Every company that makes PCs has been chasing Microsoft in the race to create a tablet that can work as a laptop. Samsung’s first real effort at this was last year’s TabPro S, which introduced a number of good ideas, but ultimately was underpowered and fell short of beating the Surface Pro at its own game.
Now Samsung has launched its second attempt at making this do-all device, the Windows 10-powered Galaxy Book. The Book also adds a number of improvements over Microsoft’s Surface Pro, and addresses some of the issues that the TabPro S had, such as its uneven performance. But at the same time, the Book has problems of its own that prevent it from being the ultimate tablet-slash-laptop.
There are two versions of the Book: a 10-inch Wi-Fi-only model that starts at $629.99 and a 12-inch version that comes in Wi-Fi and LTE flavors for $1,129.99 and $1,299.99, respectively. Both models come with a pen and keyboard in the box, which is something Microsoft and Apple charge extra for with their tablets. I’ve been testing the 12-inch LTE model, which has an Intel Core i5 processor (seventh-generation, Kaby Lake), 4GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage. For this price, I’d have expected more RAM and storage, but I appreciate the built-in connectivity. (The Wi-Fi-only Book 12 can be equipped with more RAM and storage, but only one option is available for the LTE version.)
As with most Samsung devices, the best part of the Book is its display. The 12-inch model has a HDR-capable Super AMOLED touchscreen that’s sharp and vibrant with good contrast and lovely black levels. It’s a 3:2 aspect ratio with 2160 x 1440 pixels, which make it better suited for doing work in a landscape orientation than reading in portrait mode. I don’t really have any complaints with the display, other than the brightness adjustment goes from fully bright to unreadably dim in just a few steps. I ended up using it a notch or two higher than the default setting most of the time as a result. There’s also Samsung’s comically dated spinning 3D text screensaver that kicks in after just a few minutes and can’t be disabled.
The included keyboard acts as an input method, stand, and case for the tablet. The full-size, plastic, chiclet keys are closer to a standard laptop keyboard than Apple’s fabric-covered Smart Keyboard or the Surface’s slimmer design. It attaches to the tablet via pogo pins, so there’s no pairing necessary, and the keyboard doesn’t ever need to be charged.
It’s clear that Samsung designed the Book with the idea that it would always live in this case, as it’s too big and cumbersome to really use as a dedicated tablet most of the time. Fortunately, the keys are surprisingly nice to type on, with good travel, spacing, and feedback; they even come with a backlight. The trackpad is also responsive and easy to use — it supports Microsoft’s Precision drivers, so scrolling and multitouch gestures work quite well.
As good as the case’s keyboard and trackpad are, it falls short as a stand. It attaches to the back of the tablet via magnets and offers three different angles of incline, which is better than Apple’s Smart Keyboard and its one position, but far worse than the Surface Pro’s infinitely adjustable built-in kickstand. Propping the tablet up in the case is awkward at first, but it’s stable once you get the hang of it.
I should clarify: it’s stable if you’re using the Book on a table or desk. It’s a completely different story on my lap, where the keyboard case is floppy and extremely awkward. Worse, unlike last year’s TabPro S that had a short, flat base, the Book’s case has a very long footprint, which makes it easy to slide off my knees and impossible to fit on the ever-shrinking airplane tray table. Both the Surface Pro and iPad Pro with Smart Keyboard are much easier to use as laptops on my lap.
That’s doubly frustrating for the LTE-equipped Book, because if it could be comfortably used on a lap, it would be a train commuter’s dream portable computer. A built-in internet connection (the Book uses Verizon for its connectivity) is far superior than relying on Wi-Fi hot spots or tethering to a phone or other connected device, but that’s all a moot point you have to sit at a desk to get the best experience with the device.
The included pen has fewer issues than the case and works well for writing or doodling on the screen. It’s not as good for drawing or art purposes as the Apple Pencil or Microsoft’s new Surface Pen, but it comes in the box and never needs to be paired or charged, so it works for me. There’s no way to attach the pen to the tablet directly, so Samsung includes a pen loop that sticks to the bottom of the keyboard case to keep it all together. It’s not elegant, but it gets the job done. And there are a few software features specific to the pen, such as a note-taking app and screenshot tool. You can also use Windows 10’s built-in Ink functions with the pen if you prefer.
It’s a shame that the Book is so damn awkward to use because performance-wise it’s much better than last year’s TabPro S. I’ve been using it as my main work computer for the past week and I’ve had zero performance issues. I initially thought the 4GB of RAM would be a bottleneck — it certainly was for the TabPro S — but I’ve been able to run multiple programs and lots of browser tabs without having them constantly reload or crash. I can switch between apps and virtual desktops with ease and apps and programs launch quickly. This is not the machine for heavy photo editing, gaming, or any video editing, but for day-to-day business tasks, such as using a web browser, Microsoft’s mail and calendar apps, and the Office suite, it’s quite capable.
You’ll have to get used to the consistent hum of the Book’s fans, however, as they are almost constantly running. They don’t get as loud as the Surface Pro 4’s fans when those kick into gear, but they also seem to never turn off.
Samsung claims “up to 11 hours” of battery life with the 12-inch Book, but unsurprisingly, the company’s claim and my experience differ greatly. Most days, the Book needs to be charged after just five or six hours of use as a computer — you might get more stamina if you just use it to watch locally stored video, but I don’t think most people will use this device that way. It does have fast charging through either of its two USB Type-C ports, but it still takes a couple of hours to get a full charge.
I appreciate that Samsung directly addressed some of the issues the TabPro S had last year (lack of backlit keyboard, no pen included, performance bottlenecks), but it’s as if each improvement means another sacrifice is made. What you end up with is a supremely portable tablet-slash-laptop that can’t be used on your lap and can only go half a day away from an outlet before it needs to be recharged. And that’s before you get to its price, which is hundreds of dollars more than last year’s model.
It also doesn’t help that Microsoft just announced a new version of the Surface Pro that will finally come with an LTE option, sniping right at one of the few differentiators Samsung has with the Book.
The Galaxy Book is okay in a vacuum — it has a nice display, solid performance, and a comfortable keyboard — but in this surprisingly competitive field, it doesn’t match up. The PC market marches on, but this one merely stumbles.