Samsung, in typical Samsung fashion, is venturing into new screen sizes with its new Galaxy TabPRO line. Unveiled at CES 2014, the Korean firm’s upcoming trio of slates will share much in common with last year’s Galaxy Note 10.1, but is going to shake things up with an overhauled UI and some impressive displays. The most immediately striking of the bunch is the largest one, which will matches the Galaxy NotePRO with an enormous 12.2-inch screen.
We went hands-on at CES.
Build and Design
Right off the bat, let’s note (pun intended) the main difference between the TabPRO (12.2), the smaller TabPROs, and the NotePRO (12.2) is the fact that the last one will support Samsung’s S Pen stylus. Aside from differences in screen size, we’re looking at four identical devices, each equipped with the same plastic fronts and “leather-like” finishes that were used on the aforementioned Note 10.1 (2014 Edition) and Galaxy Note 3.
Be sure to read our Samsung Galaxy NotePRO (12.2) Hands-On Preview.
The TabPRO’s design language mirrors that of the Note 10.1 in general, so those familiar with that device will notice the same button placement, just-right bezels, and clean, straightforward lines as before. That’s generally a good thing, but that faux leather stitching is the most immediately striking thing here, for better and worse. In our hands-on time, we felt it was still cheap-feeling and awkwardly out of place, but we can’t deny that it’s grippier and easier to hold than the slimy alternative of Samsung tablets past. Your opinion of it will likely come down to your priorities as a tablet buyer.
No less controversial is the TabPRO (12.2)’s size. It is going to measure 295.6 x 204 x 7.95mm and weigh 1.66 pounds, dimensions that will make it noticeably thicker and heavier than its smaller siblings. The 10.1-inch (243.1 X 171.4 X 7.3mm, 1.03 lbs.) and 8.4-inch (128.5 x 219 x 7.2mm, 0.76 lbs.) versions felt like what you’d expect from slates of their respective sizes — which is to say, fine — but a foot-long tablet still seems like a hard sell to us.
Yes, the TabPRO (12.2) simply felt too big and unwieldy to be considered a real portable device during our time with it. It doesn’t do anything significantly different than the 10.1- and 8.4-inchers, so it seems especially counterintuitive without the added productivity benefits of the NotePRO’s stylus. Using it was very much like lugging around a heavier laptop screen, which isn’t quite ideal for entertainment purposes either. And we doubt anyone will be able to operate this thing with one hand.
We’ll hold off on final judgments for now, but we could easily see a device like this only causing more fatigue with extended use. At first blush, we’re not sure why anyone would need an extra 2-4 inches of screen space; and if they did, we don’t know why they wouldn’t just opt for the NotePRO (12.2) and its S Pen support instead.
Thankfully, none of the TabPRO models will be lacking on the spec sheet. The 12.2-incher is going to be the most powerful of the bunch, but not by very much — each one will come with Samsung’s Exynos 5 octa-core chip (which includes both a 1.9GHz and a 1.3GHz processor) in their WiFi/3G versions, and a 2.3GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 chip in their LTE-enabled models. The largest slate will include 3GB of RAM, however, one gigabyte more than the 2GB on both the 10.1- and 8.4-inch models.
The jumbo TabPRO will also feature a heftier 9,500mAh battery — compared to 8,220mAh and 4,800mAh on the smaller two — and options for either 32 or 64GB of storage. The 10.1- and 8.4-inch slates will only be available in 16GB or 32GB versions, but all three models will feature microSD slots that can hold up to 64GB of extended space. Each device will have an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera, as well as a 2MP front-facing shooter. The 12.2-inch model will also support USB 3.0 and dual-band 802.11a WiFi, while the others are going to come with USB 2.0 and standard 802.11a support.
Interestingly, Samsung’s also chosen to fit each TabPRO with the same display specs. All three LCD panels will have a resolution of 2560 x 1600, meaning that there’s no visual drop-off when going from big screen to small screen. The prototypes we saw all looked great, with excellent viewing angles and popping colors across the board, but the mirrored specs made the 8.4-inch Tab Pro’s screen the sharpest of the bunch. Its impressive 359 ppi will give it one of the better small Android tablet displays from day one.
