Apple iPad Pro (2021) vs Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra: The two best tablets on the market, by far
Most tech reviewers and unbiased consumers agree Apple’s iPad has been the standard-bearer for tablets, mainly because both Android and Windows aren’t nearly as optimized for the form factor (the latter particularly more so). But Samsung has been working hard to fix the problem — to make Android apps run better on a tablet screen — and the Galaxy Tab S8 series was almost certainly the best Android tablet around. But how does Samsung’s absolute best tablet offering, the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra, compare against Apple’s absolute best iPad offering, the iPad Pro with M1?
I’ve been using both tablets since their initial release and have jumped back and forth between them as my main “on-the-go work machine”. Obviously, I am a spoiled reviewer who can own both. The average consumer must decide on one — while I can’t say this comparison will give you a clear-cut answer, I’m going to try my best to compare the two in every meaningful category and tell you which one I’d choose if I must only keep one.
Apple iPad Pro 2021 (12.9-inch) & Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra: Specifications
|Specification||Apple iPad Pro (12.9-inch, 2021)||Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra|
|Dimensions & Weight||
|SoC||Apple M1||Snapdragon 8 Gen 1|
|RAM & Storage||
|Battery & Charging||
|Security||Face ID||In-display fingerprint scanner|
|Front Camera||12 MP, ultra-wide||
|Software||iOS 14.5||One UI 4.1 based on Android 12|
About this article: This comparison was written after months of testing a 2021 iPad Pro provided by Apple Hong Kong and a self-purchased Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra. Neither company had any input in this article.
Apple iPad Pro (2021) vs Samsung Galaxy S8 Ultra: Pricing and Availability
Both the iPad Pro (2021) and Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra, along with other models in the series (including the smaller 11-inch iPad Pro or standard Galaxy Tab S8) are all on sale now. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro (2021) and Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra both start at $1,099 for 128GB of storage and just WiFi connectivity, with prices going up for 5G connectivity and more storage.
Apple iPad Pro (2021) vs Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra: Hardware and Design
In terms of design, there isn’t too much to talk about, as just about all tablets follow the same aluminum rectangle design language. The Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra made headlines for its large (14.6-inch screen), and it is noticeably wider/taller (depending on orientation) than most tablets I’ve held. But since I’m testing the larger 12.9-inch iPad Pro (there is also an 11-incher), the size difference between the two isn’t drastic.
They both weigh close enough, with the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra coming in at 726g and the iPad Pro at 685g (this is less than 0.1 lbs in difference for American readers), and in fact, the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra is thinner at 5.5mm to the iPad Pro’s 6.4mm.
Also, I am testing both devices with their first-party keyboard cases, and Apple’s Magic Keyboard is significantly heavier, so the overall iPad Pro package including the keyboard case is heavier and bulkier than the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra package.
Display and Audio
For the displays, it’s easy to look at numbers on a spec sheet and bezel sizes and just conclude Samsung gets the win — the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra has a 120Hz OLED panel, while the iPad Pro has a 120Hz Mini LED screen — but there are other factors that come into play in real-world usage: while the iPad Pro has thicker bezels, they’re uniform and symmetrical, while the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra screen is interrupted by a notch. And while the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra screen gets a bit brighter, both displays get more than bright enough for most cases at even 60% brightness. So unless I’m really using the tablet out in the scorching sun, the difference in maximum brightness doesn’t matter. Also, I think iPadOS is clearly more optimized for 120Hz than Samsung’s OneUI right now, as animations zip around more fluidly.
That’s for general use, at least. If I sit in a dark room and watch a movie, then the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra’s OLED panel will pump out deeper blacks, and due to its widescreen aspect ratio, have smaller letterboxing (those black bars sandwiching the video) too.
I’m nitpicking ultimately, both of these screens are absolutely great. Speaker quality is excellent too: both tablets have a quad-speaker system, and I’d say they’re neck and neck in audio fidelity, and easily the two best speaker systems in any tablet.
The iPad Pro is powered by Apple’s M1 silicon, and despite it being a full year older than the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 powering the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra, the M1 is still a more capable silicon. Now, you won’t see much of a difference when doing most daily tasks, like watching YouTube or sending emails, but if you do more intensive tasks like video editing, the M1 chip is significantly more capable. If I’m editing a 4K clip and I’m scrubbing through the timeline, it moves much faster on the M1 iPad Pro.
Rendering times are much faster, like 5x faster. However, this isn’t a direct apples-to-apples comparison, because I am using different video editing apps. But benchmark numbers also show a big win for the M1 too. Still, this won’t matter to 90% of consumers, as the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 is more than powerful enough.
