Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 review: Thin, light and very impressive

samsung-galaxy-tab-s-10-5-review-thin-light-and-very-impressive.jpg
  • Editors' rating
    8.5 Excellent
  • $499.00

Pros

  • Thin and light
  • Excellent screen
  • Good battery life
  • Reasonably priced LTE option

Cons

  • My Magazine feature can't be removed
  • Disappointing speakers
  • Lacks NFC

Samsung offers what can seem like a bewildering array of tablets, including the standard Galaxy Tab, the business-oriented Galaxy Tab PRO and the stylus-equipped Galaxy Note ranges. Now there's yet another range -- the Galaxy Tab S, which is available in 8.4-inch and 10.5-inch sizes, and in wi-fi-only and wi-fi-plus-LTE variants. The 10.5-inch Galaxy Tab S reviewed here delivers a strong set of features and is a serious competitor for Apple's iPad Air. The wi-fi-only model with 16GB of internal storage costs £399 (inc. VAT, or £332.50 ex. VAT), while the LTE version costs £479 (inc. VAT, or £399.17 ex. VAT).

galaxy-tab-s-main-2
The 10.5-inch Galaxy Tab S is thinner and slightly lighter than Apple's iPad Air, and features an excellent Super AMOLED screen. It's available in white (above) and bronze. Image: Samsung

Design

The Galaxy Tab S 10.5 is exceptionally thin and light, measuring 6.6mm thick and weighing 465g, which is thinner and (just) lighter than the wi-fi-only 9.7-inch iPad Air's 7.5mm and 469g. This gives the Samsung Galaxy Tab S immediate appeal, although if you're making comparisons on these grounds do look also at the 10.1-inch Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet , which is even thinner and lighter at 6.4mm and 439g, and has the added plus of IP58 dust and water resistance certification.

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The optional Book Cover doubles as a triple-angle stand. Image: Samsung

The edges of the Galaxy Tab S are bronze-coloured, which looks unappealing on our white review sample (the tablet is also available in bronze, which is a better match). The stippled plastic back does the Galaxy Tab S no great favours either, which overall lacks the premium appeal of Apple's iPad Air. The back also sports a couple of circular cut-outs. These are redundant unless you get a £55 (inc. VAT) Samsung Book Cover, which locks into these.

The cover -- available in white, red, bronze, blue and black -- doubles as a stand that can hold the Galaxy Tab S at three different angles,designed for different activities: about 10 degrees for typing; about 30 degrees for browsing and touch-mode operation; and about 50 degrees for media consumption.

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The screen sits in a fairly thin bezel, which can result in unintended selections when holding the tablet in landscape mode. The trade-off is a screen that's slightly larger than the usual 10.1 inches, at 10.5 inches. More important than the extra real estate is screen's 2,560-by-1,600-pixel resolution, giving a pixel density of 288ppi. Text looks crisp and clear, and we found working with two screens side by side in Samsung's Multi Window mode entirely comfortable.

galaxy-tab-s-screen-settings
Screen mode settings for the Galaxy Tab S 10.5's 2,560-by-1,600-pixel Super AMOLED display. Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The Super AMOLED technology used in the screen delivers very bright, rich colours; as with other Samsung tablets and smartphones, you can chose between three screen modes (basic, photo and cinema) or have the device automatically adapt to what you're doing.

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The Galaxy Tab S 10.5's on-screen keyboard features a separate number row. Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

If you want to use the Galaxy Tab S 10.5 for working with text, then its on-screen keyboard design will appeal. A separate number row and well-spaced keys make typing a relatively comfortable, speedy and error free experience.

Features

The Galaxy Tab S 10.5 is powered by Samsung's eight-core Exynos 5 Octa 5420 processor, which includes four 1.9GHz cores and four 1.3GHz cores. There is 3GB of RAM and 16GB of internal memory, of which 10.99GB was free on our review sample. A MicroSD card slot allows you to add up to 128GB of additional storage; the Micro-USB port can access external storage too, reading and writing directly from and to a USB stick.

