Samsung Galaxy Tab A with S Pen series - Affordable tablets with S Pen

By Cookie Monster - 12 Jul 2015

Overview, Design & Features


The Galaxy Tab series has been positioned as Samsung's entry-level tablets since 2012. There were several revisions over the years; the Tab 2 series started with 7-inch and 10.1-inch flavors. Samsung then expanded the Tab 3 series with five different models - the Tab 3 Lite, the Tab 3 (7.0), the Tab 3 (8.0), the Tab 3 (10.1) and Tab 3 Kids. The next series, the Tab 4 consists of 7, 8 and 10.1-inch models.

This year, Samsung released the ruggedized Galaxy Tab Active aimed at business users who are often out in the field or someone who just needs a well protected tablet. The presence of a modified C-Pen for stylus input on the Galaxy Tab Active provided a hint that Samsung was considering expanding the S Pen offering, a feature once reserved for flagship Galaxy Note series, to more mainstream models. That came about with the Galaxy Tab A with S Pen in May, which we are assessing today in detail.

Available with two popular screen size options, 8.0-inch and 9.7-inch, the Galaxy Tab A series look to be a compelling choice for budget consumers who have always wanted the S Pen experience. However, the display resolution of the screen is rather low and might be a sore point for some. That's what we intend to find out in this review as well as the tablet's capability as a whole.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab A Series
  Samsung Galaxy Tab A with S Pen (8.0) 4G Samsung Galaxy Tab A with S Pen (9.7-inch) 4G
  Samsung Galaxy Tab A with S Pen (8.0) 4G Samsung Galaxy Tab A with S Pen (9.7-inch) 4G
Launch SRP
  • From S$498
  • From S$598
Operating system
  • Android 5.0.2 Lollipop
  • Android 5.0.2 Lollipop
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 quad-core 1.2GHz
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 quad-core 1.2GHz
  • 2GB RAM
  • 2GB RAM
  • 8.0-inch / 1,024 x 768 pixels / TFT
  • 9.7-inch / 1,024 x 768 pixels / TFT
  • Rear: 5-megapixel
  • Front: 2-megapixel
  • Rear: 5-megapixel
  • Front: 2-megapixel
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, GLONASS, Beidou, LTE CAT 4
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, GLONASS, Beidou, LTE CAT 4
  • 16GB internal storage
  • microSD support up to 128GB
  • 16GB internal storage
  • microSD support up to 128GB
  • 4,200mAh
  • 6,000mAh
  • 208.4 x 137.9 x 7.5mm
  • 242.5 x 166.8 x 7.5mm
  • 338g
  • 490g


Design & Handling

Due to the price considerations, Samsung is unable to replicate the same level of design prowess and build quality seen in its recent smartphones (Galaxy S6, Galaxy A series) on the Galaxy Tab A. Both tablets have a matte plastic texture on its rear which provides some degree of grip. The upside is no need for worry about fingerprints or smudges.

Front view:  How the 8-inch model sizes up against the 9.7-inch model.

Rear view: How the 8-inch model sizes up against the 9.7-inch model.

If you look closely at the back of the Tab A series, there are two button points on the top and bottom right side where you can attach the official Book Cover accessory to the tablet. This concept was introduced on the Galaxy Tab S series last year, and the accessory allows you to put the tablet in three different positions for typing, web browsing and watching movies. The Book Cover costs S$68 for the 8-inch model and S$78 for the 9.7-inch model.

From left to right: Viewing mode, Touch mode and Typing mode. <br> Tablet featured in this image is a Galaxy Tab S, but the three positions are similar.

The top left corner (when viewed from the back) houses the S Pen, a first for a product outside the Galaxy Note series. Taking the S Pen out of its slot will automatically activate the Air Command feature which we will go into more details in the next section. In the unfortunate event that you lose your S Pen or it becomes faulty, you can buy a replacement for S$38.

Like the Galaxy S6 models, the rear camera protrudes out slightly and the only logical reason for this is due to the chassis being only 7.5mm thin. Having said that, the tablet wobbles when placed on a flat surface and the likelihood of the camera lens being scratched is high.

