Tablets may be slowing down in sales, but that hasn’t stopped them from being made. If anyone is going to continue in this market, it’s Samsung. The Korean giant is a huge player in not only the smartphone market, but also the tablet market. Their tablets are everywhere, and while some aren’t the best, I’ve had the pleasure over the past couple weeks to use one of the great ones, the Galaxy Tab S. This tablet is the first tablet to come with a Super AMOLED display and that’s not the only impressive part.
- 8.4” Inch SuperAMOLED Display – 2560×1600 Resolution
- Exynos 5 Octa-Core 5420 Processor
- 3GB RAM
- 16/32GB Storage
- microSD card support up to 128GB
- 4,900 mAh battery
- 8MP Rear Camera
- 2.1MP Front Camera
The Galaxy Tab S is a Samsung tablet, and that means its plastic. While some may complain about that, I found this tablet pretty enjoyable to hold and felt fairly good. Everything is pretty decently put together, but definitely doesn’t feel premium. That’s unfortunate since this is a premium tablet. The Galaxy Tab S on the outside reminds me most of the Galaxy S5. It carries the same dimpled back and camera bump as well as the fingerprint sensor in the home button. The back is not removable, but feels fairly good in the hand. It is a bit slick in my opinion, but that can be easily fixed with a case. Speaking of cases, the Galaxy Tab S is designed for its own premium cases. These cases attach to two ports around the back that any of the proprietary cases can simply snap into. While it might seem weird the first time you try it, its actually something I quite enjoyed and wish was on other tablets. (If you want to know more about those cases, check out my full review of that here.) Another notable part of the hardware on this tablet is the home button. Just like the Galaxy S5 it contains a fingerprint sensor. Whether you like it or not, its there. I used the sensor for that majority of my time with the tablet and while it got the job done, it wasn’t quite as flawless as some other implementations of that idea. There’s one more thing that I really enjoyed on the outside the Tab S as well, the trim. Samsung picked a gold trim for this tablet and while at first I didn’t like it, later on a came to really like it. It contrasts surprisingly well with the white plastic that makes up the rest of the device, something I didn’t expect to like. If there are any complaints I have about the hardware on this device, it comes down to two things, the bezels, and the buttons. First, let’s talk about the buttons. I have never been a fan of hardware buttons, and this tablet has done nothing to change my mind. I still prefer on-screen navigation, and on a tablet, it simply makes more sense. When using a tablet, you typically use it in both portrait and landscape resolutions. On-screen buttons allow them to move with the resolution. Hardware buttons however don’t allow that. While it may not be a deal breaker, it is pretty annoying. My only other complaint is the bezels. While small bezels are great for general use such as browsing the web or social networking, it’s terrible for watch movies or reading, especially reading. It’s tough to hold the tablet in portrait when reading and that’s a major downside to me. On the bright side however, this is probably one of the thinnest tablets I’ve ever seen. When you’re holding the tablet above you in bed, that’s when you really appreciate how thin and light a device is, but also how much you would have appreciated more space for your thumbs.
Tablets are media consumption devices. They should have good displays right? Most do. With many tablets stepping into the Quad-HD arena, it’s going to be hard to be different. Samsung however has found one way. The display technology. The company themselves may not be new to Super AMOLED displays as they use them on most of their devices, but not on their tablets. In fact, this is something no one has done yet. The Galaxy Tab S is the first tablet with a SuperAMOLED and it comes to impressive. With it’s high resolution, vibrant colors, and deep blacks, it’s very nice to use. Text is extremely crisp and videos look extra sharp. Blacks are blacks, whites are white, and everything else in between is done just right. It truly is the best display currently on a tablet. The software includes a couple tricks to take advantage of this display as well. The first is reading mode. This mode deepens the whites just a little bit when reading to provide an optimal reading experience. The second is ultra power-saving mode. This mode can give you days of battery life out of just a mere 10-15% of your battery. How? To put it in basic terms, it turns almost everything off. Most background services are turned off and most apps disabled. You’re left with a greyscale UI and a small selection of apps. These include an internet browser, calendar, clock along with Google+ and Twitter. This uses the AMOLED tech to save as much power as possible. This is because an AMOLED display panel only lights up the pixels that need to be. If a pixel is black, it’s not on at all. To give you an idea of how much battery this provides, at 44%, it estimates about 22 days of usage.
