As the modern small business continues to incorporate new technology into their workflows, tablets have begun to supplement notebook computers. The iPad Air 2 ($499, £399, AU$619) is still the flashy king of the tablet world, but with Apple's reputation for building units that shatter too easily, a need exists in the market for a battle-tested tablet.
In comes the Samsung Galaxy Tab Active, one of the first built-to-be-tested, yet inexpensive tablets. Sure Panasonic has the Toughpad FZ-M1, but that's a Windows 8.1 device that will run you $2,099 (£1,183 or AUD $2,358). Not exactly a viable option for the office klutz limited to a tablet-sized budget.
Beyond that, tablet manufacturers have not offered many viable enterprise options, so the Tab Active is best compared to mid-tier consumer tablets, especially if you consider that Samsung sells the 8.0-inch Tab Active for $699.99 (around £465 and AU$907). That's with a 16 GB hard drive, and if you went to Apple or Google for a mini tablet with the same disk space, both the 7.9-inch iPad Mini 3 and the 8.9-inch HTC Nexus 9 start at only $399 (around £265 and AU$517).
If you take off the hard shell-style protective case that the Tab Active comes sold in, you'll see that at the core of the product is a tablet computer just as fragile-looking as the competition. Luckily the tablet comes out of the box already in the case, sending a message you won't need to ever break these two up. The case, which is of a hard rubber material, gives you an easy grip, and the slot for the Samsung C-Pen stylus is placed at a convenient location, and built well enough to make the stylus stay in place.
The ports at the bottom of the Tab Active are also designed with durability in mind. Micro USB 2.0 is a port I've long groaned at upon sight, but the build quality of this port is great. I would never once worry about it breaking, something I can't say about any of Mophie's current mobile battery cases.
The screen is OK, not great, but that's a quibble in comparison to the one major design faux pas found in the Tab Active. If you're looking to play audio, the Tab Active better not be lying flat against a surface, since that will muffle the sole speaker, placed on the back of the unit.
The Tab active weighs in at 0.84 pounds (0.39kg) and measures 4.97 x 0.38 x 8.39-inches (12.62 x .975 x 21.31 cm) (W x D x H). However, in the case, it measures closer to 5.125 x .5 x 9.0-inches. That's slightly less bulky than the Toughpad FZ-M1, which weighs in at 1.19 pounds (0.54kg) and measures 0.71 inches (1.8 cm) thick. At the same time, it's bulky in comparison to both the iPad Mini 3, which weighs 0.73 of a pound (0.33 kg) and measures 5.3 x 0.29 x 7.87-inches (13.47 x .75 x 20 cm). Admittedly, the Nexus 9 may be heavier and larger, weighing in at 0.95 pounds and measuring 6.05 x 0.31 x 8.99-inches (15.37 x .79 x 22.83 cm), but it's still slimmer, and owes those other measurements to a screen that's unmistakably larger.
Specs and performance
The Galaxy Tab Active, with an 8.0 inch screen aspires to be a ruggedized alternative to Google's 8.9" Nexus 9 and Apple's 7.9" iPad mini. While the Tab Active winds up at the high end of the price range, it's not competing with those models on processor power. The Tab Active, which runs on a 1.2 GHz, Quad-Core, Qualcomm processor, does not seem all that impressive when compared to the Nexus 9's 64-bit NVIDIA 2.3GHz Tegra K1 Dual Denver Processor or the iPad Mini 3's 64-bit A7 processor.
Features that will make the Tab Active appealing to businesses are it's internal security. Samsung touts the device as being "Built Enterprise-Ready" with their Samsung Knox security, in addition to it being Certified Citrix-Ready and SAP-Certified for SAP Work Manager and SAP CRM Service Manager. Those aren't shiny specs, but you don't see the Nexus 9 or the iPad Mini 3 coming out of the box ready for your team.
The one glaring omission from the Tab Active is a cellular radio. We're supposed to be buying into a $700 tablet that's meant for the elements, but loses most of its functionality when you are away from WiFi? You can get an iPad Mini 3 with the same size hard drive, with a cellular radio, for only $529. With the remaining money you can get a ruggedized case from a company like Logitech, Griffin, or Otterbox, and still have money left over, since all of those are priced at $80 or less.
The paltry 16GB hard drive space smacks of what Apple does with its entry level machines, but Samsung selling that size at this price is a shocker. You can get a WiFi only iPad Mini 3 with 128GB of storage and it will only run you $599. Meanwhile, the Nexus 9 has the same 16GB hard drive, sports a cellular modem that can connect to Quad-band GSM, CDMA, Penta-band HSPA, and LTE networks, and only costs $399. So with the Tab Active, you are paying a premium for the case's protection and their enterprise-specific software. I literally cannot imagine another use case.
Processor: 1.2 GHz, Quad-Core Qualcomm APQ
Display: 8.0" WXGA (1280 x 800) LCD Display with 400 Nits Brightness
Memory: 1.5 GB RAM
Storage: 16 GB GB SSD
Wireless: 802.11 a/b/g/n WiFi, BT 4.0
Camera: 1.2 MP front-facing camera, 3.1MP rear-facing Auto Focus camera with LED Flash
Ports: micro USB 2.0, Pogo charging port
Weight: 0.84 pounds (0.39kg)
Size: 4.97 x 0.38 x 8.39 inches (12.62 x .975 x 21.31 cm) (W x D x H)
As a computer, the Tab Active was a wonder to use. The battery lasted about 13 hours and forty-five fourteen hours of real life use. That test ran on Wifi only with brightness at a very strong setting, and went through Google Apps usage, Netflix & Spotify streaming, and various social media networks. When I ran the PCMark 8 battery benchmark, it delivered a work battery life of six hours 56 minutes.
