Need something bigger than the iPad Pro? The Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra maxes out tablet sizes to 14 inches, but is it usable, and worth the price?
Not everyone needs a tablet, but those who do will have preferences about the sizes they love more. They might prefer something small like the iPad Mini, or something sized with a more normal 9 to 10 inches, and there are a lot in that category.
And then there are the bigger tablets, models that are often larger so they can be computers, as well. You can easily find 11 to 13 inch tablets that do double duty as a laptop might, but what if you yearn for something even bigger again?
Samsung has a stab at that in the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra, a massive 14 inch tablet that actually edges closer to the 15 inch size. It’s bigger than the general 13 inch portable size so many carry around, and almost as big as the 15 inch computers some still carry. It is the biggest tablet around for sure, but is it sized for your life?
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With a design reminiscent of so much of what’s out there in tablet world, it won’t be hard to see what Samsung is going for here in the Tab: this is a massive tablet with super thin firm edges and a sleek design.
The Tab S8 Ultra is basically all screen, with slim edges measuring a max of 5.5mm encasing a 14.6 inch screen, just about making for the biggest tablet you can find. It is all screen, and kind of like carrying a portable monitor, except this is a tablet, and runs its own hardware in a device weighing 726 grams.
Basically all screen, you’d be excused for thinking Samsung’s S8 Ultra was a portable monitor. It’s not, but it sure does look like one.
Underneath that massive display, however, is a set of specs not unlike what you can find in its phones, sporting a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, an eight-core chip which in our review unit was paired with 8GB RAM and 128GB storage, with Android 12 installed and ready to go.
Samsung includes two cameras on the back and two on the front, the former offering a 12 megapixel wide and a 6 megapixel ultra wide, while the latter offers both a 12 megapixel wide and 12 megapixel ultra wide on the front.
A fingerprint reader is built into the screen, much like it is on Samsung’s premium phones, and the front-facing camera can also do double duty as a facial security system if you need it to.
Meanwhile, the screen also gets the Samsung S-Pen in the box, which you can use with the tablet to write, draw, scribble, and so on.
There’s only one wired port here to speak of, with the Type C USB port underneath, though wireless gets a good assortment of connectivity choices, ranging from Bluetooth 5.2, GPS, and WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax WiFi 6 with WiFi 6E’s 6GHz band supported, too. A 5G model is also made available, as well.
And underneath all of this somehow encased in a 5.5mm thickness is an 11200mAh battery, which is not removable. It seems crazy that such a big battery is in this tablet, especially since the entire thing feels like it is taken up by a massive screen,.
So let’s look at that screen 14.6 inch screen, because really, it’s impossible not to.
We’ve not seen a tablet sporting a screen this big for ages, and yet the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra is just so freakin’ big. It is close to being a 15 inch screen, and bigger than the display on the MacBook Pro 14 out in the world.
It’s like being told that you can go bigger than the 13 inch screen on the Surface Pro, because that’s what this is: a bigger take on a tablet screen.
And it’s a good looking display, at that. Sporting a resolution of 2960×1848 and a 120Hz refresh rate, the Tab S8 Ultra’s 14 inch display is easy on the eyes and a real treat, too. The bezels are slim and the cameras are nearly hidden inside with a tiny notch not unlike what Apple delivers on its 2021 MacBook Pro 16.
Samsung’s expertise in screen technology is well known, and something you can pick whether you look at the lovely displays on its phones or the regular arrival of QLED TVs, and this is no different. More like what you can find on the S22 Ultra, the Tab S8 Ultra uses a Super AMOLED display, sporting impressive blacks and deep colours.
It’s a pretty screen to look at regardless of what you show on it, whether it’s photos, apps, games, or just simply you wanting to read text off its enormous display.
But it’s also so big, that the display comes with a caveat: it can be really difficult to use.
While the screen technology in the Tab S8 Ultra is a big deal, that big deal is awkward as all hell and cumbersome to carry and use because it’s just so freakin’ big.
Yes, it’s thin, but a tablet that weighs 726g and is bigger than many laptop displays makes for a problematic hand hold, not to mention when you decide to use it.
You kind of need two hands to hold the Tab S8 Ultra up, and that leaves you with needing a third hand — which evolution says you can’t have unless you have a robotic limb to attach to yourself — to operating the thing. We found we could hold the Tab S8 Ultra by resting it in one hand and using it with the included S-Pen like an oversized art notepad, but it still wasn’t tremendously comfortable, and begged a chair, a desk, or a table to rest it against.
Our daughter might have found the best way: sit on a chair featuring arm rests with height, and lean the tablet against those. That’ll give you a stand of sorts, which is really what you need. She also found resting it against her lap made it usable.
Otherwise, this is not a comfortable tablet to use, at least not like a standard tablet, and you’ll miss out on the ability to really operate it like any other tablet. It really makes you wonder why Samsung didn’t include a case in the box, keyboard or otherwise, because it feels like the sort of inclusion that would make the tablet actually usable.
There’s no kickstand built into its back, either, something you’ve been able to find over the years in every Surface Pro model.
Even the obvious competition of Apple’s 12.9 inch iPad Pro feels like it can be used in one hand more obviously than this one, because that difference in size is just enough to make it different. There’s nearly 100 grams between the 641 gram 12.9 inch iPad Pro and the 726 gram Tab S8 Ultra, and believe it or not, that extra size and weight does not benefit the ease of use in how you play with Samsung’s oversized tablet.
Bring a desk. Bring a table. Bring a chair and your lap. Bring something, otherwise you won’t be using the Tab S8 Ultra anywhere.
When you do eventually find somewhere to use it, though, you’ll find the performance is excellent. This is about the best performing Android tablet we’ve encountered yet.
