It’s battle of the titans as one of the best iOS tablets, the Apple iPad Air, clashes with one of the best Android rivals, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S. Which is the best for you? Here’s our full comparison review.
Choosing between the Apple iPad Air and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S is like picking either a sweaty night of passion with Scarlett Johansson/Ryan Gosling (delete according to sexual preference) or a day downing champagne on a luxury yacht while Brock Lesnar makes origami figures out of your worst enemy’s spinal column.
They’re both premium tablets that come at premium prices, but if you want an amazing portable media machine that can stream HD video, blast through the latest games or even keep you productive on the move, you can’t do better than this pair. Let’s see how they stack up…
Note: For this comparison, we used the Apple iPad Air 64GB and the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5.
Apple iPad Air vs Samsung Galaxy Tab S: Design and portability
One of the first things we look for in a new tablet is portability. It can rock a gorgeous screen and enough power to send a rocket into space, but if it’s a clunky slab of heavy plastic, we’re going to give up on lugging it around pretty quick.
Fortunately both of these tablets have absolutely nailed it for comfort. They’re both impressively slim, especially the 6.6mm Galaxy Tab S, which rivals even the size zero Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet for being insanely thin. But best of all, they both weigh under 500g, which makes them effortless to use one-handed.
As for looks, we still prefer the sleek metallic finish of the iPad Air, compared to the soft-touch perforated plastic of the Galaxy Tab S. You might think the iPad Air’s silvery surface might scratch up all too easy, but we’ve been lugging that thing around for months now and it’s still in perfect condition.
That said, we’re not too keen to test either tablet’s durability by chucking them off a desk.
Result: This one’s almost too close to call, as both tablets are beautifully light and portable for their size. However, we’re leaning towards the iPad Air, thanks to that gorgeous don’t-fix-what-ain’t-broke design.
Apple iPad Air vs Samsung Galaxy Tab S: Features and ease of use
Here’s where these two tabs massively differ.
While Apple’s iPad Air rocks good ol’ iOS 7, the Galaxy Tab S comes with Google’s Android KitKat 4.4, and the two experiences couldn’t be much more different. Apple’s iOS boasts a clean, simple desktop, with all of your apps on display; meanwhile, Android has been heavily overhauled with Samsung’s TouchWiz interface for the Galaxy Tab S, which packs even more features into the already-dense Google OS.
If you want a simple tablet that gives you fast access to your apps and media, the iPad Air is a decent bet. Our only irritation is Apple’s insistence that you use iTunes to copy your movies and music across to the tab, which for a beginner can be quite daunting and seriously unintuitive.
Samsung offers more customisation with the Galaxy Tab S, giving you the ability to add widgets to your desktops – although the likes of the Magazine UI could be seen as intrusive as it can’t actually be removed from the desktop. It’s constantly there, giving you the latest headlines and social media updates, whether you like it or not.
You also get some handy bonus features with the Galaxy Tab S, such as an infra-red sensor for fiddling with your telly. But both tablets come with the obligatory cameras, both front and rear facing, if you absolutely insist on taking shots or filming 1080p video with a rectangular slab.
Result: If you want simplicity, the iPad Air is a safe bet, once you get your head around iTunes. However, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S provides a slew of features not found on Apple’s beast, plus greater customisation.
Apple iPad Air vs Samsung Galaxy Tab S: Movies
Samsung delivers the first blow with victory in the sharpness test: that 2560×1600 resolution gives a respectable 287 pixels-per-inch (ppi), which beats the iPad Air’s 264ppi. Of course, in reality the difference is negligible, and you’ll enjoy crisp HD visuals no matter which tablet you choose.
But then the Galaxy Tab S, with its widescreen aspect ratio, is also more suited to movie playback. On the iPad Air, you get some pretty big black borders above and below the picture to compensate for that square design.
As for screen quality, both devices produce gorgeous images. However, while the iPad Air veers towards more realistic tones, the Galaxy Tab S’ Super AMOLED panel goes all-out vibrant with uber-rich colours. Which is better? That’s all down to personal preference, although you can’t deny the Galaxy Tab S provides true spectacle.
And if you want to carry around a massive media collection, either device will do. The iPad Air ranges up to a monstrous 128GB, and while the Galaxy Tab S can’t match Apple’s tablet for built-in storage, it does come with a microSD slot for expansion.
Result: Although this is mostly down to personal taste, we prefer the bright, vibrant panel on the Galaxy Tab S, which is well built for media.
Apple iPad Air vs Samsung Galaxy Tab S: Games
If you want to stay entertained by blasting terrorists in the face hole, your best bet is still the iPad Air. Although the Google Play Store packs tons of great games, and a fair few indie efforts that are well worth a play, it’s the App Store that gets the best exclusives and has a greater range of time wasters.
As for performance, both tablets deliver massive shovels of power to run the latest games. The Galaxy Tab S packs two quad-core processors, giving you an octa-core setup, while the iPad Air boasts a 64-bit processor of Apple’s making. We have yet to see a game struggle on either machine.
Result: The iPad Air edges out the Galaxy Tab S for choice, at least for now.
Apple iPad Air vs Samsung Galaxy Tab S: Productivity
Having used both the iPad and Android KitKat for work-related shenanigans, we prefer the design of the iPad Air thanks to that square screen. It’s a great shape for working on complex documents (not to mention browsing the web), and the Air is especially great for creative types thanks to its excellent design software.
However, Samsung immediately comes back swinging with its multi-tasking feature, which allows you to run two apps side-by-side. That’s great news if you want to chat with a contact while grabbing info from a website or taking notes in EverNote, for example.
Samsung also pre-loads the Galaxy Tab S with some decent sharing/communication apps too, such as Side-Sync and Remote PC, which allow you to access other devices and continue working on a document that you started elsewhere. Apple iOS 8 promises slicker integration between your iPad and Mac, but for now the Galaxy Tab S is a better solution if you use multiple devices.
And then there’s Samsung’s other killer feature: security. To start, you get a fingerprint scanner that’s used to unlock the device. It may be occasionally fiddly, but it helps to keep your top-secret data extra safe from prying eyes, compared with a PIN code which can easily be read over your shoulder.
On top of that there’s Samsung’s Knox solution, which provides a clear divide between your work and play content and allows remote deletion of those sensitive work files. Handy stuff if you use your tablet in down-time as well as at the office.
However, Apple has its own security features for business which allow tight control and remote wiping, and it also comes in a delicious LTE flavour for staying connected when you’re out of sight of Wi-Fi networks. At the moment you can only pick up the Galaxy Tab S in a Wi-Fi flavour, with LTE models not due in the UK until later this year.
Result: Again, it’s a very close call, with both tablets providing excellent productivity software and security options.
Apple iPad Air vs Samsung Galaxy Tab S: Battery life
You’re safe with either tablet if you’re about to embark on a trans-atlantic flight. On maximum brightness, you’ll get around ten hours of non-stop video playback – enough to watch the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy (although probably not that ridiculous extended director’s cut edition).
Apple iPad Air vs Samsung Galaxy Tab S: Verdict
Uh oh, looks like it’s a cop-out verdict, kiddies. Both of these tablets are superstars in practically every department, but of course they’re each slightly better suited to a different blend of user.
We prefer the Galaxy Tab S’ screen for kicking back with a movie, but the iPad Air is better designed for work, especially if you like getting creative. And while the iPad is still the ultimate gaming device here, Samsung’s baby is packed with more interesting features.
Either way, you’re getting an excellent tablet that should do you for a good long time.