Comparatively, the Tab Active does well against the competition, making the most of its size. It's worth noting that one of the Toughpad's most notable failures was a poor battery life of a mere six hours. The Nexus 9 recorded about 1.5 days of usage, while the iPad Mini 3 has a similarly strong battery. The iPad Mini 3 battery, according to our review, can last a few days if the use isn't rigorous, and the same can be said for the Tab Active.
During my testing, the screen's image quality didn't exactly leave me glowing with positivity, but it's of note that at this size, even Apple doesn't perform well for color gamut and accuracy.
Unfortunately, the ruggedness of the device did not prove itself. Samsung's claim that the device can endure up-to-4-foot-high drops onto wood floors did not live up to a test with a less than four-foot drop onto a coated and more shock absorbent floor. The screen would pop out, and pop back in, in the first two drop tests I did. A third fall, though, an actual accident and not an intentional test fall, led to the display no longer lighting up. The Tab Active continued to make noises with alerts, but without a functioning screen it was no longer worthwhile. (Editor's note: Samsung is looking into why this occurred and has promised to provide us with an explanation.)
A replacement unit sent stood up to the New York winter well. Taking photos out in the streets, it received random acts of water frequently, from ice melting off building facades and fire escapes to taking a tumble or two in the snow. That replacement unit was also a champ at the fall tests. The screen didn't even pop off, podcasts kept playing, and the screen kept going.
In a test in the Samsung office, a third unit survived several falls and was able to remain submerged under a foot of water without suffering any performance issues.
Hopefully that first unit was a rare lemon.
3D Mark: Ice Storm 2859
PCMark 8 Work benchmark: 2662
PCMark Work Battery Life: 6:56
The Geekbench 3 benchmark test resulted in a single-core Score of 340, with a Multi-Core Score of 1156. Compared against the competition, the Tab Active doesn't stand up well here either, as the Nexus 9 averaged a 1939 in the Single-Core Score, and a 3326 Multi-Core Score, and the iPad Mini 3 posted a 1374 for single-core and a 2484 for multi-core.
Sure enough, Nexus 9 benchmarks indicate that behind the unexceptional display is a more than powerful chipset, as shown by its GeekBench 3 results. Tests indicated that the tablet averaged a 3326 multi-core score next to the iPad Air 2's 4500 multi-core score. As a dual-core processor, the Tegra K1's single-core GeekBench 3 score actually surpassed that of the new iPad. The Nexus 9 averaged a single-core score, while one core of iPad's three-core processor averaged an 1815 score in similar tests.
What can I say about Samsung's horrible TouchWiz user interface that countless critics haven't already mentioned? I'm guessing businesses won't care about that horrid experience, so I'll just be thankful on behalf of users everywhere that it can easily be supplanted with something like Nova Prime.
Samsung's pre-loaded apps, their alternatives to Google's free services? Again, it's no news that they're all even blander than their names (Contact, Email, Internet, Camera, Gallery, Music, Video, My Files, Settings, S Planner, Calculator, Memo) suggest, but if you're like me, you'll load them once and then go running to the Google Play store to replace all of them. Even the Tab Active's native camera app should be ditched in favor of Google Camera.
The Tab Active also comes with Hancom Office Viewer, an unknown office suite replacement. I don't know what team in their right mind would accept this app on sight. Again, it can be replaced.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab Active's battery supported me for a full work day, as I made it my primary device. Frequently challenged by high brightness settings, and all sorts of streaming content, that meant almost fourteen hours of usage.
When water fell onto the Tab Active from the sky, or it slipped off a bench into the snow, I had immediate reactions of despair. Then, I remembered this was a tablet built to withstand liquids, unlike pretty much every piece of tech I've ever worked with. Having seen it through all of that, I could see the Tab Active surviving an erratic conference room table. Especially when the nervous presenter creates an accidental meditation pool by spilling their coffee.
The last stand-out feature of the tablet is the case itself, and that the thickness of the hard rubber makes it easier to retain a hold on. As companies strive to make their devices thinner and thinner, the Tab Active's case gave added depth that some may value.
The durability of said battery, though, has to be called into question, as there was no cellular modem to truly test it's duration. Unless all of the challenges you need a device to be ruggedized against are all under WiFi's roof, this may be an incomplete device. If it's meant to survive rain, shouldn't there be a reason to walk with it out in the rain?
Meant for real world offices where people shouldn't be penalized for having a case of the butterfingers, but unfortunately, I'm not satisfied with how well the Samsung Galaxy Tab Active handled drops. If it sells itself on being able to withstand falls, fading after three of them over the course of four days is not a good sign.
The camera and the hard drive are both incredibly subpar for what should be standard today. A 16 GB hard drive with 3.1 MP rear-facing-camera sound like features of an iPhone 3GS, and not a new Samsung tablet.
At the $699.99 (about £437 and AU$800) entry price, Samsung bills the Tab Active as a cure to poor build quality. Unfortunately, the machine suffers from lackluster internals that really put all the burden of purchase on the ruggedization. Had that experience been closer to flawless than it was, I could have seen this review being a lot more positive.
If your office has been a place where devices are constantly breaking, I could see the need for this device. A need that would make more sense especially if team members would not need the tablet to receive a signal if they ever leave the office. Not that careless employees should be rewarded with tablets, but the Tab Active should be considered if they need one.
As long as those requirements are met, the amazing battery life of the Tab Active has me ready to recommend it. For general purpose Google services apps and media consumption, the Tab Active lived up to my expectations. And if your team needs to use apps or services only available on Android, such as Samsung's Knox security, there aren't really any other tablets that were made to survive half of what the Tab Active made it through.