Just a few months ago, we were still twiddling our thumbs, waiting for any small tablet with a high-resolution screen. Now, after the 2013 Nexus 7, Retina iPad mini, Kindle Fire HDX, and LG G Pad 8.3 have all made their marks, customers finally have some solid choices on that front. But I'm not sure if any of them have hit quite as sweet a balance as the Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4. In many ways, I've found my ideal tablet.
Let's start with the build. Yes, the back has pleather. And we now know that Samsung just can't get enough of those faux leather finishes. I also wouldn't blame you for thinking it's a chintzy, inauthentic choice. Me? Though part of me says I'm supposed to think it's tacky, I actually enjoy using it. It's a little more comfortable to hold than aluminum or standard plastic, and I think it looks pretty good too. Subjective? You bet. But before you dismiss the faux leather based on how it sounds, or how cheesy someone else tells you it is, I'd recommend checking it out for yourself. You might be surprised how well it works.
Whether you like the pleather or not, you can't deny that this sucker is light. It's actually the exact same weight as the Retina iPad mini, but here those grams are spread out over a larger surface (the Tab Pro 8.4 is about 10 percent longer and four percent narrower). So, in hand, the feeling is closer to that of holding the first iPad mini. That's a very good thing.
It's also extremely thin. At 7.2 mm, it's the same depth as the OG iPad mini. See where I'm going with this? If you were disappointed that, in order to gain a Retina Display, the 2nd-gen iPad mini also gained a little weight and junk in the trunk, then the Tab Pro 8.4 is the closest thing I've found to that mini-tablet you wished the Retina iPad mini was.
Speaking of displays, the Galaxy Tab's stands next to the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9's as one of the best I've seen on any tablet. Measuring diagonally, it's 8.4-in, making it about six percent larger than the iPad mini's screen. It's also much sharper than Apple's "Retina Display," with 2,560 x 1,600 resolution. That's about 30 percent more pixels, and 10 percent more pixels-per-inch than you'll find in Apple's tablet. Colors are more varied too.
Numbers are one thing, but the display's technical superiority also shows when you use it. The screen on the Tab Pro 8.4 just pops. It gets extremely bright, colors are rich, viewing angles are terrific, and it's razor-sharp. I really don't have a single complaint about this screen.
I wouldn't say battery life is the Tab 8.4's Achilles' heel, but that's the one area that feels just a little compromised. While the Retina iPad mini can stream video for an insane 11 hours without conking out, the Tab Pro only lasted seven hours and 20 minutes in the same test (with brightness set at 75 percent). I don't think it's a major concern, and it's nothing that a lower brightness setting won't solve (even its 50 percent setting is still pretty bright). But there were a couple of times when I noticed it dipping down a little lower than I would have liked with a few hours left in the day.
On the software end, we have Android 4.4.2 with Samsung's TouchWiz UI slapped on top. The new Samsung Magazine UX is here too, in all of its Flipboard-meets-Windows-8 glory. I think the Magazine home screen widgets look good, but they don't really do much for me. I'm perfectly content opening an app when I want to read news feeds, check email, or dig into my calendar. And when you get those things from individual apps, they're usually more customizable than they are as home screen widgets.
You also get Samsung's handy Multi Window side-by-side multitasking. A quick swipe from the right side of the screen brings up a launch bar with all the apps you can use with the feature. Drag one over, drop it, and enjoy access to two apps at once. It's a desktop-like feature that very few other (non-Windows) tablets offer.
Performance isn't an issue, as you'd expect from any Snapdragon 800-powered device. Its 8 MP rear camera is perfectly serviceable for a tablet, but still not high-end smartphone-quality. It also has a vibration motor, something you don't see a lot of in tablets (though Samsung curiously disabled haptic feedback in the stock keyboard).
When I was flying back from the HTC One (M8) event, I powered on the Tab Pro 8.4 to pay for some overpriced airline Wi-Fi. When I logged on, though, I was happy to see a message telling me that my Samsung device has a complimentary 36 passes available. No need to pay: what a nice surprise.
That's because Samsung threw in some sweet content deal bonuses with all of its new Pro Series tablets. When you activate the tablet with a Samsung account, you'll get an email (be sure to check your spam folder) with links to activate a number of third-party services. You get US$25 worth of Google Play credit, a year of that Gogo inflight Wi-Fi, a three-month trial for Hulu Plus, three months of Sirius XM's internet radio, and three Audible audiobooks. You even get 50 GB of Dropbox storage (among several other deals). If you use any of these services, or think you might, then you'll definitely want to take that into account when looking at pricing.
About that pricing – we're looking at the same $400 base price as the Retina iPad mini. When you look at the Galaxy Tab's bigger and better screen, lower density (lighter weight relative to its size), and sweet content bonuses, it makes for a compelling alternative. The biggest drawbacks are its not-quite-as-awesome battery life and weaker tablet app selection (the same issue we run into every time we compare Android tablets to iPads). On the whole, though, I haven't found any of those things to be deal-breakers. It's an excellent tablet, and even without a rock-bottom price, it's easily one of the best slates money can buy.
Gizmag highly recommends the Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4 to anyone looking for a smallish tablet with uncompromised screen size and quality, as well as a soft-touch, featherweight build. It's available now, starting at $400 for 16 GB.
For more on Samsung's Pro Series tablets, be sure to hit up our review of the Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1.
Product page: Samsung