Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra Review: The single best device for both work and play
Almost a decade ago, Samsung released a smartphone with a screen that was deemed comically big at the time. Some people mocked it, but within a few years, that became the industry norm, and phone screen sizes have been escalating ever since. The big-screen trend started with the Samsung Galaxy Mega, but moved onto the Samsung Galaxy Note lineup very quickly, and has since spread across the entire smartphone industry. Now in 2022, Samsung is attempting to do the same in the tablet space. With a 14.6-inch screen and an overall footprint measuring 8.2-inches tall and almost 13-inches wide, the new Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra is the biggest tablet I have ever seen.
There is no mainstream tablet in the world with a screen this big. And like many, my initial reaction was “this seems a bit too big.” And in a way, it is — the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra is not a tablet you’d want to use entirely hand-held for extended periods of time — but once you consider that it is designed to be used propped up on a desk at least a chunk of the time, then the whole package makes a lot of sense. After a week of use, I am sold — I think the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra is the most versatile mobile device, meaning it is the best device for both work and play.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra: Price and Availability
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra, along with its two smaller siblings the Tab S8 and Tab S8 Plus, are available for pre-order now and start shipping on February 25. The Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra starts at $1,099 for the base model, with only Wi-Fi connectivity and 8GB RAM/128GB storage. There are pricier models with 5G connectivity, 16GB of RAM, and up to 512GB of storage, although availability may vary by region. In the US for instance, you cannot purchase the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra in a cellular (neither LTE only, nor 5G) variant.
There are several deals that could lower the cost of these tablets. For example, XDA readers can get an additional $50 credit in the Samsung Store if they reserve a Galaxy S22 phone. Check out our list of deals for the latest prices and offers on the Galaxy Tab S8 series.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 series: Specifications
|Specification||Samsung Galaxy Tab S8||Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Plus||Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra|
|Dimensions & Weight||
|SoC||Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1||Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1||Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1|
|RAM & Storage||
|Battery & Charging||
|Security||Side-mounted fingerprint scanner||In-display fingerprint scanner||In-display fingerprint scanner|
|Port(s)||USB 3.2 Type-C||USB 3.2 Type-C||USB 3.2 Type-C|
About this review: Samsung Hong Kong provided me with a Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra 5G and Book Cover Keyboard for review. Samsung did not have any input in this article.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra: Hardware and Design
- Stunningly beautiful screen
- A bit too big and heavy to just hold with your hand: you’ll want to prop it against a wall or rest it on a thigh while seated
- The best S-Pen experience
Other than it being much larger, the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra is built like most other tablets we’re familiar with — flat glass panel up front, aluminum frame, and a rectangular form. There is a notch at the top of the display, but it’s a small one that doesn’t dig into the screen much. The notch houses an excellent webcam system (at least by laptop/tablet standards) consisting of a 12MP, f/2.2 lens and a 12MP ultra-wide with 120-degree field-of-view. There’s a visor strip around the back to which the S-Pen (included with the package) attaches magnetically. The visor leads to a rear camera system featuring a 13MP main and 6MP ultra-wide camera. There are two speaker grills on the left and right sides, and pogo pins at the bottom of the tablet for attaching to Samsung’s keyboard case, officially named “Book Cover Keyboard.”
At 5.5mm, the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra is remarkably thin, especially since it packs an 11,200 mAh battery. Inside is a Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, with either 8GB, 12GB, or 16GB of RAM depending on the configuration. My model is the 16GB RAM model with 5G connectivity.
The S-Pen has been having a nice run of press lately thanks to its re-emergence in the Galaxy S22 Ultra. But to be honest, I have always found the S-Pen in Galaxy Note phones a nice bonus, but not entirely essential to the experience. Ultimately, the S-Pen that comes stored inside a Galaxy phone is far too small and thin to be held comfortably for long, and even though 6.7-inches is large for a phone screen, it’s still a bit cramped for a sketchpad or notebook. I don’t mind that the S-Pen is in the Galaxy S22 Ultra, but I wouldn’t be sad if it wasn’t either.
