The Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 and 10.5 are theSamsung Android tablets released in 2014 alone. I gave you my a couple of weeks ago and am getting ready to send back the eval units. They are excellent media machines and I may be tempted to pick one up in a couple months.
Since these tablets are nearly the same, except for the display size, home button layout, and the battery capacity, I am going to include my review text on one page and then just call out where the two tablets differ.
The most promoted and distinguished feature of these two new Samsung tablets is the large, high resolution Super AMOLED screens. The Galaxy Tab Pro models released in February were similar to these models, but used LCD display technology. These Super AMOLED screens really are quite fabulous with vibrant colors and dark blacks without the colors being too crazy like we have seen on earlier AMOLED screens. The same display technology is used in the Galaxy S5 and they all look great.
It has been a while since I used a Samsung tablet and I am very impressed by what they were able to do in regards to the thickness of the tablet. 6.6 mm in thickness is impressive, especially when you consider the Galaxy S5 is 8.1 mm thick.
One of my complaints about the Galazxy S5 is the cheap ridged edge design so it was great to see Samsung improve the edge design on these tablets that have more of a chamfered iPad/iPhone edge. The back has the same dimpled leather design as the S5 and they feel great in your hand with a more premium feel than we have seen on previous Samsung tablets.
Samsung continues to use a hardware button on their devices. You will find it on the bottom of the Tab S 8.4 if you hold the tablet in portrait orientation and on the bottom of the Tab S 10.5 when you hold it in landscape orientation. There are capacitive buttons for the task switcher and back functions on either side of the hardware button. The proximity sensor and front facing camera are positioned above the display, across from the hardware button on both units.
Having the hardware button on the bottom of the Tab S 10.5 in landscape results in larger top and bottom bezels on the Tab S 10.5, but the side bezels are reasonable and the device still looks attractive and functions well.
A power button, volume button, microSD card slot, IR port, microUSB poort, 3.5mm headset jack, and dual stereo speakers are positioned around the sides of each tablet. The 8 megapixel camera and flash are found on the back of the tablets. You will also find the two accessory buttons, see my case section below, located on the back of the tablets.
Samsung sent along a couple cases for each tablet for me to test out. The Book Cover was my favorite since it gives you the ability to prop up the tablets in a couple positions for watching media content. It is available for $59.99 for the 8.4 and $69.99 for the 10.5, in a variety of colors.
Samsung also has a Simple Cover in a variety of colors for $39.99 for either size tablet. The Simple Cover attaches to the back buttons and just covers the display. It does not prop up the tablet for viewing, but does offer screen protection with no real addition to the size of the device.
These cases both attach to the Tab S via the two flush push button openings in the back. This is a handy design solution to making low profile cases for these devices and if I did not have these cases to test then I would still be trying to figure out what these two openings were for.
These tablets are powered by Android 4.4 KitKat with their TouchWiz UI. As you will find, TouchWiz has been greatly scaled back and there are actually very few added Samsung apps. You have the ability to download others, but Samsung leaves that choice up to you and that is how I like it.
You will find a page of useful and functional widgets such as Quick Briefing, Paper Garden, Here & Now, Video, and WatchON all loaded on a home screen panel available via a swipe from left to right. Quick Briefing can be customized to show you three of your favorite website bookmarks, the SideSync 3 app, alarm utility, S Planner, and stock quotes.
Paper Garden is a Samsung tablet-optimized magazine service with content that is designed to provide you with an interactive experience. There are not that many content providers yet, but the reading experience was pretty slick.
Here & Now is like My Magazine on Samsung Galaxy phones. You customize the type of content you want to see, including your favorite sports teams. The Video and WatchON widgets give you quick access to these apps.
Multi-window mode is one function that sets the Samsung Galaxy tablets apart from the iPad, although there are rumors that multiple apps on one screen may be coming in iOS 8. The multi-window feature is well designed and I really like that you can setup default split screen experiences. While multi-window is better on the larger 10.5 inch model, it still works well on the 8.4 inch tablet.
Another function that sets the Samsung tablets apart from the iPad is the multi-user capability that lets you truly use the Samsung Galaxy Tabs as family tablets. You can setup full or restricted accounts and control what others have access to when they login on the same tablet. There are some limitations on what restricted accounts can access because of how deep some of the data syncs into the Android platform.
