The Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 may have been surpassed by the newer Galaxy Tab S7 and Tab S7 Plus, but it was an important tablet in its time and remains a worthy gadget if you think it's right for you.
Thanks to Apple’s complete dominance of the tablet market - and the iPad Pro’s creation and mastery of a new super-tablet tier - few rival manufacturers dare stick their heads above the premium tablet parapet. Samsung is a notable exception, having consistently turned out svelte and well-spec'd pro tablets.
Even Samsung appeared to balk in the face of Apple’s onslaught when it led with the mid-range Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e earlier in 2019. But the arrival of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 gives us the Android tablet champion we’ve been craving.
The good news is that the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 is without a doubt the finest Android tablet money can buy. The question that remains to be answered is whether the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 is good enough to merit serious consideration alongside the iPad Pro.
There's a possibility we'll see the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6, and other tablets and useful peripherals, discounted during Black Friday on November 27. That's not far out, so if you're interested in buying a new tablet it's definitely worth waiting to see if the price gets cheaper. We're going to be scouring the deals when Black Friday's here so check back to TechRadar for the best deals.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 price and availability
Starts at $649.99 / £619 / AU$1,099
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 has been available since late August 2019, with prices starting from $649.99 / £619 / AU$1,099 for the base 6GB RAM/128GB storage Wi-Fi model. Add LTE to that configuration, or up the Wi-Fi model to 256GB of storage and 8GB of RAM, and it will cost you $729.99 / £689 / AU$1,299.
The very top Tab S6 model is the 8GB RAM/256GB storage LTE model, which costs £759 in the UK, isn't yet available in the US at the time of writing, and oddly is again listed as AU$1,299 in Australia. This is undoubtedly pricey by Android tablet standards.
However, these prices compare very favorably to Apple’s iPad Pro 11 (2018), which starts from $799 / £769 / AU$1,229 for the 64GB Wi-Fi model. Bump that up to the 256GB LTE specification that matches the Galaxy Tab S6’s top model, and you’ll be paying $1,099 / £1,069 / AU$1,669.
And that’s not factoring in the additional $129 / £119 / AU$199 expenditure for an Apple Pencil. The Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 bundles in its own stylus, the S Pen, as part of the package. You will however have to pay extra for Samsung's keyboard cover, as you do with Apple's.
You S Pen me right round baby
S Pen is a genuinely useful addition
New Air Actions are not
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 has a lot going for it, but its main point of differentiation next to the iPad Pro is the inclusion of the S Pen stylus.
It’s even built into the design of the device this time around, slotting into a magnetized area just below the main camera module. The Tab S6 recharges its S Pen when it’s locked in place, with a complete refill from empty taking 90 minutes.
While it’s undoubtedly cool that you can stash the S Pen in this way, it’s not particularly secure. We found it extremely easy to nudge the stylus out of its housing, and you will almost certainly find yourself rooting around the bottom of whatever bag you carry it around in.
There’s a very good reason that both of the official Galaxy Tab S6 cases encompass the S Pen. One of these is pretty much essential if you plan to travel with this tablet.
Samsung is an expert at stylus technology, having been running the Samsung Galaxy Note family of phablets for a number of years now. The 10.5-inch Galaxy Tab S6 display makes for a wonderful canvas for this versatile tool.
In fact, we’d go so far as to say that the S Pen makes even more sense here than in the aforementioned Note series.
With this nicely proportioned S Pen close to hand, the Galaxy Tab S6’s luxurious screen practically invites you to indulge in sketches and other artistic works. That’s something that’s encouraged by the optional PENUP app, which offers guided drawings and intuitive tools to help you get scrawling.
It’s far from the most comprehensive drawing tool out there, and dedicated digital artists will want to install their own third-party alternative more or less immediately. But for casual doodling, it’s not a bad way to get started.
Whether you’re scribbling notes, cutting out screenshot sections for notations, or flat out drawing, the S Pen is a finely balanced all-round tool. It has just the right level of resistance and precision in its rubber nib to make any task achievable, and dependent on skill and a steady hand rather than technical limitations.
It’s not quite Apple Pencil quality, but then we’d darned well hope not given how much you have to pay for Apple’s own tablet stylus. The S Pen is all part of the package, and it’s very good at what it does.
There are also cool software tricks here like Smart Select, which lets you cut out a portion of the screen and have the contents transcribed for you.
The main addition to the S Pen this time around is something called Air Actions, which are essentially gestural commands activated by waving the S Pen around in the air.
