The tablet world is now a lot like the introduction to an Asterix book, where the iPad is the Roman Empire, dominating all, and the Samsung’s tablets are a plucky Gaul village holding out a corner.
The Tab S6 packs in plenty of power, includes a pen that attaches to the tablet magnetically and charges wirelessly, an in-screen fingerprint reader, and sticks with a 16:10 aspect ratio for the OLED display, which is great for movies.
This is the first of Samsung's pro tablets to feature the new One UI overlay for Android too, which was introduced on the Samsung Galaxy S10 phone.
SAMSUNG GALAXY TAB S6 REVIEW: PRICE AND DESIGN
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 costs from £619 – that gets you 128GB of storage. For £689, you can get 256GB. Both models have microSD cards for expanding storage cheaply.
You can get both of these capacities with 4G support, if you want more connectivity on the go. The 128GB version with 4G costs £689 RRP, while the 256GB version costs £759.
Those prices get you not just the tablet, but the S Pen stylus as well – if you go for any iPad or the Microsoft Surface Go, the pen is an extra for around £100.
There are two colours available: Mountain Grey and Rose Blush. Mountain Grey is more interesting than your standard computer grey – it's got a gentle blue sheen in most lights. We really like it. Rose Blush is a nice darker, burnt pink – it's also really good-looking.
Both versions look mostly the same from the front: a black bezel with a wide screen in the middle. The 5.7mm-thick design feels svelte in the hand, and the bezels are pretty small, giving it a light, portable feeling overall. It's solid and well-finished.
On the back, you find a dual camera, and then the bit where the design goes slightly off the rails: the pen dock.
There's a lozenge-shaped indent where the S Pen magnetically attaches and charges. The indent is not as deep as the pen, so when it's attached, it just… juts out, which is madness, honestly. It stops the tablet laying flat on its back if you want to be charging it, and it's easily knocked off.
There are cases designed with accommodating the pen in mind, which help to solve both of these, but we have to say that the iPad Pro's system of attaching the Apple Pencil to the tablet's edge is much better. (The iPad Air uses the first-gen Apple Pencil, charges by plugging into the iPad, a design that's more on a par with weirdness of this system.)
SAMSUNG GALAXY TAB S6 REVIEW: SCREEN AND S PEN SUPPORT
The display is a 2560x1600 AMOLED panel, and it’s a real looker – HDR10+ support makes cinematic video look beautiful, and photos look gorgeous on it, thanks to the excellent contrast provided by OLED.
As a media tablet, this is definitely a great option, especially when you factor in the impressive speakers, which are loud, clear, and give solid stereo separation when it’s square in front of you. (There's no headphone jack here, incidentally – like the iPad Pro, there's just a USB-C port. On these supposedly pro-focused tablets, that's a poor decision.)
For movies, the Tab S6 definitely has an edge over the iPad Pro, but it lacks in a couple of other areas: it can’t go as bright, it doesn’t have Apple’s easier-on-the-eyes True Tone tech (you’ll notice a blue tint to whites on the Tab S6’s screen when using it in warm home light), and it doesn’t have the 120Hz refresh rate.
The latter is most noticeable when you’re using the S Pen stylus. The iPad Pro with Apple Pencil is as responsive as drawing tools get, but there’s clear (though small) lag when drawing with the S Pen. If you’re note taking, it’s not a problem at all; for drawing, it’s a little more frustrating.
That said, the S Pen’s accuracy is impeccable, because you get a little dot on screen showing where you’re about to press, so finishing a line you’ve already started is flawless.
The S Pen's small nib feels quite soft when you're drawing on the screen, which isn't totally ideal for feedback (especially since there's a smidge of lag), but it's not really a problem. Conversely, the Apple Pencil has a very hard tip, and we don't love how firmly it taps the screen when you use it, so some may prefer this anyway (it's certainly quieter).
The S Pen is smaller than Apple Pencil, which is good for portability, but less for for ergonomics – it again pushes us towards saying this is good for bursts of note-taking, but not so much for long artistry sessions.
