This centrepiece of the Tab S9 range seriously challenges the iPad Pro. Not with the same brutal performance or the right apps for professional creation, but as a versatile productivity tablet for those who take the time to learn all the subtleties it is brilliant. New bright screen and waterproof construction are welcome upgrades.
Best Prices Today: Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Plus 5G SM-X816
While it was the Galaxy Z Flip 5 and Galaxy Z Fold 5 foldable mobiles that got the most attention at the latest Unpacked event, Samsung also released its new family of lavish tablets in the Galaxy Tab S series.
There are three to choose from again, with size being the main difference. The Galaxy Tab S9, S9 Plus (or S9+) and S9 Ultra are very lavish and equipped with elite features. It’s really only Samsung that challenges Apple’s iPad models in the highest class of tablets.
Price & Availability
Now I’ve tested the Galaxy Tab S9 Plus, the mid-range model with a 12.4-inch screen, and a price that makes me think about my life choices and why I’m not a millionaire. It comes in several different storage configurations, and with or without a built-in 5G modem.
The cheapest model has 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, but you can also get 512GB capacity if you need it (also with 12GB of memory). There are Wi-Fi and 5G models for each but in the US the 5G model is only available in the smaller option.
Here are the full prices for the Tab S9 Plus:
256GB – Wi-Fi: $999/£999
256GB – 5G: $1,149/£1,149
512GB – Wi-Fi: $1,119/£1,099
512GB – 5G: £1,249
You can buy the Galaxy Tab S9 series from Samsung as well as retailers such as Amazon, Currys and Very.
In the US, find it at Samsung, BestBuy, B&H Photo and Amazon.
To compare the three S9 tablets, it is most relevant to look at the iPad Air and the two iPad Pro models. It is not straightforward, as they have different dimensions and memory options, but it is slightly more expensive than an 11-inch iPad Pro, but cheaper than the 12.9-inch model.
Check out our charts of the best tablets and best Android tablets for more options.
How does it compare to Apple’s top tablets? In some ways better, in others it is clearly behind.
Obviously, the processor and performance. While the iPad Pro has laptop performance with the M2 processor, the Galaxy Tab S9 series is powered by the Snapdragon 8 gen 2, the same specialised version found in Samsung’s Galaxy S23 phones. Fast for a mobile phone and by far the fastest Android tablet, but there is no question that Apple has the upper hand there.
And the iPad OS takes advantage of this with a wide range of professional productivity and creative apps, from 3D modelling and illustration to video editing and music production. The Android side can’t match that at the moment, there are some good apps but not nearly as many, and they’re drowning in Google Play among apps that are better suited to the functionality and interface of a mobile phone with thumb controls and a small screen.
The fast memory type and storage also help to keep everything from apps and large documents to media-heavy and dynamic websites running smoothly. With the good multitasking capabilities of the system, memory management may otherwise suffer.
Galaxy Tab S9 Plus benchmarks
Antutu Benchmark 10 *: 1,549,348 points
Geekbench 6 : 5,738 points
Geekbench6 single core : 2,125 points
Geekbench 6 compute : 9,437 points
3DMark Wild Life Unlimited : 14,663 points
3DMark Wild Life Extreme : 3,915 points
Storage, reading : 3,529 MB/s
Storage, write : 2,972.3 MB/s
*Only comparable to other Android tablets, not iPads
Screen & Speakers
On the plus side, I want to give credit to Samsung for the screen, which is phenomenal. A dazzlingly beautiful 12.4-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X with 2800×1752 pixels which gives 266ppi, and you have to crouch over it and stare at extremely close range to make out any individual pixels. Or pull out a magnifying glass. With up to 120Hz dynamic frame rate and fast touch and pen reading, navigation and scrolling are fast and direct.
With a colour gamut that exceeds DCI P3 class in the panel, high colour accuracy, and the absolute contrast of OLED technology, nuance is perfect for photo editing, and hdr imagery in movies and games is intense, detailed, and immersive. You get support for HDR10+, and a brightness in the tablet that no one else can match.
The basic brightness is just under 500 cd/m2, but it should be possible to push it much higher than that, up to 1,750 cd/m2 according to Samsung themselves. That would be dazzlingly bright at arm’s length when holding a disc. These are figures that we tend to see more of in a good TV, which you are further away from.
Luckily, it’s only occasionally when needed, in sunlight or during HDR viewing that it automatically activates. The result is a tablet that I can watch films and surf on in the summer sun and it looks good and clear even if I don’t seek shade. It also helps that the surface in front of the screen has good anti-glare treatment.
Four omnidirectional speakers by AKG provide rich and detailed sound and are suitable for both horizontal and vertical positions. I play film trailers with the right pressure and surround effect, and music with well-balanced stereo, dynamics and lots of detail. There’s Dolby Atmos support in the tablet, of course, and a special Atmos mode for games, which sounds good.
