When Samsung had launched the Galaxy Tab S4 back in August, it was an interesting new take on tablets with it’s dual-mode Android and DeX style operating system. It was a pretty cool idea, but I was afraid Samsung may have given up on their Windows-based tablets like last year’s Galaxy Book and 2016’s Galaxy TabPro S. Where else could you get a gorgeous Super AMOLED screen on a powerful Windows 10 tablet? No where! Android and DeX are cool and all, but I can’t process thousands of RAW photo files, seriously program my websites, run virtual machines, load portable servers, run integrated developer environments, make 3D environmental design simulations, or edit InDesign layouts on that. Luckily, Samsung is still making Windows 10 tablet PCs and now we have the Samsung Galaxy Book 2 to look at.
In the twenty teens, laptop and personal computers have evolved to be a lot more like tablet PC convertibles thanks to the popularity of the earlier Microsoft Surface Pro computers. It’s kind of the new standard in computers, and the Samsung Galaxy Book 2 goes along with that trend, but also steps foot into a new trend of ARM-based processors that boast better battery life and always-on cellular data connectivity. We’ve seen devices like this before (See our HP Envy X2 Qualcomm review), but the Samsung has a new Qualcomm processor that should handle things a lot better. Keep reading to learn more about Samsung’s latest Windows 10 Tablet PC.
While the original Samsung Galaxy Book was available in about 5 different configurations including two different screen sizes last year, the Galaxy Book 2 is going to be initially only available in one configuration. First off, we’ve got that usually excellent 12″ Super AMOLED full HD+ (2160 x 1440 pixel) screen. That’s the main thing you’re going to buy a Samsung tablet for. It’s also got a Qualcomm Snapdragon 850 Quad 2.96Ghz + Quad 1.7Ghz ARM processor with a Snapdragon X20 LTE Cat 18 5CA 4×4 MIMO modem for always-on connectivity with a 6,120 mAH (47.12Wh) battery. The Galaxy Book also has 4Gb of RAM, 128Gb solid state storage, and an expansion tray to add a Micro SD card for more storage. It’s got an 8Mp rear camera and a 5Mp front camera, 2 USB Type-C ports, and a 3.5mm headset jack. Of course there’s WiFi, Bluetooth, accelerometer, geomagnetic sensor, gyro sensor, and fingerprint sensor. The dimensions are 11.32″ x 7.89″ x 0.3″ and its weight is 1.75 lbs. That’s a little bit thicker than the original Samsung Galaxy Book (0.2mm) and the TabPro S.
The Samsung Galaxy Book 2 is a gorgeous tablet PC. I highly recommend the dark mode theme in Windows 10 since the blacks on the Super AMOLED screen are so dark, they blend seamlessly into the black bezel.
Here’s a close-up of that Super AMOLED screen. It may not be Adobe RGB color gamut accurate, but the blacks just look so good.
The Galaxy Book 2’s form-factor is totally copied from the Surface Pro 3. You’ve got the fold out kick stand, the magnetically attached keyboard with a little reverse fold up to the bezel to raise the angle a bit, and now even the stylus is attached to the left edge of the tablet via magnets. The whole copying a Surface Pro isn’t necessarily a bad thing though.
The keyboard has plenty of button travel and a nice soft-touch rubber feel to it. The “Samsung” branding on the magnetic bezel tilt strip is a nice touch.
Again, this looks a lot like a Surface Pro on the back, except instead of a Microsoft Windows square logo there’s a Samsung logo.
The right edge is where all of our ports are. You’ve got a speaker grill here along with a 3.5mm headset jack and two USB-C ports.
The USB-C ports have little icons next to them. This presumably indicates that the one on the right also supports external monitors while the one on the left only supports data transfer and charging.
On the left edge is another speaker grill along with a plastic tray that requires a SIM card removal tool to pop open. This is where the Nano SIM for your LTE data connectivity is going to go and the opposite side of the tray includes a spot for a MicroSD card.
