[highlight color=#336699 ]Introduction[/highlight]
Samsung has once again graced us with another flagship tablet but how does it compare to this year’s competition and more importantly, its predecessor?
Samsung are at it again with another sleek tablet that will surely fly off shelves and please fans. The company was the first to release an Android tablet to directly go in competition with the iPad and so far the Korean tech giants have been extremely successful with their foray into the tablet world, setting precedence for other tablets to follow. The Galaxy Tab S2 is an improvement on the Galaxy Tab S1 but not by a lot. It may be lighter than the tomes George R. R. Martin writes but the hardware isn’t a big jump over last year and the battery size is actually smaller. Still, the Galaxy Tab S1 was already an excellent tablet anyway, so the Tab S2 will surely impress as one of the best tablets to date and continue the fight against Apple. On the topic of that, there really isn’t much to differentiate the Galaxy Tab 2 and iPad Air 2 aside from the operating system. Design language is the same and aside from internal storage differences; iPads start at 16 GB whilst the Galaxy Tabs start at 32 GB, they’re two of the same. Is it enough to best Apple?
OS: Lollipop v5.0.2
Processor: Quad-core 1.56 GHz and 1.82, Snapdragon 810
Screen: 9.7 inches
Resolution: 1536 x 2048 pixels ( 264 ppi pixel density)
Memory: 3GB RAM
Storage: 32/64 GB
Micro SD Compatible: Yes up to 128 GB
Rear camera: 8 megapixels
Front camera: 2.1 megapixels
Connectivity: 3G & 4G
Dimensions: 237.3 x 169 5.6mm
Battery: Non-removable 5870 mAh
If you hold the Galaxy Tab S2 at a distance and squint hard enough, you could be forgiven for thinking it was a Samsung Note 5. The company has continued the tradition of keeping that same shape and design across their mobile devices. Apple do the same with their own devices and it is getting a bit monotonous but it also contributes to both companies’ signature design image. In a market where differentiating yourself is getting harder, you can’t really argue that they’ve done well in their aim to be unique-ish, by essentially duplicating year-on-year.
Waltzing down the street with your Tab S2 in hand will get you some approving nods as the shiny metal edges emphasise Samsung’s simple design. Running your fingers along the back you can feel the plastic cover with a metal finish, though it still manages to retain a high-class look. It doesn’t seem plastic unless you test it by tapping with a spoon, which of course you are going to avoid because that’s just weird. The front face of the Tab S2 is fairly empty with the task manager icon, finger print scanner and back icon lining up symmetrically at the bottom of the screen. Moving to the top we have the Samsung logo emblazoned in chrome and the dual front facing cameras. Sound familiar? It looks it too. Those nods of appreciation you get in the street will also come with squints of concentration as people try to decipher whether the tablet is a Tab S1 or S2.
In terms of dimensions, the Tab S2 measures up at 237 x 169 x 5.6mm for the 9.7-inch version and 199 x 135 x 5.6mm for the 8-inch model. Both versions differ from each other in only screen resolution and battery capacity. This year Samsung have taken a diminutive approach with the Tab S2, shrinking it down to 9.7 inches compared with the Tab S1, which was 10.5 inches. A welcomed change as the tablet feels much more comfortable in the hand. Some unwanted poundage was also shed in the downsizing and the new Tab S2 weighs in at only 389 grams for the 9.7 inch model. The use of plastic casing is probably what has helped the Tab S2 to remain so lightweight. For comparison, it’s even lighter than the iPad, which weighs 437 grams. This light weight encourages extended usage especially if you’re pulling all-nighters on the train. Holding it in one hand feels like nothing and while flicking through articles on Flipboard I actually forgot I was holding something.
On the back of the device are two very deceiving button-like things that you’d think are for opening the back cover, but they’re actually slots for optional covers and keyboards which can purchased separately. Running along the right edge of the tablet is the power button, volume key and a noise-cancelling microphone. At times during Skype calls I did accidentally cover up the microphone, resulting in confusion and a muffled voice-chat. The microphone would probably have been better suited along the edges at the top of the device, as the surface area is less likely to be covered up by your palm. Moving along the edges there is a microSD slot, two stereo speakers, micro usb slot and headphone jack.
Snapping pictures with a tablet is still a big no no. You’ll look stupid at gigs and extremely pretentious while queuing up for a coffee. But it could perhaps be forgiven if there was actually a decent camera on-board, which the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 sadly does not possess. Staying true to the way of the tablet, the Tab S2’s camera is okay but nothing special. We’ve truly been spoiled this year with the quality of the Samsung Galaxy S6 and Note 5 shooters. If the camera on them was included here, the Tab S2 would have been probably the best tablet in its category.
The rear camera is 8 megapixels whilst the front-facing camera is 2.1 megapixels, exactly like Samsung’s past tablets. The Tab S2 does not perform well unless you play by its rules; it demands perfect conditions for a good picture. This means that well lit rooms and the great outdoors are the main areas where the rear camera performs to an excellent standard, with no noise and seemingly perfect clarity. Snapping pictures in low light is another story as images will be full with noise and grain. Noise is even worse once you switch to the front-facing snapper, as its small sensor and lack of features become quite apparent. That said, it’s still decent enough to be used for Skype calls and the odd selfie.
Video recording on the rear camera has been improved from the Tab S1 and the new Tab S2 is now capable of shooting 1440p at 30 frames per second. The overall image quality is impressive but it has some odd quirks that upset the experience. While doing a tracking shot the camera’s poor shutter speed becomes apparent and it fails to keep up to even the smallest of movements. There’s also a lack of image stabilisation when shooting at 1440p, meaning it’s better to drop the quality down a notch to FHD 1080p or lower if you don’t want motion sickness. While this improves the shakiness, the tracking speed is still quite poor even at lower resolutions.