Let’s talk a little bit more about the software, and by a little, I mean a lot. Why you say? Well that’s basically Samsung’s philosophy when it comes to software and it’s no different with this tablet. It still comes packed with bloatware, has very apparent lag, and even some app compatibility issues. But let’s look at it a little bit more. Running on top of Android 4.4.2, we have Samsung’s TouchWiz software. This build is similar to that found on the Galaxy S5 in aesthetics. The software is packed with tons and tons of features, many of which are useful and many of which aren’t. For sake of my own time writing this review, I’ll just be focusing on five of the software features I enjoyed. First, multi-window. This is an incredibly awesome use of the extra screen space on the Tab S. It allows to have two resizable apps on screen at once. While selection is limited, I did enjoy using the ones I could. My main usage was either Google Play Books and Hangouts or YouTube and Hangouts. I do wish that app like Twitter or Google+ had the functionality, but unfortunately they don’t yet. Second, the magazine UX. This is seen on the launcher and is a pretty useful way to use the left-most homescreen, in theory anyway. I did see the potential in this function, but I don’t think it was implemented perfectly. It still has it’s problems like the fact that it doesn’t auto-refresh and that widget selection is limited, but I still found it pretty useful. I especially enjoyed that it brought a selection of cards to the lock screen for quick information like the weather and information from my Google+ and Twitter feeds. Next, the power saving modes. While I did already talk about ultra-power saving mode earlier, Samsung has a lighter power-saving mode built into this tablet. It works pretty well and does provide a noticeable boost in battery life. Next, the camera app. Now I’ll be going into the actual camera in a minute, but for now, I want to take a second talking about the camera app itself. The app is very well designed and packs many features inside. The last feature I really enjoyed is called “toolbox”. It’s a pretty simple feature that places a small circle anywhere you choose on the screen that when tapped, reveals shortcuts to 5 apps of your choice. I was surprised how useful I found it. I didn’t find it very annoying at all and it was very convenient to have a little floating bubble with my favorite apps inside. While there are a ton of other features I could talk about on this tablet, you’d never finish reading it if I did. In the end though, this isn’t a tablet I’d recommend buying for the software.
Cameras are usually “meh” on tablets, but the Galaxy Tab S suprised me. It’s actually got a pretty solid camera. At only 8MP it’s not going to win any awards, but it’ll definitely get the job done. While there are many phones that will beat it easily, it’s probably the best shooter on a tablet. With it’s included flash it can really do a good job getting shots. Speaking of that flash, it’s dang impressive. It lights up a room brighter than I would have ever expected. Below is a gallery of shots taken with the Galaxy Tab S in environments that using a tablet as a camera is actually practical.
Speakers are also pretty important on tablets. We don’t always want to be using headphones. I was disappointed that Samsung didn’t adopt front-facing speakers on the Tab S, I was pleased with the audio that came out of the side-facing speakers. It was pretty crisp and got surprisingly loud. The speakers were also in a location where they weren’t easily covered up.
The last thing to talk about. The fingerprint sensor. Built into the home button, it’s just there. I used it for the majority of my time with the tablet, but it’s not something I would use on my own if I bought this device on my own. It works, but not extremely well. It only worked correctly about half the time and you have to be very careful with it. If you aren’t accurate, it won’t work. Numerous times I locked myself out of the tablet because the sensor simply refused to recognize my fingerprint. I’d say it’s definitely not a highlight and I hope they fix it by the next generation.
So what’s the verdict? In short, this is not only the best Samsung tablet, but probably one of the best tablets available on the market right now. It’s got a great screen, beautiful design, thin profile, and some incredible performance. If a great display is what you’re looking for, the Galaxy Tab S is the best available. If it’s the best software, maybe not. If you can deal with TouchWiz, this is definitely a tablet I recommend buying. Even some like me, a consistent Nexus 7 user, is really tempted by this piece of hardware. Pricing starts at $399 ($499 for 10.5” inch model) and you can choose from “Titanium Bronze” or “Dazzling White” with 16 or 32GB of storage.