Whatever else you might make of it, the Samsung Tab S8 Ultra, the biggest brother in the S8 tablet range, is an interesting device.
Samsung sent me one to try out for a few weeks and it really took me some time to get my head around the experience of it.
The S8 Ultra that I was loaned came with 8GB of ram and a 128GB SSD, which would set you back $1949 from the Samsung website itself and is not available in a cellular (5G) model.
To go up to 12GB ram and 256GB SSD you’re looking at $2149 for the wifi-only version or $2299 for the cellular version.
Following the latest fashion, you will find no charger in the box – just a cable and the (excellent) Smart Pen.
It is also lacking a 3.5mm headphone jack, so you have just a single USB-C and wireless connection options to work with.
Basics covered; let’s dig in.
Big, bigger, biggest
When I first opened the box and saw the sheer size of the thing, my eyes shot out of my head like a 1940s cartoon character.
Unprepared as I was (I like to do my homework after I play with something), the 14.6-inch, 16:10 screen felt absurd on first impression.
To be honest, it continued to feel absurd for some time as I lugged it around. My initial idea of using it as something I could quickly bust out on the bus or train was quickly dashed because it was just too cumbersome.
Then, the more I used it, the more I started to appreciate how truly high-spec it is.
The quality of the giant screen is exceptional with its 2960 x 1848 resolution on a fantastically clear display – it is an actual joy to watch video on.
The lack of a headphone port made me grumble when I was travelling and I had to constantly switch my Bluetooth headphones between devices (I wasn’t going to invest in an adaptor for the sake of a loaner device).
But on the flip side, when I was sitting in a hotel room and wanted to watch some dumb space show or play some music, I found that the four speakers it boasted were surprisingly excellent for a device less than 6mm thick.
The battery was also impressive, lasting hours and hours playing video with speaker use.
I came to fully appreciate the engineering and technology that Samsung managed to cram into the very thin tablet, but still I found it too much for casual use.
A sudden realisation
The reason I was struggling with the tablet, despite the excellent tech, was that I was thinking about it all wrong – it isn’t really for casual use.
To me, a tablet is a portable, quick-pickup device that goes into a bag along with your laptop. The S8 Ultra is not that.
Instead, the 730g tablet is somewhere between a portable LCD TV and a laptop.
I saw an advert for the iPad Pro, which clocks in at a max 12.9 inches, that read, “Your next computer is not a computer”, and it clicked for me – this is not a tablet, it is a portable version of those monitors with all the hardware built in, but no way to mount it.
The reason this probably escaped me for so long was that, as often happens with reviews, I wasn’t loaned the keyboard case, which meant I was really getting only half the experience of what it could do.
When I tried plugging it into the Dell dock I use and flipped over to Samsung Dex mode, a Windows-style OS, it was reasonably functional, though still held by the inherent limitations of the Android OS.
But still, I wasn’t sure who would actually use their tablet with a dock like that, when there is no built-in way to stand it up.
Who is this for?
This tablet-that-is-not-a-tablet is a premium device, no doubt about that, but even after understanding what the aim of the design was, I was still left wondering: who is this for?
I saw a customer's review on a retail site that said something like, “This is perfect for watching movies on the boat!” Another said they loved the bigger screen in the tablet form especially with the keyboard case, because it could replace a laptop when they needed it to.
Would someone who travels a lot like it? Probably not. it’s too big and heavy for easy use on a plane.
Someone who works out of hotels? Probably not. It comes nowhere near a laptop for grunt, and Android isn’t the best operating system for work.
Gamers on the go who are really into mobile gaming or use cloud gaming could find it useful, or fine artists who are looking for an Android device with a built-in pen.
There are certainly people for who this is a wonderful device, but it is really not for me and is probably not for most folk.
For those who want a tablet, go smaller and lighter. For those who want a computer, shop around for a decent $2000 laptop.
But for those who are specifically looking for a device for occasional light computing use that has a huge screen, premium hardware and is only semi-portable – well, I’m sure all three of you will love it.