We could argue about iOS vs Android on smartphones until the cows come home, but there is much less room for that fight when it comes to tablets. iPads are simply better tablet purchases for the majority of people.
Easy of use, a huge app store, decent battery life, and software updates for around four years are the building blocks of an even simpler decision for most people – the iPad is so ubiquitous, most people just say ‘iPad’ to mean any tablet.
That dominant reputation is well placed, then, when the Android tablet world is such a wild west. Android phones manufacturers have honed their craft in the last decade to produce phones that it’s easy to argue are as good as an iPhone. But tablets have fallen by the wayside, with no company aside from Samsung regularly releasing tablets on a global stage to take the fight to Apple.
My first impressions of Samsung’s new Galaxy Tab S7 and S7 Plus after a hands-on session feel different though. They are a pair of tablets that are able, on paper and in price, to stand up to the iPad Pro and its high-end tablet market dominance at least in terms of pure hardware.
The regular S7 costs from AU$1,149 with an 11-inch LCD screen, compared to the 11-inch iPad Pro’s AU$1,329. The larger 12.4-inch S7 Plus costs from AU$1,549 and has an OLED screen, and is competing with Apple’s 128GB 12.9-inch iPad Pro with its LCD display. All four models at these prices come with 128GB storage.
Price isn’t everything, but particularly on the Tab S7 Plus, Samsung has on paper made a tablet with a better display as it’s a 120Hz refresh rate OLED panel compared to the iPad Pro’s 120Hz LCD. Don’t get me wrong, the iPad Pro’s display is probably the best calibrated LCD on the market but the Tab S7 Plus’ screen simply looks even better.
You can kit out the Tab S7 Plus with 8GB RAM, 256GB storage and 5G for AU$2,049. A 12.9-inch iPad Pro with 4G and 256GB costs AU$2,069, so Samsung is giving you next-gen networking and an arguably better display for the same price.
But the iPad and iPad Pro’s dominance in the market isn’t just down to the hardware. It’s all about the software, the place where the majority of Android tablet competition falls down and falls down hard. Because the iPad is the default tablet, developers bother to optimise their apps for the iPad’s larger display, with the majority of popular apps designed to fit the display and not just be a blown-up phone app.
Android suffers in this regard – apps run but boy are many of them not optimised for that larger display. The risk of putting down two grand on the Tab S7 Plus is that even the simplest of apps won’t run as you’d expect on a tablet that is trying to be a laptop.
So I’ve run down the specs situation, but I’ll bring it back to the most important thing, which is what people actually buy tablets for in the first place.
Neither the Tab S7 range or the iPad Pro come with the keyboard cover for the price even though they are designed to be used in landscape mode and connected to those keyboards if you want to use them like laptops. Both companies will argue that they keyboards are optional because some will only want to use the Apple Pencil or Samsung S-Pen for creative illustrations, or maybe to record music onto thus not requiring a keyboard.
Samsung puts its money where its mouth is in this regard by including the S-Pen in the both with the Tab S7 and S7 Plus. But the iPad Pro does not ever come with an accessory bundled.
Where Samsung might convince a few people to plump for it over the iPad Pro is with its DeX mode. DeX debuted on phones where plugging one into a monitor presents your apps in a Windows-style desktop with windowing and a taskbar. This mode is on the Tab S7 range and makes more sense as a switchable mode on a tablet that is clearly designed and marketed as a productivity machine.
With the iPad Pro, you can in iOS whether the tablet is in your hand or docked with a keyboard. That works for some people, but every year the kickback as to whether the iPad Pro can truly replace your MacBook is met with doubt from reviewers and buyers who just can’t quit the paradigms of windowed computing.
If Samsung can prove DeX works well and quickly turns a beautiful high-end screen into a laptop experience that more people can get their head round then the company might convert a few doubters. But until developers jump on board and make sure those apps display correctly, the iPad and iPad Pro remain the most sensible way to part with a very large amount of cash.