A clean slate


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The new­est ad­di­tion to Sam­sung’s high-end tablet line-up sports a spec­i­fi­ca­tion that’s very close to Ap­ple’s 9.7-inch iPad Pro. At first you might be taken aback by the Tab S3’s price tag, which looks like a worse deal than the Cal­i­for­nian com­pany’s near­est equiv­a­lent, but ac­tu­ally Sam­sung’s deal is a lit­tle bet­ter value: it bun­dles a re­designed ver­sion of its S Pen with the tablet, mak­ing this a more tempt­ing propo­si­tion as a de­vice on which to take hand­writ­ten notes and sketch out ideas us­ing a pres­sure­and tilt-sen­si­tive sty­lus. LET’S GET PHYS­I­CAL Give or take a few mil­lime­tres, the S3’s di­men­sions are very close to those of the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. It weighs a lit­tle less than Ap­ple’s tablet, but it’s lighter by no more than a max­i­mum of 10 grams, de­pend­ing on whether you go for the Wi-Fi or 4G model.

Sam­sung clearly puts some thought into the porta­bil­ity of ac­ces­sories, not just its main de­vices, and one thing for which it de­serves praise is the USB travel charger which is a re­ally pleas­ing de­sign. Back to the S3 it­self, though: a bonus of its de­sign is that its body is made of glass. Picking it up while cold is a less chill­ing ex­pe­ri­ence than touch­ing the metal back of an iPad, for ex­am­ple.

More un­ap­peal­ing, though, is the tablet’s 6mm thin­ness, which can be­come un­com­fort­able if you grasp it around the tablet’s left or right edge for a long pe­riod of time. As with many other tablets, if you’ll of­ten hold the S3 in that way, we sug­gest buy­ing a case to bulk it up just a lit­tle. Yes, it’s weird that we pre­fer our high-end tech to be a touch larger rather than as minute as pos­si­ble, but that’s the sit­u­a­tion we have at the mo­ment.

Sam­sung’s place­ment of the wake/sleep and vol­ume but­tons, which share the same edge, isn’t ideal if you’re switch­ing from an iPad or an­other tablet on which they are split be­tween two sides; we found it rather too easy to press the for­mer but­ton by ac­ci­dent when want­ing to ad­just the vol­ume, though as with any­thing, you learn the lay­out over time.

which has the same quad-speaker ar­range­ment, as a stand-in for a room-fill­ing sound sys­tem, we would be dis­sat­is­fied with us­ing the S3 in that way. Its bass out­put feels limp to non-ex­is­tent, even on tracks that should be sat­u­rated with it, and it’s a telling sign that we wanted to stick on a pair of good head­phones even in the pri­vacy of our home.

When it comes to vi­su­als, though, the S3 is far from dis­ap­point­ing. The res­o­lu­tion of its Su­per AMOLED dis­play is 2048 x 1536 pix­els – an ex­act match for all 9.7-inch iPads dat­ing back to 2012. That sounds old hat, yet it’s great in prac­tice, and the screen tech de­liv­ers a punchy and sharp pic­ture. The S3’s sup­port for HDR con­tent of­fers some­thing a lit­tle spe­cial where video is con­cerned, given that it can make scenes look more nat­u­ral thanks to in­creased de­tail in high­lights and shad­ows. For now, though, this fea­ture is lim­ited to con­tent sourced through Ama­zon’s Prime Video app. Though HDR video is still un­com­mon from video providers on the whole, Net­flix is rolling it out to mo­bile de­vices, and at time of test­ing it wasn’t avail­able. How­ever, it should be here soon if not now.

In terms of its less vis­i­ble tech specs, the S3 doesn’t dis­ap­point. It shouldn’t, ei­ther, given that it sports a full 4GB of mem­ory and a strong quad-core pro­ces­sor. It’s su­per-smooth in use; we felt no signs of slug­gish­ness as we moved around the sys­tem and jumped be­tween apps.

The S3’s rather light 32GB of built-in stor­age matches the amount you get in an en­try-level iPad Pro, though Sam­sung has gone one bet­ter – it’s opted for the flex­i­bil­ity of a mi­croSD slot that sup­ports card ca­pac­i­ties up to 256GB, so there’s plenty of room for ex­pan­sion later on, if your needs grow.


