M1 iPad Pro 12.9 vs Tab S8 Ultra (artist review)

M1 iPad Pro vs Samsung Tab S8 for drawing and graphic design. Which is better? That’s a question I get asked so often so here’s the article that will hopefully answer that. This is also an update to the iPad Pro 2020 vs Tab S7 article I wrote 2 years ago.

I’ve been using the Apple M1 iPad Pro 12.9 since May 2021 and the Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra since Feb 2022. The only reason why I have two flagship tablets is because I happen to have a tech channel on Youtube. Otherwise, one tablet is sufficient.

Bottom line


For drawing purposes, both M1 iPad Pros and Tab S8 tablets are on par. Both Apple Pencil 2 and Samsung S Pen are accurate, have good pressure sensitivity, consistent and predictable performance.

One area the iPads have over the Samsung tablets is the graphic design apps available from the Apple App Store are much better in quality and have more features. On the iPad are apps such as Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator, Affinity Photo, Affinity Designer and Affinity Publisher. When I talk about graphic design, I’m particularly interested at how those apps handle typography, fonts, layout, vector path and shapes, and the adjustments possible.

For example to create the specs comparison table below is easy with Adobe Illustrator but extremely challenging with the Samsung tablets due to the lack of graphic design apps with good typography and font controls, e.g. leading, kerning, line space, indents, paragraph spacing, justification, alignment.

If you’re only into drawing, both tablets are great for drawing. So maybe you should choose the tablets based on what else you may want to do with the tablets instead.

Specs comparison table

Tablets M1 iPad Pro 11 M1 iPad Pro 12.9 Tab S8 Tab S8+ Tab S8 Ultra
Display 11-inch LED IPS LCD, 600 nits 12.9-inch mini LED IPS LCD, 600 nits, HDR 1600 nits 11-inch LTPS TFT LCD, 500 nits 12.4-inch Super AMOLED, 420 nits 14.6-inch Super AMOLED, 420 nits
Resolution 2388 x 1668, 264 PPI 2732 x 2048, 264 PPI 2560 x 1600, 276 PPI 2800 x 1752, 266 PPI 2960 x 1848, 240 PPI
Refresh rate Either 60Hz or 120Hz Either 60Hz or 120Hz Adaptive up to 120Hz Either 60Hz or 120Hz Either 60Hz or 120Hz
Processor Apple M1 Apple M1 Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1
Memory 8-16GB 8-16GB 8GB 8GB 8-16GB
Storage 128 – 2TB 128 – 2TB 128 – 256GB 128 – 256GB 128 – 512GB
Camera Front 12MP f/2.4, rear wide 12MP f/1.8, ultra-wide 10MP f/2.4 Front 12MP f/2.4, rear wide 12MP f/1.8, ultra-wide 10MP f/2.4 Rear 13MP wide, 6MP ultra-wide, front 12MP ultra-wide Rear 13MP wide, 6MP ultra-wide, front 12MP ultra-wide Rear 13MP wide, 6MP ultra-wide, front 12MP wide, 12MP ultra-wide
MicroSD card slot No No Yes, up to 1TB Yes, up to 1TB Yes, up to 1TB
Battery 7538 mAh 10758mAh 8000 mAh 10090 mAh 11200 mAh
Connectivity Wifi or Wifi + 5G LTE Wifi or Wifi + 5G LTE Wifi or Wifi + 5G LTE Wifi or Wifi + 5G LTE Wifi or Wifi + 5G LTE
Ports USB C Thunderbolt 4 USB C Thunderbolt 4 USB C gen 3.2 USB C gen 3.2 USB C gen 3.2
Speakers Quad speakers Quad speakers Quad speakers by AKG, Dolby Atmos Quad speakers by AKG, Dolby Atmos Quad speakers by AKG, Dolby Atmos
Biometric authentication Face unlock Face unlock Fingerprint on side button, face unlock Fingerprint on display, face unlock Fingerprint on display, face unlock
Dimensions 178.5 x 247.6 x 5.9mm 214.9 x 280.6 x 6.4mm 165.3 x 253.8 x 6.3mm 185.0 x 285.0 x 5.7mm 208.6 x 326.4 x 5.5mm
Weight 466 – 468g 682 – 684g 507g 572g 728g
Price USD From $799 From $1099 From $699 From $899 From $1099
Street price in Singapore (256GB model) SGD 1349 – 1569 (5G) SGD 1799 – 2019 (5G) SGD 1095- 1238 (5G) SGD 1448 – 1638 (5G) SGD 1950 – 2088 (5G)
Pen Apple Pencil 2 – USD 129 Apple Pencil 2 – USD 129 S-Pen included S-Pen included S-Pen included
Goodies Keyboard case

Display


The M1 iPad Pro 12.9 uses a mini-LED IPS LCD. The Samsung Tab S8 Ultra uses super AMOLED. Both displays look fantastic. The iPad Pro 12.9’s mini LED display brightness can go up to 600 nits with normal usage and up to 1600 when viewing HDR content. While the Tab S8 Ultra’s brightness can only reach 400+ nits, due to the extreme contrast ratio of the OLED display, the brightness looks great too. For example, to make white look brighter, you can increase the brightness or make black darker (possible with OLED).