It’s an interesting idea, but we’re far from convinced. Being able to assign an app to open when you hold down the S Pen button (the Camera app by default) is all well and good. We also appreciated the ability to customize what a single press and a double press of the button will do in individual apps - though this largely applies to Samsung’s own apps.
But the motion-based gestures seem a little fiddly and of limited value. We can kind of see the appeal of using these gestures as a remote control when watching a film on the tablet - pressing the button and gesturing up to turn the volume up, for example. But will you ever be that far away from the Galaxy Tab S6 that this will be preferable over using the physical volume key? We have our doubts.
Rotation-based gestures, meanwhile, seem hit and miss. Even if there was the practical case for remotely zooming in the camera this way, the flaky execution ensures that you’d never think to do it after an initial try.
Design and display
Very slim all-metal design
Vibrant 10.5-inch Super AMOLED
In-display fingerprint sensor handy but not the quickest
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 won’t win any awards for originality on the design front, but that doesn’t prevent it from being a handsome bit of kit.
It doesn’t quite have the angular, muscular appeal of an iPad Pro 11, but it’s in the same all-metal ball park. If anything the Tab S6’s softer edges, thinner body (though we’re only talking 5.7mm vs 5.9mm), significantly lighter frame (420g vs 468g) and longer aspect ratio make it feel quite a bit svelter than its Apple rival.
The Tab S6's design is certainly a considerable improvement over its lineal predecessor, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S4. We’re not sad to see the back of the latter’s fragile and slippery glass rear.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Galaxy Tab S6 shares a lot more with the mid-range Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e that launched a few months earlier. The main difference is the more premium model’s lozenge-shaped dual-camera module and the S Pen slot that runs down immediately below it. This latter feature might have a clear function, but it also serves as the tablet’s one distinguishing mark.
Flip around onto the edge nearest that slot and you’ll find the Galaxy Tab S6’s power and volume buttons, as well as the SIM tray on the LTE model. The opposite edge contains the connector for the optional keyboard cover.
Samsung has installed four AKG-tuned speakers, two on both of the narrow edges, while the ‘bottom’ edge (judged from the orientation of the Samsung logo) also contains the USB-C port. There is no 3.5mm headphone jack, which is a crying shame in any pro-level tablet.
If the Galaxy Tab S6’s design is quietly impressive, then its display makes no attempt to underplay things. We’re looking at a 10.5-inch Super AMOLED display with a 1600 x 2560 resolution for 287ppi.
It’s the Super AMOLED bit that’s really noteworthy here. We might have seen it in both the Galaxy Tab S4 and the Galaxy Tab S5e, but it still feels like a novelty in a tablet.
All the usual strengths and weaknesses of this panel technology are present and accounted for. This is a vibrant display with excellent contrast (including HDR10+ certification) and deep, inky blacks. It really is quite beautiful, and those vibrant colors lift everything from video content to digital paintings.
Is it flat out better than the iPad Pro screen? We wouldn’t say so for two reasons - it lacks the super-responsive 120Hz variable refresh rate of Apple’s tablet, and it doesn’t get as bright. In particular, it tends to wash out more in strong lighting. Both displays have their perks as well as their quirks.
The Galaxy Tab S6 display’s wider 16:10 aspect ratio offers a little of both. On the one hand it fits movie content a little more snugly than the iPad Pro. Conversely, it makes portrait usage feel a tad more cramped and awkward than with the 4:3 iPad.
Another trick of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6's display is a fingerprint sensor stashed underneath, right near the USB-C slot. This means that you don’t need to rely on the insecure facial recognition system or the annoying passcode entry system.
This in-display sensor works reasonably well in our experience, though it still feels slower and more laborious than dedicated fingerprint sensors. That’s partly because you have to power the screen on to activate it, and partly because it just seems to be a beat slower. The failure rate also seemed higher to us.
7,040mAh battery offers very good stamina
Samsung estimates 14 hours of usage on a single charge
Samsung has gone with a smaller battery for the Galaxy Tab S6 than it did with the Galaxy Tab S4, just 7,040mAh versus 7,300mAh.
But this is still very large, and indeed is the same size as the Galaxy Tab S5e's battery. Add in the benefits of the efficient Snapdragon 855 chipset, and there seems to be no reason to worry.
This is proven by our regular battery test, which involves running a 90-minute looped video with the screen brightness turned up to full. With the Galaxy Tab S4 this task ate 12% of a full charge. With the Galaxy Tab S6, it sapped just 9%.
