Galaxy Tab S6 review: Samsung offers up an affordable, capable tablet for business

  • Editors' rating
    8.2 Excellent
  • $649.00

Pros

  • Solid design with crisp, clear display
  • Outstanding stereo speakers tuned by AKG
  • Long battery life
  • S Pen support
  • Samsung DeX integration
  • microSD expansion card slot

Cons

  • Poorly designed Book Cover keyboard accessory
  • DeX multi-tasking is klunky
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For the past few years whenever anyone asked me what tablet they should consider it was almost automatic to recommend an iPad. While the iPad may still be the best option for many people, especially the low cost 2019 iPad, the new Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 clearly shows Samsung is not giving up the tablet market and offers its best tablet ever.

There are several ways that the Galaxy Tab S6 is better than the iPad, especially for business use, including Samsung DeX desktop mode, full mouse/trackpad support, and expandable storage. The hardware is elegant, the S Pen has been advanced with the ability to also charge up wirelessly on the back of the tablet, and the keyboard cover helps the tablet function as a capable mobile computer.

Also: Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 review: An Android tablet built for business

Galaxy Tab S6 specifications

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor
  • Display: 10.5 inch, 2560 x 1600 pixels resolution Super AMOLED
  • Operating system: Android 9 Pie with One UI
  • RAM: 6GB
  • Storage: 128GB/256GB internal with microSD expansion card slot
  • Cameras: 5 megapixel rear ultra-wide (123 degree field-of-view) and 13 megapixel wide f/2.0 cameras. 8 megapixel f/2.0 front-facing camera
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4/5GHz), Bluetooth 5.0
  • Battery: 7,040 mAh
  • Audio: Four speakers tuned by AKG with Dolby Atmos technology
  • Dimensions: 244.5 x 159.5 x 5.7 mm and 420 grams
  • Colors: Cloud Blue, Rose Blush, Mountain Gray

The S Pen comes with the Tab S6 and attaches magnetically on the back of the tablet. It also charges up wirelessly since it has the same technology as seen on the Note 10 Plus with Bluetooth functions and Air Actions. An extra S Pen is $59.99.

The keyboard cover is sold separately for $179.99, but unfortunately is a failure that could have been avoided if the designers had me test it or if they had paid attention to the major disappointment of the Google Pixel Slate keyboard.

Also: Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 review: As good as Android tablets get CNET

Hardware

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The Galaxy Tab S6 is a gorgeous piece of hardware and I'm loving the Cloud Blue color of this evaluation unit. The metal back and edges look and feel awesome with that 5.7mm thickness adding a sense of minimalism to the tablet. The gorgeous Super AMOLED display has consistent 0.3 inch bezels on all four sides, giving it a modern feel while still being practical for holding in your hand in landscape and portrait orientation.

The front camera is centered in the top bezel, when in portrait orientation. The optical fingerprint sensor is positioned under the display near the bottom, while in portrait orientation. Unlike the S10 and Note 10, optical technology is used for the sensor on the Tab S6, which means it seems to work a bit faster than the other Samsung devices.

Power and volume buttons, along with the microSD card slot, are all positioned on the right side (top in landscape) with two speakers on the top and bottom (left and right in landscape) for a total of four speakers on the tablet. A USB-C port is on the bottom (right in landscape) with no 3.5mm audio socket present on this thin tablet.

The POGO pins and alignment slots for the keyboard are found on the left side (bottom in landscape). Dual rear cameras are found on the back near the power button with the S Pen groove aligned along the upper back. The S Pen rests in this groove and charges up inductively when in position. The magnets are pretty strong, but it is still easy to knock the S Pen off the back so be careful not to lose it.

The cameras perform well, but I'm not sold on the placement of the front-facing camera since business users will likely be spending most of the time in landscape orientation with this tablet.

Audio has been great out of the AKG-tuned speakers and I've easily been able to go a full long day with the Tab S6. Samsung rates the battery as 15 hours for video playback, but in typical business use you can count on a full day of typical usage.

The S Pen is a lot bigger than the one found on the Note series and I enjoyed using it on the Tab S6. Everything you can do on the Note series is possible on the Tab S6 with a much more comfortable S Pen too.

Book Cover Keyboard

When I first saw the Galaxy S6 and keyboard combination, I was very excited and thought I was going to pick up my first Android tablet in years. Unfortunately, the Tab S6 Book Cover keyboard does not live up to its potential and I'll have to hold out hope that Brydge creates something nice for the Galaxy Tab S6.

