Whether you’re looking for an inexpensive tablet for weekend-long Netflix binges, or need something you can easily toss in your bag for your morning commute, Amazon isn’t your only option. The $199.99 Samsung Galaxy Tab A is an 8-inch slate with decent specs and some software features you won’t find on similarly priced competitors. And unlike Amazon’s Fire tablets, you get unfettered access to the Google Play app store. That makes the Tab A a solid budget-friendly option for media consumption and Android gaming, though Amazon’s Fire HD 8 and HD 10 continue to offer stronger value for your dollar.
Design, Display, and Connectivity
Samsung’s midrange A-series tablets are created with casual users in mind. Sizes in the Tab A family range from 7 to 10.5 inches. For the most part, there are both Wi-Fi and LTE variants for each tablet in the series, with LTE models coming in at about a $50 premium, depending on the carrier. We tested the 8-inch Wi-Fi model.
The Galaxy Tab A 8.0 sees a slight refinement in design over its 2015 predecessor. An improved screen-to-body ratio makes it a little less squat, and the camera bump on the back is less pronounced. The frame is constructed of smooth polycarbonate while the back is a glossy aluminum shell that easily picks up fingerprints and smudges.
The slate measures 8.35 by 4.89 by 0.35 inches (HWD) and weighs 12.65 ounces. It’s not the lightest tablet on the market, but we had no problem holding it on a busy train for a long commute home. And although its frame is plastic, the overall build quality feels notably more solid than Amazon’s Fire tablets. That said, we definitely recommend a case if the tablet will be used by children or if you plan to use it for your daily commute.
On the right side of the Tab A, you’ll find the power button and volume rocker. Both are responsive and provide a satisfying click when tapped. There’s a microSD card slot on the left that accommodates up to 400GB of external storage in addition to the 32GB of internal storage. A USB-C charging port sits at the bottom, alongside a bottom-firing speaker that provides all the audio. At 86 decibels, the Tab A is loud enough for watching streaming video, but don’t expect a high-end audio experience. The speaker sounds hollow and tinny at higher volumes.
Display quality is decent. The front panel is home to an 8-inch, 1,280-by-800 TFT display with 189 pixels per inch, the same as you’ll find on the Lenovo Tab 4 8 and the Fire HD 8. The screen looks good for multimedia streaming, but text and drawings are a little fuzzy. Brightness and viewing angles are excellent, so you should have no problem using the slate in direct sunlight.
The Tab A supports 2.4 and 5GHz Wi-Fi, and we received excellent wireless range and connectivity on both bands in testing. Bluetooth 4.2 is also on board for wireless audio.
Processor, Battery, and Camera
The tablet is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 425 processor clocked at 1.4GHz. It’s a common processor for budget tablets, though at three years old, it’s nearing its expiration date. There’s also 2GB of RAM, making the Tab A feel slightly snappier than tablets with 1 or 1.5GB of RAM (like the Fire HD 8). Apps opened quickly and basic multitasking worked without a hitch in testing. We were even able to play Asphalt 8 without problems. We did, however, begin to experience slowdown once more than a half dozen apps were open.
Battery life is strong. When streaming full-screen video over Wi-Fi at maximum screen brightness, we managed to eke out an impressive 6 hours and 37 minutes. That’s slightly longer than the Fire HD 10 (6 hours and 14 minutes) and should easily get you through a long flight with conservative use.
When it comes to the camera, the Tab A’s 8-megapixel rear shooter is underwhelming in most circumstances (like most tablet cameras, especially at this price). While daytime photos are passable, our low-light photos were both grainy and blurry.
Performance on the 5-megapixel front-facing sensor offers much the same experience. Video calls are passable in a well-lit room, but quality quickly degrades in low light.
Software and Features
The Tab A ships running Android 7.1, however there’s an OTA udate to Android Oreo 8.1 with Samsung Experience 9.5 once you take it out of the box. Samsung’s custom UI has improved vastly over the last few years. Unfortunately, there are still a handful of redundant apps like Samsung Mail, Samsung Internet, and Samsung Notes that cannot be uninstalled.
In addition to Samsung Experience 9.5, there are a few other software flourishes worth mentioning. Secure Folder allows you to designate a private location on the tablet where you can store documents and secondary instances of apps you’d like to keep away from prying eyes. Samsung Flow lets you to share photos and information between your tablet and Samsung smartphone. And if you’re a parent with young children, you’ll definitely appreciate Kids Mode, an app that lets you create a custom homepage with kid-friendly content.
For the most part, Samsung’s UI adds only minor changes to the stock Android experience. You still have access to almost any app in the Google Play store, and can easily add your own custom skins. It’s a sharp contrast to Fire OS, Amazon’s custom UI that not only replaces the Play Store for its own App Store, but also changes the entire user experience. Fire OS is built to showcase Amazon’s products and services and has no resemblance to the interface you may already be accustomed to if you use an Android smartphone. That said, Fire OS is easier to use and offers more guidance toward finding content if you aren’t already familiar with Android.
At $200, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.0 is nicely built, but a little pricey for what you get. Its compact size and long battery life make it a good option for media consumption or basic productivity tasks on the go, especially if you want access to Google Play.
If you’re not absolutely sold on the Google Play angle, however, you should check out the Amazon Fire HD 10. In addition to being $50 less than the Tab 8, it has a larger, sharper display and performs better thanks to a more powerful processor. If you’re looking to save even more money, the Fire HD 8 is available for less than half the price of the Tab A and offers a fairly similar experience from a hardware perspective.