Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 FE review: Bridging the tablet-laptop gap
Good Android tablets are increasingly harder to come by – a fact that has been demonstrated by barren market landscape even as remote working and online education spur demand for large screen devices. The notable exception has been the excellent Samsung Galaxy Tab S7+ and the mid-range Tab S6 Lite, both of which hit the right feature set but at price points which suffered in comparison to iPads in their segment. Samsung’s latest launch is the Tab S7 FE, a Fan Edition of the Tab S7 series that’s intended to hit a more affordable price point. How does it fare, and what compromises (if any) does it make to start at the Rs. 46,999 price point? Let’s dive right in…
Samsung has largely retained the same design aesthetic as the Tab S7/S7+, which is to say an all-metal body that feels premium to hold and use. If it looks somewhat inspired in its flattened off design by the iPad Pro, it is… but here you have a choice of colorways, ranging from the gunmetal black (on the unit I reviewed) to a silver, green or pink. Both the 4GB and 6GB variant offer LTE connectivity and a pair of AKG-tuned speakers (with Dolby Atmos support) that pump out stereo audio when the tablet is held horizontally. If you’re keeping track, this isn’t the quad-speaker setup you get on the pricier siblings, but the sound is plenty good. There’s an S Pen stylus in the box. There’s an S Pen included in the box, which attaches magnetically to the back of the tablet while the optional Book Cover keyboard case (Rs. 14,999) will stow away the S Pen while in transit. Worth noting, no headphone jack or fingerprint scanner on the Tab S7 FE.
Over on the front, the Tab S7 FE packs in a large 12.4 TFT LCD display with 2560 x 1600-pixel resolution and a 16:10 aspect ratio, and while may not be the 120Hz, higher resolution 2,800 x 1,752-pixel Super AMOLED display seen previously on the Tab S7+, it gets plenty bright and offers good contrast levels for both photos and media consumption. Samsung’s certain you’ll use the tablet in landscape mode, which explains the placement of the front camera on the side bezel, so that it sits atop the display.
Powering the Tab S7 FE is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G SoC, which is not Snapdragon 865+ from the Tab S7+, but it had no trouble doing everyday tasks… or even sneaking in a game of Asphalt 9 in between full days of “productive” work. Cameras are usable too, with the 5MP front camera excellent for Zoom sessions and the rear 8MP camera working well enough for casual shots to include into documents. Battery life on the 10,090mAh battery was good, in that I would get a whole day of video calls, some games and some amount of writing/research without having to reach for the bundled 15W charger. Pro tip: pick up the 45W fast charger separately if you can since the bundled charger takes nearly 3 hours to tank the S7 FE up.
Here’s the thing though – you’re not picking this tablet up simply to watch the odd movie or send out the occasional email. As is the case with all devices that make the laptop-replacement pitch, I was more interested in the productivity and everyday computing aspects of the experience. Of course, I had the benefit of being able to use the optional Book Cover keyboard for the full laptop experience, so you’ll have to factor the additional expense if you’re planning on going this way. The case itself is high quality and offers good protection for the tablet when you’re carrying it around…and there’s even a nice slot inside the spine/hinge to keep the S Pen safe. The keys are clicky and comfortable to type on for moderately long copies such as this, but they lack a backlight which makes using them in dim lighting a bit of a hunt-and-peck job. And unlike the keyboard case for the Tab S7+, this one is missing a trackpad, which means an external Bluetooth mouse will also be required to make precise selections on the screen. Or you could use the S Pen that is bundled along with the tablet to navigate the interface or take notes. Not so much for sketching or drawing – this is a standard S Pen, which means no Bluetooth connectivity, low latency or air gesture support or the like, as we saw in the Tab S7+.
Snapped into place with the Book Cover, Samsung’s OneUI 3.1 slips into DeX mode, which gives you a taskbar at the bottom, a desktop with apps and a system tray with notifications, all in an effort to give you a laptop look and feel. As with the Tab S7+, most first-party and Google apps work well within Dex, while others are a bit finicky with resizing, working in windowed mode or snapping to one half of the screen. In general, if your work lives in the browser or with apps you’re used previously on an Android phone, DeX and the larger canvas only makes the entire process more streamlined and usable, and is a genuinely useful addition to the Galaxy Tab lineup. How did I fare? Not too shabbily, I must say – Zoom sessions, Slack, email, writing, image editing, all worked rather well, and aside from the issue of some badly designed Android tablets apps, I managed just fine…although there were the odd times where I reached out for my laptop just to get some time critical tasks done faster.
It makes a number of compromises as compared to the Tab S7+, but you save a pretty packet in the process as well, and in the overall scheme of things, the Tab S& FE is a somewhat decent deal for the money. You will need to consider the cost of the Book Cover, if you are to truly make the most of the Tab S7 FE… well, at least the stylus is included. DeX and Android’s easier file management make a better case for the Tab S7 FE than the base iPad + Smart Keyboard + Apple Pencil, but it needs to be said – Android apps still have some way to go to being better suited for tablet use.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 FE
Pros: Premium build quality, S Pen included in package, bright 60Hz display, good battery life, acceptable performance, DeX improved with each iteration
Cons: No fingerprint sensor for authentication, lacks headphone jack, slow bundled charger
Price: Rs 46,999 / Rs. 50,999 for 4GB/6GB memory
Tushar Kanwar is a tech columnist and commentator, and tweets @2shar