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When Samsung announced its Galaxy Tab S8 series back in February, all eyes were reasonably glued to the largest 14.6-inch Ultra model. In it were some of the highest spec configurations we had seen on any Android tablet, such as 16GB of RAM, 512GB of storage, and a massive Super AMOLED display that put laptops to shame. Then came the price tag; a lofty $1,279 that could sticker-shock any unsuspecting consumer.
That's why the middle child, the Tab S8 Plus, is equally worthy of your consideration if you're in search of the best Android tablet. The Plus size, which is armed with similar hardware and software features as the Ultra, currently starts at $829 on Samsung's website. Save for the extra front-facing camera and larger display and battery size, you're getting a near-identical, flagship tablet experience for hundreds of dollars less.
I've been testing the Tab S8 Plus over the past two weeks and, while it has its flaws, I can confidently recommend the mid-sized Galaxy tablet to virtually any user. The same can't be said about the Ultra or even the LCD-equipped Tab S8 model. Here's why.
Comparing base models alone, the Tab S8 Plus is on equal footing with the Ultra, which is great. It's got a large Super AMOLED panel that refreshes at 120Hz, the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB that's expandable up to 1TB via MicroSD. There's also a healthy 10,090mAh battery powering the unit, with support for 45W fast charging. (You'll have to buy the charger separately, though.) The model that I've been testing is the 5G variant from AT&T, which lets me tap into the GSM network when I'm out and about.
In the hand, the Tab S8 Plus feels like how a premium tablet should. It's remarkably thin at 5.7mm, but the weighted full-aluminum unibody is sturdy and reassuring. With cheaper tablets, pressing the screens can feel hollow and empty underneath. That's not the case here; Samsung isn't skimping on external or internal hardware.
Still, I wouldn't say that the design of the Tab S8 Plus will raise eyebrows. It's just a dull slab of glass and metal that serves its purpose: being a portable work and entertainment machine. The colors available are silver, graphite, and pink gold, and each one is as subtle and forgettable as the next. (That's still one more color than what Apple offers for the iPad Pro, so I guess it could be worse.)
Surrounding the tablet are four Dolby Atmos-supported speakers, a power button, volume rocker, MicroSD card slot, USB-C port, and pegs to connect the optional keyboard cover. The first-party accessory is not a "must-have" for the Tab S8 Plus, but I'd highly recommend it for students or professionals who seek 2-in-1 functionality.
Samsung bundles a $59 S Pen stylus with the Tab S8 Plus. For a freebie, the S Pen is remarkably handy and gives the Tab S8 Plus the spice that it lacks. The stylus connects to the tablet automatically and carries 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity. That means that your penmanship depends on how you glide the stylus across the display, as well as how hard you press down. While my use cases of the S Pen are generally more two-dimensional -- I'm either jotting down meeting notes or signing NDAs -- I can see professionals, like designers and artists, pushing the wireless accessory to its full potential.
Like last year's Tab S7, there's a magnetic strip on the back of the S8 Plus to snap the S Pen onto and wirelessly charge it. From carrying the tablet around in my backpack to stacking it above my books and paperwork, the magnet was powerful enough to prevent the stylus from falling off. If Samsung could pull a Note -- or, should I say, Ultra -- and add a dedicated silo for the tablet S Pen, that would be even better.
Samsung has been at the top of its game when it comes to display technology and the Tab S8 Plus is no exception. Its 12.4-inch Super AMOLED panel produces some of the best colors I've seen on a tablet yet. And thanks to the power of OLED, the display accurately visualizes both lighter and darker scenes, while getting plenty bright (up to 400 nits). The tell-tale sign of a good display, at least to me, is how well it can retain colors when viewed from different angles. Lower-quality panels tend to shift in blue or greyish hues, but both shades were absent when tilting the device in any direction.
The tablet follows a wider 16:10 aspect ratio, which makes it work better in landscape mode than in portrait. (That's compared to the squarish 4:3 dimensions of the iPad Pro.) While we continue to see tablets trend in this direction, I've found the wider form factor to be clumsy to handle. Don't get me wrong, the Tab S8 Plus is a killer entertainment machine (see image below). But for day-to-day use -- and I partially blame Google/Android for this -- apps and windows just aren't optimized for the aspect ratio. In most cases, apps like Asana and some Google Chrome websites simply aren't engineered to take advantage of the broader real estate. (I'd assume the problem is even more prevalent on the larger Ultra model.)
Fortunately, there are solutions to this, like Samsung's DeX mode and the "View desktop site" that most mobile browser apps offer. I'll go over DeX a little more in the performance section.
The last bit that I'd like to share about the Tab S8 Plus display is the glorious in-display fingerprint sensor. While my ZDNet colleague, Matthew Miller, loved the side-mounted fingerprint sensor on the smaller Tab S8 that he reviewed, I'm all for the fancier display tech. On the right side of the Plus model is an optical fingerprint sensor, which means that instead of performing an ultrasonic, 3D-based scan of your fingerprint, the device shoots a beam of light to detect your fingerprint image.
This method is arguably less reliable than its ultrasonic counterpart and doesn't work if your finger is wet, but I've found it to be plenty fast and time-saving. When the tablet is held in landscape mode, the sensor is located right beside your thumb, so signing into the Tab S8 Plus is just a tap away.
Android's lack of app optimization on tablets is still a big problem. While Samsung has done a commendable job at leveling its batch of home-grown apps, like Notes, Internet, and Calendar, with the tablet platform, there's still work to be done for Android as a whole. As I mentioned before, commonly-used apps such as Slack and Instagram just look like blown-out versions of their smartphone counterparts. Obviously, this isn't the case with all apps, as I've had pleasant experiences using Microsoft Outlook, Google Drive, and even the Google Feed on the home screen. But for how much money people are spending on these tablets, they deserve a more tailored software experience.