Both tablets pack a wide and ultra-wide camera on their backside, and they’re fine for a tablet but they’re clearly inferior sensors to what’s available on Apple and Samsung’s high-end phones. Apple’s camera system takes a clear win in that it features a LIDAR sensor too, which helps make AR apps run much better. In fact, there’s a much better selection of AR apps for iOS/iPadOS than for Android, so if AR applications are important to you, you should just stick with iPhones and iPads.
A more important and widely used camera for tablets is the front-facing camera, and here, the Tab S8 Ultra camera has superior hardware. Not only does it produce sharper images and videos (the Tab S8 Ultra has a 4k lens compared to 1080p on the iPad Pro), its positioning in landscape orientation (center of the top bezel) is better than the iPad Pros’ left-bezel placement. Samsung, as usual, applies an unnatural-looking beauty filter in photos though.
For videos, both do a good job, but the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra’s camera can shoot at 4K if needed — although I’d guess not many people would want their face shown at 4K resolution. The iPad Pro applies noise-cancellation in videos, as you can clearly hear background noise more in Samsung’s footage.
It’s also worth mentioning that the iPad Pro’s front-facing camera system houses Apple’s TrueDepth camera system for FaceID. This doesn’t really factor into general video calls or selfies, but if there are AR apps that take advantage of face mapping, I’m pretty sure the iPad Pro will do a better job than the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra.
When I test smartphones, I focus on just the device and don’t factor optional accessories into the evaluation. But for high-end tablets that market themselves as productivity powerhouse machines, it’s necessary to factor in accessories like keyboards and stylus because they’re so crucial to the overall experience.
From a value factor, the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra takes the first win because its stylus, the S-Pen, is included with the package. Apple’s Pencil, on the other hand, is a $129 purchase. As for keyboards: both Apple’s Magic Keyboard and Samsung’s Book Cover Keyboard are relatively overpriced, at $349 each (if you own the smaller 11-inch iPad Pro, then the keyboard’s price drops to $299). However, Samsung has been keen to give away the keyboard accessory as a free gift upon purchase in many regions, while Apple’s Magic Keyboard has always been a full-on purchase.
But you get what you pay for, I suppose. While Samsung’s S-Pen and keyboard case are both really good, they are not quite as good as Apple’s counterparts, which are arguably the best in the industry. The Apple Pencil feels a bit more sensitive to changes of pressure when I sketch compared to Samsung’s S-Pen, and Apple’s Magic Keyboard case, despite being quite heavy and bulky, has an ingenious design that elevates the tablet off the table top. Samsung’s keyboard case design is a clunky two-part case with a kickstand that doesn’t sit well on a lap. While both keyboards are excellent, the Magic Keyboard’s trackpad is best-in-class, giving me more precision control over the on-screen cursor than Samsung’s trackpad, which can be a bit slippery. I will talk more about the performance of both stylus and trackpad in the software section. Just know that these do factor into your overall experience unless you just want a big display tablet (which would be wasted potential).
Apple iPad Pro (2021) vs Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra: Software
The iPad Pro (2021) runs iPadOS 15.4, essentially a forked version of iOS 15 with superior multi-tasking abilities. The Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra runs One UI 4.1 over Android 12, it too, is very similar to the software running in Samsung’s smartphones. If you’ve used an iPhone or a Galaxy phone, both tablets can feel like a super-sized version of those devices.
At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that Android tablets have always been considered inferior to iPads, and it’s mostly due to software, as Android apps are generally not as optimized for larger landscape screens. The perfect example is Twitter, which has an optimized design for iPad screens in landscape orientation but looks absolutely stupid on Android tablet screens in the same landscape mode.
But Samsung’s trying to fix this with DeX Mode. Essentially, DeX Mode is a sandbox UI Samsung built inside Android that mimics the UI of a traditional computer, likely a Windows one. This means Android apps can open in DeX in a freeform floating window (instead of filling the entire screen).
DeX mode is a godsend, because not only does it fix a lot of the app scaling issues Android tablets (and Android foldables, or any Android device with an unusual screen size) face, but it improves on multi-tasking, as I can really have up to three apps open at once and the content won’t feel too small. I can even push it to four, but things start feeling tight.
On an iPad Pro, multi-tasking is a bit limited: you can only open two apps at the same time in a split-screen view, and at best, you can have a third app hovering, but this third app will cover a chunk of one of the split apps, so really, I wouldn’t call this running three apps at once, more like, 2.5 apps at once. You can see in the photo below, I have three apps opened on each tablet, but the iPad’s version covers up the video in an undesirable way.
