Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4

Samsung

Tablets


Among popular tablets, there are small ones, with seven-inch screens, and standard-sized ones, with 10-inch screens. But for some users, the perfect combination of portability and usability lies in between, with tablets boasting screens of about eight inches.

The best-known product in this segment is Apple’s 7.9-inch iPad mini, which starts at $399 with a high-resolution Retina display. But Samsung, which makes tablets in a wide variety of sizes and types, is mounting its latest assault on the mini with the new $400 Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4, and I’ve been testing it.

The Pro 8.4, which uses Google’s latest KitKat edition of Android, is one of four models in Samsung’s new Pro series, which is designed to be both its premium tablet line and to appeal to people who consider themselves “professionals.”

My verdict: Samsung has done a nice job, but not a great job, on this product. Some impressive hardware engineering has been offset by weak battery life and a limited selection of tablet-optimized software.

Hardware

On the hardware side, the Korean electronics giant has managed to squeeze about six percent more screen real estate than the iPad mini offers into a body that’s slightly thinner, lighter and narrower. And even though the screen is larger, it has a higher resolution.

The device is long and narrow, and Samsung says that while it can be held either way, it’s primarily meant to be held vertically, in portrait mode, which I found can make it a bit top-heavy and create the feeling that you’re using a really big smartphone.

Sources: Samsung, Apple

Sources: Samsung, Apple

The screen is vivid and crisp. Indoors, photos and videos really pop. But it was one of the worst screens I’ve ever used outdoors. In bright sunlight, it was often unreadable, and even in the partial shade of a screened porch, watching a movie was a less than optimal experience.

The rear camera is eight megapixels, versus just five megapixels on the iPad mini, but I found little difference in photos and videos I took for my tests.

There are also some hardware limitations. In the U.S., at least at launch, Samsung is only making available the base 16 gigabyte, Wi-Fi-only model. The company says a 32GB model will be available in some other countries. And it says it could also offer a cellular model in the future. (The storage can be expanded with an optional flash memory card.)

By contrast, depending on how much you want to spend, the iPad mini is available with up to 128GB of internal storage and with cellular connectivity.

Battery Life

The biggest disappointment on the hardware front for me came in my battery test, the same one I perform on every tablet. For the test, I set screen brightness to 75 percent, turn off power-saving features, leave on the Wi-Fi to collect email in the background and play videos till the tablet dies. In this test, the Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4 lasted a pathetic five hours and 11 minutes, less than half the iPad mini’s time of 11 hours and 17 minutes.

Software

As I have found with other Samsung products in the past, the company is far better at hardware than software. The amount of software clutter and duplicative apps has been reduced, but not eliminated, on this new tablet. There are still two app stores, two video players and two music players — a Google version and a rival Samsung version. Plus, unreliable features — like the one that tries to detect when you’re looking at the screen — are still available as settings, though not turned on by default.

But there are some better software features, as well. Unlike Apple, Samsung has for awhile built into its devices the ability to have more than one app open, each in its own window. Now, on this Galaxy Tab Pro, those multiple windows can float atop others — like on a PC or Mac. And they can be minimized to just a floating bubble, ready to be summoned again.

Samsung's Magazine interface

Samsung’s Magazine interface

Another interesting feature is the new virtual keyboard. Samsung made a major effort to make it more like a computer keyboard, adding a Control key and a forward Delete key. This means you can use the familiar Windows key combinations, like CTRL-Z for undo. Some users will love this, others will ignore it.

Samsung has bundled a Korean-made mobile office suite, called Hancom, which it says was built expressly for Samsung devices. Apple and others also build in free office suites, but this one is meant to look and work like a PC program. It’s packed with rows and rows of icons and long drop-down menus, like Microsoft Word on a computer.

Finally, there’s the software feature Samsung is touting the most, something called the “Magazine UX Home.” This is a screen layout that eschews icons and even standard Android widgets for large, colorful, adjoining blocks containing photos, text and other content.

There are two types of such screens. One can combine a news feed with snippets from apps like email, calendar and the tablet’s built-in office suite. The other, a special Samsung version of the excellent Flipboard news-reading app, lets you browse through stories on a variety of topics, from Sports to Arts.

Samsung refused to comment on Re/code’s story that it had privately caved to pressure from Google to scale back its separate apps activities, which competed with Google’s own. But a Samsung spokesman did note that the Magazine Home screens appear on the new tablet only after more traditional Android apps screens featuring Google’s own apps.

A final point on software. Like all Android devices, the Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4 has access to an undisclosed (but relatively small) number of apps that are especially optimized for tablets. Most of the apps that run on Android tablets are stretched phone apps. By contrast, Apple iPad owners can choose from more than 475,000 apps that have been optimized to take advantage of the larger tablet screens, with added panels and modules and the like. (And the iPad can run all the iPhone apps, as well.)

