samsung galaxy tab a s pen review

Galaxy Tab A with S Pen review: Samsung tablet a fine sketchbook

Galaxy Tab A  10.1 (2016)with S Pen review: portable Samsung great for sketching

Galaxy Tab A with S Pen Review

In Oct. 2016, Samsung released this updated version of the 9.7″ one that’s got an HD screen, more memory, and is larger at 10.1.” This Samsung tablet with pen is one of my favorite portables for art, especially sketching.

2014 Galaxy Tab A with S Pen 9.7"2016 Galaxy Tab A with S Pen 10.1"
Screen size: 9.7"
Resolution: 1024 x 768
Processor: 1.2 GHz, quadcore
OS: Android 5.0.2 Lollipop
RAM: 1.5 GB
Storage: 16 GB, expandable to 128 GB with MicroSD card
Weight: 1.07 lbs.
Micro USB 2.0 port
Battery life: up to 15 hrs. Web browsing

Screen size: 10.1"
Resolution: 1920 x 1080
Processor: 1.6 GHz, octacore
OS: Android 6.0 Marshmallow
Storage: 16 GB, expandable to 256 GB with MicroSD card
Weight: 1 lb.
Micro USB 2.0 port
Battery life: about 14 hrs. Web browsing

The Galaxy Tab A with S Pen is an affordable drawing tablet you can tote anywhere. Its 4:3 aspect ratio is a benefit for artists. Its size is large enough to draw comfortably on, and you have your pick of Galaxy Apps and apps from the Google Play store.

The S pen is Wacom, and you’ll get pressure sensitivity and palm rejection, which are important for creating art. It has the Enhanced S Pen, which detects angles as well.


Galaxy Tab A with S Pen (2016 version)

Type of Tablet

Android tablet


Runs Android 6.0 Marshmallow
screen resolution: 1920×1080
10.1 inches diagonal
Dimensions: 10.5 x 6.4 x 1.9 in.
4:3 aspect ratio
1.55 lbs.
Smooth plastic casing
16 GB storage
MicroSD slot expandable up to 200GB
8 MP rear camera
Octa-core 1ghz
QuickConnect lets you share back and forth with your 2015 or later Samsung Smart TV

What’s in the box

Tablet, S pen, charger head (power plug), micro-USB cable, Quickstart Guide, warranty info

Reminder: only the Tab A that has “with S Pen” in the name uses an S Pen, and it comes with it. The regular Galaxy Tab A does not have the S Pen and will not work with it, nor get pressure sensitivity.

The S Pen that comes with it is thin, but it’s not a simple stylus. It’s a full Wacom EMR pen, and if you wish, you can use a batteryless Wacom EMR pen meant for penabled tablet PCs.

Using the tablet

Samsung’s tablets have a lot of nifty abilities, such as being able to multitask, with up to 5 windows open at once, use split-screen with apps (you can have two apps open at once and even drag things from one to another), handwriting recognition, a mic, and more.

There are two power-saving modes, one called Ultra Power Saver, which simplifies the interface to save battery life.

When you remove the S Pen from its sheath, Air Command, a steering-wheel-like dashboard, pops up and lets you use the pen to perform operations such as take a screenshot or open an app. You can handwrite something to put into an app, such as email or notes.

The S pen is not simply an addition that happens to make marks; its functionality is an integral part of S pen-enabled tablets. You can draw, write, crop, and capture. The S Pen writing app has digital fountain and calligraphy pens.

Having a wide range of digital pen nibs is a familiar experience to art-app users, but may be new for people who have been stuck with one basic pen in the main tablet interface until now. The Calligraphy and Fountain pens allow you to go formal or lay down a digital signature with gravitas.

The on-screen keyboard has a row of numbers over the letters, which is convenient for typing in passwords, so you don’t have to switch to a numerical keyboard. There is also a handwriting keyboard that converts handwriting to typed text and even a voice keyboard that turns utterings into text.


