Finding the right tablet is tough. First and foremost, my next one needed to be versatile and cheap enough to take on trips, instead of a laptop. The Samsung S6 Lite seemed to tick all the right boxes but, ultimately, I'm still wondering if the perfect solution exists...
At heart, I’m an Apple guy. Once you dip your toes into that ecosystem, it’s hard to stay out. Those products I have all work in harmony, and they all feel meticulously designed for simplicity. As much as I would have loved to buy an iPad Pro, that just wasn't going to happen, for enough reasons:
2) The stylus/pencil options are $99 and $129. Seriously, guys? You even have to occasionally charge the pencil.
3) Transferring files between Apple devices and a computer via USB still isn't simple enough. AirDrop connectivity can be aggravating.
4) There’s never a built-in memory card slot for expandable storage (of course, when Apple would rather you pay to keep everything on the cloud).
With those considerations in mind, for a mere few hundred dollars, the S6 Lite includes a stylus ("S Pen"), offers the ability to transfer files directly to various folders over USB, and has a built-in MicroSD slot. Amazing! Now, for the nuts and bolts of the thing...
Table Of Contents:
The Roundup - What I Don't Like
SAMSUNG S6 LITE SPECS:
display: 10.4" TFT LCD with 2000x1200 resolution
internal storage: 64GB or 128GB options
expandable storage: MicroSD, up to 1TB!
OS: Android 10
battery: 7,040 mAh
weight: 1.02 lb.
speakers: dual with Dolby Atoms sound processing
output: 3.5mm headphone jack!
front camera: 5MP
rear camera: 8MP (I had no plans to use either camera)
connectivity: WiFi, bluetooth, USB-C
S Pen: no battery = no charging!
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ADAPTING TO ANDROID:
Acclimating to the Android operating system is where things get a little complicated. First impressions: I kinda/really hate it. Just organizing the icons on the desktop has been a tricky mess. I had trouble moving icons out of folders and back onto the main display page... it's more than a long hold on the icon, then drag it to wherever you want (like in the Apple world). It's more like some angry taps and a long, long hold, wait for some extra menus to come up, then move the icon.
Also, it took a long time to figure out how to remove the second, blank "home page" you can swipe over to by default, even when no app icons live there.
As well, a bunch of vague apps are preloaded: what the heck are Samsung Flow, PENUP, AR Zone, and Samsung Global Goals? I bought this tablet to enhance productivity, and clicking on every mysterious icon doesn't mesh with my aim to make better use of my time.
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A big hangup for me is how the device handles standard files. Whereas I’m very glad I was able to load thousands of MP3s to a microSD card for road trips, I haven’t been able to find a media player I’m happy with.
Also regarding software, it would be nice if the S6 Lite could just natively show me a PDF, rather than prompting to pick a program that can display the file. On an Apple product, boom! Easy peasy. Not so much on this tablet.
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The battery life makes me think of an old Mitch Hedberg joke about his smoke alarm at home: "If you want to slowly drain your 9-volt batteries, then buy this circle!" In this case, if you want to buy a rectangle that drains a battery, buy this tablet. Even if it's kept in airplane mode for a couple days, the charge is noticeably lower when you pick the device back up.
Making matters worse, it takes a long time to charge up the S6 Lite (even when plugged straight into an outlet and with "fast charging"activated). During one of the days I worked on this review, the battery was fully drained when it got plugged into the wall at 11:30 AM. Exactly one hour later, the battery was at 27%. The tablet hadn't been powered on, so there definitely wasn’t any other activity slowing down the recharge.
Of course, if you’re using this tablet at a desk, you can just keep it plugged in and fully juiced up. However, the included USB-C to USB-A charging cable is just barely long enough to reach from the power strip on the floor to the edge of my desk. I'm planning on replacing the 31" cable soon.
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Some of the security controls, or lack thereof, are frustrating. I recently installed an eBook reader, and to use it, I needed to grant the app permission to all photos, media, and files on the tablet. It seems like a lot to ask, just so I can open ".mobi" book files.
I see “Secured by Knox” during every boot up, and on it's own, there's no other context. So what does it mean? I'm glad you asked. I looked into it, and according to Samsung, Knox is an environment in which your security credentials - passwords, pins, and biometric data - are kept in a secured area of your device's memory. If your tablet detects physical intrusion, it can even initialize a self-destruct mode. I hope it blows up in a poof of fire and smoke, like Tom Cruise's sunglasses in "Mission: Impossible 2". We know it doesn't work that way, but it's fun to imagine.
One simple, but very cool feature is the ability to put your contact info on the lock screen. I'm sure we have all found a phone someone left behind, with no way to tell who the owner is. Whether it's an email address or a family member's phone number, putting some sort of contact info on the screen can certainly be a big help.
