Apple, Samsung and Microsoft tablets tested to find the best one for you
- Apple’s iPad Pro 2018, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S4 and Microsoft’s Surface Go all have pros and cons when it comes to work and play
- The Surface Go offers easily the best typing experience
Tablets were once all the rage, but demand appears to have plateaued in recent years.
That doesn’t mean that modern devices are no good – certainly not.
Recent devices boast new functions such as the ability to plug in to an external display and use your tablet like a laptop, to facial recognition cameras that recognise you as soon as you flip open the case.
Not only that, but the raw power packed into some devices even rivals that of decent laptops.
We check out three of the best new tablets released in recent months that hold the promise of being your ideal companion for both work and play.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S4
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 is the latest in a long line of Android tablets made by Samsung.
The device comes with a 10.5-inch AMOLED display and is powered by a Snapdragon 835 processor with 4GB of RAM. It is available in 64GB or 256GB variants, though storage can be expanded via a microSD card up to 400GB. An S Pen stylus the size of a real pen comes as part of the package and lets you draw, jot notes or annotate screenshots with up to 4,096 levels of sensitivity – no charging required.
While its processor isn’t the latest and greatest, overall performance was smooth and didn’t lag even in DeX mode (more on that later).
With slim bezels, just 7.1mm thick and weighing only 482 grams, the Tab S4 is a great-looking device that some may consider the epitome of the modern Android tablet experience. The screen is gorgeous, with excellent contrast and vibrancy, and is a treat to use either browsing the web or watching Netflix with audio piped through the quad speakers.
On the downside, its full glass back makes the device a fingerprint magnet of the highest order. Both sides of the tablet quickly turn into an unappetising mess of finger marks after even a short period of use, so be sure to always use a case to avoid this problem.
Speaking of cases, Samsung sells a Book Cover Keyboard that is both case and integrated keyboard. The keyboard works rather well, with great tactile feel and pitch, though important keys such as backspace and enter keys should have been larger.
The face and iris readers still work well with the cover on, automatically recognising you as you flip it open.
The Tab S4 is the first tablet to incorporate Samsung DeX, a technology developed by Samsung that lets you use the device like a laptop by plugging it into an external display such as a monitor.
I loved the ability to resize and move app windows around with a mouse for a new level of productivity on a tablet. On the flip side, you are still stuck with limited mobile-first apps, and not all apps can be resized.
Price: HK$4,988 (64GB, Wi-fi model)
Microsoft Surface Go
The latest member of the Surface Pro family of convertible devices, the Surface Go is the smallest and lightest tablet from Microsoft, at just 522 grams.
Powered by an Intel Pentium Gold processor, the tablet comes with a USB-C port and 3.5mm headphone jack. Available in 64GB or 128GB variants, storage can be further beefed up with a microSD card much like the higher-end range of Surface Pro devices. And like the Surface Pro family, the Go’s keyboard – called the Signature Type Cover – is an optional accessory, as is the Surface Pen.
As a tablet, the Surface Go is a well-designed device with a brushed magnesium chassis that easily resists fingerprints.
The built-in kickstand bears special mention, allowing the Go to be positioned at practically any angle without the need for a case. Moreover, the front-facing Windows Hello facial recognition camera is much more secure than image-only cameras.
The downside is that tablet-optimised applications for the Windows platform are comparatively few and far between, diminishing its utility as a tablet for entertainment over the weekend.
As a productivity machine, the device is everything you love about the popular Surface Pro, but more compact.
While performance takes an unavoidable hit due to the slower processor, the Surface Go is more than adequate for basic tasks such as web browsing, replying to emails and running a few productivity apps.
The cover offers easily the best typing experience among tablets, with keys that are sized proportionately despite it not being a full-sized keyboard. I particularly liked the feel of the fabric material.
It must be noted that the Surface Go comes in a special Windows 10 “S Mode” that works exclusively with applications downloaded from the Microsoft Store. If you prefer to use it with regular Windows 10 applications, Microsoft lets users perform a one-time switch to Windows 10 Home edition, albeit at the expense of S Mode’s optimised performance and battery efficiency.
Price: HK$3,188 (64GB/4GB RAM), HK$4,288 (128GB/8GB RAM)
Apple iPad Pro (2018)
With the original iPad being the genesis of the modern tablet, the Apple iPad Pro needs little introduction.
Say what you like about the utility of the tablet form factor, this year’s iPad Pro is a breathtakingly beautiful device (my test unit had a 12.9-inch screen) equipped with enough processing capabilities to rival many laptops out there.
The switch from fingerprint reader to facial recognition made it possible for Apple to shrink the bezels to create its most desirable tablet yet. And if you can afford it, it is possible to configure the iPad Pro (2018) with as much as 1TB of built-in storage.
There is little doubt that the iPad Pro is in a class of its own as a tablet device. The improved TrueDepth camera works as well in landscape mode as in portrait, and at further distances and more extreme angles than ever. The device is extremely fast, though the performance gain over last year’s model is sometimes difficult to see outside specialised benchmarking applications.
That’s not to say the raw power is unnoticeable. Installing applications, downloading a few hundred Spotify songs for offline listening, saving tens of gigabytes of files from OneDrive for offline access – the iPad Pro did all these tasks much quicker than expected.
A third-party stand like the TwelveSouth Compass Pro for iPad is good for propping up the tablet.
For those who plan to do some heavy productivity work on the iPad Pro, Apple makes a keyboard case called the Smart Keyboard Folio. The case adheres magnetically to the tablet and offers two viewing angles depending on how the screen is positioned.
Crucially, the full-sized keyboard offers good key pitch despite being covered by a single piece of fabric that is designed to keep dust out.
Powered by a mature and polished iOS with features such as split screen multitasking and intuitive touch gestures to navigate apps, the iPad Pro offers a fluid and highly usable experience when it comes to productivity tasks.
On the other hand, the inherent limitations in iOS, such as the lack of direct access to the file system, do make many tasks harder than they need to be. Apple is constantly improving interoperability between apps, and new features such as Apple’s Files app are making things easier over time, but how well the iPad can work for you is ultimately dependent on the apps that you use.
Price: From HK$ 7,999 (12.9-inch, 64GB model)