Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra vs Apple iPad Pro 12.9: what's the better laptop replacer?

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Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra vs Apple iPad Pro 12.9: the better laptop replacer?

Intro


In the summer of 2023, Samsung released a new trio of premium tablets — the Galaxy Tab S9, Tab S9+, and Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra. As the name suggests, that third one us huge — a 14.6-inch AMOLED screen, S Pen included, and an optional Keyboard Folio can transform it into a laptop replacer. It's definitely a specific type of product for a specific type of customer.

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But Apple was first to cater to that type of customer with its huge, 12.9-inch iPad Pro line. We guess people love those bulky, heavy, hard-to-carry tablets — the iPad Pro is up to its 6th generation, and Samsung seems to be happy with how the Tab S Ultra is selling. 

So... which of these tablets is better? Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra vs Apple iPad Pro 12.9 — performance, battery life, software, real life use, and overall experience. Let's dive in! 

Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra
8.5

Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra


The Good

  • Large, beautiful screen
  • Thin but durable body
  • Comes with S Pen, which is excellent
  • Great audio
  • Can run DeX autonomously
  • IP68 water- and dust-resistance

The Bad

  • Size and thin bezel makes it harder to carry and work in-hand
  • Expensive accessories, keyboard could be better
  • Software ecosystem still missing some serious offerings for pro work

Apple iPad Pro 12.9-inch (2022)

Apple iPad Pro 12.9-inch (2022)


View full specs

Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra vs iPad Pro 12.9 (2022) in a nutshell:
  • Wide-screen 16:10 14.6" vs square-ish 4:3 12.9"
  • AMOLED vs mini-LED
  • More multi-tasking options with floating windows and DeX on board
  • S Pen included, Apple Pencil is a separate buy
  • Tab S9 Ultra has a thinner bezel frame with a notch
  • Fingerprint scanner vs Face ID

Table of Contents:

Design and Display Quality

The aspect ratio makes the difference


The Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra has a huge footprint, yet it's extremely thin, at 0.22 inches or 5.5 mm. To compensate for the large 14.6-inch screen, Samsung shrunk the bezel around it quite a bit. To the point where the two selfie cameras need to be housed in a slightly protruding notch on the right (or top) frame. The thin bezles make it extremely difficult to simply hold this tablet while using it with the other hand — this is in no way a machine for portable work.

Apple's iPad Pro 12.9 is also by no means a small tablet, but we do have to note that its thicker frame makes it easier to tap away at emails while on the go. Still, it too is a tablet that will feel much better propped up on a desk — either via a stand or keyboard.

The Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra's 16:10 wide aspect ratio makes it better for consuming video media — with smaller black bars on the top and bottom and bigger image in the middle. The iPad Pro's 4:3 aspect ratio means we get more letterboxing when watching video, but it lends itself better for things like reading articles and emails, or even editing video and pictures as the taller screen can comfortably fit the media preview window and the tools below it.

That's not to say that the S9 Ultra feels cramped — no way — but we were surprised to note how the "smaller" iPad screen didn't really feel small when doing actual work on it.


The aspect ratios also typically influence the shape of the hardware keyboard you will end up using, if you buy the 1st party accessories. In the case of the Samsung tablet, however, we found the keyboard size to feel pretty balanced, pretty much "at home" for anyone that has been using a laptop.

In terms of quality, we find the Samsung Book Cover Keyboard's keys to be just a little mushy, but not terrible to write on. Its touchpad is a bit of a hassle to deal with, as mouse sensitivity doesn't feel quite right and clicks or taps sometimes don't register right. The iPad's Magic Keyboard does feel better — the keys are a bit more tactile, and the touchpad itself is a lot more intuitive to use.


Also, here's a stark contrast — the kickstand of the Samsung Book Cover Keyboard is definitely not an ideal solution, as this type of mechanism limits your options in terms of where you can prop the tablet up, plus it's a hassle to pull out and slap back in every time. The Magic Keyboard feels much more like a laptop, but its base is heavier (to achieve this balance), so it makes the entire package heavier.

