Beyond the differences between the Android and iOS ecosystems, Samsung and Apple’s flagship smartphone lines are, in a sense, pretty similar; there isn’t a defining trait that sets one apart from the other. This is not the case for the companies’ tablets. At least for Samsung, they have something they can offer that Apple doesn’t have: “We have a gigantic display”.
Introduced last year, Samsung’s largest tablet option returns with the Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra. And again, its big screen is the one aspect that no other tablet can tout.
On that note, however, I hesitate to call it a tablet because of that very same trait — the form factor does not offer the same breezy experience for typical tablet use. Still, it is a unicorn of a machine that brings something unique to the table in the world of tablets, one that working professionals would undoubtedly be keen to get.
Design and Build
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra is simply a marvel from a technological point of view. You’re getting a large 14.6-inch display, but it just has 5.5mm of thickness. For context, the tablet is thinner than my iPhone 14 — how can a tablet be this big and remain this thin?
Despite the thinness of the device, it still feels relatively sturdy. I won’t recommend going full strength to truly put it to the test, but the tablet was fairly resistant to my bending of the device; it is an incredibly solid build.
The tablet is also pretty lightweight, certainly more so than a laptop with a similar screen size. However, I wouldn’t say that the Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra is an easy device to use if you handle it as a typical tablet. Even with how light the tablet is in proportion to its size, the Tab S9 Ultra isn’t that suited for use one-handed. There simply isn’t a great way to hold it comfortably due to the weight distribution over the large form factor. Similarly, because of how tall it is, it always feels like I need to exert slightly more effort moving my hands to interact with anything at the top of the screen.
While I wasn’t sent a case for the tablet, I imagine some of that awkwardness in using such an unwieldy device would be alleviated since it helps prop it up. However, that’s some extra dough you need to fork out for that additional comfortability.
Every device within the new Tab S9 family comes with an S Pen, and Samsung has given it a slight enhancement. As before, the S Pen attaches and charges from the back of the tablet, but now, it can charge while facing any direction, so there’s no longer a need to consciously place the pen in a particular position.
There’s still that hint of anxiety in having the S Pen stored over the back of the tablet. It attaches reliably on its own, but I still feel that I need to be careful when grabbing the device to ensure that the pen does not fall off. At the very least, it can be magnetised to the top of the tablet (similar to the iPad’s implementation), but you will forgo being able to charge it.
Samsung adds another notable feature for this year’s tablet line — water and dust resistance. The build for the Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra is IP68-rated, meaning that the tablet should be able to handle being submerged in water (1.5 metres for up to 30 minutes) and still work fine.
I’m not brave enough to put it to the test by dunking a review unit that costs over S$1,500, but I did run some water over it, and the device functions perfectly fine. If anything, the potential to use the tablet at the pool or bathtub without worrying about being careless certainly gives the Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra that extra edge for usability over other high-end tablets.
As a tablet holding the title of having the biggest screen, it is hard to keep the focus out of talking about its display — especially since it is so good.
The display is a king for media consumption. I’ve always been partial to larger screens, and the one on the Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra is excellent. It is an AMOLED display with a 2,960 x 1,848 resolution, making everything look sharp and detailed while bringing bright colours to the fore.
Since this is a 14.6-inch screen with a 16:10 aspect ratio, I’ve been enjoying my time using the tablet to watch some movies or catch up on my Netflix show backlog; scenes look very cinematic since it’s such a huge display, and it gets nicely bright as well, which helps to highlight the vibrant colours on show. Additionally, the tablet also has impressive speakers that get loud and offer great audio depth — particularly for bass — which all work in tandem to bring an excellent watching experience.
The only real downside to having such a big, sharp screen is that anything that is low-res is especially more so here. Older YouTube videos look pretty gnarly and pixelated, but overall, it is a minor nitpick for what is a fantastic display.
It’s a slight shame then, that what makes the Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra great as a media-watching device is also a hindrance for general tablet users. But as they say, it isn’t about the size of the tablet; it is how you use it.
I’m speaking specifically about it being used for more intensive work. The Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor inside the tablet is a workhorse, and there’s not been one instance where it couldn’t handle something I threw at it.
For a screen as huge as this one, it dramatically benefits multitasking. All the nifty multi-window functionality from the Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra’s predecessor is present here again, and it is still as intuitive as before. It’s effortless to set it up for multitasking by dragging and dropping stuff from the app drawer, and there’s ample screen real estate to flexibly organise how you want it as well. Beyond its use case for creative work, the S Pen also helps with navigation through its various gestures.
Functionally, the Tab S9 Ultra has no issues getting apps running, even with multiple programs running. However, optimisation remains a crutch. It’s done well with certain applications like Google’s family of apps as well as Spotify, but others like Instagram simply don’t work well with the large screen.
Samsung does offer a way to navigate away from the problem, and that’s DeX Mode. This feature changes it into more of a laptop interface, and apps now open in windowed pop-ups instead of occupying the entire screen. Notably, you can run as many programs as you want and in whatever size you need. Just to note, you’re still using the app version of the software rather than a desktop one, so don’t expect the same features or UI.
DeX Mode is a great feature as a PC environment simulation, but it obviously works best with a keyboard and mouse/trackpad. Samsung has two keyboard covers available that offer that functionality. However, they also cost S$318 as a start — certainly a pretty penny on an already expensive device.
I’m generally not one to do photography with tablets because they usually aren’t very good, but I did want to give it a mention here simply because of how utterly ridiculous it is trying it out with the Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra.
It’s certainly humorous using the display as a massive viewfinder while positioning your shots, and it also isn’t the easiest way to take photos when holding the device with two hands. So how do the actual photos come out then? Meh. It is, after all, just a 13 MP primary sensor and an 8 MP ultrawide — you’re not going to get as classy a photo as you will with Samsung’s flagship smartphones.
On the other hand, the front camera will be more functional for users. It’s a 4K dual-camera system located right in the middle of the tablet, positioned perfectly for any video calls. The ultrawide camera also helps enable auto framing if you’re moving around.
There are no changes in the battery capacity for the Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra; it’s still the same 11,200 mAh one as seen with its predecessor. With it, I was garnering around 10 hours or so while having the screen’s brightness all the way up, which is quite decent for a tablet. Similarly, it was able to last several days while in idle mode.
That performance is all with the Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra being used as a tablet. Switching it to DeX Mode does, however, eat up much more of the battery life. It lasted roughly 6 hours while in use with DeX — that’s around the middle range if you are comparing it with a laptop.
Samsung did not include a charging brick with the tablet, but the device is capable of 45W fast charging. Should you have one, you’ll be able to charge it back to full in a little over 80 minutes.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra is a tablet in name only; it is more suited for use as a laptop, and it certainly has the chops to perform as well as one too. It’s great at all that multitasking stuff, and it is a remarkably lightweight device to bring around. I suspect many professionals may be looking at it as a laptop alternative.
Take nothing away from it being a media consumption device though. The massive display is excellent all around, providing crisp detail while also being a vibrant showpiece — plus, it even has a high refresh rate of 120Hz to enjoy. For your general tablet use though, it simply doesn’t feel as comfortable handling such a large screen. That said, it may be well worth adjusting to its quirks to experience those benefits.
Photos by Russell Matthew Loh of the DANAMIC Team.