The S Pen is integrated into the operating system really well, via Samsung’s One UI, with easy ways to take and annotate screen shots, and (brilliantly) to capture an area of the screen and copy out any text visible in it using character recognition.
It really feels like it's all been thought through, and though initially it seems like a slightly overwhelming set of options, you quickly get used to what the possibilities are.
The S Pen also has 'Air Gestures', which let you use it for scrolling through things or changing the volume with gestures. It's not very necessary as a feature. Using the S Pen as a remote trigger for photos is more useful, though with the usual caveat that you're probably not taking that many selfies on your tablet, really.
SAMSUNG GALAXY TAB S6 REVIEW: PERFORMANCE AND SOFTWARE
There’s loads of power on offer in the Tab S6 – we’ve yet to make it struggle using an app for drawing or editing or anything like that. It does sometimes skip slightly when scrolling though a long web page, but it doesn't actually slow – it's just a judder in the animation.
Despite there clearly being power to spare, productivity is still the Tab S6's stumbling block compared to an iPad – any current iPad, really, not just the pro.
The split-view multitasking works well enough, but doesn’t have the extra touches that make the equivalent options work better on iPad – you can't easily drag and drop items between apps, and you can't open multiple windows of the same app, for example. The latter is a very new feature to have on iPad, but it's one we griped about missing there, but that's now been fixed, leaving Samsung further behind.
It doesn’t help that the One UI interface feels very much made for phones – in the the multi-tasking view, where you can choose what apps you want visible on screen, tapping an app's icon shows you ways you can open that app – split-screen or pop-out window – along with some other options, but only half of the list is visible, despite the big tablet screen, and there's not much on indication that there are more to find. The list itself is a great way of doing things, but its implementation is an awkward waste of space.
Speaking of the pop-out windows, we found them a bit fiddly to be largely useful. Samsung highlights the ability to use a floating window of a notes app over a video, so you could make notes while watching something – this is definitely a nice option to have. But otherwise, they just feel like a bit too much hassle to be worth using heavily. Maybe you'll love them if start using them regularly, but they didn't land with us.
The desktop DeX mode continues to be an interesting option that still feels too niche – if you want a laptop that turns into a desktop, Microsoft is your better bet, especially since there's no question of app support there.
There's an under-screen finger reader for unlocking, which works really well – we prefer fingerprint scanners to the Face ID of the iPad Pro, since they work at all the weird angles you might place a tablet compared to how you're looking at it.
On the back, you've got a dual camera setup – a 13MP standard camera, plus a 5MP ultra-wide cam. There's also an 8MP forward-facing cam.
The cameras are… fine. They're not bad, they're not that impressive. They're good at picking out a solid contrast range, which helps elevate things over more basic tablets. There's no 4K video recording, though, which is a bit of a shame.
Battery life is fairly solid in use – as ever, it depends on what you're doing, but 10 hours of work is easily achieved. The only small issue was that it dropsed battery in standby more quickly than we'd like on some days, though not others. We certainly didn't find it dead overnight or anything like that in any case, though.
SAMSUNG GALAXY TAB S6 REVIEW: VERDICT
No surprise, the Tab S6 is a really good tablet. It's nicely designed, it's got a lovely screen and speakers, and the fact that it comes with a stylus makes it good value. It makes for an excellent games or media device thanks to that screen, but it's fairly expensive for that – you might be better off looking at an older Samsung tablet for a bargain.
The Tab S6’s problem is that Apple squeezes it on both sides: it’s cheaper than an iPad Pro, but not quite as advanced for productivity, doesn't have the larger screen option, and the pen is a little laggier.
But the iPad Air easily matches it for power and size, also offers more productivity features, and is actually cheaper, even when you shell out for an Apple Pencil.
For most people looking for a tablet for work, we’d still recommend those, especially since Apple’s App Store has a broader, more advanced set of pro apps.
But there’s plenty that Android does that iOS won’t, and no shortage of excellent apps in the Play Store, so if it’s an Android productivity tablet you want, this is the best yet.