Nowadays, there’s no shortage of tablets that transform into laptops, so much so that Microsoft Surface rivals are becoming a dime-a-dozen. The Surface Pro itself is in its fourth iteration, but then there’s the Dell XPS 12, the HP Spectre x2, the soon-to-be-released Huawei MateBook, and now Samsung’s entered the ring with the Galaxy TabPro S. That’s not to say a bit of competition isn’t a good thing, as the Galaxy TabPro S offers far more than your typical two-in-one hybrid.
First and foremost, there’s that 12in, 2,160×1,440 Super AMOLED display. It’s probably the first thing you notice when you turn the TabPro S on, as its rich, vibrant colours really jump out of the screen. It’s the same kind of panel you’ll find on Samsung’s latest Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge smartphones, and it looks just as lovely here as it does on Samsung’s flagship handsets.
The other thing you’ll notice is its 4:3 aspect ratio, which is a little unorthodox for Windows-based laptops, as these are typically 16:9. However, I find a 4:3 ratio makes web browsing and editing documents a more pleasurable experience as you have more vertical screen space to work with. 16:9 is still better for watching films, though, as a 4:3 screen will have thicker black bars along the edge – much like the 3:2 Surface Pro 4 and any Apple iPad.
As expected, Samsung’s Super AMOLED technology means the TabPro S has top-notch image quality, including pure 0.00cd/m2 blacks and perfect 1:1 contrast ratio. Even its colour accuracy is almost perfect thanks to its 99.5% sRGB colour gamut coverage and Delta-E of 1.75. Brightness is very high at 363.4cd/m2, and its 2,160×1,440 resolution leaves images and text looking sharp and crisp. As a result, the TabPro S has one of the most beautiful tablet screens you’ll see today.
The only major problem with the screen is the limited viewing angle adjustment afforded by the keyboard cover. The display is propped up at one of three fixed angles – either 115 degrees or two almost-flat angles – which gives it two more positions than the Dell XPS 12, but it pales in comparison to Microsoft’s endlessly adjustable kickstand on the Surface Pro 4.
It’s comfortable to use upright, but flexibility is always welcome especially if you ever need to use it in cramped conditions, such as on a train. You also have to watch out how you attach it to the keyboard cover, as the tablet can easily fall backwards if its camera housing isn’t firmly inserted into the prescribed gap. Thankfully, the TabPro S doesn’t catch many reflections, so I didn’t need to adjust quite as much as other hybrid devices to avoid bright, overhead lights.
Another, more minor irritation I had with the TabPro S’s screen was Samsung’s screen dimming software. Regardless of whether the tablet’s on mains power or not, this will dim the screen after a period of inactivity to help prolong the lifespan of the AMOLED display. You can’t disable it sadly, but you can change its default timing from one minute up to five. Fortunately, it doesn’t kick in when you’re watching films or video even when you’re watching in a browser, so it’s not too disruptive in the grand scheme of things, but it would have been nice to have the option to turn it off completely.
As for the cover itself, it’s made out of the same faux-leather that’s synonymous with many of Samsung’s Galaxy devices, such as the Galaxy Note phablets and official covers for the S7. You get a choice of either a black or white finish and each one feels suitably premium to the touch without adding a lot of extra bulk to the overall tablet.
The cover attaches to the rear of the tablet using magnets, but you have to move the tablet towards you when using it in keyboard mode, as its magnetic dock sits about three inches below where the case folds in half. The magnet here is reasonably strong, and I was able to lift the entire device via the screen without the keyboard falling off.
The only problem is that aforementioned camera gap, as tilting the whole assembly backwards by lifting the front of the keyboard or giving the screen a strong prod will cause the whole thing to fall apart, which is really quite worrying for a device that costs £849. It’s sturdy enough when using it on a desk, but using on your lap it can feel rather hazardous. It might not fall forward like the Dell XPS 12, but having it tumble backwards isn’t exactly ideal either.
Undocking the tablet to close the lid is also a little fiddly, and will take some getting used to. Since the tablet doesn’t dock with the base at the hinge, you can’t simply just fold it shut when you’re done. Instead, I had to hold the keyboard base down with one hand while pulling with the other, which sometimes meant accidentally mashing the keyboard keys. It was here I really missed the kickstand on the Surface Pro 4, as this is much easier to open and close when you need to pack up.
As much as I like the keyboard cover’s exterior, I can’t say the same about the keys inside it. While the keys are full-size – not to mention a row of dedicated Function keys – the keyboard as a whole feels very cramped when typing. This is partly because there’s not a lot of room to play with once you’ve docked the tablet in place, but there’s also very little clearance between each individual key. This means striking adjacent keys happens far too frequently, leading to constant typos and frustration. Trying to correct typos was equally irritating as well, as the Backspace key is uncharacteristically the same width as the Enter key below. It’s usually wider on most keyboards, so I often missed that, too.
The amount of key travel is also incredibly shallow, despite having a hard, but ultimately unsatisfying, action. Attempting to write this review on the keyboard quickly became quite laborious, which is a real shame. I have a reasonably high tolerance for less than stellar keyboards as, more often than not, you can usually adapt and get used to them, but even after prolonged use I never felt completely comfortable with the TabPro S’ keyboard. Things do improve over time, but it’s still disappointing overall. After all, keyboard covers are meant to transform tablets into instant productivity devices, but here, it makes doing anything even vaguely productive more difficult than it should.
