Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 FE: Can it offer a flagship experience at a budget price?

Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 FE: Can it offer a flagship experience at a budget price?

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 Fan Edition, or FE, is the latest addition to Samsung’s FE line of affordable flagship devices. If you didn’t already know, Samsung now positions its FE devices as budget flagships. But this wasn’t the case when it first started with the Galaxy Note 7 FE. That was basically the discontinued Galaxy Note 7 with a safer battery. Why Samsung then decided to use the FE for budget flagships is beyond me, but I digress.

The Galaxy Tab S7 FE essentially shares the same footprint as the Galaxy Tab S7+. But to target a lower starting price point of RM1,899, it sheds some of the flagship components that are typically found in an S series device. So the question now becomes, without these flagship components, can the Galaxy Tab S7 FE still deliver the same flagship experience as its bigger brothers, the Galaxy Tab S7/S7+? Let’s take a closer look at what’s different with this device.

Feels like a flagship device, until you turn it on

Holding the device in your hands, you will immediately notice that whatever corners Samsung cut to lower the price, it wasn’t in the build quality. It feels like it’s made out of the same aluminium chassis as the Galaxy Tab S7 series that you will be hard-pressed to tell them apart. The only tell-tale sign is the lack of a darkened horizontal strip across the camera module to indicate the S Pen’s mounting location. Apart from that, the layout of the buttons and ports are identical to the flagship Galaxy Tab S7+.

Turning on the device, you will notice the first compromise that Samsung made. The display here is of the TFT LCD kind and not the more premium AMOLED. As a result, expect for backlight glow which is especially noticeable when displaying a black image, which will look greyish. If you’re used to the deep blacks and vibrant colours of an AMOLED display, you might notice that Spiderman into the Spiderverse looks like a different movie on the Galaxy Tab S7 FE.

In the Galaxy Tab S7 FE’s defence, the difference in picture quality is only noticeable when you compare it side-by-side with its AMOLED equipped counterpart. Furthermore, the display is crisp and sharp with a resolution of 1600 x 2560 pixels, which is plenty for a 12.4” screen size. Additionally, the screen is direct-lit instead of edge-lit, thus creating a more uniform light spread across the display.

Something worth noting is the light glow from the black bars at the top and bottom of the display when watching a movie. During the day, it will go unnoticed for the most part, but at night or in a dark room, the light glow from the black bars will be more prominent. So to some, it might be distracting, especially in darker scenes of a movie.

As for audio, the tablet makes do with just two stereo speakers compared to four on the Tab S7/S7+, but the speakers do a good job at producing a good audio experience. Samsung blessed this tablet with Dolby Atmos audio processing. But don’t expect the sound to come above you like it would from a surround sound system. The best the AKG tuned speakers can achieve is creating audio that sounds like it’s coming from just above the tablet. The speakers can also produce a good soundstage, so for example, action happening on the left will sound like it’s coming from the left side of the tablet.

I was quite satisfied with the performance of the speakers, but if you prefer private listening, be prepared to use a pair of wireless headphones, or enter the dongle life. Look as hard as you want, but you will not find a 3.5mm headphone jack on this tablet. This is definitely a shortcoming, but then again, with the current trend of manufacturers omitting the port, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Enough power on tap for a great S Pen experience

Powering Samsung’s OneUI 3.1 running on top of Android 11 is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 778G SoC paired with either 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage or 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. Both variants offer expandable storage via a microSD card up to 1TB. Before using the device, I did not glance at its spec sheet and if someone had told me that the Tab S7 FE was running the same Snapdragon 865+ flagship processor as the Tab S7/S7+, I would have believed them. Navigating the OS is smooth and snappy, apps launch swiftly, and switching between apps is a breeze.

There are a few caveats though. Firstly, you will notice the performance deficiency in graphic-intensive games. Expect frame drops and stuttering during gameplay, and for certain games that have graphic options, you might not be able to crank it all the way up. Secondly, you can forget about 4K video editing on this tablet, but 1080p video editing is still on the table. Lastly, and this is something I found out accidentally, the Snapdragon 778G SoC is unable to playback 4K at 60fps on YouTube, but 4K at 30 fps is no sweat. Nevertheless, 4K is not the native resolution of the display so turning it down to 1440p at 60 fps still produces a sharp image.

