Samsung revamped one of its 2016 hybrids while simultaneously creating a challenger to Microsoft’s Surface family. Last year’s Galaxy TabPro S was a thin-and-light tablet powered by a Skylake Core M processor and featuring an OLED display. While stunning, the OLED display raised questions about the longevity of the device, and the tablet itself was lacking in connectivity options.
The new Galaxy Book tries to fix some of that while keeping the good parts intact: it’s a slim Windows tablet, accompanied by a folio keyboard case and S Pen stylus, that’s vying to replace your regular laptop by enticing you with Ultrabook-grade internals. The Galaxy Book comes in 10- and 12-inch models, but both are very different, not just in their screen size, but in internal quality as well. While Samsung managed to right some of the wrongs of the TabPro S, it’s hard to make a case for the Galaxy Book replacing your everyday work device.
Look and feel
As the next iteration of the TabPro S, the Galaxy Book’s kicker is its 12-inch, 2160×1400 Super AMOLED display. It produces highly saturated colors and rich blacks that make photo and video viewing (or editing) a vibrant experience. But since it is an OLED panel, I ran into the same issues that Ars’ Peter Bright did while reviewing the TabPro S: the pixels in OLED panels degrade over time. Areas of the screen that are brightly lit grow dimmer more quickly than areas of the screen that stay dark.
This degradation is much faster and more uneven than the gradual backlight dimming of LCD screens. Samsung tries to slow that process as much as possible with the use of screensavers and screen-dimming software. You can turn off the screensaver completely, but, just like with the TabPro S, there’s no straightforward way to stop the display from dimming after about 10 minutes of inactivity.
Samsung included this feature for good reason: similar to the Tab Pro S, screen-dimming will help reduce the effects of the pixel degradation. Since the Galaxy Book is positioned as a productivity two-in-one, users will be tapping, typing, and writing with the device, presumably for hours on end. Screen dimming will likely increase the longevity of the device overall, even if it was an annoying obstacle during our testing.
The bezels surrounding the display are a bit wide (the biggest measuring about .75-inches), but the bezel that sits at the top of the tablet in laptop mode holds the front-facing 5MP camera. Mirroring its placement on the back of the tablet is the 13MP rear camera. This isn’t complemented by a cutout on the keyboard cast like the TabPro S’s rear camera had. Instead, the plastic flap covering the camera is narrower than the other two sections of the case’s back, so you can simply fold it down to reveal the camera and not much else. Still, having the cutout is more convenient because you don’t have an extra step to complete before taking a photo.
Being a tablet, the Galaxy Book doesn’t have many ports on its edges. Both of the short sides sport speaker grills, the right side holds the two USB Type-C ports and a headphone jack, and the opposite side holds a microSD card slot. The power and volume buttons are at the top edge of the device for easy access when in laptop mode. I appreciate that Samsung added an additional USB Type-C port since the TabPro S only had one, and I really appreciate that you can charge the device through either of those ports. That being said, I would have been elated if some adaptors like USB Type-C to Type A were included in the box as well.
Otherwise, the Galaxy Book is your typical metal slab-like tablet. Our review model, the 12-inch Galaxy Book, is better positioned for work and serious productivity, not only thanks to its size but also its internals. Comparatively, the 10-inch device requires compromising at every corner: it has a 10-inch TFT 1920×1080 display, Core m3 processor, 4GB of RAM, either 64 or 128GB of storage (but it does have the microSD card slot, so you can expand that to 256GB), no rear-facing camera, and no LTE option. Both the 10- and 12-inch models conveniently have onboard GPS and GLONASS, so you’re not forced into the LTE option if you want a GPS on the tablet. The 10-inch Galaxy Book starts at $629, which is much lower than the $1,129 starting price of the 12-inch model (our model comes in at $1,329).
