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Review: Samsung’s TabPro S is the Windows 10 slate you didn’t know you wanted

I’m a fan of Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4, ditto Apple’s iPad Pro. But both have one glaring flaw: They don’t come with keyboards. To get one for the Surface you’ll have to shell out an extra $130; the iPad’s will cost you an additional $170.

Samsung’s new 12-inch Galaxy TabPro S is different. A productivity tablet in the vein of the Surface and iPad Pro, the $800 TabPro S combines the capability of a Windows 10 laptop with the portability and touchscreen of a tablet. But unlike those other pro tablets, it comes with a keyboard.

But is that enough reason to buy this portable powerhouse?

Slim and svelte

There’s thin and light, and then there’s the TabPro S. Measuring 11.4 x 7.8 x 0.25 inches and weighing just 1.5 pounds, the TabPro S is an absolute lightweight.

By comparison, the Surface Pro 4 (which has a slightly larger 12.3-inch screen) is both bigger (11.5 x 7.9 x 0.33) and heavier (1.7 pounds). And Apple’s iPad Pro (with its ginormous 12.9-inch screen) measures 12.0 x 8.7 x 0.27 inches and weighs 1.6 pounds. But, to be realistic, those weight differences are negligible; you probably won’t notice 0.2 pounds.

Of the three slates, the TabPro S is easily the most comfortable to use as an actual tablet. The Surface Pro 4 is a bit too bulky, while the iPad Pro is just too big. I wouldn’t say the TabPro S is ideal for use as a tablet: It’s still too large and heavy to hold for long periods of time. And you’ll certainly want to avoid dropping it on your face during your bedtime Web-browsing sessions. But it’s the still most usable of the three.

Understated styling

There’s nothing particularly lust-worthy about the TabPro S’ looks. If I had to sum up its design, I’d say it’s understated and inoffensive. The slate largely follows the same styling as Samsung’s other Galaxy tablets, complete with an aluminum chassis and plastic back panel.

The TabPro S looks like it was built for business users. Its buttoned up design would look perfectly at home in your office next to your stack of TPS reports

That’s not exactly a bad thing, either. Slates don’t have to be as fashionable as smartphones; you don’t carry one around as often as you do your phone.

In fact, with its keyboard cover attached, the TabPro S looks more like an attorney’s notepad than a tablet. So while the TabPro S might not be a stunner, it’s certainly attractive.

Gorgeous screen

The big selling point for the TabPro S, beyond the fact that it’s an incredibly thin Windows 10 2-in-1, is its gorgeous 12-inch display. The TabPro’s screen is the first 12-inch panel that uses Super AMOLED (active matrix of organic light-emitting diodes). It’s also the first Windows 10 machine with such a display.

That’s a big deal because Super AMOLED displays are known for producing incredibly vibrant colors and endlessly deep blacks. To date, they’ve generally been used on smartphones and smaller slates. But seeing such a screen on a large tablet running Windows makes for a completely different experience.

While using the TabPro S, I regularly found myself admiring little things, like the way the Spotify logo on my desktop looked far more brilliant than it did on the Surface Pro 4 or the iPad Pro. Websites looked better. Even Google’s iconic logo looked like it was painted on the slate’s screen, compared to the way it looked on the iPad and Surface. Movies and photos will look fantastic on the Samsung’s display.

Beyond offering beautiful colors, the TabPro S’ display also helps with power management. That’s because, when the the TabPro S shows blacks, it actually turns off individual pixels. This, in turn, saves battery power.

Keyboard included

It might sound like a silly thing to harp on, but the fact that the Galaxy TabPro S actually comes with a keyboard case is ridiculously helpful. Like I said, neither Apple nor Microsoft provide keyboard cases with their slates; as noted above, adding those keyboards will add $130 to $170 to the price of the tablet.

Even though the TabPro S keyboard is free, that doesn’t mean it’s subpar. I’ve yet to find a keyboard case that’s as comfortable to type on as my MacBook Air. I’m beginning to think I never will. One problem: I like a lot of key travel, and keyboard covers must be so thin, they don’t provide room for much movement.

Like Microsoft’s Surface Pro Keyboard, Samsung’s keyboard features large keys with a hair’s width of space between them. Going from my MacBook’s keyboard to the TabPro S’ took a lot of getting used to: I still make a lot of typing errors on it, in part because even a slightly misplaced finger can cause you to hit the wrong key. It’s just not as forgiving as a normal keyboard.

That said, I’ve got to credit Samsung for including such a responsive touchpad. The thing even produces a satisfying mechanical click when you press down on it. It’s also exceptionally smooth, your fingers simply glide across its surface.

As with Apple’s Smart Keyboard, Samsung’s cover doubles as a stand for your slate. But whereas Apple’s offering can only be used in a single position while typing, Samsung’s has two: a 65-degree angle position for when you’re at your desk, and a 25-degree angle for if you want a more relaxed position.

Microsoft’s Surface Pro has a stand conveniently built into its back panel; that’s convenient some of the time, but it also makes it incredibly hard to type on your lap. The TabPro S is actually quite easy use on our lap — not as easy as an actual laptop, but if you’re commuting to work on the bus or the train in the morning, you can still tap out some notes without fear.

I do have one concern about Samsung’s keyboard (which connects to the slate via a magnetic connector): It’s incredibly flimsy. If you’re holding it on your lap and lean on it a bit, you’ll feel as though you’re going to break it in half. Still for a free keyboard, it’s not half bad.

Performance and battery life

Here’s where the Galaxy TabPro S kind of hits a wall. Samsung equipped the TabPro S with an Intel Core M3 processor, 4 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of storage space. For most people. that’s more than enough power for things like browsing the web, streaming Netflix, and writing text documents.

If you’re looking for something more powerful, though, perhaps for hardcore photo or video editing, the TabPro S isn’t going to cut it.

If you do need more computing horsepower, the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is the way to go — but it’ll cost you. The base $899 Surface Pro 4 offers the same computing power as the TabPro S for the same money. Right now, however, Microsoft is also selling the Surface Pro 4 with a Core i5 processor, 4 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of storage for $899 as well. So Microsoft has Samsung beat for both price and performance.

The TabPro S does beat the Surface Pro and iPad Pro on battery life. The TabPro S is rated at 10.5 hours of battery life, while the iPad Pro is rated at 10 hours, the Surface Pro 4 for 9. And the TabPro S has fast-charging capabilities. According to Samsung, it’ll give you 2.5 hours of use when you charge it for just 30 minutes; a 60-minute charge will get you 4.5 hours.

The bottom line

Samsung’s Galaxy TabPro S offers an absolutely stunning display, decent design, and adequate power in a slim, lightweight package. Naturally, I also like that it comes with a free keyboard, even if that keyboard is not the greatest one on the planet.

If you’re looking for a Windows 10 slate that can double as a laptop, and need maximum firepower, you should get the Surface Pro 4. But if you can compromise on the power and want a relatively inexpensive 2-in-1 slate, you can’t beat the TabPro S.

Email Daniel at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.

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