For me, the Samsung Galaxy Tab Active 3 is the most exciting tablet of this year. That’s because I love the 8-inch form factor and it can be so many things at once. It can be your normal 8-inch Android tablet for surfing the web and playing games. But if you get the LTE version, it can also fully replace your phone. And thanks to Samsung DeX, you can use it as a decent desktop machine. There are some downsides too, of course. In this review, you learn everything you need to know about the Samsung Galaxy Tab Active 3.
Now, while the Samsung Galaxy Tab Active 3 is aimed at enterprise users, I’m going to review it from the perspective of an average consumer or an office worker. That’s because I don’t have access to construction sites or factories and if you need it for that, you probably have to run very specific tests anyway.
Display & S Pen
Let’s start this review with the display of the Samsung Galaxy Tab Active 3. We’re getting an 8-inch screen with an aspect ratio of 16:10 and a Full HD resolution of 1920 x 1200 pixels. That resolution is high enough so that texts and icons look very sharp.
I would prefer a Super AMOLED display but this is a great LCD. Viewing angles are very wide, colors look accurate, and the contrast is good. The screen is fully laminated and bright enough to use outside.
Since this tablet is meant to be used outside, you can navigate the touchscreen using gloves once you turn up the sensitivity in the settings. That can be super useful.
You can watch Netflix with HD resolution because the tablet has a Widevine Level of L1 which is great. It sounds a bit weird, but that’s not possible with the Lenovo Tab M8 which is a cheaper 8-inch alternative.
With that being said, this is not a great entertainment tablet. That’s because we get just one speaker. Now, the sound quality of that speaker is good. But since it’s just one and since it’s just on one side, it can be a bit too quiet at times and you won’t hear any real stereo separation. It’s not meant to be a media tablet.
Active Stylus Support: The S Pen
I love that the Galaxy Tab Active 3 ships with the S Pen. So, unlike the iPad Mini, you don’t have to buy the stylus separately.
Now, the pen looks a bit different than I’m used to from the Galaxy Tab S7 and Samsung’s other S Pen tablets. That’s because the pen itself is rugged too with its own IP 68 rating.
Besides that, it’s a standard S Pen with a pressure-sensitive tip and a button on its side. Since all S Pens are interchangeable, you could just buy the stylus for the Tab S7 if you prefer that one.
The pen can’t be stored inside the tablet itself and there’s no magnetic side to hold it. But if you use the case, which is included, you can store it inside there.
As usual, the S Pen is supported very well on the software side. Samsung preinstalled the same Samsung Notes app that ships with the Galaxy Tab S7 and other current tablets. I think Samsung Notes is a fantastic app for handwritten notes but you can also use it for drawings. There’s handwriting recognition built-in and you can use it to annotate PDFs.
Other S Pen features are included too. With the Air Commands, you can quickly start a new note, take a screenshot and annotate it, or cut something out.
Screen Off Memo can be a super useful feature. It allows you to quickly start a new note without having to unlock the tablet by tapping the turned-off screen with the S Pen while you hold the button.
If you get this tablet, make sure you go through the settings to get to know all the S Pen features.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab Active 3 is fantastic for handwritten notes and the only up-to-date Android choice if you’re looking for an 8-inch tablet with active pen support right now.
Hardware & Performance
Inside the Galaxy Tab Active 3 runs a Samsung Exynos 9810 processor that was released together with the Galaxy S9 smartphone. We get 4GB of RAM and you can get versions with 64GB and 128GB of internal storage. LTE 4G is an option as well.
Even though that Exynos chipset is a couple of years old, it gets very close to the Apple iPad Mini 2019 with its Apple A12 processor. It also means that the Galaxy Tab Active 3 is the fastest 8-inch Android tablet that you can buy right now. And it’s one of the fastest Android tablets in general, although the Galaxy Tab S7 continues to be more powerful.
For everyday use, the performance is fantastic. I was able to import and edit 24-megapixel RAW photos with Adobe Lightroom without any lagging. Surfing the web with Chrome and lots of opened taps works great. A good amount of multitasking is supported too. You can open Chrome and YouTube or Chrome and Word at the same time without any hiccups.