Either way, you won’t be disappointed with the display quality of both tablets. There are many who think OLED is the superior display technology. A good LCD can still look great. I’ve no preference for either OLED or LCD as long as both look good.

Note that the M1 iPad Pro 11-inch is using normal LED LCD and not the mini-LED. The 11-inch Samsung Tab S8 is also using LCD.

One area of concern with OLED displays is pulse width modulation (PWM). OLED displays can flicker due to PWM. I personally cannot see PWM in real life but there are people with sensitive eyes who may be able to detect the flicker. The Super AMOLED displays used by the Tab S8+ and Tab S8 Ultra have PWM. This video shows PWM in action.

Aspect ratio of the display is quite important as it affects productivity and how you use the tablet.


Aspect ratio of the iPad Pro (left) is 4:3 and this makes the tablet useable in both landscape and portrait orientation. Samsung tablets (right) use the 16:10 aspect ratio which more suited for landscape orientation. When using Samsung tablets in vertical orientation, together with the UI elements, e.g. palettes, your canvas space is almost too vertical.

Pen

Both Apple Pencil 2 and Samsung S Pen supports tilt, pressure and palm rejection. Both pen are sensitive and have accurate tracking. Drawing performance is fantastic for both pens.

Both pens have low initial activation force and can detect minimal pressure changes quite well when drawing with minimal pressure. Lines are able to taper smoothly and sharply. There’s no wobble when drawing diagonal lines slowly.


The main difference comes down to the design of the pens. Apple Pencil 2 has a hard tip and is powered by battery. There are shortcuts you can activate by tapping the side of the Apple Pencil. The Samsung S Pen has a rubberised nib, a shortcut button and does not need battery power for drawing. The feel of drawing with the pen tips are different and which is better will come down to personal preference. Again, I don’t prefer one over the either.

Apple Pencil 2 is priced at US $129. Samsung S Pen is included. If you don’t like the physical design of the Samsung S Pen, there are alternatives such as the Staedtler Noris Digital and Staedtler Noris Digital Jumbo. Replacement pen nibs for the S Pen are also cheaper.

Latency

Latency of the pens are affected by the drawing apps. With the right apps, e.g. Apple Notes or Samsung Notes, when drawing or writing quickly, it’s almost impossible to see the gap between the line and the pen tip. However most drawing apps will still show latency if you look closely but thankfully the latency doesn’t really affect drawing performance.

Palm rejection

Palm rejection for the pens and tablets work great. With apps where you can choose to accept only pen input, you can get perfect palm rejection.

Apps

The variety and quality of drawing apps available from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store are on par.

Many will say that Procreate on iPad is the best drawing app ever to appear on any tablet. Maybe. On Android, there’s Clip Studio Paint (also available on iPad) which can pretty much do what Procreate can do. Having a huge variety of drawing apps is certainly nice but ultimately you’ll just be using one or two drawing apps mostly.


Here are some of the more popular drawing apps available from the Apple App Store:

  • Procreate
  • Clip Studio Paint
  • Medibang Paint Pro
  • Sketchbook
  • Tayasui Sketches
  • Concepts
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Adobe Fresco
  • Affinity Photo
  • PaintStorm
  • Infinite Painter
  • ArtStudio Pro

For graphic design, vector, layout apps on iPad, there are

  • Affinity Designer
  • Affinity Publisher
  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Vectornator

From the Google Play Store, there are

  • Clip Studio Paint
  • Krita
  • Medibang Paint Pro
  • Sketchbook
  • Tayasui Sketches
  • Concepts
  • Infinite Painter
  • Artflow

If you want a tablet for drawing and graphic design but don’t want an iPad, consider the Microsoft Surface Pro 8 instead.

File management

Most of the artworks created are saved within the drawing apps, and file management will depend on the apps you use.


For iPad backups, Apple uses iCloud which will make a backup of everything on the iPad.

Backups on Samsung tablets is not as straightforward compared to on the iPad where everything is backed up. On Samsung tablets, you have to rely on Microsoft OneDrive or Google Drive for backups. The included Samsung Cloud does not backup artworks stored within drawing apps. If you use an app that saves files outside of the app, e.g. Krita, you can save to Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive directly via the Samsung file system. For apps that store artworks within the apps, you have to find out how to export the files out from those apps for backup. If you use apps that save artworks to the cloud, e.g. Medibang, CSP, you don’t have to worry about losing files.

