Samsung Galaxy Book 2 tablet hands-on: Performance takes a back seat to battery life
Samsung bets that you’ll take massive battery life and tolerate good-enough performance for web browsing and office work.
After spending an intensive few days with Samsung’s Galaxy Book 2, we can see that it follows in the footsteps of the first-generation Galaxy Book ( go.pcworld. com/bkrv) that shipped last year by aiming to be a good value. It’s still a traditional Windows 2-in-1 tablet built around Samsung’s terrific AMOLED displays and rich sound, with LTE capability, a pen and keyboard, sold for a reasonable $999 ( go.pcworld.com/byb2).
But the Galaxy Book 2 has also made some fundamental changes. Lured by Qualcomm’s promises of all-day battery life, Samsung
switched from the Intel Core i5 chip it used in the first-generation Galaxy Book to Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 850 in the Galaxy Book 2. Our preliminary tests show that performance suffers as a result. On the other hand, battery life improves enormously—up to an industry-leading 17 hours.
In addition to the CPU switch, the second generation makes some other compromises. The built-in 4GB of memory and 128GB of storage is a bit skimpy, for instance, and the Os—windows 10 Home in S Mode—might turn some off. As we work through more testing and file a full review, we’ll see if our first impressions evolve.
Display: 12.0-inch Samsung AMOLED (2160x1440)
Processor: Qualcomm 8-core Snapdragon 850 (4 cores @ 2.96GHZ; 4 cores @ 1.7 GHZ)
Graphics: Qualcomm Adreno 630 (integrated)
Storage: 128GB SSD
Ports: 2 USB-C, microsd, headphone jack
Wireless: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac VHT80 MIMO; Snapdragon X20
Cameras: 5MP front, 8MP rear
Operating system: Windows 10 Home in S Mode (Windows 10 Home as tested)
Dimensions: 11.32 x 7.89 x 0.30 inches
Weights: 1.74 pounds (tablet), 2.42 pounds (tablet plus keyboard), 2.64 pounds (tablet, keyboard and charger), as measured
Price: $999; S Pen and keyboard included
BUILD QUALITY AND PORTS
Physically, the Galaxy Book demonstrates that changing horses midstream sometimes necessitates a new harness and tack. Samsung clearly is aiming for good-enough performance this time around. The Galaxy Book 2 is a tad shorter, a bit wider, slightly thicker, and 0.08 pounds lighter than its predecessor.
The first-generation Book sported a chunky bezel surrounding the screen, and I was hoping for something a bit leaner this time around. No luck. Fortunately, if you’ve seen a Samsung display before, you know
what you get: deep, dark blacks and rich colors—though maybe not as rich or coloraccurate as the displays on Microsoft’s Surface Pro 6 ( go.pcworld.com/msp6). The AMOLED touchscreen display pumps out a comfortable 329 nits of luminance, which will work well indoors and out. While the tablet isn’t totally sealed—a couple of vents on either side seem like some sort of new, strange expansion port—it is fanless.
As for real expansion ports, Samsung leapt ahead to USB-C with the first Galaxy Book, and the second Galaxy Book 2 also sports a pair of USB-C ports. Unfortunately, Samsung wasn’t as thoughtful as, say, the Huawei Matebook ( go.pcworld.com/hwmb): You’ll have to supply your own USB-A adapter if you want to connect to legacy devices. High-speed Thunderbolt connections aren’t available, either.
Keep in mind that the LTE slot also apparently doubles as a microsd holder, though adding or subtracting either a SIM or microsd card requires one of those annoying smartphone poky SIM tools to slide the drawer out. (We’re assuming that this is user-accessible; the plastic SIM tool Samsung provided bent easily and wouldn’t let us inside to verify.)
There’s no Windows Hellocertified depth camera, though there’s a fingerprint reader on the rear of the tablet, right next to the camera. It seemed to have some
problems reading my finger during setup, and I’m not sure of the advisability of placing a fingerprint sensor next to a camera lens, which could be easily smudged. Otherwise, though, it works acceptably.