The 4:3 aspect ratio is new for Samsung tablets and makes the Tab A resemble an iPad. This aspect ratio is more similar to proportions of paper and canvas that most artists draw on, so it’s preferable for drawing than the more common 16:9 or 16:10 of most Android (and some Windows) tablets. 4:3 also good for reading, as you don’t have to scroll the page sideways when using it in landscape orientation.

The PLS (plane line switching) TFT Gorilla Glass screen is nice and bright, with good color accuracy. It’s not quite as high-end as the AMOLED screen of the pricier Note.

The Adaptive Display feature is a light sensor that adjusts the tablet’s brightness, color, and sharpness to your environment.

The glass surface is slick and toothless and the S Pen’s hard plastic tip glides over it. If you prefer to have a bit of tooth to draw with, try a matte screen protector. It really makes a difference.



You must use the pen that comes with it with the Tab A. The Note S pen will not work with the Galaxy Tab A, (hough a regular Wacom pen will work on the Wacom Note devices as well as on the Galaxy Tab A with S pen).

An ordinary Wacom pen made for a penabled Wacom tablet works with it may be a more comfortable choice to draw with. Testing the S pen showed that it has rotation sensitivity. Palm rejection works well.

The pen has a hard plastic tip, making it glide over the Gorilla Glass screen.

Converting handwriting is encouraged with this tablet. With a bit of practice on both your parts, the tablet will recognize your handwriting, and you will learn to tailor your penmanship to what the tablet can read.

Setup is easy, and you can import your data from other Android tablets via your Google account.


At about a pound and a half, this is quite portable. Of course, you need to carry it in some kind of protective case or sleeve, and that will add weight too.

For Lefties

The tablet controls and setup should be fine for the left-handed. Most controls are on the right, with the S Pen slot at the upper right corner. The rest are on the bottom, leaving the top and left edges with no controls.


The important Back and Recent Apps buttons on either side of the Home button are hard to see. They are harder to see in the Smokey Titanium color than the white. I would think people would soon remember where these buttons are.

If you’ve never had an Android tablet, these are frequently used buttons. They allow you to back out of an app when you have lost your way. On the right side of the tablet is the volume button.

The tablet recognizes gesture, allowing you to take a photo without actually touching the screen.


Quite a bit oof space is taken up by the OS. Fortunately, the storage is expandable via MicroSD card of up to 128 GB. You can keep apps and media on that.

Many Android art apps allow multiple layers, creating and editing of high-res files, and offer options to adjust sizes and export and import certain file types, just as full desktop apps do. 3-D modeling apps are also available.

No mobile art app offers the power of a desktop program like Photoshop–but not everyone needs all that power all the time. An artist with the Galaxy Tab A with S Pen can do more with than than they can with an iPad because of the Tab A’s native pressure sensitivity.

The Galaxy Tab A with S Pen does have some non-removable bloatware, but not as much as some previous Samsung tablets.

If you’re selling your wares at, say, an art fair, you can use the Square App to accept credit-card payments. (The old-fashioned, pre-app way was to do it in the browser using PayPal).

The Side Sync apps mirrors your Samsung phone, so that if you get a text on your phone, you can answer it on your tablet.

And if you need a break to play Angry Birds, you can do light gaming such as that on this tablet, but nothing too processor-heavy. Sorry, gamers, there is no haptic feedback.

Because of the 4:3 aspect ratio, movies will have a black bar on the top and bottom because movies have a 16:9 aspect ratio. Just pretend you’re at a drive-in.

Battery Life

Excellent. 13  hours of Internet use

User Ratings and Reviews

Customer feedback has been very positive, I got the idea a lot of people who bought this tablet were using a tablet with a stylus for the first time and loved it. Remember that this is a budget tablet. Without the S pen, it’s not the biggest bargain, but when you add the S Pen in, it becomes attractive to artists who want a digital sketchbook, and to those those just dipping their brushes into the digital-art jar.

This is being marketed as a general use, versatile tablet for everyone. Paired with a keyboard, this can be a productive all-in-one tablet.

Gadgets should reflect the organic qualities of humans, and this one really does with the natural feeling of the pen. I do recommend getting a larger Wacom EMR pen, though.

Pressure sensitivity will vary from app to app.