The weak battery life and limited tablet software selection prevent me from recommending the new Tab Pro 8.4 over the iPad mini. But for Android lovers who want a roomier screen in a smaller body, it’s worth considering.




13 comments
Trevor Farm
Trevor Farm

The relative battery lives of the two devices are much closer in practice than this article suggests - the Samsung may even do better than the iPad.


iOS broadly limits use to a single app, employing a 'freeze and swap' method to switch between apps, partly to preserve battery life.  As mentioned, the Samsung actually allows for true multitasking, with apps literally running side by side, which is very power intensive, and a feature that Apple doesn't have.  A fairer test would be to run the Samsung with multi-tasking related battery saving features on - going by previous Samsung tablets, the results would be much closer.


And more generally, a flat rate of 75% of screen brightness is not a fair comparison - some devices may have a much higher top brightness than others, as a feature to cater for use in bright daylight for instance.  A better test would be to set them both to the same luminescence.  Devices to measure this are as old as photography - it shouldn't be that hard!

Mac-Harry.de
Mac-Harry.de

2 Stores? 2 Player? 2 What ever Apps for Android and Samsung? Finally we are looking for a less complex world. Thanks a lot, Walt.

dante`afk
dante`afk

I have both tablets here right now, iPad mini retina and the Samsung Pro Tab 8.4.


I feel the Samsung is far superior compared to the iPad.



- Better display, stronger colors

- Better responsiveness in every aspect (well the better hardware specs must show somehow, no?)

- 3 Hardware buttons, convenient way to return back and forth with one simple button, while on the iPad you'll have to look on each app separate where the return button is, which is annoying.



Still looking why I should keep the iPad over the Samsung, but I don't see why.

mknopp
mknopp

Good article, but I found it interesting that your biggest complaint (battery life) is likely very closely tied to what you consider a strength (multiple floating windows). While I would love to see iOS adopt something like the Surface where you can run two apps next to each other trying to throw something akin to a desktop PC onto a mobile device the size of the Mini or Tab Pro 8.4 isn't something that is really feasible to accomplish with good battery life yet.


Apple chose to err in favor of longer battery life, Samsung chose to err in favor of trying to turn a tablet into a touch PC. For my money, and apparently yours, Samsung made the wrong choice.


I also think that Apple made the right choice on their screen format. I use my Mini in landscape mode about 99% of the time. I actually find portrait mode to be cumbersome. I have used my nephew's 7" Android tablet and really cannot stand it because the 16:9 screen makes landscape mode pretty much worthless with a keyboard and portrait mode just feels wrong, like you said it feels like using a ridiculously sized smartphone instead of a tablet.

RS9
RS9

Walt is being nice here. Basically samsung's new tablet is no comparison to iPad Mini.

TechCheck
TechCheck

Impressive isn't the word I'd use to describe the hardware. "Compromised" would be a better term: breaking it down we have a tablet that has tenuous, at best modest real-world improvements over a competitor's model which is nearing the midpoint of its product cycle. All the while delivering less-than-half the available run time, despite not having the freedom of going truly mobile with cellular data access.


That is before one even debates the differences in their included software/optimised app availability.

marinab
marinab

Great article, Walt! Would love to know if you believe there's a strong alternative to the iPad mini. Thanks!

blaktron
blaktron

Good article, but a minor nitpick:  On your tablet/picture comparison above, you list Resolution as a number in PPI.  That's not correct, that's the pixel density.  The resolutions are 2560x1440 and 2048x1536 respectively.  When you misuse definitions it degrades the quality of your article, which is otherwise excellent.

KGM
KGM

Walter - interesting article.  Best of all, you are back.  I have missed your Wednesday view on the tech world.

alexbdavies
alexbdavies

@Trevor Farm  Agreed. Walt's battery testing is completely flawed. Tests in other reviews have shown that the Tab Pro has a substantially brighter screen than the iPad Mini, so at 75% brightness the Tab's screen is going to be quite a bit brighter and drain more power. So it's not an apples to apples comparison.


Walt is right that the Tab Pro 8's battery life isn't as good as the iPad's, but it's a lot closer than this review suggests.

robegian
robegian

@dante`afk  There are a number of reasons to prefer the iPad: tons of useful software is the most prominent, but also a more robust and secure OS architecture comes to mind. For example, dealing with audio in real time is impossible for Android based devices, while it's an everyday task in iOS devices thanks to the implementation of CoreAudio and CoreMIDI, which allow also a straightforward use of USB Class 2 compliant audio and MIDI periferals — attach these to an Android device, and they will just rest there useless.

NHBill
NHBill

@mknopp  Seems like we have the 'talking points" from Samsung. Bottom line he did the exact same apples to apples (sorry about that) test and got twice as much battery life from the iPad.


Running video is very common use of a tablet. Getting twice the run time on a new battery means more useful runtime when the battery is beginning to age.

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