Samsung have scaled back the resolution this year with the Tab S2 measuring 2048 x 1536. This equates to roughly 264 pixel per inch. The Galaxy Tab S1 on the other hand is 2560 x 1600 and 288 pixels per inch. The difference in resolution quality is in-part due to the widening of the screen, giving the Tab S2 a 4:3 aspect ratio, the same as on the iPad. It’s a subtle decrease that is noticeable on close inspection, though despite the downgrade it still matches the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 4 in resolution.
With the aspect ratio now 4:3, web browsing is a lot easier. Scrolling through apps is a much more pleasant experience as you check social media and read articles, though you’ll miss the 16:9 format when watching YouTube videos and films. Watching a video on the Tab S2 is still great but you’ll be met by two huge black bands on the top and bottom of the screen. Still, it doesn’t go against the Tab S2 too much as the panel is fantastic. Samsung has always been leaders in screen technology and the Tab S2 is no exception, with vibrant colours and a huge perceptive contrast ratio. The display also does well against reflective light, being perfectly readable on the go even under harsh conditions. Viewing angles are equally excellent, making the tablet quite handy for watching a movie with company.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 may be lighter and more svelte but unfortunately it seems power has been sacrificed in the process. The Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 uses an octa-core Exynos 5433 chipset, comprised of two quad-core CPU’s, each 1.9GHz and 1.3GHz. The same Exynos 5433 chip is also found in the Galaxy Note 4, which is disappointing as you would expect Samsung’s new top-end tablet to feature something fresh. It’s essentially a repeat of what happened with the camera earlier, where we have been spoilt by Samsung’s class-leading expertise and demand the same level of quality in all of their portable products.
That said, the Exynos 5433 chipset is still a blistering chipset that performs very well. Flicking through the UI, things are buttery smooth with no hint of a delay. The 3GB of ram also helps in keeping up with multitasking duties. In an extreme attempt to overload the tablet, I opened ALL of the apps. Whilst doing so I was also updating Microsoft Excel, then switched over to Facebook to watch a video I was tagged in. Then I got bored halfway through and proceeded to turn on Asphalt 8: Airborne for a quick race. No slowdown was experienced.
Internal memory is available in both 32GB and 64GB versions, although those desiring the latter will be disappointed as it’s currently unavailable in the UK. It exists, but we can’t buy it. Luckily, the Tab S2 supports microSD cards up to 128Gb, which should be more than enough for you to download apps, films and store files. Putting the Tab S2 through its paces in Geekbench, the tablet surprises with great results. It smoked the Galaxy Tab S1 by a considerable margin in the single-core category, hitting a high 1271, whereas the Tab S1 managed 867. This explains why the Galaxy Tab S2 performed so well in our “app attack.” The iPad Air 2 did score better at 1809, although the Apple product has superior optimisation going for it and a faster chip. The Samsung Note 5 was also beaten by the Galaxy Tab S2 in single-core use, only bested by the S6 Edge (1325) and fellow tablet the HTC Nexus 9, which left everyone behind (1886). As always, the majority of apps are coded to run on a single core, so the Tab S2’s multi-cores won’t kick in unless you try to overwhelm it like I did.
Moving on to multi-core and it’s the same story with the Tab S2 scoring well with an impressive 4352. Compare this to the S6 Edge, which scored 4441 and the Note 5, which it loses out to by just a single point. Both of them run the latest Exynos 7420, so it was never really a fair contest. Comparing it again to the iPad Air 2 and not surprisingly Apple remain triumphant but not by a huge margin with a score of 4528.
The battery is a non-removable li-lon with a capacity of 5870 mAh; this is a massive downgrade from the Tab S1’s 7900 mAh. The Tab S2 scored 4218 and lasted just over seven hours from a full charge, which is more than enough for a day’s use. There is no fast charging, which isn’t surprising, although that’s something that Samsung should consider as an innovation for their next tablet. Another idea that would have been welcomed is USB Type-C. Being a tablet, you’ll most likely use it before bed and the comfort of a reversible USB Type-C connector would have been more convenient.
Straight out of the box, the Tab S2 runs Lollipop 5. 0. 2 which does a great job in giving you that full Android experience. The first thing to point out with Android Lollipop is that it brought a new visual look and more importantly new animations that bring an enhanced experience to your screen. When launching an app, there’s subtle animations so that you can see where you originally touched. This has been carried over in later versions of Android such as Marshmallow 6.0, which is likely to land on the Tab S2 by next year. Smartphones will be prioritised first but expect an announcement for the Tab S2 and maybe even the S1. You also get the abundance of standard Samsung apps, which are a nice addition if a bit of a useless novelty.
Microsoft apps also come with the tablet and the likes of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Skype are all installed from the get-go. With the decision to use an aspect ratio of 4:3, the Tab S2 is really comfortable to use when running any of the aforementioned software. I started off writing this review on the Tab S2 using Word and ran into no problems, but it’s a limited experience. To unlock it’s true potential you’ll have to pay for the full Microsoft app service. A keyboard is highly recommended for the true office experience, though it’s a way cheaper alternative to buying a MacBook.
[highlight color=#336699 ]Conclusion[/highlight]
Samsung are still going strong and are deservedly at the top of the Android market. The Galaxy Tab S2 isn’t a huge jump but it’s a device that will no doubt satisfy those who desire a quality tablet, without having to re-mortgage the house. It’s still is an incredible device that will satisfy all your expectations from a tablet, even if it offers nothing truly innovative, with specs and design that are similar to it’s predecessor. That said, the new aspect ratio and improved weight are welcome additions which make this much more usable and easily one of the best tablets on the market.