S pen with ability to edit, hover, use Air Command, copy text or other content between apps
Multitasking–can use multiple apps at once
Comfortable drawing size
Wacom-powered; usable with other Wacom pens
4:3 aspect ratio
expandable storage

Cons Android navigation buttons are not backlit
No haptic (vibrational) feedback

The Verdict

This Samsung Galaxy Tab A with S Pen 10.1 (2016) with S Pen review is a thumbs up: it’s a great little digital sketchbook. This is a fine entry-level art tablet that offers useful apps such as ArtRage and Sketchbook Pro as well as many others. The size and aspect ratio make it good to draw, read, and write on. Colors are bright.

In addition to reading this Galaxy Tab A with S Pen review, you might want to check out the Galaxy Note 10.1 with S Pen review if you want a more high-end version with better screen resolution.

Also check out the higher-end Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 with S Pen as a drawing tablet.

ALSO SEE: Galaxy Tab S3

Samsung Galaxy Tab-S3-with-S-Pen

Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 with S Pen

-a high-end Android tablet with an upgraded S Pen. See it on Amazon

Optional Accessories: Pens

Staedtler Noris Digital Samsung Pencil (Wacom EMR)

wacom pen

Wacom pen (Note: there is not a way to store this pen on the tablet, and it’s not an “official” accessory, but it works.)

For other options for a good digital sketchbook, see them in the comparison chart.

If you’re trying to figure out which tablet to get, see this informational article, The Best Drawing Tablet for You.

End of Galaxy Tab A with S Pen review: an affordable drawing tablet

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Samsung Galaxy Tab A with S Pen

31 thoughts on “Galaxy Tab A with S Pen review: Samsung tablet a fine sketchbook

  1. steve

    Great review and website! I own a Ugee 1910 and it’s working great I would say. But for stretching those huge screens are not the best, too much space makes it unnatural for quick stretching and also out would be great to do that on the couch or laying on a carpet 😉 Your reviews convinced me that the Galaxy Tab A with S pen would be a great add to the desk Ugee monitor as it would keep my expenses still low and allow me freedom. But I can’t find out what programs/apps I could run on that tablet.

    1. Vicky Post author

      Thanks! I also like having both a couch (carpet?)/travel tablet and a desk setup. With the Galaxy Tab with S Pen, you can use all the art apps in the Google Play store. Some good ones are Sketchbook, ArtRage, and ArtFlow. Sketchbook is one I use a lot both on mobile and desktop.

      1. steve

        hi, thank you for your quick answer, so glad i found this website. I really don’t have any experience with tablets and Android OS art apps. I found at a very good price a refurbished Surface Pro 2 or i could either get a new Galaxy tab A with S Pen, which one would you suggest? and how easy it is to create something on an Android app and then export it to a Windows pc later to keep working on it on Painter and Photoshop? I would even buy a app for the Android tablet if it is a great one, but could i use Photoshop or Painter on a Surface Pro 2?
        Sorry for the many questions, thank you for your time, Steve

        1. Vicky Post author

          Hi Steve,
          If you want to use Photoshop and Painter then you should get the Surface Pro 2. The Galaxy Tab A is more like an iPad, better for sketching.

          It’s easy to create something in an Android app and transfer it to your PC. Most art apps support layers and you can save as or export to PSD to get a layered file (or save as or export to JPG if you want a nonlayered file). Then you can save the file to the Cloud and download it on your computer, or email the file to yourself and get it on the other computer. Or save the files to an SD card and put the card in the computer, or attach the tablet to the computer via a USB. The Android art apps are much cheaper, free or just a few dollars, compared to Photoshop. If you already have Photoshop and Painter or don’t mind buying them then the Surface Pro 2 is still good, you can use the same pen on both of them.

          1. steve

            hi, the issue here is that I live in Europe and there’s no way no way i managed to find one website or store, in 4 different countries, that has a Tab A with S Pen available. I could easily get it in the US but then again it’a nightmare to figure out the duty costs for import. And I don’t want that cheap tablet to become a huge expense. Do you have in mind any other good tablets for artists as tab A with S Pen that are not out of production?

