The Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra Is A Great Giant Tablet That Can Almost Replace Your Laptop

The Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra Is A Great Giant Tablet That Can Almost Replace Your Laptop

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The $1,099 Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra is an excellent big-screen tablet that’s frustratingly close to also being a good laptop. As the first Samsung slate to sport the “Ultra” moniker, the new high-end Galaxy Tab sports a massive 14.6-inch display that’s perfect for bingeing movies or doodling away with the included S Pen. It also has an excellent webcam, long battery life and speedy performance, and can even double as a notebook of sorts once you snap on a keyboard and activate its Windows-like DeX mode.

Here’s the problem: The Tab S8 Ultra’s price tag is pretty massive for someone who just wants a decent tablet, and the desktop experience still has a ways to go before it can truly replace a traditional laptop. So who is this massive slate for? Here’s what I think after more than a week of using the Tab S8 Ultra as my everyday work and play machine.

The Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra is an excellent big-screen tablet that’s perfect for bingeing movies, sketching with the S Pen, hopping on video calls and doing some basic productivity work.

The who, what and how Who it’s for: The Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra is best suited for someone willing to invest in a huge tablet for watching movies and doing video calls, or artists who want a dependable and large slate that comes with a stylus. Its fast performance, desktop-like DeX mode and optional keyboard impress, but we wouldn’t recommend buying one to use as your sole work machine.

What you need to know: The Tab S8 Ultra is the biggest member of the Galaxy Tab family, packing a beautiful 14.6-inch Super AMOLED screen backed up by some very strong performance, long battery life and a great webcam. You can transform this giant slate into an Android laptop with the $349 Samsung Book Cover Keyboard, which works particularly well with its Windows-like DeX mode. Just don’t expect apps to work as smoothly as they do on a traditional laptop.

How it compares: If screen size is your priority, know that the Tab S8 Ultra dwarfs all of its major competitors. And unlike some of the best tablets out there, including the iPad Pro and Surface Pro 8, Samsung’s slate includes a stylus in the box. You’ll get faster overall performance out of the iPad Pro (which is also more ideal for those in the Apple ecosystem) or a more robust PC experience on a Surface. The Tab S8, S8+ and S8 Ultra all have the same fast processor (Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 1), key features and included S Pen — you’re really paying up for the bigger screen and a better webcam on the highest-end model.

A ridiculously big and beautiful screen Michael Andronico/CNN

The Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra is just about the biggest tablet you can buy right now, which makes it all the more impressive by just how sleek and lightweight it is. Despite packing a comically large 14.6-inch display that dwarfs even the biggest iPad Pro, the Tab S8 Ultra’s airy 1.6-pound frame and thin 0.22-inch edges made it surprisingly comfortable to hold when I was thumbing through websites or taking sloppy handwritten notes. If you want a huge portable screen that won’t feel huge in your bag, this slate fits the bill.

The Tab S8 Ultra’s dark graphite coating looks slick and unassuming, though its matte rear panel is pretty susceptible to fingerprints. I’m a bit bummed that the silver and pink gold options are limited to the Tab S8 and Tab S8+ — why should small tablets have all the fun? — but as a device positioned for both work and play, the Ultra should blend in well at home offices and coffee shops alike. I appreciate that the included S Pen attaches magnetically to the back of the tablet, a design that feels less prone to detaching than the Apple Pencil does on the edge of an iPad. Still, I’d recommend going with an exterior cover (like Samsung’s $349 Book Cover Keyboard) if you want to keep the stylus from flying off when you’re on the road.

One of the best reasons to buy a Samsung phone or tablet is usually the display, and that continues to be the case on the Tab S8 Ultra. This slate’s enormous 14.6-inch Super AMOLED screen is a true joy to use, with bold colors. It sports a zippy 120Hz refresh rate that makes swiping between apps and scrolling through webpages feel incredibly fluid.

