Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 FE hands-on: Moving in a different direction

Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 FE on counter
(Image credit: Andrew Myrick / Android Central)

Let's get this out of the way first. I'm a sucker for tablets, even if they end up just piling up on my desk until the mood strikes me to pick one up and mess around with it. But with the Galaxy Tab S9 FE, that might no longer be the case, as I've already figured out a couple of different ways that I would want to use it.

Like the Galaxy S23 FE, it's been a little while since we've seen Samsung release a Fan Edition tablet. But this time around, we're actually getting two tablets to choose from with the Tab S9 FE and Tab S9 FE Plus. The former sports a 10.9-inch display, while the latter is more of a true successor to the Tab S7 FE with its 12.4-inch screen.

These felt familiar, yet still different

Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 FE and Galaxy Tab S9 FE Plus

(Image credit: Andrew Myrick / Android Central)

At first glance, you might have a tough time separating these from their "non-FE" brethren, as the design is practically identical. This doesn't come as much of a surprise as Samsung wants to offer some type of uniformity with its devices, even those in the FE lineup.

There's a lot to like when it comes to the two FE models. For one, I'm a big fan of the fact that there are actually two different size options to choose from. As someone who uses the Tab S9 Ultra, having a smaller tablet for the sake of portability is something I've been considering, and Samsung might have just answered the call.

You'll find a lot of the same features across the board, with things like an IP68 rating, along with Android 13 out of the box and even a solid 12MP ultrawide selfie camera hidden in the top bezel. Samsung is still including an S Pen in the box, much like we've seen from the past couple of tablet launches, and it's something that I can't help but be excited about.

The displays are still gorgeous

Top-down view of the Galaxy Tab S9 FE

(Image credit: Andrew Myrick / Android Central)

By and large, you're going to get the same experience with the Tab S9 FE that you would with the Tab S9. But there are a few key differences that will either leave you scratching your head or better influence your purchasing decision.

One way that Samsung was able to keep costs low is by using LCD panels on both the Tab S9 FE and FE Plus. This might not be a big deal to some, but you won't enjoy the benefits of the OLED display found on the non-FE models. And while the refresh rate might not max out at 120Hz, these panels do offer a variable refresh rate of between 48 and 90Hz for those who care about that kind of thing.

Writing on Galaxy Tab S9 FE with S Pen

(Image credit: Andrew Myrick / Android Central)

And while I didn't have my Tab S9 Ultra with me during my hands-on session, you probably wouldn't be able to tell much of a difference anyways. Samsung still makes some of the best screens, even if they are LCD and not OLED. And that's pretty evident even from my limited time with these new tablets.

Using the included S Pen is as easy as ever, but that's not really all that exciting. Like the Tab S8 and Tab S9, the S Pen magnetically attaches to the back to keep it charged, or just to keep it out of the way until you need it.

My concerns

Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 FE next to Galaxy Z Fold 5

(Image credit: Andrew Myrick / Android Central)

Another way that Samsung managed to cut down on costs is by utilizing the Exynos 1380 SoC. This is the same chip that's found in the Galaxy A54, and in our review, we found that while "performance has improved substantially," some have found a variety of issues in terms of subpar battery life and other random quirks.

Samsung's Exynos has vastly improved over the past couple of years, but there's a reason why other Galaxy devices are powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon SoC. I can't help but be a little bit concerned about the reliability and performance, even if it's "just a tablet" compared to being used in a phone.

These tablets are rated to last for up to 20 hours on a single charge, which is pretty impressive in most regards. But I'm just hoping that there won't be a case of waiting for "the other shoe to drop" where performance or overheating issues begin to arise in the months to come.

What's happening with cellular

Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 FE in keyboard case with Galaxy S23 FE

(Image credit: Andrew Myrick / Android Central)

Okay so hear me out. The Galaxy Tab S9 Plus is the only tablet in that lineup that offers cellular connectivity. But with the FE lineup, only the smaller Tab S9 FE is the one you can purchase with a 5G connection.

I'm thoroughly confused about what, or why, Samsung is making these kinds of decisions. If anything, I would have thought that the Tab S9 FE Plus would have cellular, keeping in line with what the trio of non-FE models offers.

What I would LOVE for Samsung to do is to just bring a cellular option to all of its tablets. Unless there's something I'm missing, it's not like there's something that is stopping the company from doing so. If I'm someone who wanted the Tab S9 FE Plus but didn't want to spring for the Tab S9 Plus, I shouldn't have to either pay more or settle for the smaller tablet just to have cellular.

Seriously, just make it available across the board, or don't make it available in any of them.

Color me shocked

Close-up on Samsung logo on Galaxy Tab S9 FE with S Pen

(Image credit: Andrew Myrick / Android Central)

As I've written about in the past, I'm simply not a fan of the Microsoft Surface style of keyboard cases. But I guess I'm going to be in the minority on this one, at least for the time being. However, there was something that surprised me when it came to the Tab S9 FE and FE Plus, and that was compatibility.

According to Samsung, the Tab S9 FE and FE Plus are compatible with the same accessories as the non-FE models. This means that if you picked up the Tab S9 for yourself a few months ago and the Tab S9 FE, you'll be able to use the same cases across both devices. It's really great to see and something that I definitely didn't expect.

It's something that I complained (heavily) about in my Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra review, so it's nice to see that you won't need to buy a new case just because you got a new tablet. The real "test" will be when the Galaxy Tab S10, or whatever it's called, is released and whether or not the cases and accessories still fit or work with the newer generations.

I might get one

2023 Samsung Galaxy FE lineup

(Image credit: Andrew Myrick / Android Central)

As I said previously, I'm a sucker for tablets. I don't know why or what the reason is, but I just like having them around. And even after spending some time with the Onyx  Boox Tab Ultra, I've found myself still wanting a different tablet to use on the go. 

The smaller Tab S9 FE checks a lot of boxes, even for someone who has the Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra. It's small, lightweight, offers an excellent display even for not being OLED, and still includes an S Pen. Plus, at $449, the price is enticing enough to make me seriously consider adding one to my ever-growing arsenal. But we'll have to wait and see how that goes until I can use one for longer than I did in my hands-on session.

Andrew Myrick
Senior Editor - Chromebooks and tablets

Andrew Myrick is a Senior Editor at Android Central. He enjoys everything to do with technology, including tablets, smartphones, and everything in between. Perhaps his favorite past-time is collecting different headphones, even if they all end up in the same drawer.