Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 (9.7) 4G review: Samsung does a lot more with a lot less
A great tablet, but is it good enough to draw customers using an Apple iPad?
- 9.7-inch Super-AMOLED display
- Thin and light form factor
- Octa-core CPU
- Refined finger scanner
- Proficient 8-megapixel rear camera
- Aluminium chassis
- Lacking distinctive character
- Build not as premium as Apple's iPad
- Fewer hardware features, but still priced to compete against Apple's iPad
Updated: This review was updated with battery results on 18 September, 2015.
Samsung has a stronghold over the smartphone space, but its grip on the tablet market isn’t as tight. That market belongs to Apple, and making a tablet as good as the iPad is not enough for customers to be lured across to Samsung — the Tab S2 has to be better.
The second generation Tab has more in common with Apple’s iPad than Samsung’s previous tablets. Compare it to last year’s Tab S and the Tab S2 will look less attractive in screen size, resolution and pixel density. You’d be forgiven for thinking Samsung has taken a step backwards.
Now its specs place it on par with Apple’s iPad Air 2, as the Samsung slate has a screen that spans 9.7-inches, a resolution of 2048x1536 and a density of 264 pixels-per-inch.
Method can be found behind this perceived regression. Screens demand the most from a tablet’s battery and last year’s display was good enough to rival premium televisions. Exercising some restraint with the Tab S2’s screen has allowed Samsung to use a smaller 5870 milliamp-hour battery, all the while still promoting the tablet’s ability to loop videos for twelve hours.
A smaller battery results in a tablet that weighs less. The Tab S2 weighs in at 389 grams for the Wi-Fi version and 392 grams for the LTE version. It is a thin 6mm and, with its metal chassis and a rear material that bears the texture of rubber, is an absolute delight to hold.
Noticeably separating the display of the Tab S2 from that of the iPad Air is the use of a Super-AMOLED panel. Organic light emitting diode (OLED) TVs are all the fuss in the television space because individual pixels can be switched on and off. A touch-capable version of this technology has been used in the Tab S2, and it reaps rewards for anyone interested in using a tablet for reading or watching media — particularly at night.
Reading the graphic novel Batman: The Long Halloween on the Tab S2 was an immersive experience. Other slates have a panel dedicated to shining light on every single pixel. This results in blacks — a colour distinguished by the absence of light — being well backlit, and it ultimately discounts the overall experience.
The graphic novel’s noir-style illustrations were rendered in a shade of black that was absolute. Outlines were exceedingly sharp, as was the lettering. Trying to discern the tablet from the dark bedroom was difficult because many of its pixels were switched off. Coloured pixels stood out prominently against the black canvass. The result is a tablet that shifts the attention away from itself and onto whatever it is you're reading, looking at or watching.
Speakers would flank the screen of the older Samsung tablet. Now stereo speakers have been relocated to the S2’s base, in an arrangement familiar to Apple’s iPad. The location of the speakers, along with the 4:3 aspect ratio of the screen, shifts the Tab S2 away from multimedia and towards productivity. It is better suited for browsing the Internet or checking emails.
Other changes place emphasises on its productivity focus. The omission of an IR blaster means it cannot be used to control a home entertainment system, while the 8 megapixel primary camera is no longer supported by an LED flash. These features are largely redundant anyway: use a smartphone for both causes, because this tablet has bigger ambitions, and Samsung is more intent on making sure these few ambitions are wholly realised.
Software and hardware work together to make the Tab S2 both simple and sophisticated. It has ample RAM and a multi-core processor which, along with the Android 5.0 operating system, allows it to juggle applications with ease.
Premium Samsung handsets can minimise application windows — just like a PC — so that two or three apps can be used simultaneously. The feature never resonated on Note phablets because a 5.7-inch screen simply isn’t big enough, but here, with 9.7-inches, it downright excels. There’s enough screen real estate to perform two or three tasks simultaneously, and to do so comfortably.
Powering the tablet is an octa-core processor that is composed of a 1.9GHz quad-core CPU and another 1.3GHz quad-core CPU. Joining it is 3GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage and a microSD slot that’ll take cards up to 128-gigabytes in size.
This year’s processor appears to operate at the same capacity as last year’s model, while the RAM too has stagnated. Not that the Tab S2 is wanting for performance. It runs fast and brings to mind Intel’s core M processor — used in thin notebooks — because it finds a balance between operating speed and the longevity of its battery life.
Running 3DMark’s ice storm unlimited benchmarking software returned a strong score of 19,588. This puts Samsung’s tablet among the most powerful; however, the score is lesser than the 21,607 scored by Apple’s iPad Air 2 and the 24,651 scored by Sony’s Xperia Z4 Tablet.
The Tab S2 being reviewed by Good Gear Guide is the 32GB LTE variant. Equipped with a Telstra SIM in our North Sydney office, the tablet recorded a maximum download speed of 82.5Mbps and maxed its upload speed at 24.5Mbps.
Built into the enclosure is a non-removable 5870 milliamp-hour battery. The tablet will last approximately two days with conventional use — basic Internet browsing, gaming, and video playback. We’re currently performing a looping-video test and will update this review with the results.
Update: The results of our video looping test are in. We set the brightness to max and kept the Wi-Fi enabled as we looped a 1080p movie until the full battery ran flat. The Tab S2 ploughed on for an exceptional 10 hours and 33 minutes, which is significantly longer than the results of Sony's Xperia Z4 Tablet, although Sony's slate has a larger, higher screen resolution.
The biggest problem with Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S2 is the ease with which it can be compared to Apple’s iPad. Older Galaxy tablets were undeniably Samsung. People who owned one would argue their Samsung tablet was better than an iPad until oxygen became scarce and their face boiled red. The people who buy this tablet won’t be able to argue anything because the two tablets are incredibly similar.
Levelling Apple’s iPad is a feat. Fortunately, there is another tablet on sale bristling with performance, innovative features and the kind of character that will turn the most passive of tablet owners into a loud advocate.
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