Samsung has been on a quest for nearly four years to create a true iPad killer, a viable alternative to the world’s most popular tablet in terms of specs, design, capabilities, and price.
There have been dozens of Samsung tablet models, but most lacked the focus of a true flagship. And unless you were willing to make some serious compromises, none of Samsung’s attempts were better than the iPad.
This summer, Samsung has its answer: The Galaxy Tab S.
On paper, the Galaxy Tab S is the tablet Android fans have been dying for. It comes in two sizes, 8.4 or 10.5 inches, and is priced the same as the iPad Mini/iPad Air. ($399 for the 8.4-incher or $US499 for the 10.5-incher.) It’s essentially a jumbo-sized version of the Galaxy S5 phone that launched this spring. It has the same crisp display, fingerprint sensor, and software design.
Plus, it’s thinner and lighter than the iPad.
I’ve been using the 8.4-inch model of the Galaxy Tab S for a few days. I think it’s Samsung’s best tablet to date, but not necessarily the best one you can buy.
What Is It?
The Galaxy Tab S feels good. Unlike previous Samsung tablets I’ve used, this one isn’t creaky and plasticky. Yes, the back casing is still made out of plastic, but this time Samsung made it feel more durable. It’s also a svelte 6.6 millimeters thin and weighs just 10 ounces, which makes the device thinner and lighter than almost every other tablet on the market. I like holding this thing more than my iPad Mini.
But I’m not a fan of the design. Like the Galaxy S5, the Galaxy Tab S has the same tacky dimpled back cover. On top of that, the plastic has a kitschy sheen and bronze trim that makes it look like something a Kardashian would tote around.
Plus, there are two circular depressions on the back that lets you snap in one of Samsung’s new Book Covers for the Galaxy Tab S. The covers are really handy — you can use them to prop the tablet to three different viewing angles — but the depressions on the back of the device kill any continuity in the design.
The biggest selling point is the screen, which uses the same technology introduced in the Galaxy S5. It’s sharp, bright, and HD video looks incredible. It can also automatically adjust its colours to suit the lighting in the room. Display experts, who are a lot smarter than I am, have already dubbed Samsung’s mobile display technology thebest on the market.
Battery life is pretty good too. I was able to get about 9 hours out of a charge. I even watched a two-hour movie in aeroplane mode at full brightness and it only drained the battery about 15%. Not bad at all.
The Galaxy Tab S has the same fingerprint sensor as the Galaxy S5. You can use it to unlock the device without a passcode, or sync it with your PayPal account to make secure mobile payments. But also like the Galaxy S5 fingerprint sensor, the one on the Galaxy Tab S isn’t very good. You have to swipe your finger across the home button just right or it won’t work. (Apple’s fingerprint technology on the iPhone 5S doesn’t require you to swipe and you can place your finger on the sensor in any orientation you want.)
If you have a Galaxy S5, you can also pair it to the Galaxy Tab S and make phone calls and control other smartphone functions through the tablet. The feature works well, but I can’t really think of too many good scenarios to actually use it. I would have preferred the tablet sync with the phone by letting you pick up where you left off. (Like automatically syncing open browser tabs, for example.)
The Android Problem
The Galaxy Tab S hardware is nice, but Android is still a janky experience on the tablet. It’s been nearly three years since Android officially supported tablets, but the large majority of Android apps are still only designed for devices with screens around 5.5 inches and smaller. Instead, apps on the Galaxy Tab S look like blown up versions of what you see on the smartphone. There’s a lot of wasted screen real estate.
That app problem isn’t necessarily Samsung’s fault, but it’s one of the realities you have to face if you choose to go with an Android tablet. Developers simply don’t support Android tablets the way they support the iPad.
With the Galaxy Tab S, Samsung finally has its iPad killer. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be the right choice for most people.
Samsung created an impressive tablet, but by pricing it the same as the iPad, its drawbacks, especially the lack of tablet-optimised apps on Android, make it a tougher sell.
If you’re willing to drop $US399 or more on a tablet, you’re better off with the simplicity of the iPad and the vibrant ecosystem of tablet-optimised apps that comes with it. But if you’re already a Galaxy S5 owner and want to continue to explore Samsung’s family of devices, you may want to consider the Galaxy Tab S first.
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