The petite Samsung Galaxy Tab A 8.4 is the right size and price for a go-anywhere, color e-reading tablet. At $265 with T-Mobile service, it comes in at a much lower price than its primary rival, the iPad mini, which costs $399 with Wi-Fi or $529 for a cellular model. But I experienced issues with the Galaxy Tab A’s Wi-Fi performance in testing, which leads me to give it a much weaker recommendation than I otherwise would.
Samsung largely gets the build quality right here. The Tab is slim at 7.95 by 4.93 by 0.28 inches (HWD) and light at 10.93 ounces. There are power and volume buttons on the right side, a combo microSD/SIM card slot on the left, a regular headphone jack on top, and a USB-C port and dual speakers on the bottom. The tablet is plastic all around, with a black front and a matte gray back. It isn’t waterproof, and while it supports fast USB-C charging, it doesn’t support wireless charging.
The back is a matte gray plastic
The screen here is 1,920-by-1,200 pixels at 8.4 inches, making it 270 pixels per inch, sharper than a lot of competing tablets, but not the 324ppi iPad mini. This mostly pays off when reading comics or magazines, or watching videos. Cheaper 8-inch tablets often can’t display a full 1080p video frame, while this one can. Cheaper 8-inch tablets may also have trouble displaying the small text in some comics or magazine pages, while here they look razor sharp.
This is by and large a media consumption tablet rather than a creator’s tablet. While it supports Bluetooth keyboards and mice, it’s a bit small for primary computing, and it doesn’t support a smart stylus like Samsung’s S Pen or Apple’s Pencil; for that, you need to step up to the $349 Samsung Galaxy Tab S6e.
The tablet is slim and easy to hold
Processor and Software
The Galaxy Tab A 8.4 runs Android 9.0 on a Samsung Exynos 7904 processor with 3GB of RAM. With a PCMark Work score of 5341 and a Basemark Web score of 142.71, it performs similarly to the LG G Pad 5 10.1, which uses a 2016-era Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor, and the Moto G7 Play, which uses a more modern midrange Qualcomm Snapdragon 632 processor.
Samsung has said that the Tab A 8.4 should get an Android 10 update in Q2 2020 or so, but I wouldn’t necessarily count on that. In any case, it’s unlikely to get Android 11.
The tablet has some bloatware, but it isn’t awful (that last row has our benchmarking apps)
Samsung’s skin is lighter than it used to be, but there’s still some bloatware. Samsung adds its own apps, of course, as well as three Microsoft apps and one T-Mobile app. It’s not really bothersome, as the Microsoft apps (Outlook, OneDrive, and Office) are very good. All of my expected reading and media apps ran well, including Marvel Comics and Marvel Unlimited, Kindle, Nook, Netflix, and Hulu.
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The tablet doesn’t support Samsung’s new Your Phone/Link to Windows or Dex pairing with laptops, but it does have Samsung Flow, which hooks your laptop and tablet up so they can share files and notifications. Samsung should really find a way to unify all of these confusingly duplicative solutions.
GPU performance here isn’t up to high-end gaming standards. This tablet got 5.2fps on the GFXBench Car Chase offscreen benchmark and 25fps on the T-Rex offscreen benchmark; that’s similar to devices using the Qualcomm 600-series processors, but way short of, say, the two-year-old Snapdragon 845, which gets 35fps and 152fps respectively.
Apps adapt to this better than the UI as a whole does. Playing Asphalt 8 was manageable, although there was a bit of oversteer; the tablet will do fine with basic casual games. The Android UI, on the other hand, was janky and sluggish in testing, with unexpected pauses and jittery animations.
This tablet makes an excellent comics reader
The Exynos 7904 has a Category 12 LTE modem supporting 3x carrier aggregation and speeds up to 600Mbps. With LTE bands 1/2/3/4/5/7/20/25/26/41/66/71, the tablet supports all of the LTE networks that T-Mobile and Sprint have to offer, but it doesn’t do so very quickly. I got 35Mbps down in a location where a OnePlus 8 Pro phone got 69Mbps down in 4G-only mode and 99Mbps down in 4G/5G mode. So if you have a higher-end smartphone, you may find that using it in hotspot mode provides better performance than using the LTE directly on this tablet.
I ran into a nearly showstopping issue with poor Wi-Fi performance, though. I hooked the tablet up to a 802.11ax router on a 100Mbps connection. With 5GHz Wi-Fi, I only got 54Mbps down on this tablet where I got a full 100Mbps on my laptop, my phone, and the LG G Pad 5. At 2.4GHz, I got a mere 1Mbps of wobbly connectivity with this tablet while the other devices got 30Mbps or more. This is a big problem; you’re likely going to be using this tablet on Wi-Fi most of the time, and poor Wi-Fi performance will make for a frustrating experience.
Battery life on the 5,000mAh battery is average. I got 6 hours, 27 minutes of video rundown time at maximum screen brightness, which means around 10 hours with medium brightness. That’s an hour better on high brightness than we got with the iPad mini.
Your Zoom calls will look pretty good on this camera
Looking Good on Your Zoom
The 8-megapixel main camera and 5-megapixel front-facing camera here aren’t bad. In today’s world, tablets are pretty heavily used for video chat, and the front-facing camera did a much better job of handling mixed lighting situations than the LG G Pad 5 10.1 did. Indoor, relatively low-light shots taken with the main camera turned out better than the grainy G Pad as well.
Video goes up to 1080p resolution, albeit shakily with no optical image stabilization, and the tablet supports HDR to balance difficult lighting. Video looks good on the bright, sharp screen.
The rear camera isn’t bad, either
The bottom-ported speakers, however, are downright poor. Harsh and tinny, they make movie dialogue quite intelligible, but take a lot of joy out of music. It’s a better idea to use wired or Bluetooth headphones, which deliver a much richer sound.
Stuck in the Middle
At $264, the Galaxy Tab A 8.4 satisfies e-reading, video, and basic gaming needs for less than the iPad mini…as long as you’re willing to put up with truly bad 2.4GHz Wi-Fi performance. If all you’re looking for is the most basic color e-reader and video player, you can pay a lot less. Walmart’s Onn 8-inch tablet costs a mere $64, and Amazon’s Fire HD 8 is $89.99. The main concern is that those tablets’ screens are 1,280-by-800, which makes it harder to read full-color comics and magazine pages. Ultimately, that means there’s still room on the market for a convenient and colorful, handheld, high-res Android tablet.
Samsung Galaxy Tab A 8.4 Specs
|Operating System||Android 9.0|
|Dimensions||7.95 by 4.93 by 0.28 inches|
|Screen Size||8.4 inches|
|Screen Resolution||1,920 by 1,200 pixels|
|CPU||Samsung Exynos 7904|
|Storage Capacity||32 GB|