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Samsung’s new Galaxy Tab S4 tries to beat the iPad at productivity

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At a small press gathering in Manhattan today, just one week before the company heads over to Brooklyn for its big Galaxy Note 9 event, Samsung announced the new Galaxy Tab S4 tablet. The Tab S4 is being pitched as delivering “tablet mobility and PC power.” Unable to match the iPad’s selection of tablet-optimized apps, Samsung is going in the opposite direction: it’s positioning the Tab S4 as being able to offer legitimate productivity on the go. “Nobody’s quite cracked the nut when it comes to tablet 2-in-1 productivity,” is the line the company used to start off its presentation.

The Tab S4 features a 10.5-inch Super AMOLED display (2560x1600) with a 16:10 aspect ratio. Its bezels are much slimmer than Samsung’s prior Android tablets, which means there’s no longer a home button. (Iris and face scanning are available as authentication options in addition to the usual passcode.)

It’s available with either 64GB ($650) or 256GB ($750) of built-in storage. An S Pen comes included in the box. Like Apple’s iPad Pro, it includes four speakers; Samsung says they’ve been tuned by AKG. The company is promising up to 16 hours of battery life. The Tab S4 will ship beginning on August 10th. Models with LTE connectivity will also be available. Verizon, Sprint, and US Cellular will be offering the device. It comes in (very glossy) black and white options, with preorders kicking off today.

Samsung’s DeX, which transforms the user experience into a desktop PC-like environment, is built directly into the tablet’s software. “We can support up to 20 windows open simultaneously,” said one of Samsung’s executives during the product briefing. DeX can be used either with Samsung’s sold-separately $150 keyboard case or any Bluetooth keyboard and mouse you’ve already got.

DeX conveniently puts your recent apps right in the toolbar for quick access and lets you resize and move apps around as you'd like. DeX is actually a separate “mode” from regular Android and can be toggled on from the quick settings pulldown. It also automatically comes up when you dock the Tab S4 in Samsung's keyboard.

Speaking of which, that keyboard is a little cramped — similar to the iPad Pro 10.5’s Smart Keyboard — with a small backspace key, but it’s workable. It’s well built and magnetically latches to the Tab S4’s screen, and there’s a detachable holster for the S Pen.

The Tab S4 runs Android 8.1 Oreo, includes 4GB of RAM, and is powered by a last-gen Snapdragon 835 processor. Its battery capacity is 7,300mAh. It’s also got 13-megapixel cameras on both the front and back. There's a USB-C port, headphone jack, microSD slot, and a pin-connector for the keyboard, which draws its power from the tablet.

Samsung went over numerous use cases for the Tab S4, covering everything from having it act as a POS system at retail to being used in health care and business scenarios. But it does still include the usual S Pen tricks like screen off memo, live messages, air command, and translating text that you hover over. Samsung has integrated far-field microphones into the device so that it can be controlled from a distance through Google Assistant. The company was oddly quiet about Bixby’s capabilities on the Tab S4, however, and there’s no dedicated Bixby button to be found.

Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

While it doesn’t have any serious Android competition, the Tab S4 will be squaring off against Apple’s upcoming, redesigned iPad Pro on the premium end, and more affordable Chrome OS tablets beneath it. There's also now the Surface Go to factor into the tablet equation, as it's another compelling alternative to what Samsung has put together here. Is DeX’s flexibility and resemblance to a traditional desktop enough for Samsung’s latest flagship tablet to make a dent?

My early take is that Samsung should've upped the specs here for the price it's asking. A Snapdragon 845 and 6GB of RAM would've been nice to have inside a device that's designed around multitasking. From a sheer power perspective, the iPad Pro already smokes this thing. But stay tuned for the full review to see if the Tab S4 can manage to stand out for the right reasons.

Photography by Chris Welch / The Verge