For controls, we have physical power and volume buttons on both tablets. The iPad Pro will unlock via a Face ID scan as soon as you swipe on the screen. The Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra uses an optical fingerprint sensor embedded in the display. We wouldn't say one or the other of these is superior. It does kind of feel nice to unlock the tablet by just "looking" at it, but if you're used to fingerprint unlocking, you wound't notice a quality of life difference. And yes, the Samsung tablet does have face unlock, but it's not as secure as the scanner.

As for colors, we aren't really spoiled for choice. Each of these tablets comes in a dark-gray-ish or silver-ish tone. Samsung calls the latter "beige", but looking at it in real life — we really have to squint to spot the beige tint.

There is a noteworthy difference in the screen panel technology here. First off, let's note and get it out of the way that both the Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra and iPad Pro 12.9 have 120 Hz refresh rates. But the tech of the panels is different.

Samsung employs its own Dynamic AMOLED technology — each pixel on the screen glows autonomously and it needs no backlight. Therefore it has "infinite contrast" and "true blacks", as a pixel that should be black is simply off. Apple uses mini-LED tech for its top-tier iPad Pro — it is still a backlight-based tech, but instead of having just a few LED lights providing for the whole area, the iPad Pro 12.9's screen is separated in 2,596 dimming zones. They are not quite as accurate as the AMOLED's sharp contrast, and when looking at the display in darkness, you can see the mini-LED areas lighting up around bright objects. But other than that, it too looks very, very good.

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If you like to customize your colors, the Galaxy Tab S9 gives you a bit more options, with either punchy and vibrant colors or a tamed "Basic" mode with more realistic hues. The iPad offers no such options, though its screen is excellently calibrated. Both devices have their own form of blue light filtering for comfortable viewing as the sun goes down.

Performance and Software

Made for Galaxy vs Made for Mac

Apple dropped quite the bomb when it announced that it will be putting its M-class chips in its tablets. And, to this day, they are hard to beat. The latest iPad Pro 12.9 has an octa-core M2 chip — the very same processor that you can find in a MacBook Pro and MacBook Air.

But it is also infuriating to many users that Apple is taking its time to unlock pro-level software for the iPad that would actually make use of all that power. Thankfully, we now have Logic Pro and Final Cut Pro made specifically for the iPad. Of course, there are also 3rd party apps like the excellent Lumafusion, Cubase Mobile, Videoleap, Canva, and so on. All of these apps work like a charm and export heavy projects quite quickly on the iPad Pro 12.9.


The Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 Made for Galaxy — not a run-of-the-mill Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, but one that has been overclocked specifically to meet Samsung's needs. Plus, the Tab S9 Ultra comes with its own upgraded cooling, so it too is quite capable of delivering sustained performance. It's just that, in raw numbers, it still can't beat the Apple M2.

Performance Benchmarks:


Geekbench 6
SingleHigher is better
Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra2071
Apple iPad Pro 11-inch(2022)2642
Geekbench 6
MultiHigher is better
Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra5531
Apple iPad Pro 11-inch(2022)10055
3DMark Extreme(High)Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra3905
Apple iPad Pro 11-inch(2022)6929
3DMark
Extreme(Low)Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra2997
Apple iPad Pro 11-inch(2022)4660

The good news is that Samsung understood very clearly that these tablets will be looked at seriously only if users can do actual work on them. Which is why the manufacturer partnered with Lumafusion's developers to finally bring the excellent video editor to Android. And while it is now compatible with other devices too, the partnership ensures that Lumafusion is tested on Galaxy Tabs, so Samsung's slates will always be the first ones to get new features. We did test Lumafusion and quickly gave up on producing video with it right now — it's still buggy and janky on the tablet, and crashed a few times. We assume the issue was with codecs and compatibility as we were layering media from different sources.

