Galaxy Tab S9 Review: Premium power, premium price

Galaxy Tab S9
If you’re after a high-power Android tablet, it’s hard to go past the Galaxy Tab S9. Problem is, it feels like it’s also hard to justify.

Pros Cons
Powerful Android Tablet Apple alternatives are more powerful – even cheaper ones
Very nice AMOLED display No included charger
S-Pen included as standard Android apps are still quirky on tablets

Score: 3.5/5

 

Galaxy Tab S9 Buy The Samsung Galaxy Tab S9! Buy On Amazon

There’s been a push in recent years to treat tablets as professional grade tools, exemplified by Apple’s push of its iPad Pro line.

Samsung’s long been offering an interesting range of Android-based tablets to consumers, and the Galaxy S9 line is its effective counterpart to the iPad Pro, with price points somewhat to match – though that’s more true of the likes of the Tab S9 Ultra.

That’s not what Samsung’s sent me for review, however; instead I’ve been testing out the smaller Galaxy Tab S9.

If you want a top quality Australian review of the Tab S9 Ultra, by the way, Leigh Stark has done a fine effort over at Pickr.

With pricing starting at $1,499, the Galaxy Tab S9 needs to provide plenty of professional power. It does that, if Android tablet power is what you need… but I’m not 100% convinced that outside the hardcore Android faithful this is the smartest way to go.

Design

Galaxy Tab S9
The design of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 is rather nice, with a minimalistic touch. It features an 11 inch 2560×1600 pixel Dynamic AMOLED 2X display with some truly glorious colour reproduction if you wanted to use it for movie viewing, for example – though this would be overkill at this price.

Weighing in at 498g it’s pretty easy to heft in the hand too. While I’ve only had the lightest hands-on time with the Galaxy Tab S9’s bigger siblings, the Tab S9+ and Tab S9 Ultra, I almost immediately felt like they were “too large” for easy everyday use, and this just isn’t an issue for the Galaxy Tab S9.

One curious aspect of the Galaxy Tab S9’s design is that it’s IP rated for water ingress. Now sure, nobody wants their shiny new pro-grade tablet to cark it just because it got a little rain on it that one time, but equally, who’s diving with an 11 inch tablet?

Technically, if you dove into fresh lab water only (Samsung’s got… ahem… “form” with the ACCC around water resistance and pools claims in Australia), you could with the Galaxy Tab S9, as it’s IP68 rated. That feels like overkill to me, but hey, overkill can be glorious too.

From a controls perspective, Samsung throws power and volume buttons up on the right hand side in portrait mode – top left if you’re using it landscape – while unlocking is handled via an in-display fingerprint reader.

During my review time with the Galaxy Tab S9, I’ve had no problems with it unlocking every single time, but if you’re not a fan, you can always use more standard Android unlocking methods.

Performance

Galaxy Tab S9
It’s pretty clear where Samsung got the recipe for the Galaxy Tab S9 from. Take one Galaxy S23, hand it to Andre The Giant, get him to stretch it out to suitable size.

Well, OK, that wouldn’t work because sadly he’s long deceased, but fundamentally, the Galaxy Tab S9 mostly is a super-sized Galaxy S23 under the hood, sporting the same Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor along with either 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage or 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage.

While we wait for the official announcement of the Galaxy S24 family, that’s still the recipe for the fastest Android phones, so, not surprisingly, the Galaxy Tab S9 is nicely nippy as well.

I don’t really have the same level of benchmark data for Android tablets as I do for smartphones, but it’s certainly a faster performer than, say, the Google Pixel Tablet. Then again, given the price disparity between the two, it absolutely should be!

Where the comparison is less flattering is if you’re not wedded into the Android ecosystem, because Apple’s iPad lines – and at the official asking price of $1499 for the Galaxy Tab S9, you’re into low-end iPad Pro territory, or iPad Air if you wanted to save a few bucks – the Galaxy Tab S9 doesn’t stack up nearly as well. For the operating system agnostic, Apple’s still got the more powerful plays, some at lower prices.

However, my biggest issue with Android tablets persists. It’s not that they’re not powerful enough per se; it’s that there’s still something of a guessing game to play when it comes to application support for both portrait and landscape orientation.

Galaxy Tab S9
Great for YouTube binges… but that’s not what the Tab S9 is really for.

Some apps are fine and work really well; for example any video app looks just glorious on that Dynamic AMOLED display, because landscape is a natural ally to most video shooting modes. But it’s not true for other apps, where you’ll either just end up with a squashed-in portrait view, or a lot of blank wasted space.

Obviously this will depend on your workflow, bearing in mind again that the Galaxy Tab S9 is pitched as a pro grade tablet. If you’re just after a good looking screen from Samsung, the Tab S9 FE or one of its cheaper Galaxy Tab A tablets would be a better option.

That’s where the inclusion of the S-Pen comes in. Unlike Apple, Samsung includes a stylus in the box, so if you’re after a tablet to use as an illustration or photo markup device, you’re nicely sorted. My own drawing and annotation skills are, honestly, poor.

Galaxy Tab S9
I’ve won awards for my writing. For my ability to colour in lobster claws… not so much.

It’s not a hook for me, but what would be (and is sadly not included) would be a keyboard case, to fully create that transitional step between laptop and tablet.

Samsung does sell a $299 keyboard cover case – though it’s very cheap at the time of writing, which suggests a refresh is imminent for the line – but it would be an interesting step and attack on Apple’s tablet dominance if Samsung did bundle in a keyboard as well.

Galaxy Tab S9
You can handwrite on the Tab S9. Good luck reading mine.

Or maybe that’s just the not-at-all-hidden-inner-writer in me emerging again.

Battery

Galaxy Tab S9

Samsung’s claim for the Galaxy Tab S9’s battery life is that its 8,400mAh battery can last for up to 10 hours of internet browsing or up to 15 hours of video playback.

That first figure, I found, is more typical to see, with my own anecdotal testing tending more towards 8 to 9 hours of battery life before it conked out.

Amusingly, Samsung also lists it as being good for up to 149 hours of audio playback. You know, for that market that still pines for an iPod but wants to spend $1,499 on an 11 inch model.

Charging is via USB-C, but somewhat annoyingly for a tablet at this price range, the charger isn’t included in the box. Yes, I know, the shift to USB-C does make it eminently more rechargeable from more plugs, but that presumes you’re charging only one thing at a time.

If you’ve only got one charger and want to keep your phone and your tablet charged, what are you meant to do? You’re meant to buy another charger – and at this price, I do feel like Samsung could have included one.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S9: Alex’s Verdict

Amongst the Android tablets I’ve tested, the Galaxy Tab S9 is generally pretty good. It avoids the massive size (and price) of the Tab S9 Ultra that makes that model a real niche buy, it’s nicely powerful and the inclusion of the S-Pen stylus gives it real scope for the artists amongst us to do some really impressive work.

However, while the hardware is right up there, the software support from app developers continues to be an issue for Android tablets, depending naturally on your choice of app, and if you just want a tablet as a passive consumption device, one of Samsung’s lower-cost models would be a better match. I suspect there’s more buyers in that range than there are in the premium Android tablet space right now.

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Samsung Galaxy Tab S9: Pricing and availability

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 retails from $1,499 officially, though as with all things Samsung, it’s smart to check around for discounts.

Galaxy Tab S9 Buy The Samsung Galaxy Tab S9! Buy On Amazon

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