Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e review – a thin, light, affordable tablet that does it right

Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S5e tablet is a unique proposition in tablets. It’s affordable, slim, light, has a big 10.5-inch screen despite its small size, and even comes with 4G options for those who want to tablet on the go.

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been playing with one around the house, and I have to say that the news of Android tablets’ demise may have been premature. They just haven’t been done right.

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The Tab S5e weighs just 400 grams and is 5.5mm thick – impossibly thin for such a capable device. In fact, it’s about the same width as two $2 coins. Unfortunately, this does make it a little thin and harder to pick up off a flat surface, but I guess everything’s a compromise.

My kids have used this tablet while keeping themselves amused at mum’s weekend football, in the car on long trips, and I’ve used it around the house to read the news and for the kids to watch music videos on while eating dinner as a special treat.

Despite its mid-range specifications, this is a tablet that leaves nothing behind. It’s fast, snappy, responsive and enjoyable to use, whether it’s for some media consumption, banging out a quick email, or reading the news.

Despite being a tablet, Samsung integrates a fingerprint reader into the power button, making securing your tablet as easy as can be. There’s also the options for passwords, PIN codes or facial recognition, but for me the fingerprint sensor is perfect. My only gripe – minor though it may be – is that the tablet is so thin that the sensor necessarily is too.

Unlike many modern devices, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e doesn’t come with a case of any description in the box – something the Chinese OEMs have definitely got right – and this is a tablet that screams out for a case. Samsung will sell you a book cover case for $99, or a keyboard cover for $189, but you can find cheaper TPU cases online for a fraction of the cost.

This tablet occupies an interesting price point; at $649 for a WiFi only model and $849 for a 4G variant (reviewed here) it’s not exactly bargain bin cheap – where you can find sub $200 tablets at Officeworks – but it’s not as eye-wateringly expensive as Apple’s iPad line.

With 64GB of built-in storage (and the option to extend significantly by MicroSD card), the Galaxy Tab S5e is made for media consumption. Load it up with movies and it’ll play back for up to 15 hours or so, meaning you can use it for the longest road trips and all but the longest of international flights with ease. For those ultra marathon flights, just pack a USB cable, and keep the tablet topped off in your chair, and you’ll have no worries at all.

On the topic of battery life, Samsung includes a reasonably quick charger in the box, but even with that, the Tab S5e isn’t what I’d call a fast charger; rather than expecting miraculous increases in use time from 15 minute charges, this is a device that really wants to be charged for a couple of hours, or realistically, overnight.

While Android tablet apps may lack a little of the pizaz  of their Appley cousins, the reality is you can get virtually any app that actually matters for your Android with relative ease. Besides, let’s face facts – the apps you’re most likely to use on an Android tablet are a web browser, streaming video apps like Netflix or Stan, Google’s apps like YouTube or YouTube Music, popular games – most of which are readily cross platform – or content accessible on the web.

In fact, you lose nothing by eschewing Apple’s more popular (and more expensive) iPad lineup for this Android tablet, and that’s a relatively new thing – Android tablets have been so ordinary for years that I’ve recommended Apple tablets ahead of Android ones, and the Tab S5e turns that around.

This is affordable without being cheap and nasty, powerful without being overly so, and capable of handling everything thrown at it.

Really the only aspect that is a bit disappointing is the camera. Truly, it’s awful. It’s just fine for video conferencing on apps like Google Duo, but for taking photos, your smartphone lens smeared in fingerprint grease will still do a better job. This is spud cam, and there’s no doubts about it, but if you’re serious about taking photos that are worth taking, you won’t be using a tablet anyway.

Samsung’s Tab S5e is available from $649 (for WiFi 64GB) and $849 (for 4G 64GB) from retailers like JB HiFi, Harvey Norman, and Bing Lee, as well as online at Samsung.com.

Last modified on 19 July 2019 11:35 am

Chris Rowland: @ozcjr Chris has been at the forefront of smartphone reporting in Australia since smartphones were a thing, and has used mobile phones since they came with giant lead-acid batteries that were "transportable" and were carried in a shoulder bag. Today, Chris publishes one of Australia's most popular technology websites, Ausdroid. His interests include mobile (of course), as well as connected technology and how it can make all our lives easier.

View Comments (20)

  • "a thin, light, affordable tablet that does it right", "This tablet occupies an interesting price point; at $649 for a WiFi only model and $849 for a 4G variant (reviewed here) it’s not exactly bargain bin cheap".

    Not sure how you equate $649 with "affordable".

    $649 is certainly not "bargain bin cheap". It's not even the price level above "bargain bin cheap". $649 for a tablet is pricey, especially considering tablets are more of a luxury purchase that nobody really needs.

