When it comes to Android tablets, well, there aren’t very many options. We recently reviewed the Lenovo Chromebook Duet and declared it the best Android tablet you can buy right now, but with the technicality that it’s actually a Chrome OS device that you can install Android apps on.

Google gave up on Android tablets a few years ago, and other than Amazon’s Android-based FireOS tablets, there’s effectively only one name in the Android tablet game: Samsung.

The Galaxy Tab S6 Lite is the company’s latest Android-powered offering. First announced in mid-April, the Tab S6 Lite is positioned as an affordable version of its Tab S6 tablet. The $549 Tab S6 is powerful and designed with productivity in mind. It has Samsung’s S Pen stylus included in the box and an optional Book Cover keyboard. It’s, essentially, Samsung’s high-end Android tablet.

The Tab S6 Lite starts at $349.99. It undercuts and improves upon last year’s budget-friendly $399.99 Tab S5e by adding the all-important S Pen feature that so many Samsung fans have grown to know and love.

We’ve been testing the Tab S6 Lite for the past week or so, and one thing is clear: It’s all about the S Pen.

Design

The Tab S6 Lite boasts a 10.4-inch thin-film transistor display. Note, this TFT display isn’t the same AMOLED type of display you find in Samsung’s high-end phones or even the Tab S6. It has an overall resolution of 2000 x 1200, and even though it’s not Samsung’s best display tech, the screen is just fine. Colors won’t be as bright and blacks won’t be as dark, but after a few days of using the Tab S6 Lite, any flaws we saw on day one have disappeared.

You’ll have three color options when shopping for the S6 Lite: Oxford gray, angora blue, and chiffon rose.

The display is slightly larger than Apple’s base model iPad with a 10.2-inch screen, but its overall size is actually smaller than the iPad. The Tab S6 Lite measures 9.56 x 6.27 x 0.28 inches, while the iPad measures 9.8 x 6.8 x 0.29 inches.

The reason for the size difference boils down to the bezels around the screen. The iPad still has the home button, leading to larger top and bottom bezels, while the Tab S6 Lite has a uniform — and smaller — bezel around the display. It weighs just over a pound at 16.2 ounces.

On the bottom, you’ll find a USB-C port for charging and data transfers and one of two AKG tuned speakers. On the right side are a micro SD card tray, a volume rocker and a power button. On top, almost as if it’s hidden, is a 3.5mm headphone jack and the second speaker. Yes, Samsung still cares about those who want to keep a wired connection. The left side is bare of any buttons or ports.

Above the display is a 5-megapixel camera for video calls and selfies. On the back of the tablet is an 8-megapixel camera.

Included in the box with the Tab S6 Lite is an S Pen that’s flat on one side and has a button to activate additional features on the other. It magnetically attaches to the right side of the tablet, just below the volume button. Or if you have Samsung’s Book Cover, there’s a spot in the spine of the cover to place the S Pen for safe passage.

We suggest finding somewhere to place the S Pen when traveling, as it’s pretty easy to knock it off the side of the tablet. It’s a convenient spot to place it if you’re taking notes or sketching at a desk, but on more than one occasion we accidentally knocked it off while carrying the tablet between rooms.

Right now, there isn’t any sort of keyboard accessory for the Tab S6 Lite. It’s disappointing, especially as more people are looking for devices to facilitate remote working and learning, but it will work with Bluetooth and USB-C keyboards if you truly need one.

Looking at the Tab S6 Lite, it’s hard not to find some design similarities when it’s next to the iPad Pro. The edges are squared off and flat, and there are lines that mimic antenna lines we’ve seen on iPads and iPhones in the past.

The Tab S6 Lite’s size means you’ll feel comfortable holding it while you read a book, browse the web, or even game.

Performance and battery life

Inside the S6 Lite is Samsung’s Exynos 9610 quad-core processor, 4GB of memory, 64GB or 128GB of storage, and a 7040 mAh battery.

It runs Android 10 with Samsung’s One UI 2.0 software skin atop it. That means you’ll get all the same apps and features found on Samsung’s Galaxy phone line — apps like Notes, Internet Browser, Gallery and so on.

As with every Underscored tech review, we conducted benchmark testing to set a standard to compare quantitative testing of multiple devices alongside our daily use, testing and perceptions. We used GeekBench 5 for testing the Tab S6 Lite. This benchmarking app tests the devices by running intense processes that mimic real-life use cases.

The S6 Lite scored 332 on the single-core test and 1,222 on the multi-core test. That’s slightly slower than the Samsung Galaxy A51’s scores of 345 and 1,301. The A51 uses an Exynos 9611 processor, which should have nearly identical performance. And the benchmarks show that to be the case, but the puzzling part of the Tab S6 Lite is that we didn’t experience the same inconsistent performance we did with the A51.

With the Galaxy A51, performance was either smooth and lag-free, or sluggish to the point of unresponsive. It was incredibly frustrating. The Tab S6 Lite, however, was consistently smooth, yet slower than Apple’s iPad.

Even though it’s not going to blow you away when it comes to performance, we didn’t mind using the Tab S6 Lite, simply because it’s consistent. Knowing what to expect when it comes to launching apps, switching between browser tabs, or even gaming, and then reliably experiencing exactly that — whether it’s stunningly fast or ploddingly slow — is part of what makes for a strong user experience.

We also tested the battery life by putting it through our standard benchmark test of playing a video on a loop using VLC, with the Tab S6 Lite in airplane mode and the display brightness set to 50%. Honestly, we didn’t have high hopes for the test, simply because even at 50% the display was impressively bright. However, to our surprise, the Tab S6 Lite’s battery lasted for 13 hours and 14 minutes. We’re happy with that.

Our own personal use saw us charging the Tab S6 Lite every couple of days after using it to look for new recipes online, watch far too many YouTube videos, do some light gaming and test the S Pen.

Speaking of the S Pen, Samsung brought many of the same stylus features that you’ll find on its Galaxy Note phone line or even the Tab S6. You can tap the screen with the pen when the S6 Lite is locked and start taking notes. You can also use the Air Command menu to take notes or capture screenshots at any time while you’re using the tablet. You can even convert your handwritten notes into text inside the Samsung Notes app with the tap of a button. In our testing, it was fairly accurate, despite having to read our arguably poor handwriting.

You don’t have to charge the S Pen, and there’s no Bluetooth connection to worry about managing. Just hold the pen close to the tablet, and the two devices will recognize each other.

Bottom line

Even though you won’t be blown away by the Tab S6 Lite’s speed, its reliable experience is perfect for someone who wants a tablet around the home for the kids to zone out on, or for students who need to take notes, or as a handy tablet to set up in the kitchen to watch cooking videos and participate in Zoom happy hours.

At $349.99, it’s slightly more expensive than Apple’s iPad, which is arguably a better tablet. However, for someone who enjoys Samsung’s ecosystem of apps and services, or simply wants an Android tablet, the Tab S6 Lite will certainly fill that role.

You can buy the Galaxy Tab S6 Lite from Samsung right now, with orders shipping immediately.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailer’s listed price at the time of publication.