Samsung is the only manufacturer interested in producing high-end Android tablets, but last year, the company added a slightly cheaper option to its Tab S lineup. The Galaxy Tab S5e retained the high-quality AMOLED screen and thin design of Samsung’s highest-end models, but lacked the Tab S4’s stylus support (and still cost over $400). This time around, Samsung is trying something different with the Galaxy Tab S6 Lite.
Despite its faults, the new Galaxy Tab S6 Lite might be the strongest iPad competitor Samsung has ever produced. The hardware won’t blow you away, and it doesn’t have all the features of the more expensive Tab S6, but it’s a full-fledged tablet with an included S Pen stylus for $350 — only $20 more than the cheapest iPad, not including the $100 Apple Pencil.
Design, hardware, what’s in the box
The Tab S6 Lite looks exactly like Samsung’s last few high-end Android tablets with an aluminum build, fairly small bezels around the screen, and rounded edges. I’m happy to see Samsung hasn’t cut corners on build quality or materials — the Tab S6 Lite feels extremely solid.
Left: Tab S6; Right: Tab S6 Lite
The screen is a 10.4-inch LCD, with a resolution of 2000×1200. Samsung used its Super AMOLED screens on the Tab S6 and Tab S5e, so the display on this tablet is definitely a downgrade, but it’s still a high-quality LCD with good colors and very little light bleed. I would have really liked to see an AMOLED screen, but even the higher-end iPads use LCDs. There’s also a 5MP front-facing camera placed above the screen.
There are two ports on the Tab S6 Lite: a USB Type-C connector, and a headphone jack. The 3.5mm jack was missing on both the Tab S6 and Tab S5e, so I’m glad to see it make a comeback. However, the pogo pin connector from Samsung’s other tablets is not included on the Tab S6 Lite, so there won’t be a seamless keyboard cover for the Tab S6 Lite like there were for previous tablets. Samsung does sell a $100 Book Cover Keyboard, but it’s fairly clunky and uses Bluetooth.
Sadly, there’s no fingerprint sensor, nor any biometric login option aside from face unlock. Not only did the face unlock rarely work, but it’s also not very secure, since it’s only using the front-facing camera for authentication. If you want to keep your tablet secure, you’ll have to set up a lock screen PIN or pattern.
There’s nothing on the back of the tablet except the single rear camera, which has a resolution of 8MP. The Tab S6 had an indentation along the back side for connecting the S Pen, but for the Tab S6 Lite, Samsung has taken notes from Apple. Just like the iPad, the stylus on the Tab S6 Lite sticks magnetically to the side.
The S Pen won’t fly away when you shake the tablet, but it is pretty easy to accidentally knock it off while sliding the Tab S6 Lite into a bag. The stylus doesn’t have an internal battery, so you don’t have to keep it attached to the tablet if you don’t want to — Samsung’s official book cover case has a special pocket for it. If you lose your S Pen, Samsung does sell replacements for $50 a pop.
While the S6 Lite’s S Pen doesn’t have a battery, it does support full pressure sensitivity (e.g. pressing harder in a drawing app creates a thicker line), and every Android app already built for stylus input will function perfectly on the Tab S6 Lite. Palm rejection also works well, so you can press your hand or arm on the screen and it won’t interrupt whatever you’re drawing. However, the lack of a battery means neither the Note10-style air gestures, nor the older S Pen button shortcuts are available.
The official Book Cover
In the box, you get the tablet, the S Pen, a wall charging brick, and a USB Type-C cable. There’s no book case or cover included, but Samsung will sell you its official Book Cover for a whopping $69.99. The cover does feel nice, but it’s ultimately nothing more than plastic and magnets — definitely wait for it to go on sale, or buy one of the third-party cases that are already cropping up.
Software, performance, battery
The Tab S6 Lite has Android 10, with the same One UI skin that you get on the company’s other tablets and phones. That means you get the new navigation gestures, system-wide dark mode, and privacy enhancements from Android 10, plus a slew of features that Samsung has built itself (like a screen recorder, scheduling for dark mode, etc.).