Samsung also built some very useful software tricks into the S-Pen, including the ability to translate text by highlighting, grabbing screenshots in specific shapes, and my personal favorite: the ability to convert written text to digital text. This actually helps me tremendously, because I’m someone who can read and write Chinese characters but do not know how to type the characters using pinyin. So the S-Pen allows me to type Chinese characters in ways other tablets cannot.
Book Cover Keyboard
While the S-Pen is included with the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra package, the keyboard case (which Samsung calls “Book Cover Keyboard” technically requires a separate purchase. But right now, Samsung has a pre-order deal in most regions of the world that include the keyboard case free of charge with the purchase of a Galaxy Tab S8 series device. I highly recommend anyone who wants to buy one to take this offer now, because:
- You won’t be getting the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra’s full potential if you don’t use it with a keyboard
- The keyboard case is really good
- But the keyboard case is also really expensive
The “Book Cover Keyboard” is a two-part case: the back cover with kickstand snaps onto the back of the tablet, the separate keyboard and trackpad cover part connects to the tablet’s bottom pogo pins. The kickstand can open a wide variety of angles, and the back flap also covers the S-Pen, making it much harder to fall off accidentally.
But the star of the show is that keyboard and trackpad. The keyboard is generously spaced, backlit, and has a row of F-keys that can control the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra’s screen brightness, volume, as well as software actions like launching apps or grabbing screenshots. The trackpad is also very large by tablet standards, but it’s not quite as precise as the best-in-class trackpad in Apple’s Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro. The Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra will still occasionally think I’m trying to tap on something when I’m just dragging my finger to move the mouse cursor. Still, the trackpad experience is overall good. There are useful multi-finger gestures to quickly cycle through apps or jump back out to the home screen.
With the “Book Cover Keyboard” attached, the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra has hardware that closely resembles a laptop. Now the only thing that needs to work is software — and Samsung has done an admirable job there too.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Series: Software
- Android has a lot of work to do to be tablet-optimized, but One UI bridges some of the gaps
- DeX Mode unlocks multitasking not seen on any other tablet, not even iPads.
The Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra runs on Android 12 with Samsung’s One UI on top. Considering the components and the software, it is really just a supersized, gigantic Samsung smartphone. In fact, since my model has a SIM tray for 5G support, Samsung even includes the phone dialer app in the device’s dock, meaning I can technically use it as a comically large phone. Would I advise you do so? Absolutely not, please just use your phone instead (or use a TWS).
The fact that, by default, this is just a blown-up Android phone is what holds most Android tablets back. Most Android apps are just not well optimized for larger screens, particularly landscape widescreen orientations (which Samsung, Xiaomi, and Huawei all like to use for their tablets). The best example of this is Twitter. On an iPad, Twitter is optimized for Apple’s tablet screen size and aspect ratio, showing a two-pane layout with a navigation dock on the left. On Android’s version of Twitter, it will open like it’s a phone app no matter the screen size or aspect ratio, which means on a tablet in landscape mode, a single tweet will stretch and fill the entire display, looking really stupid.
The lack of tablet optimization for apps is a chicken-or-egg problem that creates a vicious cycle for Android tablets. App developers don’t bother optimizing apps for Android tablets because Android tablets don’t sell nearly as well as iPads (there’s much more money in building iPad apps); but until apps stop looking ridiculous on Android tablets, most Android tablets will get bad reviews, leading to low sales.
Fortunately, Samsung realizes the Android-apps-looking-stupid problem, and it attempts to fix this with DeX Mode, which is essentially a sandbox within Samsung’s Android software that turns the UI into a Windows PC-like desktop. This means apps can open in smaller, resizable windows. Twitter on the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra looks a lot better in DeX Mode than in standard Android mode.
Not only do apps open and scale properly now, but this also brings the added benefits of significantly improving multi-tasking. I can now open up to three or four apps/windows at once, and because the 14.6-inch screen is so large, the information doesn’t feel too cramped or tiny.
