June 23, 2024

Mikayla Macfarlane

Serving technology better

No new iPads? This big-screen Samsung tablet could be your holiday winner instead

6 min read
No new iPads? This big-screen Samsung tablet could be your holiday winner instead


The display of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 FE+ leaning on a railing.

Max Buondonno/ZDNET

ZDNET’s key takeaways

  • Samsung’s latest Galaxy tablets come in two sizes, the 10.9-inch Tab S9 FE for $599, and the 12.4-inch Tab S9 FE+ for $699.
  • If you have your heart set on a big tablet for watching movies and multitasking on the go and want to keep your spending in check, the Tab S9 FE+ is a solid choice.
  • Keep in mind that you may experience the usual Android tablet quirks, such as outstretched apps and the occasional slow-down.

The world of budget-friendly Android tablets continues to grow as more companies try to appeal to those who don’t feel like spending $1,000+ on a nice Netflix machine. Samsung is once again trying to make something happen in the upper mid-range sector with the Galaxy Tab S9 FE series, which consists of the regular S9 FE and the S9 FE+. I’ve been reviewing the latter, which starts at $599, and… it’s pretty good!

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I’m not going to sit here and tell you it’s the greatest tablet since sliced bread. While it marks the return of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab FE line after a hiatus in 2022, the company’s mid-range tablets haven’t changed all that much, save for a few tweaks here and there to bring them up to 2023 standards. The S9 FE+ is a prime example of that, but despite it being a boring update, it’s still a great option if you’re after a big screen with long battery life.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 FE

ZDNET RECOMMENDS

Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 FE Series

The latest Galaxy tablets are geared towards digital content creators, students, artists, and gamers, with an optional keyboard accessory to accommodate.

The screen is really what makes the Galaxy Tab S9 FE+. Samsung includes a 12.4-inch 16:10 IPS LCD display that, to my eye, looks about as close as you can get to OLED without actually making the leap to OLED. Content looks pin-sharp thanks to the 2560 x 1600 resolution, while colors are vibrant and contrast is surprisingly adequate. I’ve enjoyed doing just about everything on this tablet, from watching movies to reading articles. It all looks really good, which is to be expected from a tablet from Samsung.

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Is it as beautiful as a straight-up OLED panel? No, not really. It doesn’t help that there’s a gray tint whenever something super dark shows up on the screen (such as nighttime in a movie), but for $600, it’s forgivable.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 FE+ streaming a video about watches on YouTube.

Max Buondonno/ZDNET

The screen sits on the front of an aluminum chassis that Samsung offers in four different colors: Silver, Gray, Lavender, and Mint (the one I got — and yeah, it’s definitely the best one). There’s no shortage of similarities between it and the other members of the Galaxy Tab series, with its flat sides, circular speaker grilles, and antenna stripes. This also makes it look a lot like Apple’s iPads, which you cannot unsee the moment you set them next to each other.

While the Tab S9 FE is not the most comfortable tablet to hold for long periods of time (no tablet with flat edges is), it’s at least thin and light enough that you don’t grow tired. After a while, it just tends to dig into your hand, which isn’t great. But then again, that’s with most modern tablets these days. At least the bezels are thick enough so you have somewhere to put your thumbs.

The back of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 FE+ propped up against a pillow.

Max Buondonno/ZDNET

Under the hood, Samsung packs in its Exynos 1380 processor, a mid-range chipset that isn’t positioned to take on the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2s and Apple M1s of the world. Instead, it’s a fine processor for the Galaxy Tab S9 FE+, with performance that’s generally reliable during my testing. Apps and games respond in a timely manner with only a few slow-downs whenever I switch between apps rapidly. 

There’s 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage in my unit, which is perfectly fine for most consumers. If you want more, there’s a 12GB RAM/256GB storage option that’s $100 extra, which will give you a bit more headroom that can come in handy if you’re a serious tablet multitasker.

Also: The best large tablets: Expert tested and reviewed

The device comes with Samsung’s One UI 5.1 on top of Android 13, and it’s a fine operating system. The Tab S9 FE+ dons the usual One UI aesthetic and everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to features and settings, including an array of multitasking features like split-screen, multi-window, and even DeX, which gives you a desktop-like interface for getting work done. That feature is best paired with a keyboard and mouse, which Samsung is happy to sell you in the form of the $229 Book Cover Keyboard. I didn’t get it to review, but I bet it’s nice when you’re in DeX mode.

The S Pen drawing on the screen of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 FE+.

Max Buondonno/ZDNET

Of course, this is Android on a tablet, so you’ll have to deal with all the weird ways apps open and scale on the display. I’ll admit, the app support situation isn’t as bad as it was a few years ago, thanks to Google pressuring more developers to optimize their apps for larger devices. Still, it’s not perfect, and common apps like X (formerly Twitter), Instagram, and Slack will either not stretch to fill the display or stretch too widely and leave you with a bunch of white space. This isn’t Samsung’s fault, by the way — it’s a larger problem with Android which I feel obligated to mention whenever I review an Android tablet.

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Oh, there’s one more software-esque feature I have to mention: drawing. The Tab S9 FE+ comes with an S Pen that magnetically attaches to the back to recharge. You can write notes, sign documents, create drawings, sketch, and more with solid accuracy and responsiveness. Samsung has been doing the S Pen thing for a while now, and it’s perfected its technique.

Battery life has been really good on the Tab S9 FE+, which is nice to see. There’s a 10,090mAh battery inside that can last 2-3 days on a full charge with my light use. If you take it on a plane with you, you can easily watch two movies, play some games, and read an ebook before it dies. Standby is also surprisingly great; I left this tablet unattended all night at 100 percent and it only dropped to 96 percent by the next morning. It’s reminiscent of the kind of endurance you can get from an iPad Air.

ZDNET’s buying advice

If you’re considering picking up the Tab S9 FE+, I would recommend considering exactly what you need from your next tablet. If you’re after a big screen and long battery life, this is the one for you. 

But if you’d be okay with something a little smaller or serves as a second device when you aren’t using it, the Pixel Tablet is always a great option. It comes with a smaller 10.2-inch screen and a Tensor G2 processor, and it bundles a speaker dock in the box that turns it into a smart display. Plus, it’s $200 cheaper.

But if you have your heart set on a big tablet for watching movies and multitasking on the go and want to keep your spending in check, the Tab S9 FE+ is a solid choice. There’s nothing really special that stands out about the device, but as a general everyday tablet (that happens to be larger than average and comes with a stylus in the box), it’s quite good.





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