The tablet market has been on a downward spiral for a while, and this year is no different. Despite this, Apple continues to dominate this space by a mile, followed by Samsung in second place. There isn't much action going on in the Android tablet space in general but Samsung is one of the few manufacturers that diligently updates its tablet lineup year on year.
Today, we'll be testing the Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.5, which is a recent budget offering. The big draw with this Android tablet is its massive battery and Dolby Atmos sound enhancement. Samsung is only selling the LTE version of this tablet in India, but it comes in at a pretty decent price of Rs. 29,990. The Galaxy Tab A 10.5 doesn't have much competition here in the Android space, and only real alternative is the Wi-Fi-only Apple 2018 iPad. Let's see if Samsung's new tablet any good and whether it makes sense buying it over an iPad.
Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.5 design
The Galaxy Tab A 10.5 has a large footprint due to the big display, but thankfully, it's quite slim. It doesn't feel too heavy either. The weight is evenly distributed across the tablet, which makes one-handed use quite comfortable too. The plastic body feels sturdy and we didn't encounter any flex while using it. We quite like the soft matte-textured back that Samsung has gone with, which offers good grip even with sweaty or oily fingers, and doesn't attract fingerprints easily.
The edges and corners of the tablet are rounded, which prevents it from looking overly boxy. There's a USB Type-C port (USB 2.0) at the bottom, which is always a welcome sight, and speakers on either side of the port. You get two more speakers on the top, for a total of four. The Galaxy Tab A 10.5 also supports Dolby Atmos, which works well, but more on that later. The volume and power buttons are placed on the right, and below there is a slot for a microSD card (up to 400GB) and a Nano-SIM card. The left of the tablet has a series of pogo pin connectors for using it with an optional dock, flanked by two notches to help it stay in place. Finally, there's a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top.
The Galaxy Tab A 10.5 lacks a physical button at the front but still has some pretty thick borders around the screen. It's not a big complaint as the borders allows you to comfortably hold the tablet without accidentally touching the screen. The display itself is a standard TFT LCD panel and not one of the higher quality AMOLED panels that Samsung saves for its Tab S series. Still, we found the touch response to be on point. Brightness is good and colours have good saturation too. You don't get any option in the display settings to adjust the colour profile or temperature but we never really felt the need to do so.
Viewing angles are decent, and there's no visible colour shift when you view the display off-axis. The full-HD resolution (1200×1920) is just about adequate for rendering crisp text and images when using the tablet at arm's length. The pixel density is slightly on the lower side at 215ppi, when compared to something like the iPad, which has a 264ppi display.
There's a single 8-megapixel camera on the back along with a single-LED flash. The camera module protrudes slightly, creating a gentle bump. The Galaxy Tab A 10.5 lacks a fingerprint sensor but Samsung offers face recognition instead. It works if the tablet is held horizontally, but not when it's upside down. It can be a little sluggish at times but it's not very secure as it unlocks even if your eyes are closed and there's no way to force eye detection. Having said that, we weren't able to fool it with a picture of a registered face.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.5 ships with an adaptive fast charger, Type-C cable, SIM eject tool, and some instruction and warranty leaflets.
Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.5 specifications and software
The Galaxy Tab A 10.5 is powered by an octa-core SoC, which sounds good at first, but the reality is a little disappointing. The octa-core SoC in question is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 450, which is from the company's entry-level series and is typically found in phones that cost less than Rs. 10,000. It can handle basic tasks well and UI navigation is smooth, but it is quite underpowered for heavy multitasking and gaming. This reflects in benchmarks too as AnTuTu gave us a score of just 70,570 points while the T-Rex gaming test from GFXbench returned only 20fps. The tablet also has 3GB of RAM and 32GB of onboard storage.
Connectivity options include dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS, 4G on all Indian LTE bands along with VoLTE, a gyroscope, ambient light sensor, Hall sensor, accelerometer, and compass. The Galaxy Tab A 10.5 doesn't have FM radio or NFC and there's no support for Samsung's S Pen. You can use the tablet to make cellular phone calls, either through the speaker or with a headset, since there's no earpiece. VoLTE calls work just fine too when we tried it on the Jio network.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.5 runs on a skinned version of Android 8.1 Oreo, and during our review process, we got an update for the September 2018 Android security patch. The Samsung Experience 9.5 interface should be instantly familiar to anyone who's used a recent Samsung smartphone. It features a Bixby Home cards screen on the left most homescreen; multi-window mode which lets you open two apps at once and even minimise some into floating bubbles; gestures such as saving a screenshot with a swipe of your palm across the screen; and Bixby Vision for identifying text and objects from within the camera app.
