Apple may have given the iPhone a much-needed makeover, but it's steady as she goes for the iPad for now. The tech giant will no doubt rectify that situation shortly but until then Samsung’s flagship tablet, the Galaxy Tab S 10.5, remains a formidable presence in the premium tablet market.
While Samsung has a confusing number of tablet options on the market, with no less than six new tablet models released in the last ten months, the Galaxy Tab S 10.5 (also available in an 8.4-inch version) is the South Korean giant’s first true flagship tablet. And it certainly has the chops to go up against the iPad.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S nails two of the most important elements of a tablet: display and portability.
Barring the Sony Xperia Z2 tablet, the Tab S is the thinnest and lightest tablet on the market, despite sporting a larger 10.5-inch display. At only 6.6mm thick, the Tab S is thinner than the current generation iPad as well as the iPhone 5s and Galaxy S5. It also weighs in at only 465 grams, making the tablet comfortable to use for extended periods of time.
While the Tab S edges out the iPad when it comes to chassis size and weight, it fails to match the solid aluminium build quality of the iPad. For better or worse, the Tab S takes its design cues from the Galaxy S5, with an all plastic construction and dimpled back cover. But, unlike its smaller smartphone sibling, it lacks waterproofing. The use of plastic materials amounts to a device that simply lacks the premium feel of the iPad, although, it is much less likely to accumulate fingerprints or scratches.
Out of this world display
Where the Tab S does feel markedly high-end is in the stunning 10.5-inch 2560x1600 resolution AMOLED display.
Up until now tablets have been exclusively LCD-based, with the only exception being 2012’s Galaxy Tab 7.7, which was released in limited quantities. When it comes to picture quality, OLED panels are superior to LCD in every respect but are notoriously expensive to mass produce in larger screen sizes. Samsung has, however, overcome manufacturing hurdles to bring the much vaunted display technology to the tablet world.
The result is a screen that is noticeably sharper, brighter, vibrant and offers better colour reproduction and higher contrast ratio levels than any other tablet on the market.
Content simply pops on screen with stunning clarity, making the Tab S the ideal canvas to view webpages, movies and photos.
It’s worth noting that the Tab S screen can be switched to 'photo mode’, which provides an accurate calibration to the Adobe RGB standard -- a feature that is rarely available in consumer displays and should prove useful to photographers or for anyone who likes to show off their picture library in the most accurate light.
The screen also holds up remarkably well in high ambient light. Taking the tablet out for a test drive in the bright Queensland sun proved to be fruitful, as I was able to comfortably use the tablet with minimal reflections on screen.
The 16:10 aspect ratio makes the Tab S ideal for watching movies and playing games, however, it also means that it has a slightly narrower screen than the iPad Air when using the device in portrait mode.
An OLED display generally consumes less power than LCD units and with Samsung also packing in a 7,900mAh battery, we were expecting some impressive endurance from the moment we took it off the charger. And for the most part, we weren’t disappointed with the Tab S clocking in a little over 10 hours of mixed use consisting of web browsing, emails, social media and running various apps.
What was remarkable, however, was the results of our video playback test which ran for 14.10 hours with the brightness set to 50 percent, beating the iPad Air’s 12.5 hours.
The reason for the disparity is due to the fact that the AMOLED display simply taxes more of the battery when displaying white, so if you plan on mostly viewing web pages and documents, then expect the battery to last closer to the 10-hour mark. If, however, you mainly use your tablet to watch video, there’s simply no better option on the market today when it comes to battery life.
What was disappointing was the abnormally long charging times. It took us over five and a half hours to go from completely flat to a full charge – an hour and a half longer than the iPad Air. Samsung smartphones like the Galaxy S5 and upcoming Note 4 all have quick charge technology and it’s a shame that Samsung didn’t see fit to implement something similar on the Tab S.
The Tab S is by and large running the same version of TouchWiz from the Galaxy S5, powered by the latest version of Android: 4.4.2 KitKat. Samsung’s TouchWiz has always been our least preferred flavour of Android and, while the operating system remains weighed down by bloatware, there are some useful additions and refinements made to the OS that are worth talking about.
First and foremost, the accuracy of the fingerprint scanner has been greatly improved since the Galaxy S5. Previously, the fingerprint scanner would struggle when swiping your finger at variable speeds over the sensor resulting in a frustrating unlock process. On the Tab S, however, I was able to unlock the tablet with a near 100 per cent success rate. In addition, PayPal transactions and authenticating downloads from the Samsung App store could be conducted all with just a single swipe of the finger.
Multiple user accounts are also well implemented on the Tab S, allowing each member of the household to have their own login, effectively protecting your data and privacy in the process. Using the fingerprint scanner to launch different user accounts works really well and is a much more convenient option than using passwords.
The Tab S allows for up to eight user accounts but we noticed that performance dipped sharply after setting up four. There is no option to share content like movies, music and photos across user accounts either.
Multi-window has always made multitasking between apps on Galaxy-branded smartphones and tablets easier but it’s best utilised here on the large 10.5-inch pixel dense display. Multi-window allows you to drag and drop apps onto each half of the screen, effectively allowing you to view two apps at once in a split-screen style mode. You can now setup multi-window to trigger automatically so that opening files, links or email attachments will appear in their own window by default which is a nice touch.
There’s also SideSync 3.0, which enables you to remotely access your Galaxy smartphone by virtually mirroring the device on the Tab S over WiFi Direct. With SideSync running, you can access almost all of the features of a paired GS5 device minus things like the camera in addition to drag and drop support for transferring files between your smartphone and tablet.
Support is limited to the Galaxy S4 and Note 3, but pairing a Galaxy S5 will also allow you to take calls from your tablet. As mirroring uses Wi-Fi, there is a noticeable delay when performing any of these functions and SideSync becomes almost unusable if your smartphone happens to be more than seven metres away from the tablet.
Other tweaks, like displaying recent apps at the bottom of the screen rather than taking over the display completely and being able to launch the file manager at any time from the home screen, are welcome additions.
While TouchWiz performs better on the Tab S than any other Galaxy device we have used, it’s still far from perfect. Performing certain tasks like hitting the ‘close all’ button in the recent apps window or launching apps in multi-window mode are met with noticeable delays and stutters.
While Samsung has packed 3GB of RAM onboard, TouchWiz continues to occupy over half and that’s before you launch any apps or run any background tasks.
Samsung’s content push
Samsung has packed over $600 worth of included content and subscriptions from various partners including Bloomberg (12 months), Wall Street Journal (six months), The Economist (six months), New York Times (3-months), The Australian (two months), Marvel Unlimited (3-months), EzyFlix, Google Play Movies, LIVESPORT (6-months), LinkedIn Premium (3-months), Cisco WebEx (6-months), RemotePC (24 months), Evernote Premium and more.
All of the apps have been optimised nicely to take advantage of the super sharp AMOLED display.
The amount of included content is unmatched and there’s bound to be something in there to suit everyone’s tastes.
The best Android tablet on the market
While we would have liked to have seen a more premium finish and TouchWiz optimised further, Samsung delivered on the areas that matter the most in a tablet: A killer display; ridiculously thin and light construction which makes the Tab S the most portable full-size tablet on the market; best in class battery life and an extensive range of included premium content to sweeten the deal.
If you’re a dedicated Android user, then the Galaxy Tab S is the premium tablet you’ve been waiting for.