  2. Brittany

    I have the 9.7 inch and it’s great for artist and I got the WACOM BAMBOO Smart pen for Samsung galaxy tablets and it feels almost close to my cintiq pen just love it! I didn’t like using the S pen that much too skinny.

  3. karin

    Hi, I am quite new to digital art and was thinking of buying this for my first drawing tab. I have two option in hand, 8inch size or 9.7inch. It’s $50 difference on price. But on what size would you recommend me to get? I would like to get the 8inch one because of its portability but a little bit affraid it might be too small. Any advices?

    1. Post author

      I would get the bigger one, as a small difference in size is a pretty big difference as far as how much drawing space you have when you calculate the square inches/mm, since the screen size is a diagonal measurement it makes more difference than it might seem at first glance.

      With the larger one you could use a Bluetooth keyboard and use it as a laptop replacement when traveling, too. To me, the weight of something affects portability more than size, as long as the size can fit in a backpack or tote bag. But it depends what your priorities are–if you can only carry a small bag and you’re moving around a lot then maybe the 8″ is right for you.

      If it’s the Samsung Galaxy Tab A with S Pen you’re talking about, you might want to consider getting a larger Wacom pen, too, as it will be more comfortable to draw (though will not fit in the S Pen slot). There’s info on one in the Tab A review here.

  4. Peakman

    The tab A 9.7 with S pen are having quite a bit of sale recently, so for people looking it’s a good time to buy!

    Got mine recently and start working on some comic with it, and I will say that’s the best budget tablet with native Wacom pen support: pressure sensitive, palm rejection, no need for battery or Bluetooth pairing, just work out of the box!

    And I totally forgot about the low resolution when I’m drawing so that doesn’t bother me too!

  5. Brandon

    Just wanted to say I have the 8″ tab a and it’s great. Works really well for art, works terrifically with art rage and sketch book. The definition on the 8″ is just fine, and it also works perfectly fine as a phone, although it’s weird holding such a large thing up to my head.

    If you can find one and you’re looking to get into digital art and don’t want to spend an arm and a leg on an art tablet or need something portable, this is a great buy.

  6. Jerry

    Thank you for the detailed artist focused reviews. There are surprisingly few reviews out there that consider the use of tablets and 2-in-1s for artists.

    I would like to get back into an old hobby of mine, sketching, and develop my skills further. I am considering purchasing the Galaxy Tab A with S pen because of its mid-range price (nothing else comes close to it in terms of cost that comes with a stylus in my country [South Africa]). I have doodled on one in store on S Note (the art apps were not installed on the tablet that I tested). I was a bit disappointed with the resolution on the device, especially because I tried drawing on it immediately after drawing on the new Galaxy Note 6 phone which was far more crisp, but would probably make a horrible device for drawing because of the size of the device.

    Please can you let me know if the experience is very different using the other art apps (SketchBook and ArtRage)?

    Secondly, I have tried repeatedly to find out the levels of pressure sensitivity of the Tab A and I have not been able to find a single review that gives an indication of this. Do you know if the Tab A has 256, 1024 or higher levels of pressure sensitivity?

    Thank you for the very informative articles that you and your website provide.

    1. Post author

      Hi, the Tab A with S Pen has 1,024 levels. The resolution won’t change with ArtRage or any other app, though I don’t know what you were using or what the settings were. The Tab A is the same resolution as iPad2, which is lower than the Note 6 and a lot of newer displays.

  7. Shadow

    Hi, I has used an IPAD 2 to now, but a want to buy a Tablet for write in the Universidad, and drawing in MediBang, and Infinite Design.

    This can Work with this?

    And other question., You recomended to me this Galaxy Tab A, or the Galaxy Note 8 (This because here can be found new and not used how the Galaxy Note 10.1).
    So…, This Galaxy Tab A, or Galaxy Note 8.
    In characteristics looks very similar, but I don´t know.

    Thanks, and sorry for my English.

