Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra review: The best big Android tablet

Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra review: The best big Android tablet

A killer media machine, but you’ll pay for the privilege

Samsung’s hardware seems to have peaked recently: the company’s phones, smartwatches, and tablets all get just a little better with each new release. The Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra is no exception. It’s almost indistinguishable from the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra Samsung released in early 2022, with the same 14.6-inch AMOLED display, the same size and shape, the same quad speakers… you get the idea.

That hardly makes it a bad tablet, though; on the contrary, it’s one of the best. For the same (high) starting price, this year’s Tab S9 Ultra gets more storage, a faster chipset, IP68-rated dust and water resistance, and a new color option. It won’t make sense for you if you’ve already got a Tab S8 Ultra, but for anybody else looking for a big, premium Android slate, the Tab S9 Ultra is still the one to beat.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra

Source: Samsung

Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra

Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra is your best bet if you’re after the biggest tablet display around. With a 14.6-inch AMOLED panel, it’s perfect for entertainment and productivity alike. That said, its extra large footprint can make it difficult to hold, and the $1,200 starting price is sure to turn off plenty of potential buyers.

Storage
256GB/ 512GB/ 1TB (expandable with microSD card)

CPU
Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy

Memory
12GB/ 16GB

Operating System
Android 13, One UI 5.1.1

Battery
11,200mAh

Ports
Type-C, USB 3.2 Gen 2

Camera (Rear, Front)
13MP + 8MP ultrawide, 12MP + 12MP ultrawide

Display (Size, Resolution)
14.6″, 1848 x 2960 AMOLED, 60-120Hz

Size
208.6 x 326.4 x 5.5mm

Connectivity
Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.3

Colors
Beige, Graphite

IP RATING
IP68

Weight
732g (Wi-Fi)

Pros

  • Big, beautiful display and powerful speakers
  • Top-notch tablet performance
  • Free S Pen

Cons

  • XL footprint hurts ergonomics and portability
  • Android tablet apps are still a mixed bag
  • Seriously expensive

Price and availability

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra is available now, both directly from Samsung and through Best Buy. The Ultra starts at a blistering $1,200 for the base version with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. You can double that storage space for an additional $120, or get a model with 16GB of RAM and a whole terabyte of storage for $1,620. All models are available in either Graphite or Beige colors.

Design and hardware

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This tablet is large. In landscape orientation, the Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra is eight inches tall and a more than a foot wide. Its display, a 14.6-inch AMOLED panel, is larger than my laptop’s. Even compared to other large tablets like the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, the Ultra stands apart: you’re just not going to find any other 16:10 tablet this big. It’s also crazy thin at a thickness of 5.5mm. Being so large and so thin, it looks extremely delicate. The Tab S9 Ultra does flex a little if you try, but it feels more substantial than its first appearance may imply.

The entire Galaxy Tab S9 series is IP68 rated, meaning the S9 Ultra can survive submersion in a meter and a half of water for up to 30 minutes. As big as this thing is, I can’t see myself taking it to the beach, but it’s good to have assurance your $1,200 tablet won’t be ruined if you spill your drink on it.

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A 13-inch MacBook Air next to the Tab S9 Ultra.

Unlike most tablets, the Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra has a built-in vibration motor. It’s not a very good one, though; haptics are loose and loud. The physical feedback can be nice in games that support it, but I’ve otherwise found it more annoying than helpful. I ended up turning vibration off altogether within a couple of days with the tablet.

Like all Galaxy S tablets, the Tab S9 Ultra comes bundled with an S Pen stylus that attaches to the back of the tablet magnetically to charge. New for this generation, though, the S Pen can charge with its tip pointed in either direction — in previous models, it had to be pointed in the right direction to top up. It’s IP68 certified, too, just like the tablet itself. The tablet also includes a nice, long, USB-C-to-C cable, but there’s no power brick (of course).

Display and speakers

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The screen is the real star of the show here: the Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra packs an absolutely massive 14.6-inch AMOLED display at a resolution of 1,848 x 2,960 and a 120Hz refresh rate. With its huge footprint, razor-thin bezels, and distinctive notch to accommodate dual front-facing cameras, you won’t mistake Tab S9 Ultra for any other tablet (except maybe the nearly identical Tab S8 Ultra).