For this review, I used the tablet as a sketchbook for the most part as it comes with an included stylus. The S Pen that is included with the Tab S7 FE is a basic unit without Bluetooth, unlike the unit paired with the Tab S7/S7+. Therefore, you will not find Samsung Air Actions, which lets you mime a symbol in the air with the S Pen and have it trigger an app or command. I personally don’t find this feature useful as I never used it once on my Galaxy Note 9, but if you do see a use for it, you can get the optional RM499 S Pen Pro and pair it to the tablet.

Regardless Samsung’s S Pen is one of, if not the best consumer stylus on the market and as a result, the included S Pen was a joy to use. I found myself choosing to write rather than to type my notes. The tip of the S Pen glided smoothly on the surface of the display with just enough resistance to provide control.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 FE: Can it offer a flagship experience at a budget price?

Compared to the hard tip of my gen one Apple Pencil, which I feel like it’s going to wear down my iPad screen, it was a more natural writing experience for me. Don’t get me wrong, the Pencil probably isn’t causing any ACTUAL wear to my screen, but it just FEELS like it could y’know? As for latency between the pen and display, well if there was any, it was imperceptible. The taller aspect ratio of the device also meant that I didn’t have to change pages often and was able to fit all my notes on one page.

My only niggle with the device while taking notes was the accuracy of the palm rejection. For those unfamiliar with that term, it means the device can sense that your palm is touching the screen and reject the input, as to not do things like scroll the page when you’re dragging your palm across the screen while writing. The palm rejection works just fine when the whole palm is on the screen. However, as my palm gets closer to the right edge and starts to straddle between the display and the bezel, the palm rejection algorithm can, in a rare instance, get confused and start glitching, flicking the page up and down.

Handicapped by its own manufacturer

Now I know that not everyone buying a tablet will find a use for the S Pen. Some need a compact machine for work and thus would use a device like this with a keyboard. Yes, the Galaxy Tab S7 FE can keep up with word processor apps like MS Word and comes with Samsung DeX, which changes the user interface (UI) to a more PC-like experience. These applications work best with a keyboard and mouse, so you would expect Samsung to provide a keyboard case that would turn the tablet into a laptop, right?

Boy, do I have disappointing news for you guys. Just for context, both the Galaxy Tab S7 and S7+ come with a keyboard case included in a box. The case comes in two pieces — a keyboard and a magnetic rear cover with an adjustable kickstand. As such, you have the flexibility of just using just the kickstand without needing to fumble with the keyboard.

However, for some reason, Samsung is not including the keyboard case with the Galaxy Tab S7 FE. It does come with connector pins at the bottom for the keyboard case, so what gives?“Well, that’s an easy fix” you might say, “just get the keyboard case separately, done deal.” That would be fine if Samsung Malaysia did sell it as a separate accessory, but they don’t. But a simple search online will hail sellers offering the case sold by Samsung’s U.S counterpart from upwards of RM800.

At this point, Samsung Malaysia has two alternative options for you. Firstly, you have the book cover keyboard slim which would set you back RM659. For that price you lose tilt adjustment, so you’re stuck with one fixed angle. So why pay extra when the keyboard case that Samsung was supposed to include with the Galaxy Tab S7 FE would have been functionally better?

This brings me to their second, and recommended option. Up until 31stMarch, Samsung Malaysia will be bundling the Smart Keyboard Trio 500 together with the Galaxy Tab S7 FE. To be clear, this does not attach to the Tab S7 FE and is just a traditional Bluetooth keyboard. It does come with all the function keys for navigating Samsung’s One UI. Additionally, it also includes 3 assignable keys to quickly launch your most-used apps and a key to launch Samsung Dex. Since it’s just a Bluetooth keyboard, you can connect it to any Bluetooth equipped device and switch between 3 devices on the fly. The switching is not fast as you need to wait for a few seconds for the keyboard to reconnect – similar to other Bluetooth keyboards – and with my Huawei laptop at least, it refused to reconnect on more than one occasion, but it could just be my laptop.