But this whole comparison isn't skewed towards the iPad. The Galaxy Tab pulls off desktop-class productivity much... easier. While Apple's Stage Manager desktop UI can sure get the job done, you need an actual external monitor to get it to boot up in the first place. This is kind of frustrating, considering the iPad Pro's 12.9-inch screen surely is capable of showing us that desktop interface.



Samsung pulls no such stops — you can jump into DeX mode with just the naked tablet alone. Connect any wireless keyboard or mouse and you're good to go for work.

Both Stage Manager and DeX don't work exactly as you'd expect from a desktop machine — there are quirks with text selection, copy-paste, or the way certain html code loads or works on web pages. It can get frustrating for different reasons with both of these devices. But, at the end of the day, they are very competent if you simply want to sit down and write an article, a plethora of emails, or do some research.

If you are not using the desktop UIs, the Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra is better at multi-tasking hands down. You can open any app you wish in a floating window, you have shortcuts to open app pairs directly into split screen. Apple's iPadOS still only gives you split view and slide over, with very specific points where you can drag the floating windows. So, very often, it's hard to move a window "out of the way", without fully dismissing it.


S Pen vs Apple Pencil?


We do like how the S Pen feels better. For one, it has a rubber tip, which provides friction against the screen, better simulating the friction of pen against paper. Plus, it's a pointier tip that feels more precise.

The Apple Pencil is indeed very responsive and impressive, but its plastic tip slides along the glass of an iPad making for awkward writing or drawing. We do have a Paperlike screen protector for one of our iPad Pros and it does improve the experience immensely. But that's yet another thing to add to the package, plus — these matte screen protectors do degrade the image from the screen a little bit. So, overall, we prefer the S Pen here. Oh, also, the S Pen comes with the tablet for free...

Audio Quality



With quad speakers in stereo setup, these tablets sound lovely. Lots of bass, crisp highs, and a good amount of volume. We do find the iPad Pro to sound a bit more scooped in the mids, while the Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra has a slightly more pronounced mid hump. That said, both sound excellent, but we'd also like to add that the Tab S9 Ultra gives you an EQ, so you can fine-tune the sound to taste (not by much, as extreme values on the EQ tend to ruin its sound).

Battery Life and Charging

Two machines to last you a day

The Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra has a 11,200 mAh call in its thin, thin chassis, which helps it keep the lights on for quite a while. About 10 hours of web browsing, a bit more than 7 hours of YouTube playback on our tests. Quite the respectable endurance — it can certainly truck you through the day. And so can the iPad Pro 12.9 with its 10,758 mAh cell — it's slightly smaller, but Apple's optimizations gave us around the same results (if not an hour more) whilst testing.

Specs Comparison


Here are the core differences, but if you want to dive deeper, check out the full Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra vs iPad Pro 12.9 specs comparison.


Summary and Final Verdict



Well, what's the ultimate verdict? Both of these tablets deliver the goods, in reality. Things to consider: the iPad still has super-specific professional apps on the App Store, especially when it comes to musician apps. If you are shopping for a specific creative niche use, it's a good idea to take a look at which platform has more of the apps you'd want (it's a good bet that iPadOS will).

For generic tablet use and work — these here are head to head. The Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra comes with the S Pen included, which is a very nice bonus. On the other hand, the Magic Keyboard for the iPad feels better than the Samsung Keyboard Book Cover. The Tab S9 Ultra's screen is noticeably bigger, but that can be both a pro and a con — that thing is hard to carry around, but so nice to view once you prop it up somewhere.

Is the Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra the "iPad Pro of Android"? Yes, we do think so. It's big, powerful, pretty, and it excels in a few areas — productivity, multimedia, gaming. Will it get iPad Pro users to switch over? Very likely no. But at least it gives you the option for a premium tablet on the Android side!



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