Mike Andronico/CNN

The Tab S8 Ultra proved to be the perfect screen for taking in “The Book of Boba Fett,” preserving every minute detail and wide swath of sci-fi color in the show’s explosive final battle. The orange flamethrower blasts shot by enemy droids really stood out here, as did the vivid reflections I was able to make out on The Mandalorian’s silver armor. Similarly, the massive screen size and sharp black-and-white contrast made it easy to keep tabs on a recipe while making dinner, and I found that text looked especially rich and legible when typing away in Google Docs or Slack.

The tablet’s quad speakers (which are well spaced along the edges) are impressively loud and perfectly serviceable for everyday entertainment, filling my room with the satisfying buzz of Star Wars’ blasters while handling my music playlists just fine. Samsung’s slate did a nice job preserving Phoebe Bridgers’ ethereal vocals and Tigers Jaw’s buzzy guitars, and while I noticed some fuzziness and a lack of bass at full volume, the quality was just good enough to keep my head bopping whenever I needed some background noise.

The S Pen works as well as ever — and you get one out of the box Michael Andronico/CNN

The Tab S8 Ultra’s biggest advantage over rivals like the iPad Pro or Microsoft Surface is that you get an S Pen stylus right out of the box for sketching and doodling. That’s a good thing, because the latest iteration of Samsung’s digital pen is as reliable and versatile as ever — even if you have no aspirations of being an artist.

Doodling and sketching felt responsive and natural on the Tab S8 (partially thanks to that great 120Hz refresh rate and low latency), whether I was jotting down a to-do list in Samsung Notes or making a sloppy watercolor painting in the PenUp app. I found myself missing the advanced haptics of Microsoft’s Surface Slim Pen 2, which better mimics the feel of various pens and markers, but I still found the latest S Pen to be incredibly reliable for quick notes and sketches.

Michael Andronico/CNN

Truthfully, though, it’s the sheer amount of handy features that make the S Pen stand out on this slate — with a few quick taps, you can do things like instantly start a new note, annotate whatever’s on-screen or translate a piece of text by simply hovering the pen over it. I was especially impressed by the S Pen’s sketch-to-text functionality, which converted my sloppy handwriting into a series of coherent sentences that I could send to my friends on Discord or Slack when I didn’t want to futz with the virtual keyboard.

Great functionality aside, the fact that the S Pen (which sells for around $60 on its own) simply comes included with the Tab S8 Ultra is a big value add. If you want to enjoy similar functionality on your iPad Pro or Surface, you’ll be shelling out upward of $129 for an Apple Pencil or $99 for a Surface Pen.

Mike Andronico/CNN

I tested the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra with Samsung’s $349 Book Cover Keyboard, which, at least on a hardware front, does a nice job transforming the giant slate into a proper laptop. The keyboard snaps on easily via a magnetic connector just like on a Microsoft Surface — no need to manually pair anything. It felt snappy and comfortable throughout long workdays, and packs a pretty reliable trackpad. The rear cover provides some added protection (and better secures the S Pen) while also giving the tablet a kickstand for easy tabletop use. However, when it came time to actually use the Tab S8 Ultra as a laptop alternative, I had incredibly mixed results.

One of the Tab S8 Ultra’s key features is DeX mode, which completely transforms the tablet’s Android interface into a desktop-like layout that’s ideal for mouse and keyboard use. The DeX interface looks a whole lot like Windows, with apps that open in resizable boxes and a taskbar at the bottom for easily switching programs and changing settings. This interface even borrows one of my favorite Windows features — the ability to neatly and quickly split the screen between multiple apps — which was very handy for multitasking. However, while the Tab S8 Ultra can do a great laptop impression, most Android apps simply aren’t optimized for big-screen use. And that weakness is even more evident on a 14.6-inch display.

