Review: Samsung Galaxy Tab S tablet
Published 31/07/2014 | 08:31
Samsung has made a serious dent in Apple’s smartphone market share over the last couple of years, but the iPad has been largely untroubled.
Apple still rules tablets. These new, high-end Tab S devices are the closest that the Korean firm has come yet to rivaling Californian design.
The unique selling point is the Super AMOLED display which Samsung manufactures at its own factories. In fact, it is the only company to manufacture them, which means you won’t find one in an iPad any time soon. The reason that matters is that they can offer better quality and longer battery life.
Two versions of the Tab S were released at the same time: a 10.5in and 8.4in, both offering 2,560 x 1,600 pixels, with a claimed 100 times greater contrast ratio than TFT screens.
When you look at the OS screens on the Tab S it’s immediately apparent that colours are more vivid. Overly vivid, for some.
Similarly with photos and videos: colours are sickeningly saturated. It does show off the capability of the AMOLED display, which is perhaps the intention - to highlight its standout feature, but it comes at the detriment of colour accuracy.
The increased contrast ratio, however, has the positive effect of making dark, gloomy scenes in films watchable - unlike some TFTs where they just slip into a black/grey quagmire.
Another bonus of the AMOLED screens is that they can be thinner - no separate backlight layer is needed as with TFTs - so the tablet overall can be thinner. Both the large and small versions of the Tab are just 6.6mm deep - that’s slimmer than Apple’s iPad Air.
The larger version is also 1g under the weight of the Air, at 467g, which you can imagine was an important target for the engineers, set by the marketers.
The smaller version fits naturally in one hand, for me at least, and would be perfect for tapping out email on the Tube. Although you do feel like a Borrower who has found a smartphone.
The larger device feels good too, giving more screen space for video or browsing at home.
Both have the dimpled back from the Galaxy S5, which is a large expanse of plastic that can feel a little cheap. You have the choice of "dazzling" white or titanium bronze in both models which are both pleasant enough and familiar shades for devices such as this. Next to an iPad the finish of the case doesn't unite have the same feeling of quality and beautiful simplicity to it.
Generally, though, it's comfortable to use and the vibrancy of the screen is enough to make up for everything else.
The tablet itself felt snappy to use, with apps springing to life quickly. The 3GB of RAM and Samsung Exynos processor seem more than capable.
You can choose between 16GB or 32GB of built-in memory, which seems stingy until you remember that there are no Apple-like restrictions here: you can plug an SD card in to boost that by up to 128GB for just a few pounds.
The battery life is extremely good, enough for a whole working day or many evenings slumped on the sofa dual-screening in front of the TV. Whether or not this is down to the less energy-intensive AMOLED screen is impossible to say, but the battery life is better than most Android tablets currently on the market.
You also get a fingerprint scanner which is great for security but even better for ease-of-use; no more PIN entry, just tap a digit on the sensor. It will also allow multiple users to have their own profiles on the device. This could be a tablet for the whole family.
There is also a perfectly respectable camera which produces crisp images, if you really must use a tablet to take photographs.
All in all, the Tab S impresses - largely due to the display. Having used one, it becomes easier to believe Samsung when it says that Super AMOLED is the future of screens. But for a high-end device it still lacks the feeling of quality that the metal-backed iPad has. Plastic feels like a compromise on what is a £400 tablet. This is a question of taste, so worth seeing it in the flesh if you're shopping for a new tablet, but, for me, it would be an iPad every time.