Samsung Tab S8 Ultra has storage expansion via a microSD card slot. This can be used for backing up files too.

Backups are important because tablets can be lost, damaged or stolen.

External display support

M1 iPad Pro with Stage Manager SamsungDex
The M1 iPad Pros will be getting external display support with the Stage Manager feature. I’m not exactly sure how useful Stage Manager is yet because it’s not released publicly at the time of this review. I’ve installed the beta version of iPadOS 16 with Stage Manager and the external display supports feels like using two iPads at the same time. It’s definitely not the MacOS or Windows desktop experience.

FYI, Stage Manager is only available to iPads that use the Apple M1 processor.

Samsung handles external display support with SamsungDex. You can either use SamsungDex with cable connection or wirelessly. SamsungDex provides a desktop-like interface with taskbars and apps on the desktop. Windows can be resized, minimised or moved around. The user experience is quite similar to using Windows OS. SamsungDex will run the desktop interface on the external display while the tablet will still be using the tablet interface. In other words, you cannot drag your mouse cursor from one display to the other but you can use the keyboard across both.

How useful SamsungDex is will depend on your workflow. On a huge tablet, it’s just another UI for working. For those using Samsung phones, SamsungDex allows you to use your phone as a computer and that’s very useful.

Battery life

M1 iPad Pro 12.9 battery life is around 10 hours with normal non-gaming usage. Samsung Tab S8 Ultra has 8hr+ battery life.

After months of usage with both tablets, battery life does drain noticeably faster on the Tab S8 Ultra.

Note that with lithium batteries, after 300 – 500 charge cycles, the battery capacity normally drop by 20%. With the same amount of usage, the Tab S8 Ultra will require more frequent charging and will run up those charge cycles and hence battery capacity will drop faster than the iPad Pro.

Ecosystem

The ecosystem is how well the devices work with each other.


Software ecosystem is a big thing nowadays. Apple has an ecosystem with many shared features such as AirDrop for wireless transfers, iCloud for backups across all Apple devices, Apple TV app that lets you have access to shows across all Apple devices.

For Samsung, some of the ecosystem features are contributed by third party apps and it’s actually more flexible this way.

For example, Apple uses iMessage for messaging and that only works on Apple devices. On Samsung, you can use their messaging system or you can use Whatsapp which is popular in Europe and Asia. The flexibility of third party apps is you’re not locked into an ecosystem. If you want to change your phone or tablet to some other brand, you can do so easily.

If you are a heavy user of Apple-only apps, you will be locked into the Apple eco-system. For example, I buy my movies through Apple TV and to play those movies I need an Apple device. If I use Procreate exclusively, it means my next tablet will also be an iPad. If I use Clip Studio Paint which is available on MacOS, Windows, iPad and Android, I can switch to a tablet from any brand.

If I save my photos to Google Photos or Microsoft OneDrive, or save my files with Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive, I can access these files regardless of the computer or tablet I use. If I story my photos with the Photos app on the iPad, I’ll be locked into the Apple ecosystem. Also note that it’s easy to save or download files onto the iPad, but it’s not easy to get your files out because AirDrop wireless transfer is slow (50MB/s). So as much as possible whenever I have files I need to store on the iPhone or iPad, I will store directly to Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive.

The USB-C port on the Samsung Tab S8 tablets has USB 3.1 gen 1 speeds which is around 400-500MB/s. Wireless file transfers is slower.

Using your tablets as external displays
You can use the iPad Pro and Samsung tablets as external displays to your Mac or Windows computers easily.

In the table below, the column on the left are devices which you may want to use as external displays.

iPad Android Mac Windows
iPad Apple SideCar, Duet DIsplay, Duet Air, Luna Display Luna Display
Android Duet Display, Duet Air Samsung Second Screen, SuperDisplay

Which tablet to get if you’re already using a Mac or Windows computer?

If you already use a Mac, the main advantage of getting an iPad is wireless file transfer with AirDrop is very convenient even though it’s slow. When I need to transfer files on iPad to my Windows computer, I always save it to Google Drive and download it from there so it’s not a direct file transfer. Regarding direct wireless file transfers with the Samsung tablet, you can use ShareDrop or SnapDrop web browser direct file transfers.

I don’t think the computer that you already have matters much when it comes to choosing between iPad Pro vs Tab S8 tablets.

So which is the better tablet for artists?

As mentioned in the bottom line written further up, both M1 iPad Pro and Tab S8 tablets are great for drawing. But if you also need to do graphic design work, go with the iPad Pro.

But otherwise, I will recommend you choose based on the software/apps you want to use, and the other features you may find useful.

Here in Singapore, the M1 iPad Pro 12.9 Wifi (256GB) with Apple Pencil 2 cost SGD 1928. The Samsung Tab S8 Ultra 5G (256GB) with S Pen and keyboard case cost SGD 1944 (lowest I’ve seen).

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