That should come as no surprise, though: Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 beats as the heart of the Tab S8 Ultra, the same chip found in the solid performer that is the Galaxy S22 Ultra, and even the same chip in the Galaxy S22 models beneath it. This is a fast chip with plenty of grunt, and paired with the 8GB RAM in our Tab S8 Ultra review model, there’s clearly room to spare.
Testing it through a couple of weeks, we found it didn’t flinch when we found a stable surface and ran apps and games, multitasking like a champ.
Meanwhile, the benchmark side of things shows that it is pretty much on par with its S22 siblings, also outflanking last year’s Galaxy Z Fold 3, which was both tablet and phone. We’re sure that’ll change in this year’s Fold 4 — a new phone means a new spec sheet and improved performance across the board — but there’s plenty to work with here all the same.
Granted, Android isn’t the best productivity operating system, and so you mightn’t expect quite as solid a workhorse as the latest version of iPadOS is promising to be, or even the most current version.
Multitasking isn’t much of a thing here, and while Samsung’s DeX is brought along for the ride, it acts as kind of a poor cousin of Windows that hasn’t quite evolved from when we last saw it a few years back. Plus you’ll want to grab a keyboard case to make it really effective which — shock horror — is an optional extra.
At least you get the S-Pen, which means you can sketch, draw, and scribble your heart out, and even leave it magnetically mounted either to the back where the camera is, or along the side like you can on the iPad Air or even that aforementioned iPad Pro. We found the latter more convenient, as it didn’t need prioritise one way over the other. Go magnets.
There’s also a huge battery here, offering 11,200mAh of power, a good twice what’s in Samsung’s biggest phones, providing up to 8 hours of connected usage, making a device for a day, and offering the Type C USB that is becoming a standard in Europe, and probably everywhere else, for that matter.
Real world use during our tests showed we could get by with 2 to 3 days of intermittent use with the oversized Tab S8 Ultra, which may mean a day of regular use for you if there are plans to make this part of your regular day-to-day.
The price is harsh, though, thanks in part to the Tab S8 Ultra being an oversized phone without the phone functionality.
The features are similar, the tech is similar, but there’s no phone call capability, no NFC for Google Pay, and you clearly can’t stick a 14 inch tablet in your pocket, not unless you’re rocking the biggest freakin’ trenchcoat on the planet. For the rest of us normals, the Tab S8 Ultra is like a big phone minus the phone features, and it’s priced like one, as well.
Starting at $1799 for the WiFi-only 128GB model, you’ll find Samsung’s 128GB Tab S8 Ultra is more $150 more than the 128GB 12.9 inch iM1 iPad Pro, and we’re not sure it’s necessarily worth that value. Yes, the screen is bigger and quite lovely, but sized this big, it’s difficult to use, and frankly, you’d probably be better off with the 12.9 inch iPad, or even Samsung’s 12.4 inch Tab S8+, which starts at $1499 for the 128GB model and doesn’t seem anywhere as unwieldy.
You can also opt for the 5G equivalent of the Tab S8 Ultra, but at $1999 for a 128GB model, you’re really just gaining high-speed connectivity for your oversized tablet, and the 12.4 inch Tab S8+ 5G is still less expensive, costing $1699 in Australia.
What needs work?
So the price is a problem, clearly, and doesn’t work well with the sheer size, which borders on unusable without a case or keyboard case.
You don’t get a case or keyboard case in the box, either, so that’s another cost. Locally, the Tab S8 Ultra standard protective cover is $89, the “book” cover is $149, and the book cover with the keyboard is a whopping $499 in Australia. That can add up to a very expensive Android tablet package very quickly. Yikes.
We know that Samsung is loathe to give away anything in the box, so totally understand why there’s no case, needed as it is. But did Samsung have to remove the charge pack? That seemed like a totally unnecessary feature to remove, slimming the box down, but really skipping on something that would have been useful.
You might argue that phones aren’t seeing the charge pack these days, and so its departure here makes sense. And we get that, but you’d also be wrong: tablets need more power to charge from than your standard phone charger, and we’ve not reached the point where any other company has removed a necessary bit like the charger from any other tablet or computer.
Hell, Apple kickstarted the whole plug pack removal from the iPhone (alongside the removal of the earphones), and even it still includes a charge pack with the iPad Pro.
It just read as a really unnecessary removal, and something that should be in the box. For crying out loud, you’re spending close to $2K on a tablet — at the very least, include a high-speed charger in the box for folks who need it, and let them use that with their phone. It’s only fair.
Final thoughts (TLDR)
Samsung’s Tab S8 Ultra is an interesting device, though one that seems to be really niched.
On the one hand, it’s a beautiful piece of engineering, delivering a super thin tablet with a lovely massive screen you won’t want to take your eyes off and some excellent capabilities not unlike Samsung’s “ultra” phones and models previous from its Note range. And yet on the other hand, it’s near impossible to use comfortably, and a confusingly cost-prohibitive purchase at that.
Priced near the $2K mark, it is one of the most expensive tablets around, and a difficult model to use comfortably. You really need that $500 keyboard case to make it into something more, giving it keys to use with Android. And yet, that’ll bring the cost over $2K, closer to $2200, which ventures into quality laptop pricing.
You can nab a Surface Pro with a Type Cover for that sort of money, and get a system that feels seriously more usable, thanks in part to a kickstand built in that lets you stand the thing up without holding your hands out.
It’s really difficult to find a convincing argument in favour of the Tab S8 Ultra, as that price is just so severe, and the usability hampered from its equally monstrous size.
If you’re after the biggest and best Android tablet, there’s definitely a great piece of hardware in the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra. But be warned: this beautifully big device is big but impractical, and may have you running back to your laptop or big phone faster than you expect.