Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 FE review: Good but Android apps hurt it
- Large display
- S-Pen is included
- 5G capable model available
- Good battery life
- Display is underwhelming
- Keyboard costs extra and doesn't include trackpad
- Android apps still don’t respect tablet sizes
- Poor camera
If you're considering a tablet (or indeed, a tablet-style PC), you've got plenty of choices, but few of them are particularly affordable. Apple's iPad Pro 12.9 is a lovely machine that comes with a serious price tag. The same story is true for Microsoft's Surface Pro 8, where the lower-cost alternative is the Surface Go 3 with a smaller display. It's that market that Samsung aims to take on with the Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 FE.
Like the Galaxy S20 FE, it's a device boiled down to its essential components, shaving off cost in favour of what Samsung thinks a tablet owner will really want.
The end result is certainly an interesting tablet option, especially with the lure of optional 5G connectivity. However, the compromises it makes on screen quality and processor, along with Android's ongoing issues with tablet-sized apps detract from its overall value proposition.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 FE review: Design
The Galaxy Tab S7 FE is a 12.4-inch tablet, which means comparison to the Apple iPad Pro 12.9 inch is inevitable.
In design terms, either way you're looking at a large tablet display, or a smaller laptop one depending on your usage scenario. As it's the "FE" version of the product it's a lower-cost alternative, and as such it's not quite as technically adept as Apple's larger tablet display.
What you get is a 12.4-inch TFT LCD, a step under the usual AMOLEDs we typically see in Samsung's other products. It's still quite nice and bright, but if you're thinking pro-grade display for photos or sketch editing, this isn't quite that. At 2560x1600px resolution it's still nicely sharp, mind you.
It's also nicely uncomplicated. While there's no way to make a 12.4-inch tablet "small" – at least until Samsung develops the Galaxy Tab S7 Flip, I guess – the Tab S7 FE benefits from a clean design and flat edges. It measures 185x284.8x6.3mm with a very slight camera bump at the top left rear and an embossed Samsung logo at the top right rear.
Samsung ships the Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 FE in Australia in 1 of 4 colour finishes, with your choice of Mystic Black, Mystic Silver, Mystic Green or Mystic Pink. No, I don't know what's Mystic about it either, but you'd want to like your colour of choice as you get a lot of it on a tablet this size.
One disappointing omission from the Galaxy Tab S7 FE is any kind of headphone jack. Sure, you can pair it up to a set of Bluetooth headphones, and it does have some very nice AKG speakers on board if you're more the public broadcast type, but a tablet this size could have included direct headphone connections for those that still need them.
Also in the missing-in-action file is any kind of proper biometric authentication. You can opt for a face unlock system, but it's only a basic 2D type scan, not a proper 3D scan, so it's inherently less secure. Given how many of Samsung's phones opt for in-display sensors and the amount of space on the sides and back for a mechanical fingerprint sensor, it's a baffling omission.
You do at least get a stylus in the box – a step that'd be lovely to see from either Apple or Microsoft in this regard – but not a keyboard.
Samsung did provide me with a Galaxy Tab S7 FE compatible keyboard case so I could assess its productivity potential, but if you want that, it'll cost you an additional $239. The 1 omission here – I guess it's a trend for FE devices – is that while the keyboard is nicely functional for typing, there's no included trackpad. You'd have to hook up a Bluetooth mouse to get that up and running.
If you want to connect any other peripherals, you'll have to do so via the sole USB 3.2 gen 1 port. As with other tablets, that's also your primary source of recharging power.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 FE review: Camera
The Galaxy Tab S7 FE has a very simple camera array on board, with just a sole 8MP rear sensor and a front-facing 5MP selfie camera.
You probably don't need a full-on quad-camera array on a tablet just yet, but for a company like Samsung that makes some of the very best camera phones money can buy, the Galaxy Tab S7 FE can't help but feel a little undercooked in this regard.
Samsung does its best to hide the technical limitations of the tablet by offering wide and zoomed mode options within the camera app, as well as Samsung's multi-shot "single take" feature, but this is 100% AI-based rather than any kind of sensor switching. It simply doesn't have the sensors to manage that kind of usage.
Zoom, which is 100% digital in every way, is capped at 4x zoom, which isn't spectacular. It does at least stop you from pushing the limited onboard sensors all that far. In every case, you'd be better off with taking a standard photo and cropping in via your app of choice.
Combine that with a size that makes using it for straight photography and you're talking a recipe for mediocrity.
If you absolutely had to capture that once-in-a-lifetime shot of the Loch Ness monster and the Galaxy Tab S7 FE was the only device you had to hand, then go for it. Don't be surprised if people doubt your claims to have met Nessie based on what you can show them, however.
It's much the same story at the front for selfie shots, although here at least there's another use case for a tablet this large, and that's video conferencing calls via your Android-supported platform of choice. Here the larger display and AKG speakers make a lot more sense, even if your images from that front-facing 5MP camera aren't going to be that exciting.