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The Samsung S6 Lite certainly has the physical features I wanted: a nice screen, stylus/pencil, headphone jack, and expandable storage slot. The physical stuff is hampered by my frustration with Android. As noted, I'm not a fan of everything Apple, either, but some of the Android functionality is really a head-scratcher and truly makes me wonder if the developers use their own product.
Beyond discussing just the tablet, it's worth mentioning the add-on I purchased - a Fintie brand bluetooth keyboard and adjustable folio case combo. I had hoped the keyboard would get me writing more often, but that didn't happen... The keys are just too cramped together for my big hands, and the lag between typing and the characters displaying on the screen is just too distracting. Where the magnetic keyboard does help is that it allows you to position the tablet at lower angles.
Although I find the combo limited in its usefulness, I do like the design of the case. Sometimes, however, I wish the tablet could also be rotated for a vertical orientation (especially when I'm reading TV scripts).
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THE ROUNDUP - WHAT I DO LIKE:
1) The price ($329.99 in winter 2020).
2) Upgradeable storage via the microSD card slot.
3) The included S Pen and magnetic connection between the pen and tablet.
4) An analog headphone jack. I don’t always want or need everything to be Bluetooth.
5) You can put your contact info on the lock screen. That's pretty cool, if your device ever goes missing and is found by a good samaritan. I wish Apple would do this, so I could list a shared email address on my phone.
6) Handwriting-to-text works pretty well. It's neat to jot down anything that comes to mind in manuscript or cursive and watch it turn into type.
7) Decent built-in speakers.
8) A high volume indicator, which shows the volume meter in the red when your headphones might be cranked up loud enough to damage your hearing over time. I could have used that on all my devices a long time ago.
This is the Wifi-only version of the tablet, so I can’t speak of the LTE functionality.
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THE ROUNDUP - WHAT I DON'T LIKE:
1) Having two app stores on the device. I really don't know why there's both a Galaxy Store and a Google Play Store. What's different between them? What's the same? For a newbie, it's a mystery.
2) Too many distracting notification icons in the top left corner start piling up by default.
3) There's always a second desktop page with nothing on it. All of my app icons are organized on the main page, and I haven't been able to find a way to get rid of the second page.
4) There's just too much useless junk in the menus. For example, when rooting around, trying to figure out how to get rid of that second desktop page, I discovered a button for "About Home screen, Version 12.5.03.11". Sooo the tablet's "desktop" isn't just built into the operating system?
5) More junk via another notification - "Charging your phone? Earn money for charity while charging." More and more, I'm thinking this software isn't necessarily optimized for a tablet.
6) The OS isn't smart enough to run one instance of the same window. For example, if you don't close Settings and click on Settings from the home screen again later on, you'll discover, when closing out of your apps, you now have two instances of Settings open.
7) Enough developers still don't want to support Android. I work on a TV show for a living, which means there's a lot of working with editors and other producers, and a lot of video streaming is involved. When it comes to mobile devices, the services we use for video reviews always support Apple products but usually not Android. I'm starting to get the idea that developers would have to create multiple versions of an Android-based app, since the OS should be optimized for a wide variety of hardware.
8) I didn't buy this device for it's camera, but it should be noted here the picture quality is awful. The rear camera is 8 MP, and the "selfie cam" is 5 MP. That's comparable to what, the 2015 iPad?
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The Samsung Galaxy S6 Lite is decent as a budget tablet. Even after getting used to it, though, Android has too many unexplainable quirks for me to be a fan. Notably, I was surprised by the "Open with" prompts from the get-go for standard files like PDFs and MP3s.
The other nagging issue is the lack of software security controls. I don't take pictures with the tablet, but if I did, I would really be questioning why some apps, like the eBook reader mentioned previously, needs access to all of my files, including photos.
Some people love their tablets and rely on them for so much. I bought this one thinking it would get used a lot more frequently. Most of the time, I instead reach for my laptop. Maybe I just haven't found - or paid enough for - the perfect tablet. If this Samsung S6 Lite were to bite the dust, I don't know what tablet would be next - maybe a more expensive Samsung model, maybe it would be an iPad again, with reluctance. I just know I wouldn't be buying the S6 Lite again.
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Despite the complaints I may have about the tablet, the experience of reviewing the S6 Lite has been slightly cathartic, because I was able to resolve a couple of the complaints that just seemed like operating system design flaws. I was finally able to remove that second, empty "home page" after some angry taps, when a menu with a trash can icon displayed. The video-to-GIF animation conversions below didn't turn out so great, but the idea still translates.
Second, moving home page icons around was never a problem, but a little more force finally resulted in figuring out how to move icons out of folders... It's certainly nothing like the simple "one firm press and move" approach on Apple touchscreens.
"Samsung Galaxy S6 Lite Tablet Review" (media & experience notes updated in 2022)
Written by Justin Kilmer, Peer Reviewed by Janine Kilmer
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