Samsung has estimated that the Galaxy Tab S6 is good for 14 hours of usage. In our experience it will comfortably stand up to a pretty intensive day, and it’s certainly competitive with the iPad Pro 11 (2018).
The Tab S6 also supports fast battery charging, though the fact that it only ships with a 15W charger - not the 25W unit that ships with the Galaxy S10 5G smartphone - is a minor disappointment. The iPad Pro 11 ships with an 18W charger, by way of a comparison.
13MP and 5MP dual-camera with Night Mode
8MP selfie cam
A dual-camera might not sound like a particularly noteworthy feature in a world where we’re seeing quad-camera smartphones. But the Galaxy Tab S6 is the first Samsung tablet to feature a multi-camera setup.
That entails a 13MP f/2.0 main sensor paired with a 5-megapixel f/2.2 ultra-wide back-up. That would be pretty unremarkable sounding in a mid-range smartphone, but it’s fairly advanced for a tablet, where photography really isn’t a priority.
The secondary camera, in particular, opens up the possibility of some interesting wide-angle shots, as well as enabling exaggerated bokeh Portrait snaps.
What sounds reasonably decent on paper turns out to be just so in practice. The shots we obtained were perfectly fine, in a mid-range phone kind of way. Some of the colors did seem to be artificially ramped up to our eyes, but then Samsung is a sucker for punchy colors.
Overall, Samsung’s fine camera software bolsters things significantly, with auto-HDR evening out the extremes nicely on any bright landscape shots. The company has also brought its Night Mode across from its top-end smartphones, so you’ll be able to take usable shots in extremely dark conditions.
You’ll need to hold the tablet still for several seconds in order to do this, and you’d better ensure that your subject is similarly stationary. But the results are pretty decent all things considered.
There’s an 8MP camera around front, though we suspect this will be used mostly for video calls. Or at least, we’d hope so. If there’s one thing more ridiculous than someone using their tablet for a camera it’s someone using their tablet for a selfie.
Interface and reliability
Android 9.0 Pie with Samsung’s One UI
Swift and responsive, if not the prettiest interface
Powerful split-screen and S Pen integration
The Galaxy Tab S6 runs Android 9.0 Pie with Samsung’s One UI layered on top. This custom UI still isn’t to our personal taste, lacking as it does the sense of refinement of stock Android or the more discerning efforts of OnePlus and Motorola.
It’s well short of Apple’s iPadOS in form and, for the most part, function.
However, it is the cleanest and least fiddled-with software that Samsung has produced in quite some time. It’s also easy to navigate and appreciably snappy.
Whether that latter point remains true over the long haul will take a good few months and even years to find out. Samsung doesn’t have the best record when it comes to keeping its software up to date and feeling snappy over time.
The basics of Android 9.0 Pie are all here, from the home screen to the drop-down notifications menu and the app tray. They just all look a little softer and less stylish.
Scrolling to the left of the home screen gives you Samsung’s own Take a Look screen. This gives you news updates, instant games, GIFs, Galaxy Store (Samsung’s own app store) recommendations, schedule information and the like.
It’s similar to what both Google and Apple provide in their own left-of-home screen provisions - but again, not as sharp or appealing.
Samsung continues to provide a lot of its own apps as standard, though mercifully, you can opt out of a bunch of them. In the case of the Samsung Internet Browser and Microsoft Outlook, you’d be looking at duplicates of what’s already provided by Google.
The same goes for Gallery, which isn’t even optional, so it doubles up with the vastly superior Google Photos as standard.
Samsung also continues to lay on its DeX service, accessed from the notification menu, which gives you a light desktop experience on the Galaxy Tab S6 or an external monitor. You can even connect a wireless keyboard and mouse for the full effect.
We were unable to fully test this feature, as neither the necessary keyboard cover nor a cable were provided with our S6 unit. Hooking up a Bluetooth mouse, however, we were able to skim through the DeX interface, and everything seemed to be very smooth and usable running on the S6’s capable hardware.
The main point of DeX is to enable easier multitasking, with multiple windows and apps coexisting on the screen. Anyone who’s used Windows 10 or macOS (so pretty much everyone) will be able to grasp the essential benefits here.
Sure enough, we were able to do things like set a Netflix video running, search for a file, create a Dropbox folder, and bring up a web page in Chrome all at the same time on a single screen with overlapping windows. And all the while, the Tab S6 barely seemed to break a sweat.
That said, it’s worth noting that for the price of the Galaxy Tab S6 you can buy yourself a decent mid-range laptop running full-fat Windows 10. If you’re really after a portable productivity machine, that would still seem to be a better bet.
