The iPad has become synonymous with tablet computers in general, and a lot of people mistakenly call any tablet an iPad. While Apple's iPads are definitely the most popular tablets around, it isn't the only company making them — a handful of manufacturers still produce Android tablets. The company that started it all was Samsung, which introduced the big-screen hand-held device concept to the Android platform in 2010. Samsung recently introduced its latest tablet, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e.
Priced at Rs. 35,999 onwards, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e is all about the big screen, offering an iPad Pro-like approach to design at a much lower price. The highlight of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e is its 10.5-inch QHD-resolution AMOLED screen, promising to make this the best portable entertainment device available for under Rs. 40,000. Does this Samsung tablet live up to expectations? We find out in our review.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e design and specifications
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e is the successor to last year's Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 (Review), but is positioned differently. While the Galaxy Tab S4 was priced at Rs. 57,900 at launch, the Tab S5e has a much more affordable price tag of Rs. 35,999 for the Wi-Fi-only variant (on review here), while the LTE variant is priced at Rs. 39,999. An explanation for this reduction in price comes through the ‘e' at the end of the model name; it's a similar approach to that of the Samsung Galaxy S10e (Review), which offers most of what its more expensive S10-series siblings do, but at a lower price.
In the case of the Galaxy Tab S5e, Samsung has retained the high-resolution screen and premium design of the Galaxy Tab S4, but has gone with a less powerful mid-range processor, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 670. Furthermore, just one configuration is available, with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage. The only option buyers have is between the Wi-Fi and LTE variants. Specification buffs might find the downgrade from a Snapdragon 835 to a Snapdragon 670 disappointing, and we'll find out a bit later in our review how much of an impact that has made in terms of real world performance.
Processor aside, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e looks good, is built well, and has a good set of specifications for a tablet. The front features slim borders around the 10.5-inch QHD-resolution AMOLED screen, with just the front camera breaking the stark, featureless look. The tablet has a metal unibody and is just 5.5mm thick.
Despite its size, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e weighs just 400g, making it lighter and slimmer than the Apple iPad Air (2019), with a screen of the same size and roughly the same resolution.
The back of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e also tries to be minimalist in design, although its antenna lines do break the starkness of the metal back. Just like on iPads, the Samsung logo is reflective, and the single rear camera is in the top-left corner, although the sensor sits in a larger housing and sticks out slightly. Charging is through a USB Type-C port at the bottom, while the power and volume buttons are on the right side.
The power button doubles up as a fingerprint sensor, and the tablet also has face recognition for biometric authentication. Both of these work well. The fingerprint sensor is extremely quick and works with even the slightest touch. However, having the fingerprint sensor on the power button makes it a bit hard to reach, and the power button itself is a bit hard to press because of its shape. We usually found it easier to use a double-tap to wake the tablet, and then let face recognition unlock it.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e has a total of four speakers. Two are placed at the bottom and two are at the top, putting one near each of the four corners of the screen. The sound has been tuned by AKG — part of Samsung subsidiary Harman International — and there's also Dolby Atmos support for better sound when watching movies or TV shows on the Galaxy Tab S5e.
The Galaxy Tab S5e has a 7,040mAh battery and comes with a 15W charger, which took around three hours to fully charge the tablet. There are also pogo points on the left side to allow charging through a dock or to use Samsung's Book Cover Keyboard, which you can purchase separately. With regular use, we were able to go for three to four days between charges. In our HD video battery loop test, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e lasted 13 hours and 10 minutes.
You get a 13-megapixel rear camera and 8-megapixel front camera on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e. The rear camera has autofocus but no flash, and video recording at up to 4K resolution is possible. These cameras are quite basic and aren't suited to anything more than the occasional picture when you don't have easy or quick access to a smartphone, and video calls.
Interestingly, this tablet also has Call and Message Continuity, a feature that lets you accept calls and reply to messages received on a compatible Samsung Smartphone, on the tablet itself, when both are set up to do that.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e software, Book Cover Keyboard, and DeX
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e runs the company's One UI 1.1 overlay on top of Android 9 Pie. At the time of this review, the tablet was running the April 2019 security patch. Naturally, the software is the same as what we see on Samsung smartphones, although the larger screen does mean that the layout is more spaced out. This looked a bit awkward to us, but we didn't have any real issues with using the interface.
