.
One area that Samsung scores points for is in the display, and that’s an area where Samsung has proven time and time again that it really, really, really knows what it’s doing.
For the TabPro S, you’ll find a 12 inch Super AMOLED displays, making it a superbly bright and beautifully dynamic display much like what you’ll find in Samsung’s phones.
Without doubt, this is one of the best parts of this tablet, and the use of such a lovely super AMOLED display results in a beautifully clear screen, providing a sense of dynamism that is just so hard to ignore.
Always a bit of a dilemma with laptops, Samsung attempts to curb any issues on the TabPro S battery with an Intel Core M processor, making this machine kind of like the tablet equivalent of Apple’s super-slim MacBook.
Does it get there, and can it nail the six to nine hours we see out of Apple’s equivalent?
Yes and no. Mostly no, though it’s not a bad result, just not a brilliant one.
Testing the TabPro S through the space of a week or so, we found the laptop could achieve over six hours of battery life, but it was rare and required you to leave aspects of the device on that dent on the usability experience, while also switching off others and relying less on this thing called the internet.
Like all tablets and laptops, if you manage to steer clear of WiFi, you’ll find the battery life goes up, meaning if you don’t use a web browser and sit on your machine writing until you fall asleep, you may find the battery meter goes up to above six hours.
Samsung even includes an odd little application called “Galaxy Settings” that most won’t know is there and yet runs the vital setting of dimming the screen shortly after not using it.
That’s the thing about a bright screen: it’s lovely and beautiful and totally dynamic, but it can also suck power, so dimming the screen and lowering the brightness on a regular basis can deal with this and save the battery.
So Samsung has brought in this dimming software that constantly flicks off the brightness much to the confusion of the reviewers, and likely you, meaning you’ll want to switch it off as quickly as possible, which you can’t technically do. You can, however, extend dimming to a greater amount such as 2 or 5 or 10 minutes, and by that point, you may have set your energy saver preferences to kick in and turn the screen off as it is.
Overall, making the computer work by connecting to WiFi and using the screen on an adequate brightness setting, we found we were more likely to see for to five hours, which isn’t bad especially for the size and the knowledge that the physical keyboard is sucking battery life away, too.
At least you can be happy in knowing that recharging is easy and doesn’t require a brick, because the Galaxy TabPro S is Samsung’s first USB Type C device, meaning you get a small charge pack much like that of a phone and the reversible Type C adaptor.
If you already have a USB Type C-equipped phone like the Microsoft Lumia 950 or 950XL, or a Google Nexus 5X or 6P, it’s the same plug.
But Samsung doesn’t want you on any of those phones with the TabPro S, and there’s a rather neat reason as to why: it’s called “Flow”.
The cohesion of Flow
Before Mobile World Congress this year, we wrote a wishlist for the sort of things we wanted.
It was already a foregone conclusion that we’d be seeing new hardware, and the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge have provided a solid groundwork for Samsung to do business with this year, but we also longed for cohesion, for harmony between the phones and computers we were using.
Apple has it in its devices, because if you have a Mac — any recent Mac — and you have an iPhone — any recent iPhone — your two devices will talk.
Get a message and it comes through on the computer. Get a phone call and it comes through on the computer. Need to tether? No worries, the Mac knows which iPhone is yours and can start that up easily.
It’s harmony, and in the weeks since I have been trying the Mac environment out for personal use beyond its review period, it’s one of the things I have grown to fall in love with, though it does mean I would need to use an iPhone.
But what if you don’t want to use an iPhone? What if you really like your Samsung Galaxy phone and want this to talk to your laptop in much the same way?
That’s the concept behind “Samsung Flow”, a software and hardware combination that comes with the Galaxy TabPro S, but only works with the Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge for now, though Samsung has suggested that we could see it working with other devices later on.
The idea is this: your laptop should talk to your phone, and so Flow is a piece of software installed on the TabPro S that makes this handshake more of a hug, with messages and notifications passed through, easy tethering, and even some security.
There’s no Windows Hello here via the camera like on some other laptops, as that would have no doubt played a part on inflicting pain to the overall size and battery life, so Samsung has employed a different tactic.
Since Flow only works with the S7 and S7 Edge thus far and both of these have the fingerprint scanner, Samsung’s app will let you log in by registering your fingerprint on the phone and transmitting this as a key to unlock the computer.
And for the most part it works: you take your computer off standby, grab your phone, run the Samsung Flow app, and then hold your finger on the fingerprint home button, with the app picking it up and sending the unlock code to the tablet. Easy, or easy-ish, anyway.
We’ll admit it’s not quite as easy or fast as Windows Hello’s typical camera pick up whereby it looks at you and says “you’re definitely you”, unlocking the computer in a second. Instead, Samsung’s compromise takes a few seconds and needs a recent phone to work, but it’s not a bad compromise altogether.
And the notifications are surely handy, even if they do relentlessly appear on screen telling, you, of, every, single, notification, requiring you to constantly flick them away.