There's an infrared 'blaster' built into the top long edge, which can be used to control a TV and other devices via Samsung's bundled WatchON app. MHL (Mobile High-definition Link) is built in, so you can send HDMI video to a TV via the Micro-USB connector. The wi-fi is dual-band (2.4 and 5GHz) 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, and there's also Bluetooth 4.0 and GPS; if you want LTE mobile broadband, that's available for another £80 (inc. VAT). With such a lot going on, it's slightly disappointing that Samsung has omitted NFC from the feature set.

There is an 8-megapixel rear camera which, unusually, has a flash, and a 2.1-megapixel camera on the front. The main camera can record full-HD (1,920 by 1,080 resolution) at 30 frames per second.

galaxy-tab-s-sidesync
SideSync gives you remote control over a wi-fi-connected Galaxy S5 smartphone. Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The Galaxy Tab S runs Android 4.4, overlain with Samsung's TouchWiz interface, as well as an array of Samsung apps, utilities and tweaks. We've already mentioned Multi Window and there's a lot more going on. For example, the notification panel can be configured with a large array of settings shortcuts, while Smart Stay uses the front camera to keep the screen on while you are looking at it.

If you also have a Galaxy S5 smartphone, you'll be able to handle calls and SMS messages via the Galaxy Tab S using SideSync over a Wi-Fi Direct connection; you can also drag files from one device to the other.

A number of features will be of particular interest to business users. Following the lead of the Galaxy S5, there's a fingerprint scanner built into the Home button. It's not particularly convenient to use, but if you need it you'll find a way to work with it. The Samsung KNOX security solution is supported, along with Cisco WebEx and Samsung's Remote PC, which can be used to access a PC or Mac.

Samsung still needs to be careful about software overload, though -- its My Magazine feature being a case in point. This is a tiled user interface that sits to the left of the main home screen, pulling in PIM data from the device, along with user-configurable news and social networking information.

Unfortunately you can't remove My Magazine: the furthest you can go is to remove most of its information panels, leaving just one behind. The remaining panel will then occupy a home screen slot, whether you want it to or not. Furthermore, the calendar display only supports Samsung's S Calendar, not Google Calendar. As well as My Magazine, there's a surfeit of third-party apps on board, a number of which may be surplus to requirements.

Performance & battery life

We ran the cross-platform Geekbench 3 benchmark to get an overview of the Galaxy Tab S 10.5's performance, comparing it to Apple's iPad Air running iOS 8:

galaxy-tab-s-geekbench

Although the 64-bit 1.4GHz Apple A7 processor with 1GB of RAM delivers better single-core performance than the 1.9GHz Samsung Exynos 5 Octa 5420, Samsung's 8-core chip has the edge when it comes to multi-core performance.

We also ran the Sunspider 1.0.2 JavaScript test, where the Samsung and Apple tablets delivered comparable performance using their default browsers (Samsung Internet Browser and Safari respectively). However, we noticed that the Galaxy Tab S's JavaScript performance was much worse under Chrome -- an average of 1,044 milliseconds compared to 453ms with Samsung's browser.

The Galaxy Tab S's 7,900mAh battery is rated by Samsung for up to 9 hours of internet usage over wi-fi or 12 hours of video playback. During the test period we were regularly able to watch two full-length movies and still have plenty of battery life to spare; if you need a tablet for long-haul flights or long train journeys, this battery longevity will be particularly appealing.

The stereo speakers -- one on each of the short edges -- are one area where the Galaxy Tab S 10.5 under-delivers. The sound quality is disappointing, especially when compared to the excellent screen. This is a pity as it means the tablet isn't really up to delivering multimedia business presentations without help from an external speaker system.

Conclusion

Samsung's copious software add-ons and UI tweaks mean that the Galaxy Tab S delivers a particular kind of Android experience. Although we have a few issues with some of these extras, the slimline Galaxy Tab S is still a very impressive tablet.