Design & Build
The screen is covered with Gorilla Glass, but it’s not specified what kind. The protective glass gives a certain rainbow shimmer to the surface at tight viewing angles. I can live with that for a little better protection from the elements. And speaking of which, the tablet is fully waterproof, with an IP68 rating that allows it to be submerged to a depth of 1.5 metres for half an hour. The previous generation didn’t have that, nor is it matched by the iPad Pro.
The 5.7mm thin tablet is built in solid aluminium with right angles, clear buttons and a sim card slot on one side (only for microSD cards on the Wi-Fi model), holes for speakers on the short sides, and a very rigid construction. It feels like a solid piece of metal, but it’s obviously hollow and holds a lot of technology.
It’s available in the pictured Graphite colour or Beige.
There is a bit more priority on elegant design than on laptop comfort. I would have liked to see rounded edges on the back for better grip and also a teardrop-shaped transition from the side to the screen surface. But it’s not uncomfortable. I carry it around all day, surfing, emailing, checking Facebook and watching films.
What gets annoying is playing games with console-like controls on the screen. Partly because they’re designed for mobile phones and it becomes a tense grip after a while, and partly because graphics-heavy games make the system circuit, and thus also parts of the chassis, annoyingly hot.
The cooling is effective, and the Galaxy Tab S9 Plus doesn’t lose much performance over time in a stress test, but if you’re going to use it as a gaming device, you should get a case with a stand and a wireless game controller for it. A stand can be useful in any case, because like all more expensive Samsung Galaxy devices, it is excellent at converting from handheld mode to other ways of working.
Most importantly, with the right keyboard accessories, it becomes a fully functional laptop. It’s easy to switch to DeX, Samsung’s Windows-like desktop interface with mouse cursor control and free-floating windows. DeX can be activated on the tablet, or on a wired or wirelessly connected external display.
You get some apps that can be controlled well with mouse and keyboard commands, especially mobile Microsoft Office, and the web browser. It’s not as feature-rich as a regular Windows computer, but it will get you very far. Like a Chromebook, more or less. And with better support for Android apps.
Split Screen & S Pen
Samsung has for several years been building on the multitasking support for the regular tablet mode in the Tab S tablets, and here it is further refined from previous generations. It’s easy to get up to three apps in split windows and even more free-floating. Sure, it gets cluttered quickly, but with a taskbar at the bottom, it speeds up navigation.
The accompanying stylus S Pen is top-notch, and has received a couple of improvements. It has Bluetooth connectivity to the tablet and is instantly paired. It attaches to the tablet on the back, and also charges wirelessly there.
An improvement on the previous version is that you can now attach it in both directions and the battery will be charged. In the Tab S8 tablets, it was common for users to accidentally point the pen wrong and not get it charged. The pen now also has the same IP69 rating as the tablet, so if you want to draw in the bath, there’s nothing to stop you.
You connect to the Internet with 5G or Wi-Fi 6E, and the connection is fast and stable with good reception on both. I might have hoped that Samsung would have jumped on the Wi-Fi 7 bandwagon by now, but neither the new folding phones nor the tablets have the upgrade that some competitors’ phones have.
You can log in to the tablet quickly and easily with fingerprint or facial recognition, but the face scan does not have ID-approved biometrics. So, for example, if you want a bank login on the tablet, you have to use the fingerprint reader inside the screen. It’s a bit awkwardly placed for logging in with the tablet horizontally, but it’s better for landscape mode,
You don’t get any major camera upgrades, but still have modest cameras in the mid-range. A 13-megapixel main camera, a wide-angle camera that has grown from six to eight megapixels and a 12-megapixel selfie camera above the screen on one side. They take decent pictures, but don’t do anything out of the ordinary. They’re more for documentation and video calls than for Galaxy S23-style photography.
With a 10,800mAh battery compared to 10,090 in the Galaxy Tab S8 Plus, I get about the same battery life. But the new high-intensity HDR boost means that the time for film streaming can be shortened. It depends on what you’re watching and the lighting environment you’re in. In any case, I can use the tablet at home all day from morning to bedtime, at least as long as I’m not playing games or running heavy productivity apps.
The battery can then be charged fairly quickly with up to 45W of USB charging. But you’ll have to get your own charger for that, it’s not included. With a compatible charger, I can fill a depleted battery in about an hour and a half. It seems to take a long time with the last 20%, probably because it’s more gentle on the battery.
And that could be a good thing, because if you spend the kind of money Samsung wants for a Galaxy Tab S9 Plus, it should last a while. Samsung’s generous Android update policy of four major generation updates also applies to the Tab S9 series.
Whether this means that an Android 14 update is coming soon is more unclear, Samsung may need time to adapt its own OneUI interface. But it’s an assurance for the future that such an expensive gadget may need, no matter how good it is.
Operating system: Android 13 with One UI
Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 gen 2 for Galaxy
Graphics: Adreno 740, 719 MHz
Storage: 256/512GB, micro sd slot
Display: 12.4 inch glossy AMOLED, 2800×1752 pixels, 120 Hz
Cameras: 13 megapixel + 8 megapixel wide angle with led rear, 12 megapixel wide angle front
Connections: USB 3 type c with video out
Communications: 5g (optional), Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.3