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Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra hands-on: Can it replace my notebook?

By Ken Wong - 7 Apr 2024

Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra hands-on: Can it replace my notebook?

Note: This feature was first published on 30 November 2023.

The hefty Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra.

July this year saw Samsung launching the Galaxy Tab S9, Galaxy Tab S9+, and the Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra. The three new S9 tablets are all powered by the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor and have mostly similar hardware specs. They differ only in their display size, battery capacities, memory, and storage.

Samsung seems to be a big believer in the adage “bigger is better”. Look at their love for the Samsung Galaxy Fold smartphone. And indeed, the Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra seems to follow this maxim as well. 

As you can see, the Book Cover Keyboard Slim only allows the Tab S9 Ultra to sit in one position.

When I first got the Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra I have to say the size was definitely a surprise. I knew it had a 14.6-inch display, but knowing it and actually seeing it are two different things and the heft of the tablet was a shock. It's considerably bulkier than Apple's already very large 12.9-inch iPad Pro.

Despite coming clad in stylish black and with a keyboard case to match, the Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra doesn't quite shake the tablet look and feel. Maybe if the case were more clamshell-like it would, but right now, it looks and feels like a larger version of the Xiaomi Pad 6 I tested a few months back. 

It feels solid and well-made. Svelte but not fragile. I know we can’t expect many differences in a tablet, but I like the thought that Samsung has put into the design and construction of the Tab S9 Ultra.

As I mentioned earlier, it is powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 Mobile Platform for Galaxy processor, and the unit I have has 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage.

The display uses a Dynamic AMOLED 2X panel which has a resolution of 2960 x 1848 pixels and an adaptive refresh rate that varies between 60Hz and 120Hz. It also supports HDR10+, Vision booster, and Eye comfort.

The Book Cover Keyboard Slim.

As a bonus, the Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra has retained its storage capacity expansion capabilities via a microSD card slot, which can add up to 1TB extra storage – just like the Tab S8 models. It also has 20% larger quad-stereo speakers with Sound by AKG compared to the Tab S8 series. These new speakers also come with Dolby Atmos support.

It is also IP68 rated for water and dust resistance, which is quite rare to see for a tablet. In fact, this is the first Samsung Galaxy Tab tablet with such ratings. With this, you can watch Netflix on the Tab S9 Ultra in the bath without any fear of water damage.

On the top edge of the display are two front-facing cameras, one standard and one ultrawide, both with 12-megapixel sensors. They both sit in a little notch that is barely noticeable. Using the front cameras to take a selfie results in a picture that is mostly clear and sharp.

The rear cameras are a 13-megapixel standard camera and an 8-megapixel ultrawide camera. But beyond using the front-facing cameras for a video call, I can’t recommend trying to take pictures with this heavy tablet as it would be a real chore and you could end up hurting yourself.

Here you can see the cameras and the slot for the S Pen.

On the rear of the body is a slight magnetic groove that holds and charges the included S Pen stylus. I’d prefer being able to push it into a slot like the old Note smartphone, but you do get used to the pen's position after a while.

Since my MacBook Pro died on me recently, I wanted to see if I could use the Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra as a replacement device. Thankfully our review unit came with a keyboard case, called the Book Cover Keyboard Slim (S$318). I also used Bluetooth to connect a mouse to get the full work device feel. If you don't want to spend money on a keyboard case, you could always place the tablet in a stand and connect a keyboard and mouse via Bluetooth for the same effect.

The Book Cover Keyboard Slim only allows the tablet to sit at only a single fixed angle.

Like the Xiaomi Pad 6 I tested earlier, Samsung's keyboard case for the Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra has a fixed position and cannot be adjusted unlike, say, Apple's keyboards for its iPads. This lack of adjustability can be frustrating for some users. If you want adjustability, there's the pricier Book Cover Keyboard (S$558).

The Samsung DeX button opens up new possibilities as you work.

When connected to the case, you can turn it into a more work-like tool by pressing the Samsung DeX button (or activating it from the notification bar). Samsung calls DeX its "mobile-powered computing platform" and lets you connect the Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra to a monitor, mouse, and keyboard to provide a desktop-like experience. You can also access DeX via the tablet's settings if you don't have a Samsung keyboard. 

In this DeX mode, apps will open as windows, making multitasking easier as the apps get bigger and easier to use on the tablet’s large screen. You can move the windows around the screen and have multiple windows open at the same time. If you have the tablet’s S Pen, just hover it over the Air command icon and tap it to open up the menu to get access to all of your usual shortcuts.

Using the Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra

Note the speakers at the side.

