[This fragment is available in an audio version.]
I impulse-bought this big Samsung slab which I guess represents the state of the art in Android tabletry and is trying to occupy an iPad-like spot in the ecosystem. It’s got issues but I’m keeping it. I’m writing this based on my perception that not many people have a tablet that’s not an iPad, so the territory is only lightly explored.
Credit is due to Nelson Minar, who has a sort-of-blog where he diarizes his personal tech divagations. It was his short, to-the-point piece on the S7+ that awoke the impulse and got me here. If you’re interested at all in this thing you should go read that. I’ll wait.
This is not gonna be an iPad comparo, if only because I’m not up-to-date on those. I occasionally use a two-year-old basic entry-level iPad and it’s cool, but I don’t think it’s trying to be what this is trying to be. I’m not too worried; I think that there are a lot of people who (like me) are pretty invested in either the iOS or Android ecosystems and, if they’re the latter and want a tablet, this is going to be a strong candidate.
[Update: Nelson dropped in a comment below pointing to his earlier post, Android Tablet: Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e, which talks more generally about Android tablets and software on them.]
The best part… · Nelson opened with the screen quality and wow, well yeah. if you want specs go look at the Wikipedia entry but let me tell you, it’s really big and really bright and really sharp.
The screen is made much more useful by this, uh, flat thing, that attaches magnetically to the back of the tab and has a little bulge on it to store the “S pen” stylus. It’s got a flap thingie at the bottom that you can bend out and back — the resistance is stiff — which is designed to prop up the tablet, both horizontally and vertically; the pen-holding bulge keeps it from falling over. Here’s a picture.
This is Kindle displaying the 2nd page of Fritz Leiber’s Our Lady of Darkness, which by the way is the best fiction ever written, if your criterion is imaginative and skilful use of San Francisco as a backdrop.
I normally read books either on paper or on a Kindle Oasis, and like both. But I have to say I really like having a huge slab of bright, crisp, well-typeset text that holds itself up so I can scratch my butt or sip my coffee while I read. I’ve already inhaled one book on it and I’m sure there will be more.
The Economist app is brilliant too; many articles fit on a single page. Nelson mentioned comic books, which I haven’t tried yet.
Fast! · Really freaking fast, I mean; another nice thing about the device. I’ve never felt the urge to complain about my (now-outmoded I guess) Pixel 3’s performance, but this does everything faster. Plus once you’ve experienced 120Hz scrolling, it starts to feel addictive.
Android · Off the top there’s all this weird Samsung shit in your face but I followed Nelson’s advice and dropped in Nova Launcher, yielding a very Pixel-like experience. And Android, all these years later, has the best notification system of any computing environment, any form factor, that I’ve ever been near. To this day I’ll be working on my Mac and a couple of notifications will float up in the corner of the screen when I’m zoned in on something else; so what I do when I want to refresh context is (walking across the room first if necessary) grab my Pixel and pull down the notifications to see what’s happened.
Plus the gestural navigation and (maybe most important?) a Back button that basically always does the right thing.
The worst thing · It’s a real klunker. If you put the back-case-thingie on the back and the keyboard (yes, we’ll get to that) on the front, the combo is heavier than my wife’s 13" M1 MacBook Air. I usually just have the back thingie attached, because it’s so useful and also the pen-holding bulge is a comfy carry-grip. Feels heavier than I’d like.
Stripped of all attachments it’s acceptably light, I guess, but my hands don’t like the sharp corners.
Photography · Yep, it’s got a camera. At one point in history I wondered why tablets might need them, then I saw tourists walking around taking pictures with iPads and realized that they had attained the long-cherished ideal of WYSIWYG photography. So why not? Here are two pictures I took just now with it.
They’re OK. What’s actually interesting is that they were not only shot but processed on the S7+ with Lightroom, which is actually pretty delightful on this device. Delightful enough, in fact, that I wonder if I should look at non-Classic Lightroom, which I think would let me edit my Fuji pix on the slab.
[Having said that, for some reason I can’t get Lightroom to auto-import the pictures.]
A keyboard, you said? · Indeed. I plugged it in and set it up and yeah, it works, but I was having severe cognitive dissonance. What’s it actually for? You’re not gonna set this contraption up to facilitate replying to a chat message. Don’t know about you, but I use a keyboard when I’m in creative mode, which often means writing. So, here’s a shot of the S7+ with keyboard beside my 16" MBP for context, set up for writing.
What, you wonder, might be on the screen? Well, Emacs, obviously, because that’s what I write this in. In fact, here’s a screen photo with the first few paragraphs of an early draft what you’re now reading.
My custom Emacs mode for blogging works fine, although the syntax coloring went off the rails somehow.
Yaks were shaved. There seems to be no native Android Emacs? I’m surprised and disappointed. But you can install
Termux, which gets you a perfectly acceptable shell environment and a
that can install open-source packages from, uh, somewhere. Then it’s more work than you might think to get files and programs
onto the device; I ended up using Curl mostly.
So yeah, I could in principle blog on this thing. Mind you, I’d need to get Perl and MySQL and so on running, but if Emacs can do it that ought to be possible.
OK, I kid. Normal people who write their blogs in a nice JS-browser environment would probably find themselves perfectly comfortable living their social-media lives on an S7+.
But that keyboard… it’s a pretty strange beast. It has 12 function keys and, down in the bottom left corner, Ctrl, Fn, Cmd, and Alt keys; to the spacebar’s right are keys labeled “Lang” and “Alt Gr”. Because I’m in Canada (I assume) some of the labels are bilingual and there’s a special key reserved for É. What’s just wrong is that some of the keys don’t produce what the labels say they do. While I was fooling with the shell I obviously needed “<” and “>”. There are keys with those symbols on them but they don’t emit those characters. Fortunately, my muscle memory took me to shift-, and shift-. which worked.
So something went off the rails here. Having said that, it’s a perfectly nice responsive keyboard and, with a bit of practice, I could live with it.
Miscellania · There’s a stylus called the “S Pen” that is said to be magically responsive, understand drawing pressure changes, and usable as a remote control so you can wiggle it around and drive the S7+ from across the table. Don’t ask me about drawing, one reason I like computers is that I have shaky hands, plus no shred of talent at drawing or penmanship. So it’s unlikely I’d ever use this thing.
It comes with a SIM card slot. Um, I guess that’s nice? Not sure what the scenario is that makes that interesting.
The battery life is OK. I binge-read most of a book in a single multi-hour sitting and that burned half the power. So it’s unlikely you’d ever run flat in a day; that’s all anyone really needs I think?
Samsung · I bought it direct from their website, which was cheaper than Amazon, and it showed up plenty fast. But they strongly de-emphasized the S7+ in favor of the smaller S7; near as I can tell there isn’t actually a dedicated S7+ page, and I had to do considerable backing and filling to actually order the big slab. Perhaps this is a consequence of me being in Canada?
Nelson says he thinks the S8 is imminent, which might also explain the weirdness. If he’s right, and the S8 turns out to be lighter and more graceful, I’ll be grouchy.
History · I have a bit, with Android tablets. Back in the fall of 2010 I took the first “Samsung Galaxy Tab” on a world tour. It was controversial because Google hadn’t managed to ship the first “official” Android Tablet, so Andy Rubin was pissed. Later, I repeatedly sang the praises of the Nexus 7, which I carried for years. Both of these were at the 7" form factor, so this is the only “big” tablet I’ve ever owned.
Does the world have a place for Android tablets? I dunno. But I’m holding on to this one for now.