Looking very much like blown-up Galaxy S5s, the new Tab S tablets — which come in 8.4- and 10.5-inch sizes (we tested the latter) — are the units that Samsung’s decided are finally good enough to wear the flagship ’S’ family name.
These are the Korean company’s new weapons against the iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina which, despite some big advances from Android, still rule the roost when it comes to premium tablets. There’s not a lot of competition from Android at this top-end of the tablet market — it’s basically only Sony’s 10.1-inch Xperia Z2 Tablet that Samsung needs to worry about.
Performance wise, the Tab S 10.5 has basically the same internals as the Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 that we tested back in our June round-up (see page 48). The Exynos 5 Octa that runs the show is actually made up of two chips — a more powerful quad-core 1.9GHz Cortex-A15 that’s brought out for tougher tasks, and a slower quad-core 1.3GHz Cortex-A7 that’s used for light work.
That theoretically should give better battery life, although in our two tests (streaming video and gaming) the Tab S’s 7,900mAh battery merely returned average results — it’s more than adequate, but not quite class leading.
The same can be said of the Mali T628 MP6 graphics processor onboard. While it’s about on par with what’s in the iPad Air, we’d note that Sony’s Z2 tablet actually packs a faster GPU — the Adreno 330 — which can, in some benchmarks, crank out twice the framerate. (Samsung, oddly, has used the Adreno 330 in the Galaxy S5 phone — the competition in handsets is clearly fierce enough to warrant the upgrade.)
All about the AMOLED
What really sets the Tab S above the competition is its AMOLED display — it’s a stunningly bright and vivid screen that’s pin-sharp at 2,560 x 1,600 pixels. Both movies and games look, frankly, amazing — this is unarguably the best display we’ve yet seen on a tablet. Throw some Ultra HD content on there and you’ll be blown away by how realistic it looks.
We’ve only got one complaint about the screen: it’s actually a little too bright for our tastes. That’s easy to rectify, however, and you don’t have to sacrifice auto-brightness either — as on Samsung’s S5 phone, you can adjust the auto level to be either a little dimmer or brighter than the default.
The Tab S has also adopted the fingerprint scanner of the S5, which lets you swipe over the Home button to unlock the unit — although on the 10.5-inch model we tested using it was a little unwieldy. This bigger of the two Tab S’s is intended to be used in landscape mode, with buttons located on a long edge, and gripping the tablet with one hand while swiping downward with the other isn’t particularly easy; you’re better off holding it sideways and swiping out.
It’s worth pointing out that, unlike it’s phone counterpart, the Tab S is disappointingly not weatherproof — another area where the Z2 Tablet is superior, with an IP58 rating for water and dust resistance.
So how does all that stack up? Samsung has, overall, done enough here to pip the competition, but it’s a little disappointing that the performance, particularly for gaming, doesn’t match Sony’ Z2 Tablet (or Samsung’s own S5 phone, for that matter).
Samsung’s clearly hoping that the stunning display will be enough to carry the show — and, as the best tablet screen we’ve seen, it arguably does accomplish this. Apple’s range of tablet apps is still ahead of Android by a large margin (though the latter has finally reached the ‘usable’ stage), and if you want the most future-proof and physically robust Android tablet you can buy, Sony’s Z2 Tablet can still safely claim both those crowns. But when it comes to actual use, Samsung’s AMOLED screen really does trump the competition — both Android and iOS.
Verdict: The Tab S 10.5’s superb AMOLED display makes it the premier tablet for Android lovers. Pity it’s not a little more future-proof.
Price: From $599