Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra review

Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra review

Video Transcript


NATHAN INGRAHAM: Never let it be said that Samsung doesn't take big swings. Take the Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra, for example. The $1,200 tablet costs more than most laptops and has a somewhat ludicrous 14.6in screen, surpassing the already large 12.4in Galaxy Tab S9 Plus and the 12.9in iPad Pro.

I find the iPad Pro a bit too big to use handheld for very long and the S9 Ultra is even more unwieldy. As such, I dismiss the S9 Ultra initially. There's no doubt it's a well made and powerful device, but I wasn't sure exactly how to best use it. That all changed when I got my hands on a keyboard and mouse and put the S9 Ultra through its paces as a productivity device.

The price may still be prohibitive. And there are some things I'd change about the tablet. But pairing the hardware with Samsung's DeX software turns it into an intriguing device, even if it's still not one I'd recommend for most people.


If you've never used DeX before, here's a quick overview. Samsung first introduced the software in 2017 as part of the Galaxy S8 smartphone launch. When paired with a dock and a monitor, DeX gives your device a desktop style experience, very similar to using Windows or Chrome OS. For my money, DeX makes a lot more sense on a tablet rather than a phone, and it transformed the S9 Ultra into a computer. I could work on basically all day long with minimal issues.

DeX mode reminds me a lot of using a Chromebook. There's a NAV bar at the bottom that shows any open app you're running, and you can pin things there to get back to them quickly.

Chrome OS runs the full desktop version of the Chrome browser, but on the S9 Ultra, all the apps you have access to here are built for Android and come from the Google Play store or Samsung's own App Store.

Historically, the biggest issue with Android tablets is how few Android apps are built to take advantage of bigger screens. And that's still the case now. But since DeX lets you resize any app, you can make things fit properly in Windows that don't waste space.

For example, the Slack app still doesn't have a left hand sidebar like you'll find on the desktop app or on the iPad. That's annoying. But at least it can make Slack a narrower phone-sized app that doesn't have a ton of wasted white space. And apps that do have a multi-column interface, like basically all of Google's first-party software are downright pleasant to use.

Google Calendar, Gmail, Keep, Notes, Drive, and Docs all worked just as I'd expect. A few other crucial apps like Todoist, Spotify, and Trello also feel well designed for a larger screen.

Probably the biggest issue I had with the S9 Ultra in DeX mode is the fact that Chrome for Android isn't quite as capable as the full desktop version. Sites typically render well, but they also tend to default to a mobile view. Less sites have a mobile-specific version that they automatically load these days, but it still happens often enough to be disconcerting.

That said, I was surprised to learn that I could run the full web version of Slack on Chrome, an experience that's actually a lot better than using the Android app. All of this almost makes up for the fact that when I remove the S9 Ultra from its keyboard case, that costs an additional $199 or $349 for the model of the trackpad. There's very little I want to actually do with this tablet.

It's extremely well made like most Samsung products. It's thin, light, has minimal bezels around the screen, and generally feels like the expensive premium product that it is. But thanks to the 16 by 10 aspect ratio and its sheer size, it's very awkward to use as a tablet.

It's fine for watching videos. The amazing quality and high resolution of the OLED display makes it a wonderful experience. And the speakers that Samsung managed to cram in here sound better than they have any right, too. But actually interacting with things on the screen is trying and generally not worth it. It's just too big.

If you're not in DeX mode, the S9 Ultra has limited multitasking capabilities. You can split the screen and up to four different apps, each occupying a different quadrant of the screen. I found having a one big one on one half and two smaller ones split on the other half to be more useful. But, again, the tablet is just too big to comfortably use.

The one use case the S9 Ultra could excel at in tablet mode is using it as an artist's canvas. The included S Pen, which magnetically attaches to the back for charging and storage is an excellent stylus. And Samsung has years of experience tuning its performance.

The S Pen is incredibly responsive. Samsung says latency has been reduced to 2.8 milliseconds. And I certainly felt no lag when testing it. I'm no visual artist so I haven't been able to push the limits of what the S Pen and various Android software can do. But the combo of a low lag pen and the S9 Ultra's massive screen make for a potent combo. I can't help but think that most people would be better spending their money on something else, though.

As impressed as I am with DeX, I could easily get a Mac or PC laptop that can run far more software for less money. And while I think the iPad is a better choice for most people who want a tablet, Samsung's own 11 and 12.4in Galaxy Tab S9 and S9 Plus have basically the same specs, high-quality design, and excellent screens for less money.

If you're still intrigued by the S9 Ultra, I'd recommend trying to find one you can check out in person first and see if it feels like something that you want to spend $1,200 on.

Thanks for tuning in. And stay tuned to Engadget for more news, reviews, and other videos.