That kickstand has a fairly strong hinge that can be adjusted to just about any angle. It’s stiff enough, but there is a slight wobble to it if you jiggle it a bit. I’ve also found that if you press too hard towards the top of the screen while the kickstand is extended, it can slide across your desk and open up the angle more. So this kickstand is not appropriate for pressure-heavy drawing on the screen.
There’s an 8Mp camera on the back in the corner as opposed to the middle of the tablet. That’s fine, but since this is a tablet, you’re probably never going to use the rear-facing camera (nor should you). The interesting thing here is the fingerprint sensor. Usually we see fingerprint sensors on the edges of tablets these days, so it’s kind of strange to see one around the back corner. Still, I like this placement. All you have to do is touch the back of the upper right corner with your index finger in order to sign in. I don’t have to feel the edges to find the sensor… it’s easy to remember that it’s right in the corner behind the bezel.
Of course there’s a front-facing camera for video conferencing. It’s 5Mp and does well enough to stream your videos calls. Combining this with the always online features of the Qualcomm chips makes the Samsung Galaxy Book 2 a pretty nice Skype machine.
The S-Pen that comes with the Samsung Galaxy Book 2 is pretty excellent. It’s almost the same pen that comes with the Samsung Galaxy Tab S4. The difference is that it’s grey instead of black.
The S-Pen is based on Wacom digitizer technology which is superior to the N-Trig digitizer tech used in other Windows tablets like the Microsoft Surface line as well as many other HP, Lenovo, etc. tablets. The S-Pen doesn’t have an internal battery, which is another plus. The tip has a bit of flex to it. This makes drawing with it feel a little softer than using an actual pen or pencil on glass. The feel is distinctly different from the feel of the Surface Pen or a high-end Wacom Cintiq display or Wacom Mobile Studio.
It works great in Photoshop and other Windows Ink enabled applications. Adobe Illustrator behaves a bit strangely though where strokes might disappear after being drawn and then reappear later.
The S-Pen is glossy plastic and feels like the Apple Pencil. That’s not a good thing. The gloss is pretty slippery. The pen is fully cylindrical too so that makes for less surface area to magnetically attach to the edge of the tablet. The magnet is only on one side of the barrel as well, so you have to rotate it just right in order for it to stick.
The usual place to store the S-Pen is on the left edge of the tablet, but I’m right handed so reaching over to the left edge every time I want to use the pen is pretty annoying. There are also magnets in the bezel though, so I like to stick the pen on the right edge bezel as seen above for easy access.
In the above you can see a tiny little metal protrusion in the middle of the S-pen. It looks like a button, but it isn’t. The little protrusion gives you some tactile information for orienting the pen’s cylindrical shape toward its magnets, but the real intention of this was to help keep the pen from rolling too much when placed on a desk (or dropped).
The S-Pen has one button that you can configure in Samsung’s Settings app. Unfortunately there are very few customization options. You can set the button to launch Samsung’s “Air Command” software or Microsoft’s Ink Workspace, or nothing. Luckily you can now also configure a function for the barrel button plus a screen tap. By default, that will cause a right-click function, which is great.
Ever since the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, the Windows Ink interface has been pretty terrible though. Now, dragging the pen across a scroll-able page will scroll the page like a finger instead of selecting the text. You have to hold a right click button in order to select stuff and that’s hugely awkward to perform. Hopefully someday a future Windows 10 update will fix that problem.
The Samsung Galaxy Book 2 comes with Windows 10 S Home pre-installed. That “S” is for security and it means that you can’t install or run x86 32-bit programs that are not available in the Microsoft Store app included on the device. Now, full Microsoft Office 365 is already included on the device, so for that all you need to do is sign in with your Office 365 account or enter a license key. Outlook, Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Access, and Publisher are all there and they work really well. Macros even work just fine! If all you need is full Microsoft Office and a web browser, S mode could be really good for you. The included Microsoft Edge web browser has come a long way and works really well. It doesn’t have the same extension ecosystem as Chrome, but there are some useful extensions.