The tablet also ships with Samsung's Kids Mode app, which creates a safe environment for kids to pass their time with. There are some basic games and activities to keep them occupied, without the fear of them getting into your personal data, using apps you don't want them to, or making phone calls. You get some preinstalled apps from Samsung's Galaxy App Store, a few Microsoft Office apps, and Google's usual suite of apps.
Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.5 performance, cameras, and battery life
As we stated earlier, the Snapdragon 450 is capable of handling general tasks and Android itself fairly well, without much lag or stutter. We did face some jerkiness when trying to open apps in split-screen mode, and at times even switching orientation from portrait to landscape took a second or two longer than it should have. All these little niggles could easily have been avoided had Samsung gone with a better processor. Even an older Exynos chip from their Galaxy S7 series would have delivered much better performance.
Gaming performance is weak too, as the Snapdragon 450 is simply not capable of crunching all those pixels, especially at this high a resolution. Most phones with this processor have HD+ resolution screens, which is half of what the Galaxy Tab A 10.5 runs at. Heavy titles such as PUBG Mobile and Asphalt 9: Legends have poor framerate, even with the graphics settings dialled all the way down. Simpler titles such as Alto's Odyssey fare better, but the low pixel density of the display introduces quite a lot of jagged edges and low detail.
The Galaxy Tab A 10.1 works well for media consumption. The screen has a slightly taller aspect ratio of 16:10, so most videos played from YouTube or streaming services like Netflix and Prime Video, had thin black bars on the top and bottom. It's not too distracting and it's barely noticeable, but it's present. The audio quality from the four speakers is pretty great. There isn't much bass, given the slimness of the tablet, but the soundstage is wide and you get good detail in the mid-range and high notes. Vocals are also crisp and clear. There's a Dolby Atmos toggle switch in the Settings app, which is off by default for some reason. Turning it on immediately widens the soundstage of any type of audio, and videos encoded with Dolby Atmos sound have a very good spatial effect. The stereo effect also adapts to the orientation of the tablet, which is nice.
Besides media, the Galaxy Tab A 10.5 is useful if you simply want to catch up on the news or an e-book. The large display offers plenty of screen space when browsing the Web or catching up on emails. You can do some typing as the touch response is good, but for more serious work, we'd prefer a physical keyboard. Samsung doesn't appear to have a keyboard folio case for the Tab A 10.5, and the only accessories on its website at the time of this review were a charging dock and folio case. We didn't have much luck finding any decent third-party accessories either. It's bigger bother, the Galaxy Tab S4 has a lot of options including keyboard cases and the ability to use DeX, which lets you dock your device to an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse.
This low-cost tablet features front- and rear-facing cameras. The 5-megapixel selfie shooter manages decent image quality under good light, and besides selfies, it's also useful for face recognition and video calls. The rear 8-megapixel sensor has autofocus and can shoot video at up to 1080p resolution. Image quality is not bad in daylight but it takes a while to focus due to the lack of PDAF. The tablet really struggles with focus in low light, and images are expectedly grainy and lack good detail. The camera app is simple to use, with all the basic shooting modes just a swipe away from the viewfinder. We're not sure how many people would actually use such a big tablet for seriously taking photos, but it's handy if you need to use Google Lens, Bixby Vision, or even just scan some visiting cards.
Battery life is one of the strong suits of the Galaxy Tab A 10.5. The 7,300mAh battery easily lasted us a couple of days with a mix of light to medium usage, which typically involved some gaming, Web browsing, and watching videos. Samsung claims that the tablet will last you up to 15 hours for video playback, which was nearly true in our experience, as our HD video loop test ran for 14 hours and 11 minutes. The Galaxy Tab A 10.5 also supports Samsung's Adaptive Fast Charging. In our experience, it took around three and a half hours to charge fully, which is not bad. The tablet can also charges quickly using a Qualcomm Quick Charge 3 compatible charger.
In India, we don't have a lot of choice when it comes to Android tablets, as Samsung is pretty much the only manufacturer with an up-to-date portfolio. At Rs. 29,990, the Galaxy Tab A 10.5 is one of the better models of this size around. It has updated software and LTE functionality, great battery life, good build quality, a sleek design, and terrific sounding speakers. On the other hand, the processor is too weak to even consider doing any serious work or gaming. There also aren't many accessories that are easily available.
If you don't care about LTE so much, then there is simply no reason not to choose the current iPad (2018). It generally retails for a lot lower than its MRP, which is Rs. 28,000 for the 32GB Wi-Fi-only model, and is superior to the Galaxy Tab A 10.5 in terms of display resolution, processor, and apps. It also features Touch ID and supports the Apple Pencil as well as a much wider selection of accessories.