Interestingly, one feature that was present on the Tab S4, S5e, and S6 is missing on the Tab S6 Lite — DeX mode. On previous models, DeX mode allows you to run Android apps in floating windows and includes a Windows-style taskbar. Samsung told Android Police that “DeX is a feature focused on Samsung’s ultra-premium Tab S line.”
Most of the built-in applications have interfaces that take full advantage of the large 10-inch screen, and some even have additional features for the S Pen. For example, hovering the pen over a file in the Files app will show a pop-up preview. Nothing ground-breaking, but still nice to have.
Unfortunately, the third-party app situation on Android tablets is just as grim as it has been for 5+ years. While every app you can get on your smartphone will technically work on the Tab S6 Lite, many popular applications (Twitter, Instagram, Discord, some Google apps, etc.) aren’t optimized for large screens and/or landscape mode. This is in stark contrast to the iPad, where almost every application has a large screen layout. In some cases, like with Twitter, you’re better off adding the web app for a service to your home screen than using the native Android application.
There are a handful of applications that take tablet support seriously.
There are a handful of applications that take tablet support seriously. Microsoft Office is included with the Tab S6 Lite (though you need a subscription to edit and save files), and the interface is similar to what you get on the iPad. I regularly use my Galaxy Tab S6 for Adobe Lightroom, and editing photos with the S Pen works just as well on the S6 Lite as it does on my regular S6.
The lower price means an 800-series Snapdragon processor is out of the question. Instead, the Tab S6 Lite uses Samsung’s own Exynos 9611 chipset, the same one found in the company’s $400 Galaxy A51. In benchmarks, it’s about half the speed of the Snapdragon 855 processor in the full-fledged Galaxy Tab S6, but real-world performance is still fine. Apps open quickly, and the 4GB RAM is enough for multitasking. I did notice occasional dropped frames during animations, but that’s my only complaint.
Battery life on the Tab S6 Lite is excellent thanks to the large 7,040mAh battery and power-efficient processor. I charged the tablet to 100% three days ago, and after nearly seven hours of on-and-off use (mostly streaming media, but also some productivity work and simple games), I still have 52% battery remaining.
The Galaxy Tab S6 Lite also supports quick charging, even though the wall adapter included in the box is only capable of around 7.5W. Samsung didn’t provide any documentation for the supported charging technologies and speeds, but in my own testing, the Tab S6 Lite does appear to support both USB Power Delivery (USB-PD) and Qualcomm Quick Charge. I was able to reach a maximum power draw of around 14W on both options, which isn’t quite as fast as the iPad Pro’s 35W charging speed, but still decent. The more expensive Galaxy Tab S6 doesn’t support USB-PD at all, only Qualcomm Quick Charge.
There are two cameras on the Tab S6 Lite, an 8MP rear (f/1.9) and a 5MP front (f/2.0). Photos taken on almost any tablet are usually awful, and the Tab S6 Lite is no an exception to that rule. There is enough quality on the back lens for scanning documents, but that’s about the only good use case.
Should you buy it?
Yes, if you really don’t want an iPad. iPads are better tablets in almost every respect than anything running Android, not only because Apple has done a much better job of cultivating a platform for tablet-optimized apps, but also due to Apple’s A-series processors blowing nearly every Android device (including the Tab S6 Lite) out of the water in speed.
However, there’s no denying some people (myself included) would still rather have an Android tablet for one reason or another. Maybe you want to store dozens of gigabytes of offline media with the microSD card slot, or you like playing emulators, or you want something with deep Google Assistant integration. If running Android is a requirement, the Tab S6 Lite is probably the best tablet available right now. It’s an immensely better value than the Tab S6, while still retaining most of the features people look for in a high-end tablet.
Ultimately, the Tab S6 Lite might be the most competitive tablet Samsung has ever produced, and it makes me excited to see what the higher-end Tab S7 will have in store.
Buy it if:
- You definitely want a tablet with Android.
- You’re looking to do more than just watch Netflix — if so, The Fire HD 8 might be more appropriate.
Don’t buy it if:
- You have no objections to buying an iPad.
- You want the fastest Android tablet possible — if that’s the case, get a Tab S6 or wait for the Tab S7.