Typing on the keyboard I would say is mediocre at best because the spacing between the keys is too cramped for my large hands and I find myself hitting the wrong keys more than I like. The keys themselves are stiffly sprung and coupled with shallow key travel, the typing experience was jarring for me. My fingers didn’t flow from one key to the next smoothly and in turn, I couldn’t get up to my usual typing speed. So, if this is your prefered keyboard setup and you got it for free, it’s fine.

Otherwise, if you can live without the custom keys for navigating OneUI and launching Dex, for its retail price of RM179, there are better options out there for typing comfort. For example, my colleague Dzamira uses a Logitech K380 which by comparison has noticeably more key travel and are softly sprung without feeling mushy. Therefore, even though the K380 shared the same cramped layout as the Trio 500, I found myself hitting the wrong key less often.

This is also a perfect time to mention some other useful things missing on the Galaxy Tab S7 FE. There is no under-display fingerprint scanner, instead, you get face recognition which means you can’t easily unlock the device while it’s lying flat on the table. But, maybe the under-display fingerprint scanner was not designed to work with the Galaxy Tab S7 FE’s LCD. The thing that I don’t get is why there is no LED flash on this device? So, I’m supposed to use a torchlight to light up documents I want to scan with the camera in poorly lit conditions?

Speaking about cameras, not that it matters a lot on a tablet, but there’s an 8MP unit at the back, capable of shooting up to1080p30. Selfies are handled by a 5MP camera that also does 1080p30. Realistically, most who buy a tablet are not planning on using this bulky device to frame the perfect shot. The rear camera will suffice for scanning documents while the front will be just right for video calls with your friends and family.

Samsung does reclaim some points in the battery department with a massive 10,090mAh battery. I got six hours and 20 mins of screen on time using just Microsoft Word and Samsung Notes with 10% battery remaining. As for content consumption, I got eight hours and 30 minutes of screen time playing a gameplay video of Crysis 2 Remastered at 1440p60 on YouTube, with 14% battery remaining. When the time comes to recharge the battery, the Tab S7 FE supports fast-charging up to 45W, but there’s a caveat – you need to supply your own 45W charger because it comes with a dinky 15W charger in the box. I did not have Samsung’s official 45W charger on hand, so I used the included 15W charger. This got me from 0 to 100% in approximately three hours and 10 mins. But on the bright side, the 15W charger comes in the box. I did try using my laptop’s 65W power delivery (PD) charger, but it still took about the same amount of time.

Does it offer a flagship experience?

So, now with everything we now know about the Galaxy Tab S7 FE, we can answer the question at the beginning of this article — does the lack of flagship-class hardware affect its ability to deliver a flagship experience? Well, that depends on who ends up buying the tablet. The retail price of the Galaxy Tab S7 FE is:

For those planning on using the S Pen to write notes and draw, the Galaxy Tab S7 FE is the cheapest new device to offer the S Pen experience at RM1,899. Coupled with a high-resolution display, big battery, and a capable processor, it does bring the flagship experience at an affordable price.

On the other hand, if you want to use this for work that involves a lot of word processing, without an all-in-one keyboard solution, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 FE just feels handicapped. You will need to carry a Bluetooth keyboard and a mobile stand to prop the device up, on top of the device itself. Also, it doesn’t help that there is no 4G LTE version for mobile connectivity.

My recommendation if you’re not too particular with the operating system would be to get Apple’s base model iPad if you want something compact for work. The iPad starts from RM1,499 for the 64GB model and offers Apple’s A13 Bionic processor. This processor, though old, is a flagship processor that used to outperform every other mobile processor in its day. It can handle a lot more than the Snapdragon 778G can and will continue to receive software support for longer than the Galaxy Tab S7 FE.

Furthermore, for an additional RM220 over the starting price of the Galaxy Tab S7 FE, you can get an 4G LTE version of the iPad, which will give you the flexibility of working from anywhere. The only niggle with the iPad is its non-expandable storage, but that said, it does support external USB storage devices. It also isn’t as good as the Tab S7 FE for media consumption because of its speaker layout, but the overall experience still gives it the leg up.

Photography by Zachary Yoong with the Sony A7 III.

Tags: ReviewSamsungSamsung Galaxy Tab S7 FESamsung Galaxy Tab S7 FE Malaysia
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George Washington

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