Like its predecessor, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e lets you use Samsung's DeX, which is a modified version of the regular Android interface with a computer-like approach. DeX is ideal for use when the tablet is on a table-top, especially when docked with a compatible accessory such as the Book Cover Keyboard. While the interface looks different, functionality remains largely the same. In DeX mode, apps run in windows rather than full-screen by default, which means that you can have multiple apps open on the same screen. Some apps such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video can't be used this way.
Samsung sent us the Book Cover Keyboard for review along with the Galaxy Tab S5e. When used with this accessory, the tablet can be propped upright and used like a laptop. The keyboard draws power from the tablet itself and doesn't have a battery of its own to be charged. The book cover magnetically attaches to the back of the tablet, and the keyboard connects using the pogo pins. The bottom of the keyboard is also magnetic, securing the screen of the tablet when folded closed.
We found the keyboard to be a bit too compact, and typing long emails and documents on it wasn't easy. However, it did work well for basic use, and was a definite improvement over on-screen typing, especially when using DeX mode, and it's something you could get used to as you spend more time with it. The cover, although magnetically attached, sticks to the tablet firmly and keeps it safe both when in use and when being stored.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e performance
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e isn't like the previous S-series tablets from the company in one big way: the processor. There is a mid-range Snapdragon 670 powering the S5e, instead of the 800-series ones on the S4 and some of the older models in the range. However, Samsung believes that it hasn't skimped on the features and specifications that matter to tablet users, and we agree.
The 10.5-inch 2560x1600-pixel AMOLED screen makes this tablet a media powerhouse. Streaming from Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Hotstar was an absolute pleasure, with all platforms able to stream at up to full-HD resolution, and the picture was clean and easy to watch at reasonable viewing distances. Unlike the Galaxy Tab S4 though, the Tab S5e does not support HDR. This holds the Tab S5e back from being as capable as its predecessor.
The only real drawback of the screen is the 288ppi pixel density. This isn't a lot, and naturally, in some situations, things don't look very good on the screen. While the low pixel density wasn't an issue for us when watching video content streaming at full-HD resolution or higher (provided we kept the tablet at a reasonable viewing distance), the lack of sharpness did somewhat show in the interface, and in certain apps such as Google Chrome and Spotify, as well as games like Sniper 3D.
This is because we tend to hold the tablet closer when using most apps in order to read text or view images closely, and the poor tablet optimisation of most Android apps brought out the weaknesses in what is otherwise a very good screen.
The mid-range processor does, for the most part, handle apps and games capably. While we weren't able to play graphically-intensive games at the highest settings, most casual games ran comfortably enough. For commonly used functions such as audio and video streaming, productivity, and browsing the Internet, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e is adequately powerful. The tablet performed as expected in benchmark tests, with an AnTuTu score of 153842, and GeekBench scores of 1634 (single-core) and 5682 (multi-core).
With just 4GB of RAM, the tablet is somewhat aggressive at shutting down apps that you might think are still running in the background, which then increases the time it takes to reload them.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e also really stands out for its speakers. The AKG-tuned four-speaker system is quite possibly the best we've experienced on such a portable device yet. The sound is loud, clean, and crisp, and did full justice to the display's picture quality when streaming videos. The sound tuning has been set for best results when watching movies or TV shows, but the speakers do a decent job even with music.
This tablet also has a Dolby Atmos mode. Turning it on did change the sound a bit, but in our opinion it didn't really improve (or for that matter, worsen) the quality. Regardless of whether the mode is used or not, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e is excellent when it comes to audio.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S range has so far been the tablet equivalent of the flagship S-series for smartphones. This meant having the best hardware an Android tablet could have, but that made the prices of previous models higher than what you'd pay for a similar Apple iPad model. So while this new ‘e' approach might be surprising to some, it actually makes a lot of sense to us.
The mid-range processor powering the Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e helps bring its price down, but Samsung has retained the key features that make it so appealing — the screen and the sound. Although the low pixel density does occasionally show at times, the screen is, for the most part, a capable one. Coupled with the excellent speakers, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e is excellent for media consumption, most Android games, and every other purpose you can think of for a tablet.
An iPad might be a more tempting option for just one big reason — the apps. The app ecosystem for iPads remains significantly better than on Android, and a large number of those apps are properly optimised for iOS. Android apps are improving, but quality and tablet optimisation still have a lot of catching up to do. However, if you're looking at a media-focused tablet experience, or are simply more comfortable with Android, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e is definitely worth considering.