More useful is the easy tethering which is very easy, informing Windows of a hotspot that you don’t have to setup, and doing it painlessly, much like the messaging side of things, affording you the opportunity to send text messages from your computer easily, too.
But there isn’t a pass through for that phone call side of things, so it’s not a total cohesion, and Samsung Flow isn’t always running either, which means the system isn’t like it is on the Mac.
On a Mac, you could be on the iPad somewhere in the same network and if your iPhone rings, the network patches the phone call through, even if it’s not on FaceTime.
And Samsung has certainly made more strides into the harmony we want from Android and Windows, but it still has a long way to go.
What needs work
It’s more than just the price that needs work, because while it’s a good feature set, Samsung hasn’t nailed everything.
There is a nice keyboard here that you grow to like, though it does need backlighting amongst other things, and if you prefer gutter space, it won’t be a fast adjustment to make.
More frustrating than the keyboard is the trackpad, and it’s because that rectangle under the keyboard is just so sensitive. We use it, scroll down, and all of a sudden we had clicked on something without realising it, and that’s due to sensitivity.
So many times we ended up touching the trackpad to scroll only to find that we’d inadvertently clicked something and our page was changing. And sure, you might argue that this is a minor inconvenience, but with how often it happened, we’d start to argue that it’s a little more major than minor.
Fortunately, turning off the trackpad is pretty easy, with a function key that will get the software to switch off this thing and let you go with touch and only touch on that screen, but it’s still an annoyance all the same.
The occasional Windows bug is also an issue, and while you might be quick to point out that Microsoft can take the blame, we’ve never seen shut down issues where a flick down to shut down doesn’t work consecutively on any other machine, but it happened here on the TabPro S.
And the case just doesn’t have enough angles, with two not likely to serve every position you need the tablet to operate in. That’s the thing that works about a tablet with a stand built in: you can switch the angle based on your needs, usually with a fine degree of control.
Unfortunately as good as the folds in the keyboard case are, they’re still only two positions, with no middle ground between standard laptop and lying down laptop.
For us, though, storage is the worst annoyance, simply because there’s so little on what constitutes a full computer.
Let’s just get this in the open, because no matter how much Samsung wants to suggest that the TabPro S is made for cloud computing, it is still a laptop replacement, and that means files are stored on it. In fact, Microsoft’s OneDrive gives you cloud storage, but it still stores many of these files on your computer, and that’s because having files available locally for access is always going to be faster than having to connect to the cloud to retrieve them.
Unfortunately for the TabPro S, however, you don’t get much storage.
Granted, it’s not as dire as the 32GB or 64GB amounts left on a student computer, but that’s no shock as they’re made to be cheap, and cutting down on storage and letting parents buy microSD and SD cards to make up for it is a good workaround.
But the 128GB in the Galaxy TabPro S isn’t enough, especially when you only get 85GB left out of that when Windows is installed with the few Samsung items sitting on top.
That is less than 128GB, which is to be expected because storage sizes are rarely what they seem due to the maths of data amounts, but this is also far less.
Samsung hasn’t helped matters by excluding a microSD slot, something we thought the company would have moved past when it introduced this omission in last year’s Galaxy S6 series and brought it back this year.
And that’s the thing that bugs us: 128GB is fine when you have the option of increasing it, like you do in the Microsoft Surface machine. If not, go for the larger sizes, which is what Apple has done with its MacBook, starting out at 256GB and offering as high as 512GB. There’s no SD card slot there, so the company has made it large enough to be a laptop you can take with you, without forcing what it thinks the computer should be used for on the buyer of that computer.
If Samsung had included a microSD slot, we wouldn’t be quite so aggressive with this, because at least we could upgrade the storage ourselves if need be, and that’s the way it is on pretty much every other tablet trying to be like this form-factor.
But not the TabPro S. Here you get a measly 85GB when all is said and done, and it won’t take long or many apps for you to cull that back to 50, either.
This is a very lightweight computer, sure, and it has been made for on the go activities, we’ll grant Samsung that, but the company hasn’t helped it become anything more or anything more in tune with what a customer might want it to be by limiting the storage size.
There’s no doubting that Samsung has built a lovely laptop replacement in the TabPro S, and we love that the company has thought to include things that would be premium accessories, but it just needs more.
It needs a Bluetooth stylus, and it desperately needs more storage as either a minimum or a microSD slot. And Windows 10 needs to be finessed a little more, with less of these “Galaxy Settings” stuff that feels like it dents performance.
But we’re more than halfway there to making a total Surface beater, which for a first attempt is very impressive.
If you like the look of the machine and can handle the lack of memory because you work in the cloud already, it’s definitely worth a look, especially since this is a tablet made for Galaxy S7 owners, offering S7 and S7 Edge owners a fitting device. If you don’t own one, though, it’s only the tablet if thin is a must have, because this is about as thin as it gets, even if there are some compromises being made.