With the S3 be­ing an iPad Pro ri­val, it’s not all about pas­sive en­joy­ment. Sam­sung pro­vides an S Pen with it, which you can use for ev­ery­thing from draw­ing sim­ple sketches to tak­ing notes to cre­at­ing mul­ti­lay­ered art­ful mas­ter­pieces. It’s mer­ci­fully shorter than Ap­ple’s some­times un­wieldy-feel­ing Pen­cil, and 9mm thick at its widest point. It also shuns its ri­val’s mim­ick­ing of a tra­di­tional writ­ing tool by hav­ing a slightly flat­tened shape,

with a thumb but­ton that calls up cus­tomis­able short­cuts on one of the flat­ter edges.

One of the S Pen’s ben­e­fits over the iPad Pro’s Pen­cil (which costs an ex­tra $145 on top of that tablet’s price) is that you don’t have to charge it up at all. Though ad­mit­tedly a small bonus, given Ap­ple’s tool can quickly re­gain a use­ful amount of charge, it means the S Pen will not stop working at an awk­ward mo­ment, and you can for­get all about check­ing a bat­tery level in­di­ca­tor and in­stead fo­cus on the task at hand.

An­other very wel­come fea­ture is the S Pen’s built-in clip for at­tach­ing it to a pocket. This se­cu­rity is all but a ne­ces­sity, given there’s no re­cess in the S3’s body in which to store the sty­lus. It pays off es­pe­cially when con­sid­er­ing the S Pen’s length, which is short enough that many pock­ets will eas­ily ac­com­mo­date it. In con­trast, there’s no clip to be seen on Ap­ple’s Pen­cil, and we found it pokes out of most pock­ets.

There are some draw­backs though, largely re­lated to us­ing the S Pen as a draw­ing tool. The tip of its nib mea­sures an ap­peal­ing 0.7mm across, and Sam­sung says the pen sup­ports 4,096 lev­els of pres­sure sen­si­tiv­ity – which is as dif­fi­cult to dis­cern as it sounds. La­tency be­tween your move­ments be­ing trans­lated into on-screen de­tails varies be­tween apps, but in the best case sce­nario it’s very short, with our hand­writ­ing just min­i­mally trail­ing our ac­tions.

Some apps hand­ily de­tect the pen’s an­gle of tilt, en­abling you to ma­nip­u­late vir­tual brushes for dif­fer­ent ef­fects in your cre­ations. How­ever, the nib’s length and the thick­ness of the pen’s neck mean that you can tilt only a short way be­fore the lat­ter brushes against the screen, break­ing the con­tact be­tween the nib and the screen.

Ul­ti­mately, that’s an is­sue with the S Pen’s de­sign re­sem­bling ex­actly what its name sug­gests; as a ball­point pen held in a more up­right ori­en­ta­tion, it’s com­fort­able and pre­cise enough for tak­ing notes and mak­ing sim­ple sketches, but if you’re of a more artis­tic bent, an iPad Pro, Ap­ple Pen­cil and a suit­able graph­ics app will make for a more sat­is­fy­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

Sam­sung says this ver­sion of the S Pen feels and writes “just like your favourite ball­point”. In­deed, we found it en­joy­able as a method of tak­ing notes, but again when draw­ing, we found the sense of fric­tion be­tween the nib and the glass sur­face felt stick­ier than with Ap­ple’s Pen­cil, which glides across its tablet. That be­came plainly ob­vi­ous when us­ing dif­fer­ent draw­ing tools, as the fric­tion be­gan to get in the way, break­ing what lit­tle sus­pen­sion of dis­be­lief can be mus­tered when us­ing a dig­i­tal pen.

None of these things are ru­inous to the S3’s S Pen ex­pe­ri­ence; it’s very com­fort­able for mak­ing notes, whether that’s in a for­mal meet­ing, writ­ing a ca­sual shop­ping list, or ex­plor­ing dig­i­tal draw­ing tools as an ab­so­lute be­gin­ner. It’s less sat­is­fy­ing than the Ap­ple al­ter­na­tive as a draw­ing or illustration tool, though, and if that will be the main thing you do with your tablet, and if you’re will­ing to en­ter­tain the no­tion of us­ing iOS, we rec­om­mend spend­ing the higher amount on an iPad Pro and Ap­ple Pen­cil.

ABOVEDe­spite their lack of bass, the S3’s four speak­ers are a sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fit in games and video where stereo place­ment mat­ters

The new S Pen is com­fort­able and pock­etable

Only 23GB of built-in stor­age is us­able

Stor­age is easy to ex­pand af­ter you buy

A pow­er­ful, pol­ished tablet with a num­ber of great up­sides

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