Last month, Samsung announced the Tab S4 tablet, replacing its previous flagship tablet, the Tab S3, as the only real Android-based competitor to the iPad Pro. Electronic Design got hold of the Tab S4 to quickly see what users get for $649, before going inside to see how it was done.
The Tab S4 comes in 64- and 256-GB versions, costing $649 and $749, respectively. As this was going to be ripped to shreds, we opted for the $649/64-GB version, though at this level, $100 isn’t much more to pay for 4X the memory.
It was at the local Best Buy, so I picked it up, without the accessories that can turn it into a PC-like experience for productivity purposes (Fig. 1), though it does come with an S Pen stylus. The accessories include an HDMI adapter to connect to a monitor, a keyboard, and a mouse. And with Samsung’s DeX software installed, a tap on the app with the Pen and the tablet can be a fully functioning PC, assuming Microsoft software licensing has been purchased.
1. The Samsung Tab S4, the closest Android competitor to the iPad Pro, comes with a host of accessories (left) to let it behave like a PC. The system torn down here is on the right. (Source: ClariTek)
The most startling change compared to the S3 is the removal of the Home button and a thinner bezel, letting the 10.5-in. WQXGA Super AMOLED display run end to end undisturbed. That’s 0.8 inches bigger than the S3, with a resolution of 2560 × 1600. Instead of the Home button, gestures can be used to navigate. It booted right away into “Hi there” and we were off and running.
Tab S4 Screams Security, Entertainment, and Voice Control
It quickly becomes clear that the Tab S4’s facial-recognition technology is taken seriously, with the option to use it to unlock the screen. It relies on clear sight of the eyes, so it takes some getting used to.
For entertainment and web browsing, the hi-res display combines with audio features unique to the S4. For example, it has four speakers that are ported to the edges of the tablet: two on bottom, two on top (Fig. 2). The speakers are tuned by AKG and supported by surround sound with Dolby Atmos technology. The 7300-mAh battery supports up to 16 hours of video playback.
2. Removing the rear shows the S4’s four speakers, 7300-mAh battery, camera, and EMI shields for all semiconductors. (Source: ClariTek)
The rear-facing camera is a 13-Mpixel AF sensor with an F1.9 aperture and a field of view of 76 deg. The front camera uses an 8-Mpixel sensor with the same aperture but with a field of view of 85 deg.
Other wins by Qualcomm include power management (PM8998), the audio codec (WCD9341), and both Wi-Fi/Bluetooth and LTE connectivity (WCN3990 and WTR5975G modem, respectively). The WCN3990 supports Bluetooth 5.0 as well as 802.11a/b/g/n and the latest 802.11ac technology with a 2×2 antenna implementation.
With voice-controlled assistants and keyword spotting now critical elements for interactivity, Samsung boasts about its far-field voice-detection technology. Fortunately, Samsung didn’t default to its own Bixby assistant, but instead defaults to Google Assistant, which is much more advanced and widely used.
To help with voice activation, the S4 uses technology DSP Group’s D851A SoC, which isn’t listed anywhere but is likely an advanced version of the company’s DBMD4. This is a digital signal processor (DSP) supported by DSP Group’s algorithms that perform noise reduction, beamforming, and acoustic echo cancelling (AEC), while emphasizing low power consumption.
Next to the audio- and voice-activation section is the display-driver section, at the heart of which is Texas Instruments’ TPS65630A dual-rail (positive and negative) AMOLED power supply.
An Android Device for the Times We’re In
For someone looking for a 2-in-1 tablet, the S4 has great screen quality, high-end audio (for a tablet), security, voice activation and control, and a slew of productivity tools that make it a worthy competitor to the iPad Pro and very suited to today’s needs. With voice-activated control for the home, the S4 can form a portable hub for the smart home, while piping entertainment and allowing users to do a bit of work, too.
Though it’s on the pricey side, the features and capabilities are cutting edge and the design is carefully laid out with ample shielding and protection, and plenty of processing horsepower.