I spent about a day and a half on S mode before going into the Store app and clicking the Windows 10 Home switch button which instantly removes that limitation of only being able to install programs from the Microsoft Store. Personally, I really need my real x86 programs while on the go. Especially the other Microsoft programs that weren’t included on the device. Like the good version of OneNote! Windows 10 S comes with the “Windows 10” UWP version of OneNote, and that is awful to use with a tablet. There is a text selection tool in the toolbar, but if you tap that with your stylus and then try to select text… it writes with digital ink instead. Absolutely unusable!
So after getting out of S mode, I installed the good version of OneNote which comes with Office 365 and looks like all of the other Office programs. But something weird happened when I did that. Instead of just adding OneNote 2016, it reinstalled all of my Office 365 programs and I had to re-sign in, and re-add all of my email accounts to Outlook. This makes me think that the version included with the Galaxy Book 2 was optimized for the ARM processor architecture, but the reinstalled Office seems to be performing pretty well, so maybe it’s not a problem.
Do you like Bloatware? If so, Windows 10 comes with plenty of silly games on the start screen. Samsung also includes some of their own apps like Samsung Notes, Samsung Gallery, Air Command, Samsung Flow, Dolby Atmos, and their own separate Galaxy Book Settings app.
The custom settings app is similar to the one in the Galaxy Book 1. You can enable a Battery Life Extender option that will only charge the battery to 85% in order to extend the life of the battery. You can also change the color display of the Super AMOLED display by switching between 4 profiles. This is also where you can configure the S-Pen barrel button functions.
Samsung Flow also has some other great features though. It can load all of your phone’s notifications into a window on the Galaxy Book, and Samsung has enabled reply capabilities for some of them like SMS and WhatsApp. The software also enables you to use a Samsung Galaxy S smartphone as a hotspot without having to turn it on through the phone. So there’s some really nice integration there.
The Samsung Gallery and Samsung Notes apps let you sync photos and notes with your Samsung account.
Above’s “Air Command” bar has a few extra S-Pen stylus features that you can access with the button on the S-Pen. Smart select is a type of screen capture utility that also does animated GIF recording and lets you record or capture only a specific part of the screen. Screen write is another screen capture utility that also lets you write on the image with a number of pen tools. The “Create Note” and “View all Notes” buttons go to the “Samsung Notes” app, which is a very basic note taking app.
As mentioned, the S-Pen works great in Adobe Photoshop, but because this is an ARM processor, Photoshop and other Win 32 x86 programs are going to be running in an emulation subsystem of the operating system that makes these programs compatible with the ARM architecture. That’s sure to cause some problems. Photoshop is noticeably more laggy than when running it on an Intel processor. Another issue is that most of the Adobe programs have special integrations added for specific graphics processing units, and none of them are designed to work with the Qualcomm Adreno GPUs. That means there’s no GPU acceleration and everything has to run through the central processor. Granted, these programs run a lot better on the Snapdragon 850 than they did on the HP Envy X2‘s Snapdragon 835.
If you open the properties dialog for an x86 Win32 program, you’ll see there are some “Windows 10 on ARM” emulation settings that you can customize if necessary.
Incidentally, the x86 emulation for Windows 10 on ARM only supports 32-bit x86 programs. That means you won’t be able to run 64-bit programs designed for x64 processor architectures and their 32-bit counterparts are becoming increasingly rare. Many of the latest versions of Adobe’s Creative Cloud applications are made only for 64-bit processors now and no longer include 32-bit counterparts. For example, Adobe Premiere Pro hasn’t had a 32-bit version since Creative Suite 4 many years ago.
It’s seems like some of the hardware drivers are not quite ready for prime time when it comes to Qualcomm hardware and Windows 10 just yet. In the above Event Viewer screenshot, we can see a critical error that caused the tablet PC to reboot itself.
All in all, running full x86 programs on the Samsung Galaxy Book 2 is certainly tolerable, but the performance is still a long ways away from full x64 processors like the Intel Core series.
