Review by Sunetra Chakravati,7/30/2014 2:38:28 PM
Look and feel
Ease of use
High resolution screen | Excellent battery life | Attractive, light and thin
Bronze version not for everyone | Screen is overly saturated | Let down by Android tablet app selection
With the Galaxy Tab S Samsung hopes to finally prove it can make a tablet to rival the iPad. We’ve already reviewed the 8.4-inch model and praised it as the best Android tablet to date and even suggesting it as an alternative to the mighty iPad mini. Now it’s time for the larger 10.5-inch model to take aim at the iPad Air.
Debuting a new colour somewhere between brown and bronze, our Galaxy Tab S review sample certainly stands out from the monochrome competition. It may not have the universal appeal of black or white, nor the bold glossy colours of the Nokia Lumia tablet, but we admire Samsung for trying something different.
That isn’t to say it’s perfect though. The bronze bezel is actually plastic and the back is the same slightly-soft-touch and dimpled finished shared by the Galaxy S5 smartphone. It works better here and is an improvement on the slimy plastic of previous Galaxy Tabs, but the texture and shimmering finish still make it difficult to like - at least as far as our eyes and fingers are concerned.
One aspect of the Samsung’s design which will draw universal appeal is its portability. Measuring just 6.6mm thick and tipping the scales at a mere 465g, the Tab S is just as compact as the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet, a slate we loved for its petite frame and low weight.
The Tab S - in both sizes - is one of those gadgets we can’t help but pick up and admire every time we’re near it, and it’s a long time since we’ve been able to say that about a Samsung product. If only it would swap the plastic chrome trim for metal.
A 10.5-inch AMOLED display with a resolution of 2560 x 1600 was never going to disappoint, and we’re glad to report it doesn’t. Samsung knocked the ball out of the park with the smaller 8.4-inch Tab S (which has the same resolution), and it’s a repeat performance here with the larger model.
Stretching the same pixels over more space means pixel density drops slightly, but at 288 per inch it’s still large enough to be truly impressive - and more than the iPad Air, which manages 264 per inch. It’s a superb screen, but one which suffers from that all-too-familiar trait shared by all of Samsung’s AMOLED offerings - overly saturated colours. They’re just too rich and in-yer-face, like the entire operating system is being viewed through the eyes of a child who's spent the afternoon with a big bag of sweets.
Away from looking a little unnatural, the display has excellent viewing angles, is plenty bright enough to be used outdoors, and can be made dark enough to be comfortably read in bed with the light off.
A neat trick called Smart Stay uses the front-facing camera to work out if you’re looking at the screen or not; look away and video will be paused, look at the screen and the tablet won’t lock or fall asleep, even if you stop touching it.
Switch the Tab S on and anyone who has used a Samsung Galaxy product will feel immediately at home. It’s Android 4.4.2 KitKat with Samsung’s own TouchWiz interface over the top, which makes changes to the lock screen, home screen, notifications panel, and almost everything else besides. Performance is excellent, thanks to an abundance of power coming from Samsung’s own Exynos 5 Octa processor. The chip incorporates two quad-core processors, one running at 1.9GHz and the other at a slightly more pedestrian 1.3GHz.
By having both, the Tab S is equally good at sipping frugally at its huge 7,900mAh battery, and letting rip when demanding applications and 3D games are order of the day. The former means a battery life which easily stretches across a busy weekend, while the latter means games like Real Racing 3 boot up quickly and play flawlessly.
Although the battery will easily see you through a busy weekend of gaming, Facebook browsing and Netflix binging, it’s slow to recharge, taking most of an afternoon to reach 100% from empty.
Where the Samsung offers something the iPad Air cannot is with multitasking. Both tablets can run apps in the background - but only the Galaxy Tab S can display two opens apps next to each other, at the same time. A left swipe from the right edge reveals a list of apps compatible with being shown side-by-side; drag them onto the screen, resize with a slider and away you go. We opened Maps and Chrome together and, while they both work at the same time, everything was a bit choppy, especially with Maps where panning around was nowhere near as smooth as when it’s open on its own. The function works, sure, but it’s certainly not the same as having multiple apps open on a computer or Windows tablet.
Finally, a quick word on the cameras. The front is 2.1-megapixel, while the rear is 8mp and, in a rare move for a tablet, has a flash. Both are fine, but as always we reckon you’re better off using your phone for photography.
A thorn forever lodged in the side of every Android tablet is the Play store and its lack of applications compared to iOS and the iPad. Android smartphones are fine, but many apps - even ones like Facebook and Twitter - are poorly optimised for larger screens. As we said when reviewing the Tab S 8.4, this is a problem completely out of Samsung’s hands, but one which consistently makes the iPad look like the better option.
There’s a lot to get excited about with the Galaxy Tab S, and the apps are (mostly) all there, but a little more imagination from developers would be welcome.
A worthy rival to the iPad Air? Almost. Just as the Tab S 8.4 is the best small Android tablet, this 10.5 model is the best large Android tablet - a title it steals from the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet.
Excellent design and hardware is only let down by a lack of metal, while the screen is superb (if slightly over-saturated) and the software is as good as Samsung can make it, let down only by Android’s lack of tablet-optimised apps.
The Galaxy Tab S is light, slim, good-looking and fast, with a bright screen, expandable storage and excellent battery life. If you'd rather side with Google than Apple, this is the tablet for you.