Samsung Galaxy Tab Active 3 review: Rough and tumble

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(Cybertech) – When a product arrives with a bag of sand and a bucket in tow for testing purposes, you know it’s not going to be just any old standard lifestyle product. But that’s exactly the point with the Samsung Galaxy Tab Active 3: it’s a rugged tablet, designed for drops, water- and dust-resistance, and being generally all-round well ‘ard.

“Oh, how very telephone engineer,” quipped one member of the Cybertech team. Because, really, beyond the lifestyle-looking shiny retail packaging, this tablet’s overall vision – it comes with a removable battery, people, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the dinosaurs existed, right? – is far more aligned to the workforce than our consumer norm on the test bench.

Except, in the right hands, it could stretch to appeal. Sure, plenty of current kit offers water- and dust-resistance, but that usually comes wrapped in a finish that’s prone to scratches or cracks. The Tab Active 3, on the other hand, almost wants to be abused – something that kids are supremely good at, even without meaning to be. So, buckets and spades at the ready, because this is the kind of tablet that will survive those trips to the beach.

Design & Display

  • 8-inch PLS LCD display, 1920 x 1200 resolution, 16:10 aspect ratio
  • Dimensions: 213.8 x 126.8 x 9.9mm / Weight: 426g
  • Rugged case and stylus included
  • Finishes: Black only
  • 13MP camera

Pulling the Active Tab out of its box is a little like finding a time-travel wormhole. For a brief moment “Google Nexus 7” flashed before eyes, as if it was 2013 or something (which would be a little unfair: this Galaxy Tab has an 8-inch screen, not a 7-inch one).

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There’s even a protective case in the box, complete with a stylus holster and chunky stylus included (but no hard hat) – it’s all very frontline-worker out-in-the-field kind of stuff – to add reinforcement. The stylus needs a fairly stiff tug to remove it, but at least you’ll know it’s securely stowed.

All this is very befitting of purpose though. The Tab Active 3 has a trio of physical buttons integrated onto its front – so no Android softkeys here, it’s hardware instead – to navigate around the Google Android (it’s version 10, so reasonably well up to date). Whether bare handed or gloved, you’ll be fine using this tough tab.

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The screen itself has large bezels to its sides, so plenty of space to hold on, which again makes it look like an older-generation product. It makes sense in context, but that’s the reality of it – it doesn’t look new or especially fancy. 

Rugged Testing

  • IP68 dust/water resistant – to 1.5m for 30mins
  • MIL-STD-810H military standard
  • 1.5m drop tested

And so to the Galaxy Tab Active 3’s main sell: its ruggedness. This is certainly fun to test, because it’s such a rarity to lob a gadget around with pure abandon, but we got to go to town on this tablet.

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It survived no worries, of course, as that’s its whole purpose. Sure, you’re probably not going to bury it in sand – but you could. So whether that’s the beach or a sandpit, it wont suffer ingress and be damaged, neither will it get all scratched up.

The drop test from 1.5m high is no bother either, although we think it would actually survive more severe impacts with that case attached. It’s not designed to, in terms of the test rating – it’s military standard though – but it’ll survive unscathed, whereas a ‘normal’ glass-backed tablet just isn’t going to.

It’s a similar tale for the waterproofing: we submerged the tablet in about 15cm of water for half an hour and that was no bother for it. Indeed, we think it’d survive for far longer (especially at that depth, as the pressure isn’t exactly high). Plus it can handle, according to the ratings system, 1.5m of submersion for that half-hour period of time without drowning.

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All of this is good stuff, it’s the product delivering on what it’s supposed to do. But we’ve seen plenty of more refined consumer designs with newer hardware and specs also offer much of this – there are plenty of waterproofed mobile products, for example. It’s the Tab Active 3’s hard-shell extra casing that makes it a bit more significant though.

Performance & Battery

  • Samsung Exynos 9810 processor, 4GB RAM
  • 5,050mAh removable battery, 15W charging
  • 128GB storage, microSD card expansion

It’s rare that any products have removable batteries these days, but the Tab Active 3 does. A 5,050mAh one, no less, which is fairly capacious given the overall spec, and lasts for a long work day – around 11 hours. It’s not got phone longevity, therefore, given the scale of the device – but then you can just pop in a backup battery if you need.

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Under the hood the Tab Active has Samsung’s Exynos 9810 processor, meaning it’s on last-gen hardware rather than being really eye-catching and up to date. That might well mean it doesn’t run as hard or as hot as some modern day cutting-edge flagship hardware, but it also means for a pricey slate such as this that you’re not getting the greatest of potential.

Of course whether that matters will depend on just what you want to be doing with this tablet. After all, while you could watch Netflix on your lunch break, realistically we suspect this tablet will have proprietary installs for specific tasks.

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Samsung Knox, the company’s security framework – which is designed to give organisations the tools to manage work devices – comes as standard. That, really, tells you most of what you need to know – this is really for work rather than one to throw at the kids.

Verdict

The more we lived with the Galaxy Active Tab 3, the more we wondered why it’s on both Samsung’s business and consumer website sections.

It’s clearly more aligned with the former, as at this price point it’s so far removed from a consumer-grade tough tablet for the kids that it won’t make sense for, well, almost anyone. We thought that might have been a good angle for such a products, but if that’s your thinking then save several hundred and pick up an Amazon tablet instead.

The fact is many consumer lifestyle products now offer some degree of rugged protection, more up-to-date designs, and as such the Active Tab 3 is therefore best left to who it’s really for: the workforce. It’s not bad by any means, it’s just kind-of retro and somewhat lost for purpose in a consumer context.

Writing by Mike Lowe.



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