Samsung makes the best mobile displays out there, and that prowess really shines on a screen this large. You know the score by now: detail is sharp, viewing angles are excellent, colors really pop, and the 120Hz refresh rate makes navigating One UI a joy. Counter to many of Samsung’s LTPO phone displays, the S9 Ultra only supports 120 and 60Hz refresh rates; it won’t dynamically go lower when showing static content. That’s more of a battery concern, though — it doesn’t affect the visual quality of the display at all.

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This is actually fine.

Having such a gigantic display, the Tab S9 Ultra is excellent for watching video — and the 16:10 aspect ratio means letterboxing for standard 16:9 media isn’t too distracting. The tablet also has four speakers, one at each corner, to allow for stereo sound in portrait or landscape orientation. These speakers are very robust; the Tab S9 Ultra won’t replace a good Bluetooth speaker, but it can fill a small room with sound that seems too full to come from such a thin device. The media experience here is really very impressive.

The wide form factor does make the tablet a little awkward to use in portrait orientation, giving it a sort of top-heavy feeling. The S9 Ultra is obviously meant to be used primarily in landscape, but it’s still a little bit annoying for certain use cases, like playing portrait-orientation mobile games or reading comics. If you’re using the tablet like this for longer stretches, you’ll probably want to set it down on a table or your lap — though that’s really the case in landscape, too.

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Using the tablet handheld in either orientation can get a little dicey because of its superthin bezels; it can be hard to grip it in a way that doesn’t cover a little bit of the screen. For longer sessions using the tablet on the couch, I generally either lay it in my lap or hold it in the palm of my left hand while I tap the screen with my right. Either option works well enough, but I really just wish the thing was more comfortable to hold for more than a couple of minutes at a time.

There’s an ultrasonic fingerprint sensor under the display for unlocking the tablet. It’s in a comfortable spot, just above the USB-C port, and it’s just as quick and reliable as the sensors in Samsung’s phones.

Software and performance

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The Galaxy Tab S9 series is launching with Android 13 and Samsung’s One UI 5.1.1 software skin running on top — no One UI 6 here (at least not yet). Samsung’s tablet software is the best you’re going to find on Android, with tons of features and optimizations that make great use of the larger form factor.

You can run up to three applications at once in split-screen, and freely adjust the size of each. On top of that, One UI lets you add an app in a floating window over top, for a total of up to four apps running on screen at once. I don’t often want to multitask quite so much on my tablets, but it’s not hard to imagine use cases. You could run a mobile game on half the screen while the other half shows a game guide and a chat app, or draw while also watching a tutorial and browsing Spotify. That kind of everything-at-once experience might sound a little overwhelming (I typically stick to two apps at a time, personally), but if you’re the kind of user who might want it, there’s no better way to get it on Android.

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DeX Mode, Samsung’s long-running desktop experience for Galaxy devices, is here too. When you connect a keyboard and a mouse to the Tab S9 Ultra, or connect the Tab to an external display, the interface changes to a more traditionally PC-like experience, complete with a customizable desktop and dock. Apps open in familiar floating windows that can be resized or minimized into the dock, just your desktop OS of choice.

If you’re used to Windows, MacOS, or even ChromeOS, there’ll be a bit of a learning curve with DeX Mode, and you’ll almost certainly run into limitations you don’t normally deal with, but it’s a flexible option. You can even use the tablet as both a touchpad and a software keyboard when you’re using DeX with an external display — which isn’t a great experience, but it is neat, and could come in handy if you’re just trying to get your Netflix account onto your Airbnb’s TV.

samsung-galaxy-tab-s9-ultra-rear

Android’s tablet apps are the same here as on every other Android tablet — which is to say, a lot of them aren’t great. Big-ticket apps like Twitter X and Instagram are blown-up phone apps, and even some of Google’s own Android apps aren’t well optimized for the big screen, despite the company’s recent renewed interest in the form factor. Samsung’s killer multitasking features do help mitigate this shortcoming, but if you haven’t used an Android tablet in a while, be aware a lot of the apps still don’t look great full-screen — especially on a screen this big.