Galaxy Tab S7 FE sample photos:
Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 FE review: Performance
The Galaxy Tab S7 FE's pricing comes in at a considerable cut against the competition – devices like the Surface Pro 8 or iPad Pro 12.9 – and while some of that can be notched up to the lesser display, the other way that Samsung has kept costs low is with its choice of processors and memory.
The Galaxy Tab S7 FE model tested runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 778G with 6GB of RAM. Qualcomm's 700 series processors are capable enough when they're running smartphones, but they're not the best the company can do. And when you put them in a head-to-head battle with the likes of Apple's M1 silicon or even Intel's higher-end CPUs they're never going to compare particularly well. Again, that's a story of balancing cost against performance. If you want a higher-end Samsung tablet, that's not quite this.
At a benchmark level, then, the Galaxy Tab S7 FE doesn't look that fancy. Here's how it compares using Geekbench 5's CPU tests against a range of competing tablets:
The interesting comparison here isn't so much the iPad Pro, which is way more expensive, but the regular Apple iPad, which is cheaper, albeit smaller. If you're after a straight-up media-watching, social media scrolling and light games tablet, it remains the best pick in the market.
Which is not to say that the Galaxy Tab S7 FE doesn't have its charms. That larger display and the AKG speakers do make it rather good for Netflix binges, and of course it can double up as a productivity device for either typing style work or via the included S-Pen if you have stylus needs.
I can't say that I have much in the way of artistic talent, and that's perhaps over-egging it somewhat. You do get access to the usual menu of S-Pen annotation and selection choices, including the PENUP app for in-built drawing purposes.
To give it a red hot go, I decided to see if the S-Pen and Galaxy Tab S7 FE could help me draw my favourite retro gaming character, Bub from Taito's classic Bubble Bobble.
The results were not great, but that's 100% down to my lack of drawing talent and not the S-Pen itself. I could conceivably use it to improve my drawing over time with practice – a LOT of practice in my case.
The larger display on the Galaxy Tab S7 FE is decent in terms of scope, but it is still slightly hampered by the way that many Android apps treat tablet displays.
Simply put, most still don't have particular tablet-centric layouts, so often you'll end up with either a lot of white space, or weird orientation on the fly, or massive icons... and sometimes all 3 at once.
That's not explicitly Samsung's fault of course. Its own apps do respect the screen size, but it's something you can't miss when using (for example) Twitter, where the UI scales up to a massive font size for no particularly good reason. If you're keen on the Tab S7 FE because you figure a big-screen gaming device is better than a smaller one, bear in mind that you might get forced into portrait mode even though there's plenty of space for your game, or into landscape with some serious black border bars in play.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 FE also offers a mobile broadband option, with in-built 5G (sub 6Ghz only) via a SIM card at an additional cost over the regular Wi-Fi-only model.
As with any 5G access, your realistic speeds will vary by location and 5G coverage. Using a Telstra 5G SIM in the Galaxy Tab S7 FE I was able to hit typical speeds of between 350–450Mbps downstream in a limited testing area in Sydney's north, but your experiences can vary. As always with any mobile device, 5G can be something of a battery sapper as well.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 FE review: Battery
Samsung rates the 10,090mAh battery sealed within the Galaxy Tab S7 FE as being good for up to 12 hours of Internet usage or 13 hours of wireless video watching.
Battery life on larger tablets is always going to be super variable depending on your app choices, but I did put the Galaxy Tab S7 FE to the test on the video side of the matter, looping a full HD video at full brightness and moderate volume to battery exhaustion. There it managed a credible 10 hours before conking out. That's below Samsung's claimed figure, but you're probably not going to watch at full brightness, and it does mean that it's a tablet that should easily last through a day's general usage for most purposes.
Recharging the Galaxy Tab S7 FE is via USB-C with a 15W charger in the box. That won't recharge it massively quickly of course, although you can pep that up with a higher specification charger if you've already got one.
Should you buy it?
- Buy it if you're heavily in the Samsung ecosystem and want a nice large screen tablet.
- Don't buy it if you need heavier duty performance or a sharper screen.
There's a difficulty in the Android tablet market, and it's a simple one. Not enough apps are optimised for tablet form factors, and there are simply not enough tablets for proper competition and comparison. Samsung's laudable in this regard, having launched numerous tablet options for customers to pick from, at least.
But should you? The Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 FE is fine but not exceptional, and if you're not firmly ensconced on the Android side of the operating system battle, it doesn't compare that well even to Apple's entry-level iPad model. That's still my pick for the best general tablet for consumers, mostly because iPadOS very much respects tablet-sized displays and Android sadly doesn't.
That doesn't mean that the Galaxy Tab S7 FE doesn't have a place. If you need a larger-screened tablet that won't break the bank, and especially if you have artistic endeavours in mind, it's a very good alternative to the much pricier options from Apple in its own Pro range.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 FE review: Pricing and availability
How we tested
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 FE was tested over a 2-week period assessing build quality, battery life, application performance (including benchmarks), S-Pen integration and 5G network compatibility. The unit tested was supplied by Samsung for the purposes of review.
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