Keyboard, trackpad, and S Pen
The included keyboard case wraps around the entire Galaxy Book slab. Unlike the TabPro S, which had two viewing angles using the back magnetic flap of the case, the Galaxy Book has four. I typically kept mine on the second-highest angle, as that and the highest position are best for basic work like Web browsing and typing. I didn’t use the second-lowest position much at all, but it’s likely better for using the S Pen instead of the trackpad to navigate. I love taking notes, so the S Pen mostly came in handy with the Galaxy Book in tablet mode. Artists may also like the lowest mode that leans the tablet back so much that it’s nearly flat, using only the smallest flap (the one covering the rear camera) for support.
The absence of a kickstand makes the Galaxy Book look and feel much more like a tablet than a two-in-one. The keyboard case provides a fairly stable stand for the slab, even while working with the device on your lap. However, it’s not nearly as secure as a device with a kickstand would be, like HP’s updated Spectre x2 or the newly announced Surface Pro devices.
The Galaxy Book isn’t as stable as a regular laptop, either. You need stability for any two-in-one to succeed on a fundamental level, and devices with built-in kickstands (particularly those you can adjust to sit at different viewing angles) are arguably better suited for stability in unstable environments. The flap of the keyboard case sticks nicely to the back of the Galaxy Book, but just fiddling with it to adjust the viewing angle requires attention to make sure it’s completely secure at the angle you want. If you misalign the magnets, the tablet will fall backward.
The island-layout, full-sized keyboard is one of the better tablet keyboards I’ve used. There’s decent travel between the keys, and Samsung didn’t misplace or leave out any crucial keys. The Backspace key is slightly smaller than normal, but not small enough to impact my typing speed or cause many mistakes. I managed many hours of typing on this device with no fatigue or discomfort. The trackpad is just as pleasant to use with its smooth-to-the-touch feel and gesture support. It’s a Precision Touchpad, supporting the full range of built-in Windows touch gestures.
The included S Pen is similar to what’s included in Samsung’s Chromebook Pro. However, the Galaxy Book doesn’t have a built-in slot to keep the pen close. Instead, the box includes an adhesive sleeve you can attach to an indentation on the keyboard case. The sleeve places the pen at the left side of the keyboard at all times. The pen’s 0.7mm tip is precise and easy to use to write, sketch, or highlight, and neither the S Pen nor keyboard require charging, so you never have to worry about battery life with either of these accessories. The pen’s latency was barely noticeable, but it wasn’t exactly the same as the elevated writing experience found on the Chromebook Pro.
One of my favorite features of the Tab S3 is Samsung’s Air Command, and that’s also ready to go on the Galaxy Book. With the pen tip close to the display, you can bring up the Air Command menu by pressing the singular side button on the S Pen. By default, five apps pop up, letting you quickly grab a screenshot, write notes, select parts of the screen, and more. I will say that the side button is awkwardly placed, at least for me and how I hold a pen naturally. While taking notes and gripping the pen normally, I often accidentally clicked the side button
Air Command makes using the S Pen much easier in situations where you wouldn’t necessarily think to use a stylus. There are plenty of shortcuts for Windows users already, but making some important ones (like taking a scribble-ready screenshot) readily accessible in a pen-only menu encourages users to pick up the S Pen more often. I only wish you could customize the app shortcuts in Air Command like you can on the Tab S3 Android tablet. On this Windows device, you have to make do with just the five apps programmed into Air Command: create note, view all notes, smart select, screen write, and show window.
Samsung doesn’t add much bloatware to the Galaxy Book, but the company hopes users will take advantage of Samsung Flow. Flow is Samsung’s software for sharing information, including notifications, photos, and documents, between different Samsung devices that are connected via Bluetooth. If you have a Samsung smartphone, you can unlock the Galaxy Book by using your fingerprint on the smartphone’s reader. You can also share documents easily between the two devices and receive smartphone notifications on the two-in-one.
