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    Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 FE review

    The Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 FE certainly has the iPad (2022) in its sights, with a 10.9-inch display, a premium flat-edged design, and pricing starting at $449/£449. Unlike Apple, Samsung includes a pen with every tablet.

    Of course, Samsung isn’t the only Android company considering such a device, as the OnePlus Pad and the Lenovo Tab P12 demonstrate. But, in reality, only Samsung is in a position to compete with Apple in the premium tablet market. For a long time, if you wanted a stylish tablet that wasn’t an iPad, Samsung has been the dominant option.

    The Galaxy Tab S7 FE, Samsung’s last FE (fan edition) tablet, didn’t quite nail the recipe, with a somewhat higher price tag and mediocre performance. After appearing to miss a generation, Samsung regroups and tries again with the Galaxy Tab S9 FE.

    Has it managed to nail the brief for a compelling mid-range tablet this time around?

    Design & Build

    • iPad-like premium design
    • Standout IP68 certification
    • S Pen included

    Samsung produces more tablets than anybody else, so it’s no wonder that the business has honed its craft. The Galaxy Tab S9 FE looks and feels amazing, with a design that, to put it bluntly, pays homage to the iPad while actually outperforming it in one area.

    The iPad’s smooth surfaces, curved edges, all-metal body (save for plastic antenna lines), and evenly sized display bezels are all signature features. However, Samsung’s tablet is less square, with a 254.3 x 165.8mm shell reflecting the company’s choice to use a 16:10 aspect ratio display.

    As ever, this makes the Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 FE feel great when you’re watching landscape video content, but a tad less comfortable when scrolling through content in portrait.

    Nonetheless, the fingerprint sensor hidden in the power button on the top left edge (in landscape) is simple enough to use in any position as long as you remember to enroll both forefingers. You’ll get into the habit of orienting the tablet by the feel of the camera module on the back, whether you realize it or not. Because the Galaxy Tab S7 FE does not include a fingerprint sensor, this is a wonderful inclusion.

    The Galaxy Tab S9 FE has the same thickness as the OnePlus Pad at 6.5mm, making it roughly half a centimeter smaller than the iPad (2022) and the Lenovo Tab P12. It weighs 523g, making it lighter than anything save the iPad.

    Samsung’s color palette is rather restricted, especially when compared to the iPad (2022). The Grey and Silver models are typically dreary, however my Mint model is the most subtly cool green I’ve ever seen. At first impression, I assumed it was intended to be Silver. If you like lavender, there’s also that choice, albeit it’s weirdly not available on the Samsung UK shop.

    the Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 FE has one stand-out design feature compared to its mid-range rivals – IP68 certification

    Despite its competent similarities, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 FE has one distinguishing design characteristic as compared to its mid-range rivals: IP68 certification. This level of water and dust protection is not even offered by the iPad (2022).

    If you routinely expose your tablet to the outdoors – or force it to share luggage space with a beverage – this may be a truly appealing addition.

    The Galaxy Tab S9 FE, like the Lenovo Tab P12, stands out for included a pen with every tablet, which is a £46 item when purchased separately. Samsung essentially invented virtual pens, and the basic S Pen remains one of the best examples on the market.

    It’s simple, sturdy, and magnetically connects to the back of the tablet. Samsung’s software implementation is also more sophisticated than that of any other manufacturer.

    It doesn’t jump out at you and demand to be utilized, but the ability to perform rapid, powerful S Pen-driven activities is always available, lurking in the background. Double-tap the button to open a quick note, or press the floating pen symbol to access other shortcuts.

    With 4,096 degrees of pressure and a truly pen-like amount of resistance, the writing experience is unrivaled.

    Screen & Speakers

    • 10.9-inch TFT LCD
    • 90Hz refresh rate
    • Stereo speakers

    Samsung seldom fails to marry the perfect screen with the right gadget, and the Galaxy Tab S9 FE is no exception. However, it is not particularly good value for money.

    The display is a solid 10.9in TFT LCD. The inclusion of LCD rather than AMOLED screen technology is a foregone conclusion – good luck finding a tablet with such a component for less than $500/£500. Instead, you’ll want the £800 Galaxy Tab S9.

    However, with a 1440 x 2304 resolution, this is a smaller and less crisp screen than the OnePlus Pad and the Lenovo Pad P12, both of which are about the same price.