Michael Andronico/CNN

Messaging apps like Slack and Discord behave like their mobile counterparts rather than the full desktop versions I’m used to on Windows or Mac, which made jumping between conversations way more cumbersome than usual. I found myself opting to use Twitter on the web rather than via the Android app, since the latter was awkwardly oversized and hard to navigate on the Tab S8. You also won’t see notification bubbles for individual apps in the taskbar, which meant that I couldn’t easily see if I had any unread Slack messages to address. My video would cut out anytime I minimized WebEx or Google Meet during a call, which is something I’ve never had to deal with on a PC or Mac.

But my biggest frustration came from trying to work in Google Docs, which I depend on every day for my job. While I was able to write just fine in the Android version of Docs (in fact, I composed most of this review on it), I initially struggled with highlighting text, which made mass deleting, cutting and pasting nearly impossible. I eventually got used to this version of the software, but there were more than a few moments where I gave up out of frustration and switched to my Windows PC anytime I had to do heavy editing.

Samsung is on to something special with DeX mode, and I’m impressed by how well the Tab S8 Ultra can mimic the overall user experience of a notebook. But Android apps are going to have to catch up before Samsung’s slate can be a viable alternative to a proper laptop.

Great overall performance for work and play Michael Andronico/CNN

While the Tab S8 Ultra might not have the software support of a traditional laptop, it has more than enough muscle for heavy multitasking and casual gaming in core Android. Samsung’s tablet never slowed or stuttered under my usual workload of bouncing between Slack, Google Docs, Discord and tons of Chrome tabs.

The Tab S8 Ultra continued to operate smoothly when I opened 16 different apps (including a 4K video and a game), though I did notice a small delay in typing on Docs under this heavy load. Demanding Android games like Asphalt 8 and Call of Duty: Mobile ran smoothly, even with their visual settings cranked up to the max.

The Tab S8 Ultra’s strong day-to-day performance was backed up by our benchmark tests, where its Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor held up fairly well. Keep in mind this is one of the newer processors to hit the market and also powers the entire (and very speedy) Galaxy S22 family. On the Geekbench 5 test (which gauges overall performance), Samsung’s giant slate turned in a multi-core score of 3,336 and a single-core rating of 1,176.

That’s a slight improvement over the Galaxy Tab S7 family, and smokes cheaper Windows tablets like the Surface Go 3. However, the Tab S8 Ultra is leagues behind the latest iPad Pro in terms of raw horsepower, and didn’t quite score as high as comparable Windows 2-in-1s like the Surface Pro 8. You likely won’t notice the difference between these machines when doing everyday surfing and messaging, but it’s worth keeping this discrepancy in mind if you want as much power as possible for demanding creative tasks like video editing and 3D rendering.

Excellent battery life and a very strong webcam The Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra is well equipped to get you through a full workday of heavy use — and much more than that if you’re just catching up on email a few times a day. Samsung’s slate got me through nearly a full 24 hours of on-and-off use and lasted through an impressive 10 hours and 32 minutes of continuous 4K video playback on our battery test.

That runtime is just a bit longer than what we got out of the previous-generation Tab S7+ (10:05), though it falls behind the epic 15-plus hours we saw on the smaller Tab S7. The Tab S8 Ultra also couldn’t quite match the 12ish hours we got from the latest iPad Pro, but either way, Samsung’s plus-size tablet offers more than enough juice for long days of working and playing games. We were able to fully charge the S8 Ultra in a little over an hour, thanks to support for up to 45W charging, though you will have to supply your own brick. Samsung sells one for $49, and brands like Anker offer some cheaper alternatives.

Michael Andronico/CNN

On top of having enough runtime to survive a long day of video calls, the Tab S8 Ultra boasts an equally excellent webcam. The tablet features dual 12-megapixel cameras in the front, which delivered crisp, true-to-life shots that rival my usual Logitech C920 in terms of overall detail and color accuracy. There’s a handy ultrawide mode that provided more than enough room to keep a colleague and me comfortably in view. Samsung’s tablet even has a neat Auto Framing mode, which automatically kept my head in frame as I moved around during a Zoom call and worked similarly well to the iPad Pro’s Center Stage feature.

Oh, and if you’re somehow comfortable taking photos with a 14-in

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