If you believe the leaks, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S7 will offer beastly hardware. A vivid, high-resolution screen, fast 5G data, loads of memory and storage, a battery that should easily last all day. This is the kind of Android tablet that could put Apple on notice if you’re comparing spec sheets, particularly when the 2020 iPad Pro is a mild refresh of the (admittedly very capable) 2018 model.
However, as with so many promising Android tablets designed to challenge Apple’s flagship tablet, there’s one thing that could easily hold the Galaxy Tab S7 back from greatness: the software.
Despite early efforts to optimize the platform for larger screens, Android has failed to mature into a truly great tablet OS. We’ve talked about the reasons behind this unfortunate reality many times here at Android Authority. Yet, in spite of all unresolved legacy issues, there have been a handful of brands that have continued to see potential in not just Android tablets, but premium Android tablets designed to topple Apple, the runaway market leader.
Huawei recently took a shot, but at the forefront of that charge is Samsung — itself a pioneer in tablet software. Samsung was offering split-screen multitasking well before the feature found its way into Android’s core interface, and provided keyboard covers with trackpads years ahead of the iPad Pro’s Magic Keyboard. And let’s not forget DeX. On the most recent flagship Samsung tablet — the Galaxy Tab S6 — you can get close to a PC experience with a desktop environment, windowed apps, and a taskbar-like area.
As great as the Tab S6 was, however, it couldn’t overcome the lingering issues that plague all Android tablets. While you can certainly use Android tablets like the Tab S6 to get serious work done, few would call them so robust that you could leave conventional computers behind — something consumers have been doing with the iPad Pro range for years.
One major hurdle faced by the Tab S6, and the upcoming Tab S7, is app support. There are relatively few tablet-native Android apps compared to what you’ll find for the iPad, and it’s still difficult to find them when Google does little to curate or label those apps on the Play Store. It’s harder to justify premium Android tablets like the Tab S line when only some apps will benefit from the larger screen.
Samsung can’t control the quality of third-party apps or fix the root of Android’s tablet woes. It could improve its own software, however. On a premium tablet designed for productivity, apps ought to run more like desktop software by default, yet on Android tablets they often require fiddling to behave as anything more than mobile software. Safari on the iPad already defaults to desktop sites, for instance, while you can’t say the same for Chrome on a Tab S6.
If Samsung wants to avoid the same pitfalls for the Tab S7, it needs to start making some improvements to its own software — starting with DeX. As we noted in our Galaxy Tab S6 review, DeX presents a better way to multitask on a Samsung tablet than defaulting to a giant-sized phone UI. If Samsung can iron out some of its idiosyncrasies and add support for more apps, it could paper over some of the cracks created by Android.
It also wouldn’t hurt if Samsung improved the standard mobile interface, for that matter. Although there’s a real chance you’ll buy the Book Cover if you’re in the market for a Galaxy Tab S model in the first place, that’s not true of everyone. Samsung’s front-end still has advantages over iPadOS in some areas, especially if you’re fond of customization and access to the file system, but it doesn’t clearly dominate in multitasking as it did a few years ago. Apple’s solution is arguably good enough for most people, and there’s less of a jarring transition between desktop and mobile use cases.
Apple’s iPad interface has its own issues, to be clear. Among other things, there are no true windowed apps. However, iPadOS is steadily improving, as evidenced by the latest developments showcased at WWDC 2020.
The iPad still rules the tablet space, but the Tab S7 could start moving the needle.
There’s also the lingering question of whether or not any changes would be enough. Even if Samsung makes significant strides forward with DeX and the rest of its tablet skin, it’ll still be limited by what’s possible with base Android. A Windows on Arm-based tablet will still be more suitable for power users, even if you’re willing to live with the compatibility challenges of the Surface Pro X.
Sadly, no amount of improvement to Samsung’s interface will change Android’s lackluster app ecosystem for tablets. That will require more support from Google for tablet-native apps, not to mention more large slates that inspire developers to optimize their software. The iPad still rules the tablet app space, and it might take a years-long shift in momentum for Android to reach parity.
The Galaxy Tab S7 promises to be exciting, particularly in a market where high-end Android tablets are comparatively scarce. The Tab S6 was already a quality device, and its successor should refine that experience further. Without software improvements, though, it will ultimately represent more of the same — and factors like apps are out of Samsung’s control. The Tab S7 can certainly start moving the needle, but it could be a long time before there’s a revolution.