So where does the Book Cover Keyboard fail? Let me list the ways to make it crystal clear:

  1. Back cover attachment: You might assume that powerful magnets or maybe a rigid plastic frame piece would be used to attach the back cover to the Tab S6, but you would be wrong. Micro suction areas on a third of the upper back are what is used to attach the back to the Tab S6. I was excited on a recent flight to see the Alaska Airlines magazine holder on the seat in front of me was just the right size to hold the Tab S6. I pressed the back cover onto the Tab S6 and slid the bottom half into the seat holder. 10 minutes later the Tab S6 fell into my lap, but luckily did not break. The micro suction did not hold at all and since then I've had the back cover fall off regularly. The S Pen cover part that rotates down is a nice idea and the rigid central hinge part works well, but if the cover can't stay attached then it is pretty useless.
  2. Wobbly keyboard transition: While the keyboard attaches to the Tab S6 with strong magnets and stays in place most of the time (it occasionally pops off without warning), the transition part between the attachment frame and the rigid plastic keyboard is thin material that suffers from the same disaster that we saw in the Google-branded Pixel Slate keyboard. This means the keyboard to tablet connection flops all over, making usage on your lap difficult and creating a less than ideal experience.
  3. Keyboard stays active even when rotated: Google's Pixel Slate keyboard is deactivated if you rotate it back, thus facilitating tablet use or use in media viewing mode. When you do this with the Tab S6, the keyboard stays active so you must remove it (and then find someplace safe to store it) to use in tablet mode or for media viewing. I can't tell you how frustrating it was to have the keys activate or the mouse move around when trying to watch a movie with the keyboard rotated out of the way. The keyboard cover is poorly designed and whoever tested it did not do a good job of using it in typical situations.
  4. No backlighting: This may be a minor issue for some, but at $180 this keyboard should have some level of backlighting. There are already compromises with the small size (physical limitation of the tablet size), but other things should be optimized.

Software

The Galaxy Tab S6 runs Android 9 with One UI 1.5. The review unit has the 1 September 2019 Android security patch. It would be nice to see new devices running the latest version of Android, but it is pretty typical for these tablets to lag phones with firmware.

There are a few Samsung and Microsoft apps installed on the Tab S6, including Outlook, OneDrive, Bixby, Samsung Internet, Gallery, Messages, and Calendar. We find many more apps on Samsung phones out of the box so it's nice to see just a minimal number here on this WiFi edition Tab S6.

Bixby can be setup to launch with a press and hold of the power button or via voice. I've written a few times about the benefits of Bixby and continue to believe this service offers more than people give it credit for. Bixby Routines are supported and after attending the recent Samsung Developer Conference, there is quite a bit of work being done with Bixby capsules.

While the Tab S6 functions as a fully capable Android tablet, it really shines when you enable the native DeX mode. Unlike the Note 10 devices, and my Galaxy Fold, Samsung has two modes of DeX on its tablets. You can flip the switch, present in the Quick Actions area, to turn on DeX right on the Tab S6 itself. You can also enjoy a DeX experience when you connect an external monitor.

With DeX enabled, the icons all appear smaller and the same DeX interface you may be used to on an external monitor is present right on the tablet display. There is still some work to be done here though as the multi-tasking experience appears to be broken when DeX is enabled. In standard Android mode you go to the task switcher, tap the app icon over the thumbnail, and then choose to open the first app up in split-view mode. You then open the next app in pop-up view and move things around for multi-app use.

In DeX mode, the desktop is treated more like a computer where you have to manually move and resize windows using the S Pen, your finger, or the trackpad. It doesn't even support the drag and drop to the edges for multi-window view like we see in Windows, Chrome OS, and iOS. It's great to see an option for DeX on the tablet, but there is still work to be done.

Price and availability

The Wi-Fi model Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 is available now for $649.99 with 128GB internal storage or $729.99 with 256GB internal storage. You can also purchase a 128GB Verizon or T-Mobile one with LTE support for $729.99. These LTE versions are limited to the Mountain Gray color.

The keyboard cover is priced at $179.99. As terrible as it is, the keyboard should just be included. Even then, you might just throw it away in frustration and use a standard Bluetooth keyboard.

Daily usage experiences and conclusion

The Apple iPad may be the most popular tablet and it is indeed a great device, however the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 has functionality that may make it a better tablet for business use. This functionality includes Samsung DeX integration, mouse/trackpad support, S Pen functionality with Air Command utilities, and external storage.

For the size, specifications, and capability, the Tab S6 is a very affordable tablet solution for the enterprise. A comparable WiFi model iPad Pro 11 inch is priced at $899 and does not come with the Apple Pencil, another $119 cost. A $368 difference between the two tablets is tough to justify and shows that Samsung is serious about competing in the tablet space.

If the keyboard cover was better designed and priced at $100 then I would probably be purchasing my own Galaxy Tab S6 right now. However, given that I already have a Galaxy Fold that serves my daily commuter tablet needs, I'll be passing up the Tab S6 for now. It's a solid Android tablet, but for my engineers in the field I'll be looking to the new Galaxy Tab Active Pro.

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