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First impressions of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 and 10.5

Samsung's two newest Android tablets will be available this Friday with their largest highest resolution Super AMOLED displays in a slim form factor even thinner than their phones.
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Topic: Mobility
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1 of 20 Matthew Miller/ZDNet

Galaxy Tab S 8.4, S5 smartphone, and Tab S 10.5

I spent the past three days testing out both the 8.4 and 10.5 inch models of the new Samsung Galaxy Tab S Android tablets and am quite impressed with the Samsung design. The star of the show is definitely the large Super AMOLED displays that help Samsung keep the tablets thin and light, save battery power, and provide rich, high contrast color.

The hardware is rather stunning and I am not sure what, if anything, Samsung could have done better in that regards. The software doesn't impress me as much as the hardware, but those experiences are also highly dependent on what you intend to do with the tablet.

These Galaxy Tab S models will be available in the U.S. beginning this Friday, June 27, at select retailers. The Wi-Fi versions of the Tab S 8.4 will retail for $399.99 and the Tab S 10.5 will retail for $499.99. Later this year, the Galaxy Tab S will come to AT&T with LTE, Sprint (10.5) with Sprint Spark, T-Mobile (10.5) with LTE and Verizon Wireless (8.4 and 10.5) with LTE.

Hardware

The display on both of these models is the same at 1,600 x 2,560 pixels using Samsung's Super AMOLED technology. They are fantastic, especially when it comes to looking at images on the display. I don't see how you can get anything better than this on a tablet display.

The tablets are only 6.6 mm thin, while my new Galaxy S5 is 8.1 mm thick. The edges are very nicely styled and I would like to see Samsung use this design element on their Galaxy phones. You will find the same standard Galaxy center hardware button and like the S5 it has the ability to function as a fingerprint scanner.

The back is also like the Galaxy S5, which feels better to me than the last generation stitched leather design. Everything feels tight and extremely well designed with no creaking or twisting present.

The Tab S 10.5 is optimized for landscape orientation with the button at the bottom of the display along the long dimension while the 8.4 is optimized for portrait (reading) mode with the button on the short side. This makes sense to me and I found it natural to use both in their optimized orientations.

Samsung sent along a couple of their cases to check out, including a Book Cover and Simple Cover. The interesting design aspect here is that Samsung integrated two button openings in the back of the Tab S models where these cases snap right into place. The integration with the device is slick and allows Samsung to provide an attractive case solution without much impact to size and weight.

Software

Samsung backed off a bit on TouchWiz with the Galaxy S5 and brings that same philosophy to these new Galaxy Tab S devices. There is not an overhwhelming amount of Samsung software and you actually get quite a collection of free apps and content with your purchase in the Galaxy Gifts widget.

Multi-window is well supported on the Galaxy Tab S and I enjoyed using this along with WatchON and the IR port to control my Samsung TV. Their Paper Garden interative magazine looks interesting, but there are not that many titles currently available and I need to spend time reading more than just the Architectural Digest.

There is a multi-user mode available so you can keep the Galaxy Tab S on your table and allow the tablet to be shared by family members with each getting a different experience on the tablet by logging into their account. This makes sense for tablets used as couch browsing devices and may help justify getting one tablet for an entire household rather than tablets for each person.

Samsung has a Quick Briefing widget that gives you a quick calendar summary of the day, quick access to browser shortcuts, quick access to your alarm, and single tap to launch SideSync 3.0.

So far I am not much of a fan of SideSync 3.0, although I like the idea behind it. It seems the sharing between a PC and the tablet or phone is a better implementation as the tablet to phone connection seems redundant to me. A small image of my phone appears on the tablet when I make the Wi-Fi Direct connection, but there is very limited control of the phone when it appears on the display. I understand it is an easy way to share data, but need to spend more time checking it out before passing my final judgement.

I was surprised to launch Chrome and see it default to mobile websites on these tablets. Google needs to be smart with their apps and flip the switch to desktop mode when their apps are being used on these tablet devices. I can do it manually for some apps, but shouldn't need to.

Final first thoughts

It has been a long time since I owned an Android tablet, but after just three days Samsung has me seriously considering one of these Galaxy Tab S models. As a new Samsung TV and Galaxy S5 owner, the Tab S fits in perfectly with this Samsung ecosystem and I can see using it in the movie room or living room, as well as in my office.

Samsung has enhanced apps for the tablet form factor, but they don't seem to be getting a lot of help from Google as there still seems to be a lack of attention to detail when it comes to the Android OS on tablets. The iPad sets the bar for tablets, but Samsung is showing they can offer fantastic hardware and good experiences, such as multi-window and multi-user functionality.

As I continue to use these two Tab S devices for a couple more weeks, please let me know what you would like to have evaluated and answered in a full review.

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Tab S 10.5 retail package

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Tab S 8.4 retail package

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Unboxing the Galaxy Tab S

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Back of the Tab S 10.5

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Back of the Tab S 8.4 in white

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A collection of Book and Simple covers

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Quick snap of the case is supported

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Tab 10.5 with Simple Cover

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Connecting to a phone via SideSync 3.0

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Typical Tab S home screen panel

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Make sure to take advantage of the Galaxy Gifts

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Application launcher

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2nd page of app launcher, not there are not many Samsung apps

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Connected phone on the Tab S display

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Another view mode of the phone connected to the Tab S

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Photos are stunning on the Super AMOLED display

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Gear Essentials that you can install if you desire

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Failed mobile format in Chrome

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Proper desktop mode in Chrome

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