    The availability of a 90Hz refresh rate gives it an advantage over the Lenovo and, indeed, the iPad (2022). This is also enabled by default, or rather an Adaptive mode that can reach 90Hz when necessary.

    However, the OnePlus Pad with its 144Hz display outperforms the Galaxy Tab S9 FE in this category. Of course, that’s overkill, but it’s another advantage for this mid-tier competitor.

    In isolation, I have few qualms about the output of the Galaxy Tab S9 FE’s screen. It hits a maximum brightness of 562 nits, which is way brighter than the Lenovo Tab P12 and the OnePlus Pad, though it’s still not what you’d call outside-friendly.

     Galaxy Tab S9 FE

     

    It was also more color-accurate than the Lenovo, at least until I switched to the more sRGB-tuned Natural mode rather than the default Vivid. Nonetheless, the apparent absence of good HDR standard compatibility in a media-focused tablet is striking. The OnePlus Pad, on the other hand, openly displays its Dolby Vision and HDR10+ certifications.

    Unlike its two Android competitors, the Tab S9 FE lacks a full quad-speaker array. What you do receive is a powerful AKG-powered dual speaker provision.

    They won’t blow you away with fantastic Dolby Atmos tricks or extremely deep bass, but they can get pretty loud while still being clear and relatively full. If you don’t have your headphones and are in a private spot, they’ll do a wonderful job of playing movies.

    Samsung holds a key advantage over many other (non-Apple) manufacturers in that it reliably offers a 5G cellular option

    Specs & Performance

    • Exynos 1380
    • 6 or 8GB RAM
    • 128 or 256GB storage plus microSD

    Samsung has equipped the Galaxy Tab S9 FE with its own Exynos 1380 processor. This is the company’s mid-range provision for 2023, which was first seen on the Samsung Galaxy A54 5G earlier this year.

    Given that the Galaxy A54 5G has the same RRP, I’d think the addition of the chip adds up. In the Galaxy A54 5G, we found the processor to be fluid and dependable, and it continues to be so in Samsung’s newest mid-range tablet.

     Galaxy Tab S9 FE

    The starter model I tested had only 6GB of RAM, which isn’t a terrific lot for an Android tablet selling for this price. Upgrading gets you 8GB of RAM as well as 256GB of storage rather than 128GB (microSD card extension is available), which should be the default, especially when using Samsung’s well-integrated split-screen multi-tasking UI.

    The Galaxy Tab S9 FE outperforms the Lenovo Tab P12 with its crusty old MediaTek Dimensity 7050, but is outperformed by the OnePlus Pad with its speedy MediaTek Dimensity 9000. It’s in the center of the pack, which appears to be consistent with the overall sense of competence on display here.

    I had no issues about the Galaxy Tab S9 FE’s overall performance, which seemed to be able to keep up with all of the light media and web-heavy chores it’s clearly meant for. An complex 3D game like Genshin Impact is playable on Medium graphics settings, but chugs when you bump it up to High.

    One aspect that is all too easy to miss is connectivity possibilities. Samsung has a significant edge over many other (non-Apple) manufacturers in that it consistently provides a 5G cellular option for their higher-end tablets. The Galaxy Tab S9 FE has the same option, albeit at a $100/$100 cost.

    Cameras

    • 8Mp rear camera
    • 12Mp ultra-wide selfie cam
    • Supports 4K video

    I’ll only touch upon the Galaxy Tab S9 FE’s camera capabilities, partly because they don’t really matter, and partly because there isn’t much to say about them.

    You get a brutally simple 8Mp rear camera, and a similarly modest 12Mp front camera. In this, it’s very much like its mid-range tablet rivals.

    To be professional, I stood there shooting a number of photographs with this full-sized tablet so you didn’t have to. The results were mostly as expected: somewhat soft and flat, with hints of overexposure, and with a lot of heavy lifting done by Samsung’s distinctive image processing.

    The latter adds its trademark color pop, which I believe serves a greater purpose here with such restricted hardware than it does on the company’s flagship devices.

    Despite having a greater pixel count, the 12Mp front camera captures washed-out selfies and dismal skin tones. In a pinch, it’ll suffice.