    • This is a mid tier tablet. It's not going to be bargain bin cheap.
      It also will not be effectively unusable, which is what the overwhelming majority of bargain bin cheap tablets are.
      OS updates and security patches on a tablet like this might not be as fast as we'd like, but at least you've a chance of getting some. Tablets at the bargain bin cheap price don't get OS updates or security updates. Such tablets are unlikely to even get a patch for firmware faults.

    • If you're in the market for a tablet and don't want cheap crap, this is the price point where tablets of any measurable quality/worth start. It's affordable for what it is, and imo offers great value.

  • I bought a Tab 5e a few months ago and I am really impressed with it. I added a 256 GB SD card to it for my media. Great screen, good battery life, good performance, and it does everything I want a tablet to do. Additionally I am using the DEX functionality to work from home via Citrix. I just plug the tablet into my USBC 27" monitor and use the desktop mode for work; makes me wonder why I need a laptop.

  • Got one and I'm disappointed big time. When I registered the unt I noticed the unit is considered as hand-held phones. So the software is not specifically made for tablet, so it doesn't feel like I have a tablet but a rather extra large phone. Here's one example. I always hold it horizontally and lock it this way (like the original Tab S which I own) but when I tap on the instagram app or gumtree app or any other apps that have vertical default viewing modes (portrait mode), the viewing mode doesn't change back to horizontal (panoramic mode). So every time I have to unlock the screen lock. Annoying, I wished I could return this unit and ask for my money back. This issue has never been discussed on any platforms. I think Samsung should follow Apple to make tablet behaves like tablet should be

    • Apps like instagram and snapchat are only designed for phones even on iOS/iPadOS. On my ipad instagram opens a small windows around just like what it would look like on the iphone.

    • That's not Samsung's fault, but rather Google's fault.
      When the popularity of tablets started rising, back in 2012/2013, Google never got serious about requiring app developers to make their apps work properly in both portrait mode (standard phone orientation) and landscape mode, and also to detect device rotation from portrait to landscape.
      So now, as a result, you need to install an app to force app rotation. There's plenty of such apps available on the Play Store. But even then such apps will not properly make an app use landscape.
      And Google have given up on tablets.

  • I went shopping for a tablet recently and I've got to admit that Apple still owns this space. After looking at a large number of Android tablets, I settled for a 6th generation Apple iPad that cost me approximately $530 for a 128GB model.
    I played with a S5e very recently and the S5e appears to be a midrange device. The demo unit I played with experienced a lot of lag. I'm not sure if it was because it was a demo unit, but it didn't feel great. Whilst the screen seemed nice, I was put off by the UI and the performance. I certainly wouldn't be paying $649 for a below par device.

  • No thanks.im sticking to my tab s4.so you mean that wasnt good enough for you but this is? Interesting

    • For me, I'm sticking with my 2016 released mid tier tablet, a Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.1 (2016) 4G with S Pen, simply because of it having the S Pen.
      If Samsung could release a mid tier tablet in 2016 with an S Pen, why can't they do that now?

  • Chris, can this version of the S5e take/make phonecalls, and if so, what was its call quality like as a desktop speakerphone?

    • Works perfectly as a phone - can make and receive calls, send and receive SMS. Speakers are pretty loud so as a speakerphone it would be fine.

      • Thanks Chris. :)
        Since I actively use my Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.1 (2016) 4G with S Pen, as a desktop speakerphone, use of a newly reviewed 4G capable tablet as a speakerphone is an obvious question to ask, when call quality isn't mentioned in the review.

  • It's $200 more expensive than the base line iPad. I've wanted to get an android tablet again and get rid of my iPad but I struggle to justify paying $200 more for mid range tablet hardware.

  • Nice job Chris. I'm really interested in getting an Android tablet but the lack of software updates puts me off. I know this website is call Ausdroid but I'd love to see a comparison article with the Tab S5e and say the new entry level iPad. Maybe Geoff F could also do a guest review of his new iPad mini 2019?

    • We really need Geoff and Chris to get together and do a head to head review/comparison. :)

    • Stop dobbing me in Jamie 😛

      The 5e looks nice but too big for me. Chris’ review seems on the money to me. I’d still be using a small Android tablet if anyone made a premium one that got a couple of years of updates.

      Fun fact: Apple’s so called superior App Store doesn’t really fit my use. I have a bunch of iPhone only apps on my iPad Mini that don’t rotate or go into landscape (or sometimes portrait) and run in 16:9 on a 4:3 display. How is that clever? At leastAndroid tablets scale well!

      But Apple has 5 years of updates so there’s that.

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