Specifications

Display
Resolution 2560 x 1600
Touchscreen Multi-Touch
Multi-Touch Display Yes
Technology Super AMOLED
Diagonal Size 10.5 in
Diagonal Size (metric) 26.72 cm
Native Resolution 2560 x 1600
General
Operating System Android 4.4 (KitKat)
Miscellaneous
Features Expandable memory, Front camera, Rear camera
Color White
Bluetooth Profiles Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP), Audio/Video Remote Control Profile (AVRCP), HID Over GATT Profile (HOGP), Headset Profile (HSP), Human Interface Device Profile (HID), Object Push Profile (OPP), Personal Area Networking Profile (PAN)
Color Category white
Processor
Clock Speed 1.9 GHz
Number of Cores 8-core
Type Exynos 5 Octa
Manufacturer Samsung
Memory
Storage 16 GB
RAM 3 GB
Communications
Wireless Protocol 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0
Security Protocols & Features Wi-Fi Direct
Camera
Digital Zoom 4
Focus Adjustment automatic
Camera Light Source LED light
HD Video Recording 1080p
Features Auto mode, Beauty face, HDR (High Dynamic Range), Shot & More, Shot mode, Sweep Panorama
Networking
Wireless Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Wi-Fi 802.11n
Input Device
Security Devices fingerprint reader
Multimedia
Audio Microphone, stereo speakers
Location
Navigation Software & Services Google Maps
Battery
Run Time Details Web browsing over Wi-Fi: up to 9 hour(s)
Video playback: up to 12 hour(s)
Audio playback: up to 139 hour(s)
Capacity 7900 mAh
Header
Brand Samsung
Product Line Samsung Galaxy
Model Tab S
Packaged Quantity 1
Expansion and Connectivity
Expansion Slots 1 x microSDXC
Interfaces 1 x headset mini jack (3.5mm)
1 x USB 2.0
System
Platform Android
Handheld Type Web tablet
Security Devices fingerprint reader
RAM
Installed Size 3 GB
Flash Memory
Installed Size 16 GB
Card Reader
Slots (for SD) microSD slot
Supported Flash Memory Cards microSD, microSDHC, microSDXC
Flash Memory Cards Max Supported Capacity 128 GB
Digital Camera
Cameras (for SD) rear camera + front camera
Rear-facing Camera Yes
Digital Zoom 4
Focus Adjustment automatic
Camera Light Source LED light
HD Video Recording 1080p
Features Auto mode, Beauty face, HDR (High Dynamic Range), Shot & More, Shot mode, Sweep Panorama
Audio Output
Type stereo speakers
Audio Input
Type microphone
OS Provided
Type Android 4.4 (KitKat)
Power Device
Type power adapter
GPS System
Navigation GPS/GLONASS receiver
Navigation Software & Services Google Maps
Expansion Slots
Type microSDXC
Total Qty 1
Battery Life Details
Run Time (Up To) 12 hour(s), 139 hour(s), 9 hour(s)
Usage Mode audio playback, video playback, web browsing over Wi-Fi
Interface Provided
Interface USB 2.0, headset mini jack (3.5mm)
Qty 1
PDA Software
Type Animated Wallpapers, Audio Streaming, Google Chrome, Google Drive, Google Play Books, Google Play Games, Google Play Movies & TV, Google Play Music, Google Play Store, Google Plus, Google Plus Hangouts, Google Search, Calendar, Google Settings, Google Voice Search, Group Play, Hancom Office Viewer, Kids Mode, Mobile Device Management, Multi Window, Multi-User Function, Music Player, Newsstand, Cisco WebEx Meetings, Paper Garden, Photos, Professional pack, Remote Control, Remote PC, S Note, S Translator, S Voice, Samsung KNOX, Samsung Kies, Contacts, Samsung Link, Samsung SideSync 3.0, Samsung Smart Switch Mobile, Samsung TouchWiz, Samsung Traditional UI, Samsung WatchON, Samsung Widget Gallery, Samsung e-Meeting, Smart Pause, Story Album, Downloads, VPN Client, Video Editor, Video Player, Video Streaming, YouTube, E-mail, Gear Fit Manager, Gear Manager, Gmail
Dimensions & Weight
Width 7 in
Depth 0.26 in
Height 9.7 in
Weight 16.4 oz
Service & Support
Type 1 year warranty
Service & Support Details
Type limited warranty
Service Included parts and labor
Full Contract Period 1 year

Topics: Tablets, Mobility, Reviews, Samsung

Where To Buy

Price
$499.00

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Where To Buy

Samsung Galaxy Tab S (10.5-inch, white)

Part Number: SM-T800NZWAXAR
Price
$499.00

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