The Tab S8 Plus runs on One UI Tab 4 based on Android 12. Samsung says Android 12L, Google's upcoming software that's actually optimized for larger screens, will be coming to its flagship tablet soon. We've gotten glimpses of the new operating system version and the changes look promising.
Another bright note, the Tab S8 Plus is among the few S series tablets that qualify for Samsung's five-year update policy. (It's technically four years of major OS upgrades and five years of security patches, but a generous commitment nonetheless.) That makes the Tab S8 Plus all the more reliable for years down the road and is an advantage over any other Android manufacturer.
With a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor and 8GB of RAM, the Tab S8 Plus will run and manage all apps that you throw at it. From my weeks of testing, the tablet was more than capable of being my background media player (YouTube, Netflix, Spotify), secondary monitor (Calendar, Google Drive, Outlook), and on-the-go computer (Slack, Zoom, Google Maps). Only the Tab S8 Ultra has 12/16GB RAM configurations, but I've found the 8GB on the Plus to be more than sufficient.
The AKG-tuned speakers on the Tab S8 Plus get vigorously loud and admirably sharp. Whether I was watching the NBA Finals or the latest episode of Obi-Wan Kenobi, the audio performance was full and vibrant. My only complaint is the placement of the side speakers as they're easily covered when holding the tablet. Otherwise, the sound system didn't make me miss the headphone jack at all.
Samsung DeX was what I used the most when it came to working on the Tab S8 Plus. DeX, short for desktop experience, transforms the user interface of the tablet into a desktop-like layout, versus the standard Android home screen of apps and widgets. The change goes beyond the home screen, as apps can then be opened in dedicated windows for multitasking and navigation. Toss in resizing and you have a tablet that can run upwards of five apps at once. (I was content with 2-3, though.)
As someone who worked in mobile retail in 2017, I remember all the buzz surrounding the Samsung DeX dock for the Galaxy S8. It's quite impressive that, nowadays, you can just switch modes with a tap from the notification panel and not need any companion hardware.
Oh, and about that S Pen. The tip has this rubberized material that allows it to smoothly glide across the Tab S8 Plus screen, and the tablet does a magical job at palm rejection. Thanks to its wireless capabilities, the S Pen can prompt Samsung's signature Air Actions, which include Screen write, Smart select, Live messages, and AR Doodle. They're all features that have thrived on Galaxy Note devices for years and some are definitely less gimmicky than others.
Screen write and Smart select were the most useful for my workflow. The former captures a screenshot for you to draw over, like directions on a map or notes on a PDF. Smart select lets you highlight an area on the screen to either save as an image, convert to text or GIF, or remove the text from its background. It's very handy when working with photos and videos.
Much like the iPhone and iPad, the Samsung tablet works best with a Samsung phone. Together you can take advantage of features like Quick Share (similar to Apple's AirDrop) or Galaxy connectivity to automatically sync notes, files, and audio recordings across Samsung devices. All of the apps that support the latter feature are Samsung exclusives, so keep that in mind if you're on any other Android.
Lastly, the haptic motor on the tablet is very mediocre. I didn't think that I'd be bothered by the engines of a $900 tablet, but here I am. Compared to the blocky and life-like vibrations on the $799 iPad Pro, that of the Tab S8 Plus feels loose and rattly -- to the point where I just turned off vibrations system-wide. They're disappointingly reminiscent of some sub-$300 Android phones that I've reviewed.
As for camera performance, the Tab S8 Plus is a step above its smaller sibling thanks to the additional 6MP ultra-wide lens. Paired with the normal 13MP wide, the tablet is good enough for casual flicks and document scans. But at 1.26 pounds, I wouldn't recommend using the device as a dedicated camera and the slippery matte sides certainly don't help with stabilization.
What's worth pointing out is the new 12MP front-facing shooter, which supports facial tracking and auto framing (similar to Apple's Center Stage). Fittingly, the new lens also has a wider field of view; it's 120-degrees now compared to last year's 80.
The 10,090mAh cell on the Tab S8 Plus has proven to be reliable and economical. On a typical week, the tablet lasted me three days per charge -- slightly more or less depending on what I was doing. If you plan on connecting the tablet to mobile data and/or using it as a dedicated workstation, then I'd estimate at most two days of endurance.
To charge, Samsung includes a USB-C to USB-C cable in the box, but no power adapter. While I'm less nitpicky about smartphones ditching the charging brick, receiving a toned-down box for a tablet felt like a robbery. Fortunately, my existing 65W phone charger was more than capable enough to power the Tab S8 Plus at its 45W limit.
I'm a firm believer that you should never buy a product for its promise of future updates. The Tab S8 Plus is an exception. Not only does the Samsung tablet impress in hardware, but it delivers software features (for the stylus as well!) that no other Android manufacturer is doing. And with up to five years of software support and Android 12L on the horizon, there's a lot more upside for the mid-sized Galaxy tablet.
The best alternative to the Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Plus is its older sibling, the Tab S8 Ultra. The larger tablet measures at 14.6-inches, which puts it in laptop territory, and can be equipped with up to 16GB RAM to power the system.
For something a little cheaper, look to the Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 FE. The device launched late last year but remains a capable and affordable Samsung tablet. That means you'll be getting similar software features like DeX mode and an included S Pen.
I reviewed the Lenovo Tab P12 Pro recently and aptly titled the piece "The flagship Android tablet shoots for the Galaxy". While the tablet comes with a lesser Qualcomm Snapdragon 870 processor, it's still a performance machine that champions most apps and tasks that you throw at it.