The Samsung Galaxy Book 2 has an 8 megapixel rear camera along with a 5 megapixel front facing camera. The resolution is plenty for high-definition Skype video calls or capturing something that you want to save in OneNote, but taking photos or videos with this tablet out in public is not recommended. The image quality is not so great, plus it’s a giant faux pas to hold up a big tablet in front of you to take a photo.
Regardless, here’s a few sample images from both the front-facing and rear-facing cameras on the Samsung Galaxy Book 2.
Compared to Galaxy Book 1
Above you can see the Galaxy Book 2 on the left and the Galaxy Book 1 on the right. The original Galaxy Book had its kickstand as part of its folding keyboard cover which limited it’s stand-up angles. The Galaxy Book 2’s integrated metal kickstand is much more stable even if it does copy the Microsoft Surface Pro design.
The Galaxy Book 2’s keyboard on the right feels very similar to the Galaxy Book 1’s keyboard on the left. The big difference is that the new keyboard no longer skips key presses when the backlight is on. That was a major problem about the Galaxy Book 1’s keyboard.
The new S-Pen is a lot different as well. The Galaxy Book 2’s S-Pen now has an eraser on the end and it’s a bit longer. The metal shirt clip is gone and we’ve got a more rolling-friendly glossy plastic shape too. Though that little metal protrusion on the pen helps keep the new stylus from rolling too much.
The original Galaxy Book 1 on the left had a very clean smooth backing, while the new Galaxy Book 2 has a clear seam straight down the middle.
Thickness wise, the Galaxy Book 2 feels a bit thinner mainly because the keyboard cover doesn’t go all the way around both sides. You’ll also notice a slight rearrangement of the USB-C and 3.5mm headset jack ports.
The Galaxy Book 2’s screen looks exactly the same as the Galaxy Book 1 and Galaxy TabPro S’s screens and that’s excellent. These Super AMOLED screens are gorgeous.
With the 6,120 mAH (47.12Wh) battery in S-Mode after 20 hours I still had 15% battery life left. This is with the always-on connection active, downloading emails, web browsing, streaming a movie over the network, and listening to music stream on Pandora. Recharging back to 100% from there took about 3 hours. That’s about normal for Samsung Fast Charging, and 20 hours of battery life is pretty excellent.
As always battery life is a relative term depending on what kind of CPU intensive programming you’re going to do along with your screen brightness. While in S mode, I had much better battery life, but that’s probably because I couldn’t install and use any serious processor intensive programs. After getting a few of my favorite x86 programs installed, those took up a lot more power usage than the ARM-optimized programs that you’re stuck with in S-mode, and I probably used the tablet more since I could do more with it with my good programs installed.
The Samsung Galaxy Book 2 will be available online with AT&T, Microsoft and Samsung for $999.99 — keyboard and stylus included — starting November 2. AT&T, Sprint and Verizon will stock the tablet in stores later next month.
While the Galaxy Book 1 was a clear improvement over the Galaxy TabPro S, the Galaxy Book 2 is not such an obvious improvement. There are some improvements of course. The battery life is better, the kickstand is better, the pen is better in some ways… but there are some areas where the Galaxy Book 2 is lacking. It only has 4Gb of RAM and 128Gb of storage now and there currently are no options for higher-end hardware. It’s only available with the Qualcomm ARM processor architecture, and that’s a performance problem when running standard Windows programs since they need to be run through an emulation subsystem. What’s more is you can’t use the 64-bit versions of those Windows programs since the emulation only supports 32 bit applications.
On the other hand, the Qualcomm ARM architecture does provide for some pretty great battery life as long as you don’t need to do any serious work other than the lightweight UWP apps in the Microsoft Store, the ARM-optimized included version of Office 365, and whatever else you can do within a web browser. If you can do without some of the hefty Windows programs out there, the Samsung Galaxy Book 2 could be a real gem for the frequent traveler