There’s a lot I hate about the Tab S4 (particularly DeX mode), but it has its redeeming qualities. Samsung generously includes the S Pen, which has a more-rounded design this year. It enables tools you’ll also find on the Note phones, like Air Command, Translate and Screen Write. There’s also the Live Message feature, which debuted on the Galaxy Note 8 — it’s cute but not very useful. I did enjoy the stylus, which was as responsive and fine-nibbed as I needed it to be as I uncovered my hidden artistic talent and specialty for still lifes of cleaning products.
I also liked the 10.5-inch screen here — it’s vibrant, sharp and bright enough to read under direct sunlight. Despite increasing the display size from last year’s Tab S3, Samsung managed to retain a relatively dainty footprint. The tablet features Intelligent Scan as well, which mixes facial recognition and iris detection for faster logins. This conveniently works in landscape mode, although not very consistently, and I almost always chose to enter my PIN instead.
Performance and battery life
The tablet’s Snapdragon 835 CPU held up well — I didn’t have any major hiccups switching between apps or finishing a document with a video playing in the background, although the system has crashed once so far. I don’t really know what caused it — I was typing away up a script and trying to switch apps with the Alt-Tab shortcut, which might have confused or overwhelmed the device. The Tab S4 would benefit from having more than the meager 4GB of RAM onboard.
I was also surprised to see that despite packing in a larger 7,300mAh battery, the Tab S4 didn’t last much longer than the Tab S3. On our video test, the S4 came in at almost the same 12-hour mark as its predecessor. In the real world, though, the battery dropped 20 percent in less than two hours when I was working in DeX mode. For a $650 tablet, I expect better.
If you want a dainty 10-inch tablet-ish device for actually getting work done, there is a variety of alternatives. Consider the Surface Go, for instance. It has a gorgeous display, a built-in kickstand and runs full Windows (if you install the free upgrade). Microsoft’s companion keyboard cover for the Go is much better than Samsung’s atrocious counterpart, too. And the best part: The Surface starts at just $399.
To be fair, the Tab S4 lasts longer and comes with the S Pen, whereas you’ll have to spring $100 extra for Microsoft’s stylus.
There’s also the iPad Pro, which starts at the same price as the Tab S4. While I’m not a fan of Apple’s keyboard cover either, and iOS isn’t as good for multitasking as a desktop, at least it’s not unpredictable.
All told, the Tab S4 has a unique set of features making it difficult to find a perfect alternative, so if you really must have a stylus and a desktop-like mode with Android apps, then, by all means, spend the $650 on it. Almost anyone else would be better served by one of the above alternatives, though.
The Tab S4 suffers from a problematic premise. If Samsung didn’t insist that it was designed for getting serious work done, I’d be more forgiving. DeX mode is simply too unreliable for any regular use. Many of my problems had to do with the companion keyboard, but a lot of the fault here lies in the software as well. Some of the inconsistencies are due to Samsung’s desire to keep Android as its base instead of, say, Chrome OS.
As an Android tablet alone, the Tab S4 is actually pretty good. It has a good screen, decent audio and respectable performance. But like the Tab S3, the Tab S4 isn’t special enough to justify its high price. Samsung’s efforts at creating a sleek machine for multitasking on the go is laudable, but DeX mode’s inconsistencies make it more a nightmare than a dream come true.