The touchpad, at least, is pretty good. It’s Precision-certified and feels swift and responsive in use, handling all of the multi-touch gestures you would expect from Windows 10 without much fuss. Again, the limited space does mean it can feel a bit cramped at times, but it doesn’t suffer as a result.
If there’s any consolation, it’s that the keyboard cover is included in the box, unlike with Microsoft’s Surface range. Still, there’s an argument to be made for paying extra, as the Surface’s Type Cover keyboard is not only much better quality, but it also includes backlighting, which is disappointingly absent on the TabPro S. The other notable difference is that the Surface Pro 4’s keyboard is also angled slightly to provide a more ergonomic working angle, whereas the TabPro S just lies completely flat.
Tablet and Design
As far as the tablet component goes, the TabPro S is surprisingly svelte at just 6.3mm. That’s thinner than the Surface Pro 4 (9mm) and the HP Spectre x2 (8mm). It weighs just 693g, too, which is also significantly less than rivals, but this does jump to 1.09kg with the keyboard attached. It’s still very travel-friendly, however, and the tablet feels well-balanced in your hand.
The back is made from plastic, with a magnesium frame around the edge, which is a little disappointing coming from the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2, which used magnesium throughout. It still feels well-constructed, though, as I couldn’t see any signs of flex whatsoever.
It’s rather lacking in ports, though, as it has just one lone USB-C connection. This is another area of annoyance, as this is used for both charging and data transfer. Even worse, there’s no USB-C to USB-A cable in the box either, so if you have USB flash drives or any peripherals you want to connect to the TabPro S, you’re out of luck until you buy an adaptor. For comparison, the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 includes full-size USB ports, whereas HP had the good grace to include an adaptor with the Spectre X2. You’ll also need to consider the added expense of a USB-C dock if you want to connect another display.
Those looking to take notes using a stylus will also be disappointed, as you’ll need to purchase Samsung’s optional Bluetooth C pen. Again, this is something that comes as standard on both the Surface Pro 4 and HP Spectre X2.
The one thing you needn’t worry about with the TabPro S is getting confused over different configurations and prices. With the Galaxy TabPro S, Samsung’s kept things simple with one just specification, which includes a dual-core 900MHz Intel Core m3-6Y30 that can Turbo Boost to 2.2GHz when temperatures allow – the very same processor as found in the HP Spectre x2 and the entry-level Surface Pro 4 – 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD.
Much like the Spectre x2, the fanless m3-6Y30 proves a capable performer for basic Windows tasks. Day-to-day productivity and media entertainment is certainly well within the TabPro S’ capabilities but, as evidenced by its score of 32 in our difficult 4K-based benchmarks, it’s going to strain under anything more taxing.
It’s worth noting that the TabPro S performed better than the Spectre x2, even though they have identical specifications. The Spectre x2 only managed 24 in our benchmarks, likely indicating the TabPro S has better cooling to allow its processor to operate at faster clock speeds for longer periods.
Its integrated Intel HD Graphics 515 will you get by with some light gaming, but you’ll need to make certain sacrifices where it comes to image quality in order to get playable framerates.
Battery life was good, too, especially considering our battery test involves video playback. The Galaxy TabPro S managed to last 6 hours 53 minutes when the screen brightness was set to our usual figure of 170cd/m2, which is an hour more than the Spectre x2. It’s quick to charge, too, as Samsung’s fast-charging technology means you can go from 0 to 100% in just 2 hours and 30 minutes.
There’s a lot to like about the Samsung Galaxy TabPro S. Its beautiful display comes top of its class, it has great battery life, and its superior performance came as a very welcome surprise. As an inaugural 2-in-1, Samsung has got off to an impressive start.
However, it’s difficult to overlook some of the TabPro S’s shortcomings, such as the disappointing keyboard cover and its rather wobbly docking mechanism. As a Windows-based tablet, it’s wonderful; as a laptop, not so much.
The solitary USB Type-C port also feels limiting, and this is only exacerbated by Samsung’s miserly decision not to include an adaptor. The lack of a stylus, too, feels miserly considering its price, which, taken together, means it’s simply not as good value as many of its rivals. At around £100 less, the HP Spectre x2 gives you a lot more for your money, even if its screen and performance aren’t quite up to the same standard. Alternatively, if you can stretch to the Microsoft Surface Pro 4, this still hasn’t been toppled as our current king of the 2-in-1s. If the Galaxy TabPro S had a better keyboard cover, it might be a different story, but it looks like we’ll have to wait for the inevitable TabPro S2 before Samsung’s hybrid really comes into its own.
|Processor||Dual-core 900MHz Intel Core m3-6Y30|
|Memory slots (free)||N/A|
|Weight||693g (tablet), 1.09kg (laptop)|
|Sound||3.5mm headset port|
|Pointing device||Touchpad, touchscreen|
|Graphics adaptor||Intel HD Graphics 515|
|Graphics outputs||None (possible via USB type-C adaptor. not included)|
|Total storage||128GB SSD|
|Optical drive type||None|
|Ports and expansion|
|USB ports||1x USB-C|
|Memory card reader||None|
|Operating system||Windows 10 Pro|
|Operating system restore option||Restore partition|