Anyone who’s done office work knows the importance of having multiple windows opened at once, and I think Samsung DeX allows me to do more. However, Samsung DeX is ultimately a band-aid over the wound that is unoptimized Android apps. Until app developers put more effort to optimize for Android, or Google imposes system-wide Android rules to scale apps properly, there will always be issues, even with Samsung DeX. Right now, most apps work fine, but some apps won’t load properly. I have no such issues with the iPad Pro, almost anything I can download from the Apple App Store will run on the iPad Pro very nicely.
The only — and I mean literally only — example I have found of an app looking better on Android tablets than on iPad is Instagram. The fact it spans the entire display, and Samsung’s larger screen, make browsing through Instagram a joy — particularly when viewing attractive photos.
Trackpad and Stylus Support
Earlier I mentioned that while I think the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra’s keyboard trackpad and S-Pen are good, they don’t perform quite as well as Apple’s Magic Keyboard trackpad and Apple Pencil. Let’s start with the trackpad: the Magic Keyboard trackpad is unbelievably precise despite its tiny size. I seriously enjoy using it more than trackpads twice its size on a Windows machine. I’m sure it’s mostly iPadOS’ software optimization that allows the cursor to move around with such precision. I think what Apple has done is apply some gravity to apps and buttons, so when I’m dragging the mouse cursor there, it will almost snap into place when I’m almost there.
The trackpad in Samsung’s Book Cover Keyboard is slippery by comparison, sometimes a minor swipe will scroll a webpage much further down than I intended, and sometimes my mouse cursor will move past the intended target.
Trackpad gestures also make much more sense on iPadOS, because they follow the same rules we do with our thumbs on a phone. For example, the iPad trackpad gesture to exit an app/go back to the homescreen is a three-finger swipe up — which makes total sense because we have been trained for the past few years to swipe up to do the same action in our phones. But the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra flips this: to exit an app/go home, you swipe down with three fingers. Likewise, to go into app overview (that screen where you see all your recent apps) on the iPad trackpad, you swipe up and hold, just like how we’ve been doing on our phones. On the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra trackpad? It’s a three-finger swipe up. How did Samsung not realize trackpad gestures should match regular phone swipe gestures as far as possible?
Moving on to the stylus, the Apple Pencil seems to be better at adapting to various pressure as I’m sketching or jotting down notes. The Apple Pencil just feels more like an actual pencil, with the ability to shade if I tilt the Apple Pencil almost sideways on the screen.
But again — the fact that the S-Pen is essentially free (included with the tablet in one set), while the Apple Pencil costs $129 extra, is no small factor. Most people would take the very good free stylus over the great but pricey stylus.
Apple iPad Pro (2021) vs Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra: Battery Life
Battery life is respectable despite both devices having such large, vivid 120Hz screens. For my usage — a web browser with a half dozen tabs open including WordPress where I write, plus Spotify streaming music and Slack running in the background, the iPad Pro fares a bit better than Samsung’s tablet, draining about 8-9% battery per hour compared to the 10-12% I see on the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra. This means, for that work scenario, both tablets can go a full eight-hour day. When I edit videos on an iPad Pro, the battery drains much faster, obviously, losing about 35% of battery in a one-hour editing session. I don’t have this same anecdotal data for the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra because I haven’t tried to edit videos on an Android device in years.
Apple iPad Pro (2021) vs Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra: Use Cases, and Final Thoughts
So, which tablet is better? It’s a very tough question to answer, because each one of these tablets excels at a different thing! I can say that after months of use, for me the iPad Pro is better as:
- a creativity machine that allows me to sketch, edit photos in Lightroom, and edit videos with LumaFusion at a high level
- general use tablet for carrying around the house, or lounging on the sofa/laying in bed because the iPad has a better app eco-system and the iPad Pro is a bit easier to hold for extended periods due to its smaller size
But the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra is better as:
- a traditional office-type work machine, because DeX allows me to open more windows, and Android has a more natural, straightforward file system compared to Apple’s abstract, complicated one
- a pure movie-watching machine, because it has a better screen with a more suitable aspect ratio.
If the value is a factor, then the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra is a better value because you get the free S-Pen and potentially the keyboard case too, but the iPad Pro has a better hardware eco-system — you can use the iPad Pro as a secondary monitor for MacBooks, and AirDrop files between iPhone and iPad. Yes, yes, I know Samsung is working on building this level of synergy too, but it’s not quite there.
Now, to answer “which one would I pick if I must choose one?”, I’d have to go with the iPad Pro for the superior video editing prowess and better app eco-system. However, I absolutely adore the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra and think it’s the best Android tablet by far, and Samsung’s done enough here to challenge the previously inarguable “the best tablet is the iPad” statement. Now, it’s at least a debate.