    1. Post author

      The one I believe you are referring to is the Galaxy Tab A with S Pen and I do recommend it, it has a Wacom EMR pen. Here is my review. The Galaxy Note 10.1 is good too. You can use the Medibang and Infinite Design Android apps with those.
      If you are asking if you can use the iPad for those, there is a Medibang iPad app but not Infinite Design.

      1. Shadow

        Ok, I think that I go for the Tab A Spen.

        In Internet all comment say that this have a resolution Horrible, but is 1024 x 768 ppi 132, just the same than the Ipad 2.
        For read for example, this looks bad compared with the Ipad 2 that for me looks fine, or is the same (not guide for the tecnic data).

        1. yamapishy

          Hi! did you already buy this tablet and use it? I’m an artist looking for a cheap tablet i can use to draw when i’m away at home. How was it?

  8. Chris

    The golden ratio is 1.618, which is very close to 16:10. A 4:3 ratio is 1.33 which is about as far away from the golden ratio as you can get with a tablet….

  9. Mea

    Hey. As a person who wanted to get a drawing tablet, I feel that I have to warn people about the mistakes I made when trying to get Samsung Galaxy Tab A and the S-pen.

    I first got the same table but WITHOUT the pen. I figured that I just buy one separately and when the pen arrived, turns out that it does not work. It was not until hours and hours of digging for information, I realised that the Tab A, that does not include the pen, doesn’t have the necessary hardware from wacom to sense the S-pen. This quite valuable bit of information was found on a random hardware forum, but not on Samsungs own website.

    So do not make the same mistake as I did, and make sure you get the tablet WITH the S-pen.

    1. Post author

      Thanks for this reminder. The full name of the one with the S Pen is “Samsung Galaxy Tab A with S Pen.” The name of the one without the S Pen is just Samsung Galaxy Tab A.

      Also, the new Galaxy TabPro S, while it’s a nice tablet, does not have an S Pen or any pressure sensitivity.

      One of my goals with this blog is to clarify this kind of thing for people who are looking. Product names can be confusing, and companies often don’t inform the people who work with customers about pen features. In my review of the Tab A with S Pen I only link to the one with the S Pen, but I just added a note about the difference.

  10. Brandon

    If you had the opportunity to choose between this tablet and the note 2014 edition, which would be a better buy for creating digital art? Will android Photoshop work on this? is the note 2014, as it here cheaper with age, a better buy with the sharper screen and faster processor? Thank you for your reviews. I don’t have a lot of $$ and am trying to break into digital art.

    1. Post author

      The Note is no longer being made, and those for sale from the link are all used. The Tab A with S Pen is a good buy, and yes you can download Photoshop Express and anything in the Google Play store. The Tab A is not as powerful as the Note but does most of what the Note does. I like the Sketchbook app from Autodesk. You might want to take a look at the Mytrix Complex 11t for an affordable tablet. Also, there is supposedly a smaller iPad Pro on the way, I don’t know how much it will cost, probably not exactly cheap.

      1. Brandon

        Thank you for the quick response! I have used CS in the past for design work, and while I know there are those who like to disparage Photoshop Express for Android, I am not one of them; it has suited my needs on the ASUS Transformer Prime I have used since it came out in 2012. It’s limited in what it does, but it does that pretty well.

        I did a couple of pieces on the Transformer, but couldn’t get past my disdain for the capacitive stylus. I planned on getting a Note 2014 since I found out about it, and drool over them every time I walk into a best buy. I delayed purchasing one because I wanted to get the next big thing, and for a while the next big thing (Note-wise) came out out every year. I decided against the Note Pro because it was just a larger screen but not necessarily a better tablet. Now it’s 2 years old and I don’t want to fall into an older model tablet that won’t receive further patches, and falls into obscurity.

        I’ve decided to get a tablet missing the bells and whistles of high end tablets so I can kind of dedicate it to just making some art and stop wasting my time on games and such… but I still need the power/speed required for graphics apps. This looks like that tablet.

        I haven’t seen a poor review on this thing yet from digital artists who use it, so I think I’m going to give it a go, because I really like Samsung and trust them rather than Toshiba or someone I’ve never heard of like Mytrix. Thanks again for your review.


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