The rear camera of the 8-inch model protrudes while the one found on the 9.7-inch doesn't protrude as much.

On the right profle of the device lies the power button, volume controls, microSD and micro-SIM card slots. The buttons are raised prominently for ease of use and provide a good feel. The microSD memory card slot can support memory cards of up to 128GB in capacity, which brings the total potential storage space on the Galaxy Tab A (both tablets come with 16GB internal storage space) to a whopping 144GB!

The right side of the Samsung Galaxy Tab A Series is packed with buttons, controls and card slots.

Positioned as entry-level tablets, the Galaxy Tab A series does not come with a fingerprint sensor integrated into its Home button that was seen in the Tab S series. As expected, the Home Button is flanked by the capacitive Recent Apps and Back buttons. At the bottom of the device, you get a micro-USB 2.0 port and a row of speaker grille to its left.



The biggest sore point of the Galaxy Tab A series is the display resolution. Samsung is bringing you back to the 2010 era when tablets usually came with a display resolution of 1,024 x 768 pixels. This works out to be an underwhelming pixel density of 160ppi for the 8-inch model and 132ppi for the 9.7-inch model.

Had the resolution been bumped to 1,280 x 800 pixels, it would have been better accepted. Sadly, the company had to work within cost constraints for this series and the lack of sharpness is glaring on both tablets; everything looks pixelated and if you plan to use it for heavy multimedia consumption, you are better off with a S$299 Xiaomi Mi Pad. Resolution and quality aside, the viewing angle and brightness of the display are decent.


Software Features - Air Command

As mentioned earlier, the Galaxy Tab A series is the first product lineup outside of the Galaxy Note series to come with the S Pen. It is noteworthy to mention as well that there is no other competing devices in its class that offers the same functionality.

So what functionality are we referring to? The Galaxy Tab A series come with the same suite of S Pen features as the Galaxy Note 4 which include Action Memo, Smart Select, Image Clip and Screen Write. All these features are grouped under a general term - Air Command. Here's a brief description of what each feature does:

Action Memo is basically a note-taking overlay which you can activate on any window or app. Besides the basic function of jotting down notes and information quickly, Action Memo lets you take action almost immediately with any of the 7 tasks - call (only for LTE models), saving a number into the phone book, sending a message to a number, sending an email, accessing the Browser, getting directions via Google Maps and saving a note as a to-do item.

By writing a number or phrase, Action Memo can help you accomplish any of the 7 tasks. In this example, you can write "Samsung" and click on Browser to bring you to search results pertaining to Samsung.


Smart Select lets you crop or choose a particular segment/section from different sources such as a website, a photo and a text message, and share the content easily. Below is a video clip of how Smart Select works on the Galaxy Note 4:

Image Clip allows you to select an area on a browser or image to crop and share with others quickly. The shape of the cropping tool can be modified according to your preference: original shape, oval, rectangle and auto shape.

You use the S Pen to select an area which you want to crop on the Samsung Galaxy Tab A series. In this example, an oval shape was chosen to crop the selected area of an article.


Screen Write basically lets you take a screenshot and doodle on it.

When you select Screen Write, it basically takes a screenshot and gives you a range of options to edit it. In this example, we wrote "Samsung Galaxy Tab A" on the screenshot.

With the purchase of the Galaxy Tab A series, you also get exclusive offers from Samsung Galaxy Life:

  • 65% off 1 year subscription for 2 SPH Magazines titles at S$28 (worth up to S$80)
  • Free additional 100GB Microsoft OneDrive for two years (worth up to S$65.80)
  • One free book from Kindle for Samsung every month for one year (worth up to S$60)
  • Free six-month subscription of remote access to Parallels Access (worth up to S$13.50)
  • Free three-month premium subscription of Evernote (worth up to S$20.40)
  • Free professional drawing toolkit from Sketchbook for Galaxy (worth up to S$6.80)
  • Free one-month access to over 80 learning apps on Samsung KidsTime (worth up to S$6.50).

In summary, you get a bigger bang for your buck with the Galaxy Tab A series as you get the useful Air Command features, and the exclusive offers and privileges from the Samsung Galaxy Life. 

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