Performance out of the Tab S9 Ultra’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset, paired with 12 gigs of RAM, is great. Apps open in a flash, swapping between tasks is very fluid, and the games I’ve tried all run very well. With such a thin chassis packed so tightly with power-hungry parts, the Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra does warm up a little under load, but I haven’t ever noticed it getting outright hot to the touch.

Cameras

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The Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra has four cameras: a 13MP wide and an 8MP ultrawide on the back, and a pair of 12MP cameras on the front. They’re all about as good as you could hope tablet cameras would be. The rear cameras are decent for snapping the odd picture of a kid or pet, and the front-facing cameras are both plenty high quality enough for video calls.

The ultrawide front-facing camera has an option for what Samsung calls “auto framing,” which uses software to zoom in on the subject of a video and keep it in frame. The feature works well, and in my testing, responded quickly enough as I moved around the frame. I don’t know when I’d ever actually need a feature like this — it’s meant for video calls, and when I’m on one of those, I’m sitting in one place — but it’s a nice option for anybody who might want it.

Battery and charging

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Battery life on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra is quite good — I haven’t managed to tap its 11,200mAh cell in a single day yet. In my experience with the tablet so far, it’s been able to see me through nine to 12 hours of mixed-use per charge, spread out over two to three days. I’m not the most demanding user, though — if you’re marathoning through Genshin Impact, the tablet won’t last as long for you as it does for me. For general use, though — reading, watching videos, and playing less demanding games — you’ll probably only be charging a couple of times per week.

The Tab S9 Ultra can charge at up to 45 watts over USB-C, the same rated speed as the rest of the Tab S9 series. That puts charging time from empty to full at about an hour and a half. I’ve typically been charging the tablet overnight, so that speed suits me just fine, but for such a huge battery, it’s hard to call 45 watts fast. The smaller, decidedly less premium OnePlus Pad can charge at up to 67 watts, and it would be nice to see Samsung step it up on this front, even if only for its Ultra tablets.

Competition

There isn’t a ton of competition in the enormous tablet space right now. The Lenovo Tab Extreme is a similarly large Android tablet with a 14.5-inch OLED display, and with a starting price of $950, it costs considerably less than the $1,200 Tab S9 Ultra. Performance out of the Lenovo tablet’s MediaTek chipset can’t match what the Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra can do with its Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, though, and Samsung’s big-screen software tricks are unrivaled in the Android space.

You might also consider the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, which starts at $1,100. Compared to the Tab S9 Ultra, the iPad Pro enjoys access to more optimized tablet apps and offers unbeatable performance thanks to its M2 chipset. The iPad’s screen is mini LED, though, not OLED. And while the Tab S9 Ultra comes bundled with its stylus, the Apple Pencil is a separate purchase. iPadOS is also likely to be a deal-breaker for Android enthusiasts.

Should you buy it?

samsung-galaxy-tab-s9-ultra-s-pen-charging

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra is clearly not for everyone. If you’re intrigued by the slate’s size but don’t know exactly what you’d use it for, I don’t think it’ll be a good fit for you. After a couple of weeks with the tablet, I do like it more than I expected to — its giant, beautiful screen is hard not to love, and Samsung’s tablet software is really very good. But I find myself wishing it were smaller more often than not. As nice as it is to watch a video or play a game on the thing, its extra-large footprint makes it less portable and harder to handle than even something like the Galaxy Tab S9+.

I could see it being a good everything device for a small subset of users: it turns into a sort-of PC when you attach a keyboard or an external monitor, and its display and speakers make it absolutely killer for media consumption. But at the same time, for the $1,200+ this thing costs, you could get any number of Windows or Mac laptops that’ll be miles better for productivity — or a PlayStation 5 and a pretty nice TV to go with it.

And if you already have last year’s Tab S8 Ultra, I see very little reason to upgrade here. The new model is a little more powerful, comes with an IP rating, and will get software updates for longer (the S8 series is already a year and a half old, well into its update lifespan). Otherwise, though, if you’re already sure there’s a way a big, honkin’ Samsung tablet could fit into your life — and you can afford the hefty price of admission — you won’t be disappointed in the Tab S9 Ultra.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra

Source: Samsung

Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra

Samsung’s 2023 flagship Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra features an expansive 14.6-inch AMOLED screen, a Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy chip, a quad-speaker sound system, dual front-facing cameras, and powerful multitasking and productivity features.

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