We review Samsung’s latest tablet, the Galaxy Tab S, packing a supremely sharp Super AMOLED screen and 8-megapixel camera.
It can be a little confusing keeping up with Samsung’s tablets, as the Korean company tends to churn out a fair few each year, but the Samsung Galaxy Tab S is the first one in a while that’s had us genuinely excited. On paper, it’s one of the best Android tabs out there: beautifully crisp HD screen, plenty of power, even an 8-megapixel camera for people who for some reason love snapping their surroundings with a massive rectangle.
So, can the Galaxy Tab S live up to its promise? Let’s have a gander.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S design: Plastic fantastic
After the ridiculously huge and unwieldy Galaxy Note Pro tablets, Samsung has thankfully flipped tactics and designed a device that’s wonderfully thin and light. The Galaxy Tab S mimics the Apple iPad Air, with an almost identical weight and build. At 465g it’s comfortable to fondle one-handed for even lengthy commutes, and the tablet is slim enough to sneak inside a bag without bulking it up.
Flip the Galaxy Tab S over and you’ll find the same soft plastic backing as found on the Galaxy S5 smartphone. Somehow it doesn’t look or feel quite as cheap here as it did on the phone, and that silky smooth surface feels pretty damn good beneath your fingertips. The tablet comes in two colours: ‘Titanium Bronze’ (silver back with a bronzey edging) and ‘Dazzling White’ (it’s just white, alright?).
Still, we reckon the iPad Air has this Samsung tab beat for looks – you just can’t beat a sexy bit of metal – and we also prefer the sleek glass design of the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet, which is just as impressively slender.
Although Android 4.4 KitKat supports on-screen home, back and menu buttons, Samsung has added physical buttons beneath the display. Part of the reason for this is the fingerprint scanner, which is built into the home button – another cast-off from the Galaxy S5.
The main problem with the fingerprint scanner is that you need to swipe your digit across it, instead of simply rest your fingertip on the pad like with Apple’s Touch ID. It can be a little fiddly, especially when you’re holding the tablet in portrait mode, but at least we didn’t see the scanner completely lock up this time around. Just take your time and you’ll be okay.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S screen and media: Bright boy
The undeniable highlight of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S is the 10.5-inch Super AMOLED screen. It’s a proper bobby dazzler in every respect, from the rich, punchy colours to the ridiculously good viewing angles, not forgetting the crisp image reproduction. That 2560×1600 pixel resolution gives a respectable 287 pixels-per-inch (ppi), which beats the iPad Air’s 264ppi. The iPad still produces more natural, realistic colours, but Samsung’s tablet certainly makes more of an impact, similar to Sony’s Xperia Z2 Tablet.
Don’t worry if you’re looking for a tablet to use on the move, in particular outdoors, because the Galaxy Tab S’s screen is also bright enough to melt plutonium. Or at least cancel out a little sun glare. We only struggled with dark videos in bright sunlight, and that was mostly because our grubby fingerprint smears showed up far too well.
As for the speakers, they’re well positioned near the top of the left and right edges when the tablet’s clutched in landscape mode. They put out a decent volume, but of course the sound is rather tinny, so you’re best off using headphones.
And if you can’t access Wi-Fi to stream your videos and music, never fear – the 16Gb of built-in storage can be expanded via microSD.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S features: Touchy Wizzy
As usual, Android KitKat 4.4 has been rendered pretty much unrecognisable by Samsung’s heavy TouchWiz overlay.
Android’s general layout remains the same, with desktops to populate with apps and widgets, and a notifications bar that also gives you fast access to varius power settings. However, Samsung has also crammed in its Magazine UI, which much like HTC’s BlinkFeed is a customisable story aggregator. Have a gander at the settings menu and you can personalise the streams to pull in news from a short selection of services and topics. You can also add in your social network feeds, such as Facebook, YouTube and other popular efforts, and there’s a link to Samsung’s ‘Papergarden’ service, which lets you try and pay for virtual mags.
Overall, we don’t mind the Magazine interface: it’s simple and serves as a stripped-down alternative to the likes of Flipboard. We prefer the deeper BlinkFeed UI though, with its greater customisation and ability to add RSS feeds, and we still don’t understand why you can’t ditch the Magazine page entirely (the last widget can never be removed. Curses!).
Swipe your finger from the right edge of the screen and you’ll yank out the multitasking ‘Multi Window’ tray, which allows you to run two apps side-by-side. You can fiddle with the divider to give one app more screen space at the expense of the other, which is a useful touch. Sadly you’re limited to a handful of apps; not everything you’ve downloaded is supported.
And of course, for you business users out there with your smart suits and your massive golf umbrellas, there’s Samsung Knox to keep your data secure, and Remote PC to access your desktop when you’re out and about.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S performance and battery life: Octa-cor!
The Galaxy Tab S is a bit of a beast, packing in two quad-core processors to give octa-core performance. We were therefore surprised to see some jittery screen transitions when swiping through the desktops shortly after the tablet started up (especially when flicking across to the Magazine UI).
Thankfully the jerky effect subsided after the Galaxy Tab S had some time to warm up, and it was smooth sailing from then on. Games ran with a perfect frame rate, and multi-tasking rarely causes an issue, helped by the generous 3GB of RAM.
We’re also massively impressed by the Galaxy Tab S’ battery life. You’ll get about ten hours of video streaming from a single charge, placing it dead equal to the iPad Air. If you’re after a tablet to keep you entertained on the move, you can’t really do much better.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S cameras: Snappy
If you absolutely insist on taking photos with a tablet, then Samsung has you covered. The Galaxy Tab S comes packing an 8-megapixel camera, and it’s a decent snapper for capturing everyday scenes, with a flash for night shots.
Our pictures were predictably crisp with realistic colours, and you get a full HDR mode for coping with tricky light, plus panorama, dual camera and ‘Shot & More’ modes. That last one lets you take multiple shots and combine them into an artsy fartsy action pic.
You also get an impressively sharp front-facing camera, complete with the obligatory ‘Beauty Mode’ in case you’ve got a mug like a bulldog licking urine off a thistle.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S verdict
The combination of vibrant, uber-crisp screen and battery life longer than Dirk Diggler’s portable pal makes the Samsung Galaxy Tab S a worthy travel tablet. It’s not without its kinks, but it’s strong enough for both business and entertainment to make it worth your consideration. And like the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet before it, the Galaxy Tab S provides decent Android-based competition for the awesome iPad Air.