Samsung's Tab S6 can handle productivity and entertainment in one powerful tablet

Jacob Krol, CNN Underscored
Mon September 9, 2019

The Android tablet landscape is heating up. Samsung's latest, the Galaxy Tab S6, is the latest high-end Android tablet meant to mix entertainment and productivity. It has an expansive 10.5-inch vibrant display but doesn't shrink the bezels as the latest iPad Pros has. Inside it has a zippy processor with a bountiful amount of RAM, and even with dual cameras on the back, it's still thin and portable. For $649 you get 128GB of storage and an S Pen.

I've spent about a week with the Tab S6 putting it through streaming, note-taking, typing, gaming and more. Let's dive into what Samsung got right this time.

Still a premium tablet

Say goodbye to glass and hello to aluminum. The Galaxy Tab S6 features a matte finish courtesy of aluminum back design. Despite some aesthetic similarities, the three colors (cloud blue, mountain gray and rose blush) make it clear this not an iPad. I've been using a cloud blue model and it looks quite elegant. It's not as in-your-face eye-catching as the Aura Glow Galaxy Note 10+, but it gives you a nice pop of color.

The included S Pen matches that of the Tab S6 and has a home on the back. Via a dip in the build, you can magnetically attach the S Pen for storage and wirelessly charging. It's a bit difficult to place it exactly where it needs to go. After some practice, I can share my rule of thumb that the Samsung logo and button must face out. Still, the pen fell out on me a few times, and placed in its home on the back, it also keeps you from being able to lay the Tab S6 down completely flat. This can be annoying at times.

All-in-all it's a pretty minimal design. The right-hand side is home to the power button, volume controls and the microSD card slot. The top and bottom (when being held vertically) have four speakers each in a corner. While the left-hand side has a proprietary connector for attaching the keyboard cover. One big change is the removal of the headphone jack -- the Tab S6 only has a USB-C port on the bottom.

The device is ridiculously light and thin at under a pound and just 0.22-inches thick. You really won't feel it if you toss it in a backpack or purse, and you can easily carry it around the office, bring it on your commute, and tote it to class with the S Pen attached.

A vibrant 10.5" display with a fingerprint sensor

Unlike the Galaxy S10 and Note line that feature Infinity O displays, there is no notch or cutout on the Tab S6. You get traditional bezels around a 10.5-inch Super AMOLED display. Along the top, when held vertically or in a horizontal position on the left, you'll find a front-facing camera. You can use this for an unsecured unlocking experience, but better yet you should use the in-display fingerprint sensor.

It's the same technology as seen on the Galaxy Note 10, and it performs well here. The technology has come along way since it's first premiered on the S10 and S10+-- although it's still not perfect. The sensor itself can be used in a vertical or horizontal mode and it stays in the same spot. In vertical mode it's square center near the bottom, and in horizontal it's at the halfway point between top and bottom on the right-hand side. You can pair several fingers with it, but I found a thumb to be the easiest to use.

The Tab S6 proves that Samsung still makes a great display. Colors look extremely vibrant and contrast is strong with black and other darker colors. It's really enjoyable for entertainment streams or for browsing the web.

To be a bit more specific the 10.5-inch WQXGA Super AMOLED panel has a 2560 X 1600 resolution. It gets pretty bright, but using it in direct sunlight can be a challenge because of its glossy finish. However, it did perform well in fluorescent lighting you might find in a classroom or an office.

The S Pen is solid for note-taking and sketching

Apple has the Apple Pencil and Samsung has the S Pen. In the Tab S6, the S Pen itself has grown a bit, although it's still shorter than a typical writing utensil. Unlike the Tab S6, which got a higher-end aluminum build upgrade, the S Pen itself is mostly plastic. That's not necessarily a bad thing. It feels pretty balanced in the hand when note-taking, and you won't cramp or tire your hand any more than you would use an Apple Pencil, a non-smart stylus or a pen. The S Pen has a slightly new look with a flat oval shape. It takes a while to get used to as it can be hard to get a grip on. Especially when you also realize the button is smack in the middle of where your finger might touch it.

The front side has the Samsung button on the top and a button about a quarter of the way up, while the back has some regulatory info. Coincidentally, when you charge the S Pen on the Tab S6, the backside must face the back of the Tab S6 for it to charge and stay attached.

Because of that button placement, I found myself constantly opening up menus and at times changing the writing utensil (ie: pencil to paintbrush to pen). It gets annoying after one or two times, and while it's not the end of the world, it isn't the best design choice. The simple fix is to hold the pen the other way, with the button facing away from you., but then you'll need to flip when you want to use the button.

