Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 Review: We review the 9.7-inch model of Samsung’s 2015 business and entertainment tablet, another powerful-yet-portable device packing some smart, unintrusive features. But is it a case of deja vu?
Last year’s Galaxy Tab S was Samsung’s best tablet in a long time, boasting a gorgeous screen that was pin-sharp for enjoying HD movies and staying productive on the go, as well as a pleasingly lightweight design. Samsung’s 2015 sequel, the Tab S2, doesn’t exactly smash apart convention, once again sporting a lightweight frame, crisp Super AMOLED screen and multi-tasking capabilities.
So, what’s actually changed for the Tab S2 and is it still a worthy tablet for the £349 asking price?
Stick the Tab S2 side-by-side with the original Tab S and you’ll notice one pretty big change right off the bat. The home button and front-facing camera have switched positions, so the natural orientation of the tablet is now portrait rather than landscape, just like the iPad. This makes sense, as it’s easier to unlock the tablet and means you don’t have to hold the Tab S2 in landscape mode when having a Skype chat, for instance.
At 392g and 5.6mm thick, the tablet is once again impressively thin and light, more or less matching the Xperia Z4 Tablet and beating the iPad Air 2 for portability and comfort when clutching one-handed. You can’t quite wrap your hand around the back of the tablet as it’s rather wide, but simply clutching the edge does the job thanks to that lack of heft.
The glossy front panel is broken up by a smooth metal rim, which then joins to a plastic back panel. That metal edging thankfully resists scuffs and scratches when you accidentally prang the Tab S2, but that plastic backing feels quite cheap compared with the all-metal iPad and shows visible flex in the middle.
Still, the Tab S2 does look quite attractive and that comfort quotient is a definite improvement on last year’s model.
The home button beneath the Galaxy Tab S2’s screen once again conceals a fingerprint scanner for effort-free security, but unlike last year’s Tab S, you no longer have to swipe your digit across the pad. Now you just need to rest your finger or thumb on the sensor to unlock your tablet, which is a lot more accurate and works pretty much every time. The portrait positioning makes it a lot more comfortable to use too.
Dive into the Tab S2’s desktops and you’ll probably not be too shocked to see Android Lollipop 5.0.2 covered with the latest version of Samsung’s TouchWiz overlay. Thankfully Samsung has kept Android Lollipop’s best features in place, including support for multiple users and Smart Lock – check out our Lollipop tips and tricks piece for a more detailed look at the best features.
As for Touchwiz, it’s definitely improved in recent years, proving less intrusive than before. That said, it hasn’t really evolved to be more helpful in the past year or so either. There are no new stand-out features, while the likes of the page-sized Flipboard widget (which can thankfully be removed quickly and easily) seems rather antiquated.
You can purchase a keyboard cover separately, which clips onto the Tab S2 using the two push-in nubbins on the rear of the tablet. We didn’t receive a keyboard cover with the Tab S2 review sample, but at £45 it’s not too ridiculous an investment if you need to do a lot of typing on the move. Just be aware that you’ll need a flat, steady surface to use the board.
And if you do use the Tab S2 for business shenanigans, your data will be kept safe and secure thanks to Samsung’s excellent Knox security, long a standard for Samsung devices. You also once again have the ability to multi-task with select apps working side-by-side.
Screen and media
That spacious 9.7-inch screen sports a 4:3 aspect ratio, which means it’s more square-shaped than a lot of tablets and a similar build to the iPad. And while that’s not exactly perfect for movies (you’ll be treated to a thick black bar above and below the picture), it’s good news if you do a lot of web browsing or document editing as you get a great view of the action.
As you’d possibly expect from Samsung, that screen is powerfully vibrant and also bright enough to ward off any irritating glare that might hamper use outdoors. The 1536×2048 resolution matches the iPad Air 2 and gives a similar sharpness to last year’s Galaxy Tab S. Squint real close and you will notice individual pixels if your eyesight’s up to it, but HD movies still look fabulous
Our Galaxy Tab S2 review unit came packing 32GB of storage space (of which 24GB was available off the bat), but anyone who wants to carry around a massive media collection can rest easy. The Tab S2 also has a microSD memory card slot, something missing on big handsets like the Galaxy S6. You can slot in cards up to 128GB in size.
Performance and battery life
Samsung’s own Exynos 5433 processor is packed inside the Tab S2, which most likely means absolutely nothing to you. The Exynos 5433 was actually the processor packed inside the Galaxy Note 4 phablet that Samsung released last year – but only in the Korean model, randomly – and here it does a solid job, keeping the tablet running smoothly even when multi-tasking.
If you want a device to keep you entertained or productive on the go, the Tab S2’s battery life makes it well worthy of your consideration. Even when streaming video non-stop with the screen brightness boosted to maximum, the tablet kept on going for a full eight hours. That’s very almost as good as the iPad Air and about the same as the Xperia Z4 Tablet, which just happen to be two of the best tablets for battery life.
You get an 8-megapixel rear camera to shoot your friends and family, but wielding the box-shaped Tab S2 like a camera is anything but satisfying. Try it at a gig or show and you’ll likely get punched, and you’ll only have yourself to blame. Still, if you absolutely must, the camera does a decent job of picking up detail in a range of conditions. There’s no flash however, so you’re scuppered when the light dims.
Much more useful is the 2.1-megapixel front-facing camera, which proves perfectly capable for Skype calls. My mug was sharp and well lit even in relatively gloomy environments, great news if you like to video chat in strip joints or dodgy basement bars.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 is a solid choice for anyone after an entertainment or business tablet, thanks to its sharp, vibrant screen, slim and light design, smooth performance and excellent battery life. However, it doesn’t really do anything different to last year’s Tab S, with very few actual improvements beyond the re-orientation and refreshed fingerprint sensor.