    Overall, the Galaxy Tab S9 FE camera is comparable to that of a low-cost smartphone, but with an added benefit.

    Battery Life & Charging

    • 8000mAh battery
    • 45W charging support
    • No charger in the box

    Samsung has provided its tablet with a large 8000mAh battery, which is adequate for a 10.9-inch tablet. It’s far smaller than the Lenovo Tab P12 and OnePlus Pad counterparts, but they have considerably larger displays to power.

    If you use it for the normal leisurely web surfing, Netflix streaming, and light gaming duties that such tablets were designed for, this is a tablet with multi-day potential.

    Even if your application is more serious and complex, Samsung’s mid-ranger should perform wonderfully. It lasted 10 hours and 31 minutes in our standard PC Mark Work 3.0 battery test, which replicates typical working duties including online surfing, video and picture editing, document authoring, and data manipulation.

     Galaxy Tab S9 FE

    This means that the Galaxy Tab S9 FE will last you a full working day and then some. In comparison, this outcome is quite typical. It competes with the OnePlus Pad and lasts many hours longer than the Lenovo Tab P12.

    I repeated the test with the screen set at 60Hz, and it lasted an hour longer, moving from ‘good enough’ to just ‘good’.

    Samsung does not provide a charger, although the Galaxy Tab S9 FE supports up to 45W charging. I was able to charge it from empty to 21% in 15 minutes and 42% in 30 minutes using a more-than-capable 120W Vivo charger I had on hand. A full charge took me a little over 1 hour 30 minutes.

    Weirdly, hooking up a 65W Samsung laptop charger resulted in slower charging, so go figure.

    Software & Apps

    • Android 13
    • One UI 5.1
    • Busy, but very functional Samsung additions

    It’s an odd thing to say about the world’s largest mobile device manufacturer, but Samsung’s approach to software is a touch ‘Marmite’. For those of you who are not from the UK, this implies that there are people who adore it and those who despise it.

    One UI 5.1 is a power user’s dream, with tons of customisation options, strong split-screen multi-app capabilities, and – as previously mentioned – a fully integrated set of S Pen controls and shortcuts. With a basic S Pen, Samsung Notes transforms into a genuinely great sketching and scrawling tool.

    On the negative side, Samsung’s chosen look hasn’t really changed in years, and it’s not as aesthetically pleasing (to these eyes at least) as Google’s own take on Android found on the Pixel Tablet, or indeed those UIs that stick closer to it.

    Samsung holds a key advantage over many other (non-Apple) manufacturers in that it reliably offers a 5G cellular option

     Galaxy Tab S9 FE

     

    One UI is slightly cluttered, with a Settings menu that I still get confused in after years of reviewing and a slew of other applications that don’t often feel required. For every Samsung Note, there is a Samsung Internet – the company’s own web browser that coexists with the far superior Google Chrome. Similarly, Microsoft Outlook (although a very decent email client) is preloaded with Gmail, Gallery is present alongside Google Photos, and Galaxy Store is present alongside Google Play Store.

    However, for many folks, this is just Android as they’ve always known it. Outside of the iPad, Samsung tablets are the most popular, so it’d be silly to dismiss the company’s approach, and I’d argue that One UI makes for a superior tablet experience than it does a smartphone one.

    Furthermore, with four OS upgrades expected and five years of security patches, this is one of the more well-supported tablets for the price.

    Price & Availability

    UK and US buyers can buy the Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 FE directly from the Samsung website, Amazon, and many other retailers great and small for a starting price of $449/£449. This will get you the Wi-Fi-only model with 6GB of RAM and 128GB, which is the model I have here.

    Specs

    • Android 13, One UI 5.1
    • 10.9in, 1440 x 2304, IPS LCD, 90Hz, flat display
    • Side-mounted fingerprint sensor
    • Exynos 1380
    • 6GB/8GB RAM
    • 128GB/256GB storage
    • 8Mp main camera
    • Up to 4K @ 30fps rear video
    • 12Mp front-facing camera
    • Stereo speakers
    • 5G model available
    • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/6
    • Bluetooth 5.3
    • 8000mAh battery
    • 45W charging
    • 254.3 x 165.8 x 6.5mm
    • 523g
    • Launch colours: Mint, Grey, Silver, Lavendar

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