You will also find easy access to the Kid Mode application that lets you setup the tablet to share with young children, rather than using the multi-user mode.
SideSync is a promoted application and while I could get it to sync up with my Galaxy S5, the touchscreen did not work to control my S5 and I didn't see much utility in having my phone display mirrored on the Tabs. The experience is not as clean and flawless as I hoped and I think it is one of those early beta demos that needs more work.
The fingerprint scanner is as useless and unreliable on these Tabs as it is on the Galaxy S5. It seems to train well, but then doesn't work well to unlock the device.
Samsung also provides many free applications and services for you to keep or try out in the form of their Galaxy Gifts. Make sure to at least check them out since there are some items of value that may save you quite a bit of money.
Usage and experiences
These Galaxy S Tabs are very thin and are one of the best designed tablets I have ever used. If the LTE models were available now I might consider picking one up (they are scheduled for release later this year). I like using multi-window mode and the media experience can't be beat with these fantastic Super AMOLED screens.
The batteries seemed to go for days while using them via WiFi and I appreciated the large battery capacities. With my Samsung TV, the WatchON app on these tablets makes the television experience even better than one of those expensive smart universal remotes so that is one way you might justify the cost.
While Apple has many more tablet-optimized apps, Samsung is doing their part to bring you apps that run well on tablets. I like the calendar, email, and Hancom Office apps on the tablet due to the way they provide data and take advantage of the large displays.
Pros and cons
To summarize my experiences with the Samsung Galaxy Tab S devices, here are my pros and cons.
|Awesome high resolution Super AMOLED display||Limited functionality SideSync software|
|Thin and light||Troublesome fingerprint scanner|
|High quality construction and design||Still need more tablet-optimized apps|
|microSD expansion card slot|
|Long battery life|
|Infared port to help serve as excellent couch tablet|
|Multi-user support for family service|
Pricing and availability
The Galaxy Tab S 8.4 is available for $399.99 for the 16GB model and $449.99 for the 32GB model. The Tab S 10.5 is $100 more at $499.99 for the 16GB model and $549.99 for the 32GB model. I personally would pay the $50 more for double the internal storage since you may fill up the internal storage with high end applications and games as Android no longer permits you to install apps to the microSD card.
You can find these models in white or bronze. It is interesting that there are no black or gray models, like we see on phones. I tested the 8.4 in white and the 10.5 in bronze. I like the bronze better since the front is not as stark as you enjoy media on the gorgeous display.
The competition for the Tab S 8.4 includes the Apple iPad Mini with Retina Display, Google Nexus 7, and LG G Pad 8.3. The iPad Mini starts at the same $399 price, but has no memory expansion capability. The Nexus 7 is priced a lot lower with the 16GB model at $229 and the 32GB model at $269. The LG G Pad 8.3 can also be found now for about $280 and is an extremly well designed tablet. The competition is pretty fierce at the smaller tablet form factor and it is tough to justify the high price of the Tab S 8.4 when you look at the competition.
There are not quite as many large screen tablets, but we do see the iPad Air starting at $499. A 16GB Google Nexus 10 is priced at $399. The Galaxy Tab S 10.5 is much better designed than the Nexus 10, but it is still tough for Samsung to compete in the tablet space with the Apple iPad.
- Processor: Samsung Exynos 5 Octa 5420
- 8.4 Screen: 8.4 inch 2,560 x 1,600 Super AMOLED
- 10.5 Screen: 10.5 inch 2,560 x 1,600 Super AMOLED
- RAM: 3GB
- Internal storage: 16 or 32 GB
- External storage: microSD up to 128 GB
- Cameras: 8 megapixel rear and 2.1 megapixel front facing
- Battery capacity: 8.4 - 4,900 mAh, 10.5 - 7,900 mAh
- 8.4 Dimensions: 212.8 mm x 125.6 mm x 6.6 mm at 294 grams
- 10.5 Dimensions: 247.3 mm x 177.3 mm x 6.6 mm at 465 grams
It's too bad Samsung couldn't have had these available in February rather than having to release similar tablets so close to each other. I also wish their cellular models were ready to go at launch and don't think they take anything away from sales of the WiFi only model.
The tablets are very well designed and full of features, but they also are priced at the high end of the tablet market. If multi-window or multi-user use is important to you then these Tabs are the ones to get.