Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 and 10.5 review: Best Android tablets thanks to a super display

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 and 10.5 review: Best Android tablets thanks to a super display

Summary: Samsung makes the best Android tablets and there is nothing better than these new Tab S devices.

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Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 and 10.5 review: Best Android tablets thanks to a super display
(Image: Samsung)

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 and 10.5 are the eighth and ninth Samsung Android tablets released in 2014 alone. I gave you my first impressions 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.

Hardware

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.

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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.

Cases

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.

Software

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.

TabS105
(Image: Samsung)

 

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.

Pros 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

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.

Specifications

  • 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

Conclusion

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.

Contributor's rating for Galaxy Tab S 8.4 and 10.5: 9 out of 10

Topics: Mobility, Android, Reviews, Samsung, Tablets

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Talkback

29 comments
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  • Why the

    difference in rating score? It seems they are indentical except for the screen size.
    Low_tech
    • I was wondering the same thing...

      nt
      MikeR666
      • More New July Products

        i P r o T a b l e t -- is one site worth reviewing with many new models released this month-- including the Pipo P1 ($295) -- a 9.7-inch tablet which launched this week and is the first Android device on the market with the new RK3288 high performance processor from Rockchip Technologies, which has demonstrated benchmark testing with better performance than the Apple iPad as well as upcoming tablets that feature Qualcomm's Snapdragon 801 processor; the Pipo P1 is also the first tablet available to support 4K video output and overall offers impressive specs, including a Retina-quality 2048x1536 display, Android 4.4 Kit Kat, Bluetooth 4.0, built-in GPS, and a powerful 10,000 mAh battery with 8+ hours use.

        Also to be released next week is the iFive Mini4 ($219) -- which is the first 8-inch Android tablet to offer a retina-quality, 2048x1536 display; plus features long battery life, Bluetooth, GPS, and the RK3288 processor.

        iProTablet also offers the Ramos i10 Pro ($399) Windows 8.1 - Android hybrid... the first "Dual Boot" tablet on the market that makes it easy to use both Windows software and Android Apps on one device -- and offers an Intel Bay Trail 64 bit CPU plus a 10" 1920x1200 HD display, Bluetooth, and GPS.
        drobimorrisonnsw
    • Personal preference for size, but not applicable to all

      Good question and I changed them to both be the same after further consideration. While I personally like the 8.4 size better, that is a personal preference and thus the scores should be the same.
      palmsolo (aka Matthew Miller)
      • Thanks Matt

        Love the podcast with Kevin by the way.
        Low_tech
        • Thanks, nice to have a few listeners :)

          It is tough with our schedules and cross country timezones to record consistently, but we try to chat it up as much as possible.
          palmsolo (aka Matthew Miller)
  • Fingerprint scanner...

    ..works great on mine (8.4 inch). You just have to swipe your finger down across it (pretend is a slide switch).
    ex vrwc
  • Multi window mode. Neat.

    Another feature that has been available on windows tablets all along. Remind me again why Android tablets are so popular?
    vincewansink
    • Except windows RT...

      :)
      jessepollard
      • ummmm, no

        Windows RT has had multi-window capability since it debuted.
        robwagpdx
  • sunlight viewing comparison

    When used outdoors, how does the AMOLED screen compare to the LCD screen on the Tab Pro/Note Pro?
    Bill_SixPack
  • I am not interested in tablets anymore having owned

    various ipads and android based ones. Smartphones and phablets are where its at. If I had to own a tablet I would have to get an iPad (mini), simply because it has the most tablet apps, and gets them first and often exclusively. If the price is about the same as a samsung, why not.

    These days you really don't need to use apple's ecosystem at all with the iPad. You can use google+, youtube, chromecast, etc. The days of having iTunes as central to everything are gone. That removed one of my long standing pet peves with apple.
    However in smartphones, there are many reasons why I have a android based one.
    drwong
    • A place for everything

      I use my Galaxy SIII when I'm on the toilet, I use my 10.1" Galaxy Tab 4 when I'm surfing from the couch, and I take my 7" Nexus 7 with me to lunch when I'm dining alone and want to read the papers while I eat.

      I'm very interested in the Galaxy Note III, but if I were to get one, I doubt it'd replace my Nexus 7 entirely.
      dsf3g
  • curious

    Have they given a date for the cell phone/LTE enabled versions? I am not sure that would matter that much as I definitely would not use one for a cell phone but there might be other reasons for wanting LTE? The biggest question I have is how viewable are these tablets screens in daylight situations? My s3 is totally useless outdoors in the day time. You can't see the screen on it at it's brightest setting even if you block the sun with your hand or body when outdoors on a sunny day. Taking pictures outdoors on a sunny day is potluck at best for aiming or framing.
    chaos213
  • Question?

    If the tablet mirrors the S5.. can you use it as the cellular interface?
    EdRutherford
    • I think Matt said it was not interactive (at least for him)...

      but I would hope that would change (as Matt said, it is not a bad Beta). It would seem that having the S5 screen off, but still mirrored on the Tablet would give that much greater life on the S5 (Display on most devices is 50% or more of battery drain). Hoping that Samsung gets this working, at least reasonably well as I think it could be useful to multi-taskers who want to get a number of things done, but not have to find space for multiple devices (conferences, or pickup and carry too many things at one time).
      jkohut
    • Yes

      You can use it to make and receive calls on the Tab S.
      AudiGalaxyS5
  • Samsung cases are a rip..

    Samsung cases are a royal rip... when I bought my Galaxy Tab 4, Samsung wanted $50.00 or so for the case. Instead a bought a perfectly nice generic case on Amazon for $6.00.

    I might pay $20.00 if Samsung's case were especially nice and sturdy, but no way I'm dropping $50.00 on a case just because it says Samsung on it.
    dsf3g
    • Complete agree on the Samsung cases!

      $20 is a fair price for any type of case... anything more than that is price gouging.
      mulox
  • super AMOLED or retina display of ipads ?

    which one is good ??please tell me difference and which one is better...
    techsides