As for LTE, it’s clearly one of the reasons for buying a device like the Galaxy Book 2. If you want to be always connected (and who doesn’t?) a tablet like this will do the trick. I don’t have a Verizonpowered smartphone for comparing reception to, but the Book 2 seemed to pick up a signal everywhere a T-mobile phone could, and then some. Remember that you’ll be able to buy a Galaxy Book 2 from a Sprint, AT&T, or Verizon store, but you’ll have to pay extra for a connection plan.
As noted elsewhere, though, Windows prioritized the LTE connection over my Wi-fi connection. That’s a problem for two reasons: First, not all cellular plans are unlimited; and a cellular connection was (fortunately) listed as “metered” by Windows. While that prevents multi-gigabyte updates from being downloaded, unnoticed, over your cellular connection, it also means that updates and Onedrive syncing can’t take place without manual approval.
Finally, don’t forget that the Samsung Galaxy Book 2 ships with Windows 10 in S Mode, which restricts apps to what’s provided in the Microsoft Store. Do you prefer Google’s Chrome browser? Sorry! Remember, switching from S Mode to the full-fledged Windows 10 Home is a pretty simple experience ( go.pcworld.com/sp10), and shouldn’t cost you anything. It’s a oneway switch, though.
The real problem is that we still ran into applications—specifically two of our benchmark applications—that flatly refused to run on our Galaxy Book 2, because of the way they were coded. That’s a risk you’ll have to take.
Typing on the Galaxy Book 2’s bundled keyboard is surprisingly decent. Each key offers a rather spacious landing pad for your fingers, with pleasing key travel and resiliency. (I wouldn’t be surprised if the keyboard were simply a holdover from the first-generation Galaxy Book.) The keyboard does flex considerably, however, though the movement
felt more akin to the springiness of an athletic shoe rather than the sag of an old bed.
Samsung has adopted the now-traditional doublefolding hinge, which connects the keyboard to the tablet. As someone who prefers a slightly angled keyboard, the ease with which the keyboard unhinges is annoying —there’s even a hidden Samsung label that makes me think the behavior’s intentional. But the final magnetic connector holding the keyboard in place is pretty close to rock-solid, leading me to believe that you could work with it on your lap for prolonged lengths of time. The hinged kickstand reclines way back, almost but not quite flat.
I’m impressed with the Galaxy Book 2’s speakers. Granted, because of the physical limitations of a tablet, they can’t really deliver even the low-end oomph of a connected speaker like the Harman/kardon Invoke ( go. pcworld.com/hmin). But even without any augmentation, the range of sound the Book 2’s speakers deliver is relatively balanced, with good volume. They improve even further with the included Dolby Atmos augmentation—which, somewhat surprisingly, ships off by default and needs to be enabled with an app. With Dolby Atmos enabled, the Book 2 delivers a fairly rich soundscape, from highs to lows.
APPS: A MIXED BAG
The Galaxy Book 2 offers an acceptable amount of storage (128GB), though anything below 256GB triggers a bit of paranoia that
I’ll run out of room. How Windows 10 integrates Onedrive assuages that somewhat, as you can back up files to the cloud and let them remain as “placeholders” on the drive. (For some reason, however, the Book 2 wanted to default to the Verizon LTE SIM that Samsung included—which was set up as a metered connection, and that means that Onedrive won’t automatically sync your files to the cloud. I had to disable the cellular connection manually to convince Windows to use my unmetered Wi-fi and ethernet.)
Connectivity issues aside, however, the fact remains that the Galaxy Book 2 ships with the usual complement of bloatware (Candy Crush, Candy Crush Soda Saga, Disney Magic Kingdoms, etc.), which you’ll want to delete immediately. There’s also the built-in Samsung apps, which we discussed in more detail under the “Bundled apps” section of our original Galaxy Book review ( go.pcworld.com/bkrv). These are more forgivable, especially the Galaxy Book app that ships with some minimal configuration options, such as adjusting the display color warmth or preventing the Galaxy Book 2 from charging more than 85 percent to preserve the longevity of the battery.