But in our limited testing, DeX on the S6 at least feels like a viable option for occasional bouts of advanced productivity.
Movies, music and gaming
Great screen and speakers make this a real media machine
Plenty of power and storage
No headphone port
There’s no questioning the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6’s media chops. It excels in more or less every department, and is undoubtedly the very best all-round Android media player out there.
On the visual front, that 10.5-inch Super AMOLED display shows off movies beautifully. The vivid colors and deep shady areas of Blade Runner 2049 look exquisite here.
That’s enhanced by superb sound output from the tablet’s four AKG-tuned speakers. There’s a surprising level of range to this audio profile given how skinny the Galaxy Tab S6’s body is.
By positioning the speakers at the four corners, it’s very rare that you’ll find yourself covering any of them. Even when you do, such as when gaming, there’s always a couple free.
It’s a good job that the speakers are so good, as you won’t be able to use your wired headphones with the Galaxy Tab S6. Look, we know that wireless headphones are the future, and increasingly even the present. But removing the option of a physical connection on a large pro-level device such as this seems just as silly as it did with the iPad Pro.
Switching to games, and we’re back on positive ground. No, the display doesn’t have a particularly fast refresh rate. But it looks great, and the Galaxy Tab S6’s Snapdragon 855 is pretty much the fastest Android chip on the market. This thing soars.
Samsung also provides its own Game Launcher app, which automatically pulls your installed games into it and tracks your gaming time. You can also link your Discord account to see what your buddies are playing. We should point out that Game Launcher decided to deposit two app icons onto our home screen, which seems like a very Samsung thing to do.
When it comes to storing your media files, you’re well covered. You get 128GB of storage in the base model, and 256GB in the top model. Add to that a microSD slot that can take up to 1TB of expansion, and the Galaxy Tab S6 has you well and truly covered.
Specs and benchmark performance
Snapdragon 855 is about as fast as Android gets
Flawless multitasking and gaming
You won’t find a faster Android tablet on the market than the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 at the time of writing. That’s courtesy of the cutting-edge Snapdragon 855, which is the chip that powers flagship phones like the OnePlus 7 Pro.
This is backed by either 6GB or 8GB of RAM, depending on the model you choose. It’s a shame this isn’t a uniform amount, but it doesn’t make a great deal of difference given the headroom that you get here. We tested the ‘lower’ 6GB model and it performed admirably.
As we’ve noted elsewhere, we found ourselves able to run multiple windows simultaneously in DeX mode, including a Netflix video and three or four other apps. The Galaxy Tab S6 didn’t so much as pause for thought.
Split-screen multitasking in regular mode is also fast and fluid. By dragging in from the right of the screen you can pop apps to either side of the screen, and then add a third on top, and we never noted any performance hitches when we did this.
Games, too, run on max settings. In PUBG we were able to bump the settings right up to Extreme HDR, which is currently as high as it goes, with no discernible drop in performance. The graphically advanced Elder Scrolls: Blades runs like a dream, too.
This is all unsurprising when you check out the Geekbench 4 benchmark results. An average multi-core score of 10,741 is very strong for an Android device, though we should probably note that it falls well short of the iPad Pro 11 2018 (18,104), and even the more modest iPad Air 2019 (11,575).
It’s well ahead of the Android tablet crowd though. The Huawei MediaPad M5 Pro, for example, could only manage 6,540.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 is without doubt the finest Android tablet that money can buy. It’s a media-playing powerhouse, courtesy of its beautiful display, powerful innards and excellent sound output.
This is also the best Android device for productivity, thanks to those aforementioned specs in conjunction with the provisions of Samsung’s brilliant S Pen and its DeX desktop software.
Look outside the Android ecosystem, however, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 finds itself flanked by superior options. The iPad Pro 11 (2018) remains the best pro tablet, while the Surface Pro 6 and its Windows 10 ilk are better for pure productivity.
Should you buy it?
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 is that rarest of things - a top-end Android tablet with the kind of power, design and feature set to rival a 2019 flagship phone.
It’s well-built, extremely powerful, has a vibrant Super AMOLED display and excellent battery life. It also bundles in an S Pen stylus that can be put to all manner of artistic and productivity uses, and DeX has real multitasking potential.
When it comes to tablet ecosystems and sharp tablet-focused software, however, Apple’s iPad Pro range continues to reign supreme. Anyone looking for a portable productivity powerhouse, meanwhile, might be better served with a Windows 2-in–1.