The Samsung Tab A series of tablets has always been confusing to me.
The most important thing to know is there are two versions of Tab A. One's the standard Tab A and the other is the Tab A with S Pen. The tablets may share the same name but they have different specifications and features. More specifically, the Tab A that doesn't come with the S Pen does not support the S Pen.
Second thing to know is the Tab A with S Pen, the model that I'm reviewing, is the one with better specifications all around except for the small battery capacity of 4200mAh vs 5100 mAH of the Tab A non-S Pen model.
Third thing to know is the Tab A with S Pen has a much better display with higher resolution, better colours and viewing angles.
This is the Samsung Tab A 8.0 with S Pen (2019). It's the most affordable tablet from Samsung that supports the S Pen.
I bought mine from Amazon US for less than US $240. Just for comparison purposes, the Tab S6 Lite is US $349, iPad 10.2 with 32GB is US $329 and iPad Mini 5 is US $399 and Apple Pencil is sold separately for US $99.
The Samsung Tab A 8.0 with S Pen is the budget tablet to consider if you want an affordable digital sketchpad.
The display is a 8-inch IPS panel with good colours and viewing angles.
Resolution is 1920 x 1200 so that's a 16:10 aspect ratio. This display is capable of playing 1080P videos with small black bars at top and bottom. The combination of resolution and screen size makes everything appears sharp. Pixel density is 283 PPI. Pixelation is not noticeable.
Brightness is good. At maximum brightness, you can even use this under sunlight if you don't mind sunburn.
Overall design looks good. Side bezels are thin. There's no fingerprint sensor so you'll have to rely on face unlock which works well.
The body is made of plastic with a nice matte surface texture. You probably don't need to get a case for this tablet as the plastic body doesn't look like it can be scratched easily. The plastic body material feels like the material that's used to make phone and tablet cases.
The tablet is compact and can be easily held in one hand. It's just 325g so you can hold this for long periods of time without discomfort or hand strain.
There's only one speaker at the bottom and audio quality is good for a budget tablet. The charging port is USB-C and file transfer speeds is USB 2.
At the bottom right is a slot that houses the S Pen.
The tablet comes with 32GB of eMMC 5.1 storage. Storage speed is alright, as in opening apps, searching settings may be slower.
You can expand storage with the microSD card slot.
One hand typing in portrait mode is quite comfortable.
The processor used is the Exynos 7904, Octa-core (2x1.8 GHz Cortex-A73 & 6x1.6 GHz Cortex-A53).
General performance is alright. Sometimes it can be slow but overall performance is smooth. For example, launching apps may be slower, but once the app is opened, the performance is smooth. Loading of webpages is fast.
3GB of RAM is included.
This tablet ships with Samsung One UI version 1.1 and Android 9. It can be upgraded to One UI 2.0 and Android 10 via software updates.
The S Pen included is smaller compared to those S Pens included with the bigger tablets, eg Tab S3, S4, S6, S6 Lite.
This S Pen is so small that it feels like drawing with a toothpick. It's uncomfortable to hold for long periods of time. This S Pen is really designed for clicking on stuff on the screen, and then store away into that bottom slot.
I do recommend buying a larger S Pen to go with this tablet. That of course means spending more money. Alternatives included Staedtler Noris Digital but replacement tips may not be easily available, or get the S Pen from Tab S3, S4, S6, S6 Lite where you can find cheap replacement tips easily. The best S Pen is the one from Tab S3 because it's cylindrical and nicer to hold.
This tip used by this S Pen is the same tip used by S Pens made for phones.
This tip is very difficult to remove from the pen. I've frayed my tip after several unsuccessful attempts to remove it.
At the back of the S Pen is a spring loaded button that serves only to help you remove it from the pen slot.
Drawing performance is good. There is no significant wobble or jitter when drawing diagonal lines slowly.
The display is laminated so the lines look like they are appearing directly beneath the pen tip. If you do look close there seems like a gap but it's not noticeable with normal usage.
There is some input lag as usual so the line will try to catch up with the pen tip or cursor. With my normal drawing speed, I don't find that input lag to be a big issue.
Here's the line quality test from alternative pens. The red lines are from the stock S Pen, black lines are from Tab S6 S Pen and blue lines from the Noris Digital.
Initial activation force for all the pens are low, as in you can press lightly to get a line. However for some reason the lines for the Tab S6 S Pen are thicker. There's no way to adjust pressure settings or pressure curve from Samsung settings so in this case you have to change the brush size to get thinner lines.
This was drawn with Concepts. Pressure sensitivity and all the shortcuts worked well.
Another sketch drawn with Concepts. There are actually many good drawing apps on Android. Concepts is my favourite currently.
Autodesk Sketchbook is another app that performs very well.
Other drawing apps you can try on Android are Infinite Painter, Medibang Paint, IbisPaint X, Krita.
Drawing performance is good. The lines come out just the way I expect and pressure sensitivity works well and is quite accurate.
Oh, battery life is good. You can get 7 hours or more with auto brightness.
There are only two downsides with this tablet. One's the small size of the S Pen that's included. This is a budget tablet so performance is slower compared to other more expensive tablets, but overall performance is still smooth and satisfactory
Overall, this is definitely a tablet I can recommend easily to beginners looking for a budget tablet for drawing. It's at least US $150 cheaper compared to the budget iPad 10.2-inch (US $329) and Apple Pencil (US $99). But since the included S Pen is less than ideal, you have to factor extra money to get another S Pen. You can get third party Tab S4 S Pen (extra nibs included) for less than US $25.
Pros and cons at a glance
+ Nice design
+ Good build quality
+ IPS panel with good colours and viewing angles
+ Sharp 8-inch display with 1920 x 1200 resolution
+ Good battery life
+ Decent audio quality
+ 3.5mm headphone jack
+ Decent performance for a budget tablet
+ microSD card slow
+ Can be upgraded to Android 10
- Included S Pen is too small to hold comfortably
- Competitive pricing
Below are direct links to the product on Amazon.
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