Software and Performance
The big change here will come in the form of Magazine UX, the next iteration of TouchWiz and Samsung’s latest attempt to distance itself from the stock Android experience. Think of it like a cross between Samsung’s own Flipboard clone, My Magazine, and Windows 8. Samsung tells us that it’s split into three primary home screens: one for productivity, one for social media, and another for personal use.
That separation wasn’t immediately apparent when we were using the TabPRO (12.2), but we were generally impressed with Magazine UX’s new look either way. Its tile-centric approach may ape Windows 8’s style, but again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing — it gives you numerous ways to customize tile placement and size, most of those tiles are colorful and attractive, and certain apps (like BBC News) can already be used as sleek, full-screen widgets that take up their own home screen. (We couldn’t get Samsung to say whether or not any Android widget can do this, but it appears that developers will have to tailor their apps specifically to the UX to have such functionality.)
The idea is to blend apps and live content together, and we think it’s a good one based on our initial run through the UX. But we also enjoyed little details like the page-turning effect that happens whenever you swipe through home screens. Altogether, it certainly seems more visually exciting than the old, blown-up phone UI that Samsung stretches out for its tablets today.
The only prickly bit with Magazine UX is that it could be a little bit too noisy for some. These are technically “Pro” tablets, so they’re supposed to be made for people who multitask, but staring at your inbox, a news feed, six app tiles, and a weather widget all at once might be too much info to process simultaneously.
There’s a fine line between being helpful and being overwhelming here, and while we appreciate the freshness of Magazine UX, we can’t fully judge its utility just yet. We’d also like the ability to switch back to a more traditional apps view as our default home screen, but as it is now, the TabPRO (12.2) locks you into using one screen as your standard whenever you press the home button. You’ll have to press an onscreen prompt to view more standard apps and widget drawers, which can make things feel a tad haphazard.
As for returning software, Samsung’s “Multi-Window” tech is back and still very much useful for tablet-sized displays. You can grab apps with a swipe from the right bezel and have up to four windows open at once (two on the 10- and 8-inch models). Doing so made things a little bit too crowded for our liking, but being able to edit a Google Drive doc while watching a YouTube video and checking our email is still an option we can appreciate having.
The amount of apps that actually support Multi-Window is still limited, but they should continue to increase as time goes along. Performance was notably laggy during our brief time with the slate, but that’s to be expected with early builds like this, so we won’t come to any conclusions until we get our hands on a review unit.
All of this will run over Android 4.4 (KitKat), so you’ll be getting the most recent version of Google’s mobile OS right out of the box. The Magazine UX overlay is so heavy that you’ll barely notice that, but Samsung has made good use of KitKat’s “immersive mode” and hidden the status and notification bars on the device by default. (Swiping at the top of the screen will return them, per usual.) Other apps make them transparent, but either way we like the idea of giving apps as much of the display space as possible.
Finally, Samsung’s going to add in its own remote desktop software and full-sized virtual keyboard here as well. We weren’t able to test out the former, but accessing and editing our computer’s files is something that’s been done plenty of times in the past. Same goes with the new keyboard — its haptic feedback is fine, and it’s a nice option to have, but it didn’t have Swype functionality, and it’s nothing we haven’t seen before.
Pricing and Availability
Samsung, in typical Samsung fashion, isn’t giving away any specific pricing or availability details for any of the Galaxy Tab Pro slates, only saying that they’ll be available globally in the first quarter of this year. The company is giving away a bundle of pre-loaded software with the TabPRO (12.2) that includes a free 50GB of Dropbox storage, a 12-week subscription to The New York Times, and a few free months of Evernote, among other things.
We’re mostly hopeful for the future of its tablet ambitions, but Samsung still needs to keep Magazine UX from getting overbearing and give us a good reason to choose a less productive 12.2-inch tablet over a more productive one.