I was surprised by how well the Samsung DeX desktop mode performs. Once connected to an external monitor, I used Chrome and Word in desktop view, and even with a YouTube video playing at the same time, that worked great. Games like PUBG Mobile perform well with Samsung DeX too, although it’s not optimized to be used like this, of course.
Active 3 Gaming Test
Now, the gaming performance is not perfect. When playing Fortnite, I noticed some stutters when playing it with graphics set to “high” and the framerate sometimes dropped below 20 FPS. And you can’t even select “epic” graphics. But it runs well with medium settings.
Something similar goes for PUBG Mobile. It runs great with HD or HDR settings and that looks nice. But you can’t even select Ultra HD graphics.
With Asphalt 9, I’ve seen some minor lagging but it runs great most of the time and looks pretty. World of Tanks looks great with the highest settings and the same goes for Cyber Hunter which can be played with graphics set to high as well.
Software: Android 10
Samsung is shipping the Galaxy Tab Active 3 running Android 10 and OneUI in version 2.5. That means it’s running the same software as the Galaxy Tab S7 is. Usually, Samsung tablets get at least two big updates. I’m not sure how they’re handling it with the Active lineup, though.
With OneUI, the Android interface gets customized quite heavily. But in a good way, mostly. With standard Android, you can open apps in a split-screen view only. But here, you can open apps in free-floating windows and even adjust the transparency of an app. That can be great if you’re taking handwritten notes while watching a lecture.
For fast multitasking, you can access a dock by swiping from the left. That dock can be customized to show other apps and even other things like reminders, the weather, and other tools. You can access that dock everywhere.
I mentioned the S Pen features already. There are lots of other features built-in like the Samsung Kids mode, a dark mode, blue light filters, and so on.
One of the most interesting features is Samsung DeX which I mentioned already. That’s a desktop mode that kind of transforms Android into a desktop operating system. Now, unlike with the Galaxy Tab S7, it does not work on the Active 3 alone. You’ll have to connect an external monitor for it to work. That can be wireless or a wired connection using the USB C port.
Samsung DeX works best if you also connect a proper keyboard and a real mouse. You can do that using Bluetooth or a USB C hub.
Once everything is connected and you turn on DeX, you can use your Galaxy Tab Active 3 like a desktop machine. Well, at least kind of. There’s a desktop, a taskbar with opened apps, and you can open apps in free-floating and adjustable windows. But the apps you’re opening are still the standard apps from the Google Play Store.
Most apps like Microsoft Word, YouTube, and Chrome work great. You can get some serious work done that way. But sometimes you’ll stumble upon apps that are not supported in DeX. Lastpass is one of them.
While it’s not perfect, I think Samsung DeX is a fantastic feature. But since you’ll have to use a monitor, I don’t think that many people will use it. It’s nice to have and for some, it can be super interesting.
Design & Built Quality
Let’s get to the design and built quality. If you’re looking for a robust and water-resistant tablet, you’ll love the design. But if you’re an average consumer like I am, this is one of the major downsides.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab Active 3 looks like a 10-year-old tablet. That’s because we get huge screen bezels, big physical buttons below the screen, it weighs 429g, and with 9.9mm, it’s quite thick.
It’s a full plastic design and once you turn to the back, it looks like the first Galaxy Note smartphone with a plastic cover you can take off. Wait, what? Yes. You can remove the back of the tablet to take out or replace the 5050 mAh battery without needing any tools. That’s awesome.
You can use the tablet without a battery if you’ve got it plugged in. That can be useful if you’re using it inside a truck, for instance, and don’t want to have the battery sitting in direct sunlight all day.
IP 68 Rating & Protective Case
There’s a reason behind this big, old-looking design, and that’s because it’s meant to be rugged. This tablet has an IP 68 rating and is water and dust resistant. Together with the included protective cover, Samsung even says that it should be fine if you drop it from 1.5 meters. I haven’t tried that but it does seem very rugged.
