Samsung currently lists no fewer than 17 tablets at its UK website. These include the new NotePRO range, the largest of which has a 12.2-inch screen, and the TabPRO range which tops out at the same size. The 8.4-inch TabPRO 8.4 is the smallest in the range, and it's a most endearing device.
This size of tablet has started to gain traction because of the popularity of the similar-sized iPad mini and various ebook readers, and the recent trend for 'phablets' with screens that hover around the 6-inch mark.
The beauty of a device the size of the Galaxy TabPRO 8.4 is its portability and the ability to hold it one-handed for extended periods. Measuring 219mm by 128.5mm by 7.2mm, it might fit into some pockets — although none of mine would accommodate it. The TabPRO 8.4's weight of 331g is no bother to hold in one hand for a lengthy reading session.
However, at £349 (inc. VAT) or $399.99 this is not an inexpensive device — ebook readers are much more affordable and therefore more likely to be adopted as an extra computing device. You're going to have to want the Galaxy TabPRO 8.4 for more than just its ability to run the Amazon and Kobo apps, and whether it ticks your boxes will depend on the mix of features you need.
There are some top-notch specifications on view here, and some clever Samsung tweaks that boost usability — most notably when multitasking. Android 4.4 offers some future-proofing too.
The LCD screen is particularly impressive. With a resolution of 2,560 by 1,600 pixels it's sharp and clear, and the pixel density of 359ppi even puts the 7.9-inch iPad mini with Retina Display in the shade (2,048 by 1,536 pixels, 326ppi).
The TabPRO 8.4's 2.3GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 SoC with 2GB of RAM is very nippy indeed. It's a little irritating that only 11GB of the installed 16GB of internal storage is free, but anyone who knows Samsung will be aware that a fair bit of space gets used up with skinning, features and extra apps.
In fact, the app bloat is pretty restrained, and some aren't even on-board at all — icons with a downward-facing arrow indicate that you can download the apps as required. That applies to KNOX, for example, one of a number of apps that professional users will appreciate. Preinstalled business apps include e-Meeting, Remote PC and WebEx.
One skinning feature I'm not too excited about is Magazine UX. This is Samsung's way of trying to feed you news and information. It occupies at least one home screen, and can include news as well as local content like your calendar and email. If, like me, you're not a fan of the Magazine UX, then the only option is to remove all its content areas bar one, and then leave that in place— you can't remove it completely. HTC has learned the lesson around its own similar BlinkFeed app, and on the new HTC One (M8) you can disable BlinkFeed completely. Hopefully, Samsung will have a similar epiphany.
On the other hand, Multi Window is potentially a very useful feature, and you can use it in two ways. Once you've enabled it from the Settings area, dragging a finger in from the right edge calls up a side menu of all the apps that work in this mode. If you tap one it pops up on top of whatever else you're doing at the time. You can minimise these pop-ups into little circular icons, then open them up again with a tap. If you drag an app icon onto the screen, what you were doing before reduces in size, giving you a split-screen view.
You can only have two apps open at once in this split-screen configuration. The Galaxy NotePRO 12.2 allows four, but frankly the smaller screen size here would make four tricky to work with.
Inevitably, Samsung includes a number of its gesture- and motion-based features, and the three Smart Screen features that use the front camera. Smart Stay keeps the screen on while you're looking at it, Smart Rotation rotates the screen according to the orientation of your face — not the device (handy for using the tablet in bed, or so I am told), and Smart Pause stops video playing when you look away.
The two speakers on the bottom edge (in portrait mode) are one of the few disappointments of this tablet. Sound quality is not great, and at higher volumes there's definite distortion. I've been using the Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone for a while now, and also find the audio subsystem disappointing. It's an issue Samsung might do well to address for future devices.
Audio quality aside, I'm quite a fan of the Samsung Galaxy TabPRO 8.4. It's a good size to carry and hold, has top-notch specifications, and most of Samsung's software tweaks are useful. The £349/$399.99 price is a little prohibitive, though: both the Google Nexus 7 (£199/$229 for 16GB/wi-fi-only) and the iPad mini with Retina Display (£319/$399 for 16GB/wi-fi-only) should be in the mix when you're comparing alternative small form-factor tablets.