Samsung shipped the Galaxy Book 2 with Samsung Flow, which works to unlock your PC using your phone—something that Windows Hello should make redundant? Samsung Gallery also apparently works somewhat like the upcoming Your Phone app within Windows: Originally designed as a conduit to pass photos taken with a Galaxy phone to your Galaxy Book 2, it now can use a more generic Bluetooth connection via a Google Play app that can be downloaded by any compatible
The first Galaxy Book shipped with an S-pen, bundled as a discrete accessory. I criticized the lack of integration. The more recent Samsung Notebook 9 Pen ( go. pcworld.com/9pen) adopted the built-in pen holster used by the Galaxy Note phones and tablets, which I happily applauded until I accidentally jammed the S-pen wrong-way in. The Galaxy Book 2 uses an odd sleeve apparently re-purposed from a meat thermometer... and, well, given my past history, I’m okay with that. It might have been nicer with an accent color, or perhaps a clip of some sort, but Samsung’s Brutalist design
should stop absent-minded reviewers from stuffing the S-pen where it shouldn’t go.
Samsung’s choice to move from an Intel Core i5 CPU to a mobile chip shifts the emphasis from performance—where the first Galaxy Book did very well—to battery life. It’s our first test of the new, next-gen Qualcomm Snapdragon 850 ( go. pcworld.com/q850), which promises “multiday” battery life as well as more speed.
Does the new
Snapdragon 850 have enough oomph for you to be happy? Well, it depends. Due to the anemic processor and low system memory, web browsing is generally acceptable with limited tabs. Office work, like word processing, should be just fine. Youtube videos are child’s play— there’s a special video decode engine in the Adreno graphics chip, and a 1080p video consumed about a third of its resources. Games? Don’t count on it, especially anything really modern.
What our tests indicate so far is that the $999 Galaxy Book 2’s performance is in the neighborhood of the $399 Microsoft Surface Go ( go.pcworld.com/msgo), which was a “good-enough” small-form-factor tablet in its own right. Remember, though, that the Book
2’s battery life pretty much blows everything else away—it’s over twice that of the Surface Go’s!
One caveat: Samsung says it will ship its new Galaxy Book 2 with Windows 10 Home in S Mode, but it inexplicably shipped ours with
Windows 10 Home enabled—which we noticed after running several of the browserbased tests we’d normally use for testing a Windows 10 S PC. It’s possible that running Windows 10 Home rather than Windows 10 Home in S Mode may invalidate these results—s Mode is supposedly a more optimized environment, but it doesn’t allow for any apps outside of the Microsoft Store. But they seem consistent with our more traditional benchmarks.
Because these are browser-based benchmarks, we can compare the Book 2 to non-windows devices, “first”-generation Snapdragon-powered PCS like the Asus Novago ( go.pcworld.com/nova), and even Apple devices and an Android tablet.
We’ve included both versions of the older Speedometer benchmark, designed to measure the responsiveness of web applications. (In real-world browser use, the Book 2 felt as responsive as a much more powerful laptop, especially when using Microsoft Edge.) Google’s deprecated Octane benchmark was also tested. In both cases, the Galaxy Book 2 lands at the top of the bottom (or lower middle, if you’re a glass-half-full sort of person), as seems to be the general trend for it.
The Samsung Galaxy Book 2, tuned by AKG.
Two USB-C ports provide the primary form of I/O capability...
...even as the Galaxy Book 2 fully reclines.
Using the fingerprint reader requires reaching around blindly to swipe your finger.
The Samsung Galaxy Book’s keyboard is surprisingly comfy, and the trackpad is serviceable.
Samsung’s pen slips inside this large plastic holder, which apparently just roams free inside your bag.
Here’s the pen, out of its case.