And when DeX Mode works well, it allows me a level of multi-tasking that no other tablet (not even the iPad) can achieve. Is the multi-tasking desktop experience more seamless than using an actual Mac or Windows laptop? No. But the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra can do so much more because it can do a good enough job both, as an Android device and as a “computer.”
Using the Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra as a tablet
Because the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra is so large, I think it’s better suited propped on a desk with the keyboard case than as a hand-held tablet, but if you can offset some of the weight and bulk (like propping the tablet against a pillow on a bed, or on a stand that holds up the device on its own, then the tablet experience can be mesmerizing. As I mentioned up top, just by virtue of the screen being so large, everything just looks more stunning, particularly content that spans the entire screen, like Instagram Stories. There have been times when I have muttered “wow” to myself because I happen to scroll to a particularly visually appealing Instagram Story, stretched across the beautiful 14.6-inch canvas.
The Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra is also great for gaming, with a Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 and a copious amount of RAM. I even plugged in a controller and had an hours-long gaming session on the game Max Payne. The quad-speaker system is fine-tuned by AKG and sounds great, so this is obviously a great movie-watching machine too. Other than it being too heavy and large to hold without support, there’s not much you can complain about if you’re using the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra as a giant-sized Android device.
Using the Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra as a work machine
I already mentioned that DeX Mode fixes a lot of app scaling issues and improves multi-tasking significantly, and for the most part, I have been able to do real work off this machine without issues. In fact, I typed a chunk of this review on the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra at a coffee shop.
The webcam is also very good for video calls — much better than my 2019 MacBook webcam. It can record footage in 4K/30 or 1080/60 and quality mostly resemble a typical Samsung smartphone selfie camera. Below is a video clip shot with the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra’s front-facing webcam along with a clip from my 2019 MacBook Pro webcam (it’s worth mentioning that the 2021 M1 Pro/Max MacBooks have much better webcams).
You can also pair the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra with a Windows computer and use the tablet as a second screen. However, I find this to be a bit buggy, as the connection was unstable, and there was a noticeable lag. I don’t think it’s my WiFi, because when I tried the same pairing with two different sets of products (connecting an iPad with a MacBook; a Huawei MatePad with a Huawei MateBook X Pro), the connection was much smoother.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S8: Battery life
The 11,200 mAh battery here is huge, but so is the screen. So they sort of even out — when I use the machine as a full-on productivity machine with Samsung’s web browser opened with multiple tabs, along with Slack, Twitter feed, and Spotify streaming in the background, the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra drains about 11% of battery per hour. When I am watching NetFlix, it drains much slower, at about 7-8% per hour. Basically, you can get a good nine to 11 hours of use on a single charge. This is pretty good, but you’ll still want to charge it nightly if you plan to have heavy usage. You do get 45W wired fast charging on the Tab S8 series, but since the batteries are so big, it doesn’t really make the charging experience particularly quick.
Who should buy the Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra?
However, if you are just going to use the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra exclusively for desk-bound work, then you’re better off just buying a proper laptop, because DeX Mode, as great as it is, isn’t flawless.
I think the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra fits into a specific niche — a single device for both tablet entertainment activities and getting real work done. I love that not only can I switch between the two seamlessly, but I can also often mix the two — I’ll have a word document opened while I have a YouTube video playing in the corner of the screen. Or I’ll be in a Zoom call while I’m actively scrolling through Instagram at the same time. With the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra, I can mix work and play. And for me, it’s worth the $1,100 — particularly with the keyboard case included free of charge.
Who should buy it:
- Those who want a single device that can be their work and play machine.
- Someone fully immersed in Android or Samsung’s ecosystem and wanting a large screen device to use those services.
Who shouldn’t buy it:
- People who just want a machine for work — get a laptop instead.
- People who want a highly portable tablet to hand-carry around the house — this is too big and heavy for that. Get the Galaxy Tab S8 or iPad Mini instead.