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Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra review

Samsung has embraced supersized devices. But is there a market for a massive, water-resistant tablet?

Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra on a teal background
Last updated: 26 September 2023


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CHOICE verdict

Whether you like Samsung's Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra will primarily come down to whether you believe bigger is always better. Many people like Samsung's capacious "phablet" phones, enormous TVs and chunky smartwatches. But it's not yet clear whether a critical mass of consumers will embrace a tablet that always requires two hands (Samsung released its first 14.6-inch tablet – the Tab S8 Ultra – in 2022 and while it's reportedly sold better than Samsung expected, it’s too soon to draw any definitive conclusions). The big selling points of the S9 Ultra are its dimensions – it's a conventional width but a whopping 14.6 inches (about 37cm) tall – and its resistance to water and dust. Will this tablet emerge unscathed if you accidentally drop it in the bath? We put it to the test to find out.

Price: $2199

There's plenty of exciting tech in Samsung's range of S9 tablets (there's also an 11-inch Tab S9 and 12.4-inch Tab S9+). But what everybody will focus on with the S9 Ultra is its size, so let's start there.

It's thin (5.5mm) and, all things considered, not especially heavy at 732 grams. But when you unbox it, it's immediately apparent why Samsung boasts this is the biggest tablet in the world. Initially, you're likely to swoon over all that screen real estate. But over time, you might start questioning whether you constantly want to be gripping a gigantic tablet with both hands.

That being said, if you want a massive tablet that can double as a laptop or a second monitor, the S9 Ultra may meet your needs. The base model offers 256GB of storage and 12GB of RAM, but that can be upgraded to 1TB of storage and 16GB of RAM.

Back in 2017, Samsung introduced "DeX" software. It allows both Samsung phones and tablets to function with, or similarly to, desktop computers. But be warned: the S9 Ultra doesn't come with a keyboard or mouse and you'll have to fork out another $549 for the suggested Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra Book Cover Keyboard.

On the big screen

Samsung's engineers probably weren't thinking much about Australians during the design process. Nonetheless, they've created a tablet well suited to Australian conditions. It's near waterproof and has a screen that displays crisp, vibrant images even when a hot sun is beating down on it. (The Dynamic AMOLED 2x display can achieve peak brightness of up to 1750 nits.)

You'll likely swoon over all that screen real estate, but you might question whether you constantly want to be gripping a tablet with both hands

If you're the indoors type, Samsung claims all its S9 tablets deliver a "photo-realistic gaming experience on the Tab's expansive screen" and that the experience is heightened with "immersive audio" from the quad AKG speaker system and Dolby Atmos surround sound. Samsung also boasts that its Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor facilitates "revved-up performance" for "champion-level gameplay".

If you watch a lot of TV shows, films or are prone to falling down a TikTok rabbit hole, you may also appreciate a giant tablet with solid speakers and a screen that will remain legible in a variety of lighting conditions. But you'll want to prop it against something or invest in a stand. While we didn't get an opportunity to test the tablet's gaming capacities rigorously, the extra-large screen certainly came into its own when playing video content.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra tablet

Styluses can be hit and miss, but the one that's included with the Samsung S9 Ultra has impressed many.

A durable, sometimes delightful device   

You can't take the S9 Ultra with you on a scuba dive. But despite it having all the standard openings, its "ingress protection" means it is essentially waterproof for a short period. It has an IP68 rating, which means a device can be fully submerged in a bucket of fresh water for up to 30 minutes without sustaining damage (a claim we put to the test below).

As well as being impressively water resistant, it's also "dust tight" – the S9 Ultra's IP68 rating means it has top marks for both water and dust resistance. In practice, that means you won't need to worry too much about liquid or dirt infiltrating the tablet and wreaking havoc with the wiring.

Given its other features, the S9 Ultra's (included) stylus struggles for attention. But if you like to write on tablets, you'll love how it feels like an elegant fountain pen gliding across finely grained paper. If you don't like writing on tablets due to past squeaky experiences, this might be the stylus that wins you over. It's also waterproof, so you can even jot down notes while relaxing in the bath. Or on an inflatable pool lounge.

Video: We find out whether the Samsung S9 Ultra can be submerged in water.

Does size matter to you?

Samsung's competitors manufacture tablets that are as good or better than the S9 Ultra. But they don't sell tablets this large, possibly for good reason.

Apple dominates the tablet market and must have contemplated releasing an oversized tablet. It's kept all its tablets under 13 inches, just as Google, Lenovo, Microsoft and Huawei have. Presumably because any tablet larger than that soon becomes awkward to hold.

If you need a laptop-sized tablet and have a laptop-sized budget, by all means consider the S9 Ultra. But if you use your tablet the way most people do – to browse social media, read books, check emails and listen to podcasts – be warned that there will probably be more cons than pros to using the world's largest mass-market tablet.

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Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.