On its sides, the Active 3 has a USB C 3.1 Gen 1 port, a standard headphone jack, and a smart connector for some kind of dock that I haven’t seen yet. There’s a microSD card slot that you can open without any tool and it can house up to 1TB memory cards. If you’ve got the LTE version, that’s where you insert the SIM card as well.
The power button and volume controls are on the left side. Below the two, there’s another button which Samsung calls the activation button. You can map that button to whatever you want. I have it set to the Samsung Notes app and the Camera if I long-press it.
Fingerprint reader, Camera
Below the screen, we get these three typical Android buttons. A fingerprint scanner is built into the home button and that scanner works very fast and seems reliable. If you want, you can unlock it using facial recognition too.
On the front, we get a 5-megapixel webcam and the main camera on the back offers 13 megapixels and is backed-up by an LED flash. Photos and video can’t compete with high-end phones. But considering this is a tablet, I think the quality is pretty good.
LTE & Phone Capabilities
Now we get to something very interesting if you get the LTE version. Next to that webcam sits an earpiece which is meant for phone calls. Most Android tablets with LTE can be used as a phone. But since most don’t have an earpiece, it’s not that useful. But because of that earpiece, the Galaxy Tab Active 3 really can fully replace your smartphone.
Sure, it looks a bit weird if you hold a rugged 8-inch tablet to your head. But it works. Phone calls sound fine, you can use Whatsapp, send standard text messages, or use the tablet as a hotspot. I don’t think I’ll do that in the long run, but for some, it certainly can be very useful and I love that it’s possible.
In my battery test, the Galaxy Tab Active 3 got average results. When streaming an HD video on YouTube at maximum brightness, it lasted me 6 hours. That’s very demanding, of course. But it also means that if you want to use the Active 3 as your phone, it won’t last you more than a day.
Samsung Galaxy Tab Active 3 Review: Final Verdict
So, what’s my final verdict of this Samsung Galaxy Tab Active 3 review? I enjoyed using it and I like that you can do so much with it. It can be just a standard Android tablet with the S Pen. But with Samsung DeX and a monitor, it can be a desktop computer too. And if you get the LTE version, it could even fully replace a smartphone. Basically, the Active 3 has everything you want from a tablet.
Well, at least almost. It could use a second speaker so that it can be great for watching movies or YouTube. And the design does look super old. Sure, for the market this is aimed for, the rugged design is awesome. But otherwise, it looks a bit clunky.
I wish Samsung would make a version of the Galaxy Tab Active 3 with the design of the Galaxy Tab S7. But we haven’t seen an 8-inch premium tablet from them since the Galaxy Tab S2. In fact, we haven’t seen a decent 8-inch premium tablet running Android for a couple of years now. You could import the Huawei MediaPad M6 from China, but it’s a year old already and does not run any Google stuff.
So, let’s look at the competition.
The biggest and only competitor if you’re looking for a higher-end 8-inch tablet is the Apple iPad Mini from 2019. Here we get an old-looking design too, but it has a slimmer metal body and the performance is a little bit better. The 7.9-inch screen looks great and you can get it with the Apple Pencil. With that being said, the current iPad Mini was released at the beginning of 2019, so, it’s quite old now and I hope we’ll get a successor soon.
If you’re from the United States and are looking for a cheaper 8-inch tablet, you can check out the Samsung Galaxy Tab A 8.4. This is a mid-range tablet which seems to be a decent choice but you can’t use it with the S Pen. It’s available in the US only, so I couldn’t review it.
The Galaxy Tab A 8.0 SM-P200 can be a cheaper alternative as well, but it’s hard to get since Samsung didn’t release it in most countries either. It’s an affordable 8-inch Android tablet that comes with an S Pen and I loved it in my review. But the performance is much slower than of the Active 3.
- Good 8-inch screen
- Rugged design
- Fast processor
- S Pen is included
- Removable battery
- Samsung DeX
- LTE & phone capabilities
- Old-looking design
- Single speaker only
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