Flow certainly makes life easier for those with many Samsung devices. Flow also provides the only biometric security features for the Galaxy Book. The Book doesn’t have an IR camera or an onboard fingerprint sensor, so the only way you’ll get around using a password or PIN will be by using your fingerprint to unlock Flow on a Galaxy smartphone. I’m glad there’s some form of biometric security available for the Galaxy Book, but I’m disappointed at the lack of IR camera—numerous times, I flipped open the Galaxy Book from its keyboard case and expected the camera to recognize my face and unlock my device.
Our review model of the Galaxy Book is powered by a dual-core Core i5-7200U processor, Intel HD 620 graphics, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of onboard storage. I like that Samsung added an 8GB of RAM option—the 4GB on the TabPro S just wasn’t enough—but you’ll still pay premium for it. The Galaxy Book performed just as well as similar Kaby Lake systems in all of our benchmark tests, and it performed a little better than Skylake devices like Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4. However, it did get noticeably warm with consistent use.
We had to account for the Galaxy Book’s screen-dimming feature before running our battery tests by running an app that moves the cursor periodically to simulate activity and prevent the screen from dimming. Samsung estimates the Galaxy Book will last around 11 hours on a single charge, but our tests didn’t even get close to that. The Galaxy Book lasted an average of 411 minutes on our default battery test, or just under seven hours. Many two-in-ones we’ve tested last anywhere between 600 to 900 minutes on this test, but the Galaxy Book performed most like Apple’s 9.7-inch iPad Pro (which still lasted over an hour more on the same test). The Galaxy Book did slightly better on our graphics test, lasting 241 minutes, or about four hours. It placed ahead of devices like the Dell XPS 15, the HP Spectre 13, and the 13-inch MacBook Pro with TouchBar.
Can’t replace, but could be a premium complement
Samsung succeeded in updating the TabPro S with the Galaxy Book. Adding 4GB of RAM, an extra USB Type-C port, and an LTE option bring the slab into the modern age, at the very least. The keyboard cover and S Pen are particularly good because they’re included (similar accessories are extra when you buy a Surface Pro). The typing experience is much better than other hybrid keyboards, and the S Pen is quite useful when paired with Samsung’s Air Command software. Our model of the Galaxy Book was a capable machine that performed just as well as other devices with U-series processors, two-in-ones or not.
But just because the Galaxy Book is a better TabPro S doesn’t mean it’s an ideal hybrid. I have yet to try a slab-folio keyboard combo that I would feel comfortable replacing my laptop with, and the Galaxy Book doesn’t change that. While it is decently stable on your lap, its overall design simply isn’t suited for my lifestyle as a primary PC. This type of device is best suited for hyper-mobile users—as in those who are constantly running around and need a lightweight device that packs plenty of power. Those users also value the laptop experience and the tablet experience equally. I need a laptop more than a tablet most of the time, so the Galaxy Book won’t replace my current PC any time soon.
I also take issue with the OLED display and the price. The issues we had with the TabPro S concerning its OLED display haven’t been quelled with the Galaxy Book, but I didn’t expect them to be. Samsung uses OLED panels in many of its devices, and we’ll probably have to make do with screensavers and screen dimming on its tablets for the foreseeable future—or at least until the longevity of OLED panels is as wonderful as the panels themselves.
In terms of price, you’ll spend at least $1,329 for a Galaxy Book with this much power. But you still sacrifice a lot despite the high price tag, particularly with the lack of any Windows Hello support and the disappointing battery life. I’d hold off on the Galaxy Book for now and wait to see how new, similar devices perform, including the updated HP Spectre x2, which starts at $999, and the new line of updated Surface Pros, which start at $799.
- Included keyboard case and S Pen.
- 8GB of RAM.
- Two USB Type C ports.
- GPS and GLONASS on both LTE and non-LTE models.
- Good performance.
- Screen-dimming software is annoying.
- No onboard biometrics, so no Windows Hello options.
- Gets warm with use.
- Lackluster battery life.
Listing image by Valentina Palladino