The S Pen on the Tab S6 supports Air Actions, the new gesture-based controls that are also found on the Note 10+. It's kind of like a magic wand, but the technology isn't really there yet. While Samsung has released a way for developers to take advantage of it, not many have as of yet and it feels more gimmicky with the pre-loaded ones. For now, you can double-tap the button in notes to switch an eraser and tap it once to open the camera and take a shot. There is a nice walkthrough that first appears when you start using the S Pen, and this acts as a helpful tutorial.

In the current day though, the S Pen handles note-taking well. I didn't experience any latency and it feels closer to writing on paper than previous tablets from Samsung. It glides along with the display quite nicely and responds to different levels of pressure. It doesn't really pick up shade effects though when you have the S Pen tip almost sideways on the screen. Those looking for that type of effect can get it digitally depending on the app.

For students or works looking for a tablet to handle note-taking while also opening PDFs, you're in luck as the Tab S6 can handle that quite well. The S Pen is terrific for note-taking or annotating PDFs. I used the Tab S6 for notes during several calls and meetings-- it performed quite well.

Android and Samsung DeX perform well with productivity and pleasure

Powering the Tab S6 is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor with 6 GBs of RAM. And as you might have guessed, that is a pretty powerful setup that does a great job of powering this tablet. The Tab S6 mostly runs Android with a Samsung user interface on top, but you can also use DeX to attach to a monitor, mouse, keyboard and other peripherals and turn your Android device into more of a typical computer. Think of it as a desktop mode.

DeX on the Tab S6 performs well, and it's nice to put it in this mode if you'll be doing extensive writing or intense photo editing. All of Microsoft's Office apps run in DeX mode, which is terrific and really makes this device a viable option as a computer replacement.

Samsung's Tab S6 keyboard cover complements DeX mode quite well as it gives you a laptop-like setup. It's technically two parts. The back cover provides protection with a space for the S Pen. While the front, which protects the screen, has a full-sized keyboard minus the num pad. It's a bit cramped with a trackpad on the bottom. Samsung seems to be eyeing up against the TypeCover for the Surface Pro 6, but the experience is different. Notably, DeX is not on the same level as Windows 10.

On the Android side, it's a classic experience that's similar to previous tablets. It's great for entertainment as you can stream from almost any service. Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Plex and Amazon Prime Video among others performed well. The Super AMOLED display offers great visuals for viewing.

Gaming on the Tab S6 and is a fluid experience via the 855 processor. Games like Fortnite, Asphalt 9 and PUBG were easy to play with no noticeable performance lag. MMO's like Fortnite and PUBG are also dependent on wireless signal and strength.

In benchmarks, the Tab S6 score a TK single and TK multi-core score with GeekBench. It also performed really well in a variety of scenarios I threw at it for a week.

Not a full day of battery life and cameras perform well

Inside the Galaxy Tab S6 is a 7,040mAh battery, which is pretty big for such a thin tablet. Samsung estimates you can get up to 15 hours of battery life, but during my time with the device it came up a bit shorter than that. With the brightness varying between 65% to 80% during a day filled with productivity like emails, writing and web browsing, with a bite of streaming and gaming thrown in, I got closer to 10 hours of use. By no means terrible, but it certainly isn't a full day of battery life.

On a more positive note, the charger included in the box supports fast charging, so you can quickly recharge while on the go.

On the back, you'll find a dual-camera lens setup with a 13-megapixel and a 5-megapixel lens. These aren't as good as the pair of triple lenses on the S10e, S10, S10+ or Note 10. But for a tablet, these can get admirable shots, especially when lighting is good. It's definitely on par with the single-lens set up on the latest iPad Pros. As far as the front-facing 8-megapixel camera, it performs adequately for selfies and video calling.

Bottom Line

The Galaxy Tab S6 is a fantastic tablet and definitely the best Android tablet currently on the market. Granted, there isn't much competition in that space, but Samsung made some smart upgrades and took advantage of the opportunity to lead the way.

The three new color options look really nice on the Tab S6 and the built-in charging for the S Pen is a nice touch. It's also quite powerful with at least 6GBs of RAM and the Snapdragon 855 processor. You'll be hard-pressed to find operations, apps or processes that slow this thing down. And DeX mode allows you to use it more as a dedicated productivity device.

The Tab S6 is not yet a full computer replacement, but it certainly handles mixing productivity and entertainment in one powerful tablet.

Note: The price above reflects the retailer's listed price at the time of publication.