I initially found only having one angle to view the Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra rather limiting because of the above-mentioned lack of adjustability. As I tried to use the tablet at my coffee table, work desk, and bed, I realized I wanted to place the tablet at different angles, but the keyboard case didn't let me do that. That said, I slowly got used to it.

Multitasking was a simple drag-and-drop affair.

As a work tool, I ran it in Samsung DeX mode to take advantage of the multitasking capabilities of the tablet. As for the apps, it is mostly work and productivity apps that are enhanced to take advantage of DeX. Some of these apps include Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Microsoft PowerPoint, Microsoft Remote Desktop, Microsoft Outlook, Amazon WorkSpaces, Zoom Cloud Meetings, Citrix WorkSpace, and more.

Multi-tasking is definitely an option given the display size. There is more than enough real estate to easily have two apps running pretty much comfortably and seamlessly side by side. It is easy to drag and drop apps in from the app drawer. 

Multitasking under DeX was even easier.

Using it with the case and mouse was no different to using a notebook. Apart from interface differences, I was able to create documents, type, in a document, perform Google searches, and easily access apps like Netflix. Basically, everything I did on a notebook could be done using the Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra. 

So far, the Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra has been a mostly adequate replacement for my notebook – at least insofar as work is concerned. However, it is, first and foremost, a tablet. But given its size, I question its usability as such.  

Things came to a head when I had to return the Book Cover Keyboard Slim and go back to using the Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra on its own as a tablet. 

Gaming was a visual joy but difficult to manage.

Playing Diablo Immortal without the case was difficult as the Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra needed to be held at the right angle to use the thumb controls properly. Given its heft and weight, you can see how this can be tricky. Fortunately, gaming performance was smooth and latency-free thanks to being able to toggle the “Game Launcher” mode (under Advanced Features).

To optimise your gaming experience, there are three modes you can select to enjoy a better gaming experience: 

  • Activate "Focus on performance" mode for an optimised gaming experience, but keep in mind that this may use battery power faster than other modes.
  • Activate "Balanced" mode for a good balance between game performance and battery usage.
  • Activate "Focus on power saving" mode to limit some performance and maximise battery usage.

One other way to enjoy gaming on the Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra and solve the issue of uncomfortable thumbs is to connect to a gaming controller and use a tablet stand. Unfortunately, as I don't have one, I wasn't able to try this out for myself.

High-resolution content was a joy to watch.

Watching streaming content is where it shines. For example, watching Netflix at its best resolution is bright, crisp, and sharp. It makes most scenes look cinematic with its large, bright, and crisp display.

Sound is decent for a tablet since it comes with quad AKG speakers that are 20% larger than its predecessor and it supports Dolby Atmos surround sound. While I’ve never tried the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra, the speakers here certainly sound great for movies and games.

But again, without a stand, finding a position where I was comfortable and didn’t feel like it was going to drop was a tricky affair.

Final thoughts

The Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra was much bigger than my borrowed iPad Pro.

To get a feel of what using other large tablets is like, I borrowed a 12.9-inch iPad Pro (5th Gen) from my cousin.  

In terms of size and weight, the Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra is markedly bigger than the iPad Pro. Out of the case and just carried in my hands, I often felt that it was too bulky and couldn't help feeling that I might inadvertently drop it. The weight difference between the two devices is less than 50g, but the sheer size of Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra makes it unwieldy. 

Ultimately, the large size of the Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, its giant display makes it an excellent productivity tool and for consuming content. On the other, it also makes it cumbersome and less handy as a tablet. 

This is further complicated by its high asking price. With prices starting at S$1,688 and accessories like the Book Cover Keyboard Slim costing S$318, the Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra is pricey. And you have to wonder and consider if it's worth getting it over a Windows or Mac notebook. In fact, at these prices, you might want to consider Microsoft's Surface Pro 9 if you really want a machine that can be both a notebook and a tablet.

In many ways then, the Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra suffers from the same problems as the iPad Pro. It's very capable, but its size, high price, and quirks of having to work with a mobile OS instead of a desktop OS, makes it difficult to recommend to most people. Even so, this is easily one of the most powerful and capable Android tablets you can buy, and if you really want a high-end Android tablet with a huge display, the Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra could be the one for you.

Model

Price

Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra (12GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, Wi-Fi only)

S$1,688

Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra (12GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, Wi-Fi + 5G)

S$1,888

Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra Book Cover Keyboard

S$558

Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra Book Cover Keyboard Slim

S$318

Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra Privacy Screen

S$118

Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra NotePaper Screen

S$98

Note: You can find the Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra on Amazon, Lazada, and Shopee.

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