Released in July 2014, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 (after the 10.5-inch display) is touted as “The Next Big Thing.” Those who like to nitpick semantically might point out the Galaxy Tab S is physically smaller than the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro with a 12.2-inch display, released almost a year earlier.
With a listed price of $499, the Galaxy Tab S is priced lower than the Galaxy Note Pro ($749), but is going neck to neck with the iPad Air. Samsung is pitching the Galaxy Tab S as an entertainment device: “Entertainment comes alive on the [Galaxy Tab S’s] Super AMOLED display,” says its online description.
I use a tablet primarily for social media and email, augmented by periodic movie watching, music playing, ebook reading, and note taking at conferences. My typical usage doesn’t usually push a tablet to its limits. It shouldn’t, for example, drain the battery below the red-alert mark in a typical day.
Since I like to bring the tablet with me to cafes and conferences, I do expect it to be light enough to carry under my arms without straining my shoulders or arms. The tablet is usually not my primary device for photography. For that, I rely on my iPhone or my Canon point-and-shoot. Still, when my phone or camera is not easily accessible, I might snap a few photos of outdoor scenes, colorful dishes with delicate garnishes, or a breathtaking sunset now and then.
Weight: 467 grams (16.47 ounces)
Measurements: 247.3 x 177.3 x 6.6mm (9.74 x 6.98 x 0.26″)
Available color: Brown, White
OS: Android 4.4.2
Camera: 8 Megapixel front facing, 2.1 Megapixel rear, with geo-tagging
Battery: 7900 mAh
Connecitivity: WiFi, Bluetooth, USB
Processor: Samsung Exynos 5 Octa 5420 4-core 2.3 GHz
Display: 2560 x 1600 (4,096,000 pixels), 10.5″ (26.67 cm) diagonal, Super AMOLED
Design (Very Good)
My test unit is in a Dazzling White chassis. Samsung also offers the Titanium Bronze option. The thin slate with chrome borders is aesthetically elegant. At 465 gram (barely over 1 lb), the device feels quite light—light enough for extended use as a writing, sketching, note-taking, and media viewing device.
The speaker jack at the top left, the speakers on the top side corners, and the orientation of the logo Samsung suggest the device is designed with the landscape mode as the optimal setup, especially for viewing movies. In that orientation, the volume and sleep buttons on the top are also easily within reach, and the camera is aimed directly at your eye level for video chats or snapping photos of whatever that’s straight ahead.
Display (Very Good)
The test unit I received has a 10.5-inch display (measured diagonally), slightly larger than the iPad Air’s 9.7-inch display. The Super AMOLED display, according to Samsung, “automatically adjusts color gamut, sharpness, and contrast according to your usage.”
In my trial, switching from movie play to eBook, for example, results in noticeable automatic brightness reduction, indicating the display can detect the app in use and make the appropriate adjustments behind the scene.
The high-contrast display also produces vibrant colors and vivid imagery in both streaming movies from the cloud and playing multimedia stored on the device. the display settings offer AMOLED Cinema, Photo, and Basic modes in addition to the default Adaptive mode. The Cinema modes offer richer saturation and higher contrasts, whereas the Photo mode is comparative more subdued.
The Galaxy Tab S’s speakers are built on the side panels, facing outward. The speakers do a decent job—certainly better than the Samsung Galaxy S5 Active rugged phone’s back-facing speakers. Still, some audio loss from the side-projected speakers is inevitable if you’re watching a movie with the display facing you.
Therefore, a better approach to listen to music or watch movies where sound is a critical factor may be to listen through a headset, not from the device’s built-in speaker. It’s a common dilemma with tablets. Most tablets must preserve every available square inch of the front view to the display, leaving them with hardly any space for speakers in the front.
After closing all other apps, at roughly 30% screen brightness, I played Transformer: Dark of the Moon for 30 mins. The battery drain from this operation alone is 5%. In my normal daily use, I find that half-day of intermittent use (reading emails, playing a few YouTube clips, surfacing Facebook, and going on the Web) drained 12-15%.
In benchmark tests, the Galaxy Tab S proves to yield almost the same battery stamina as the iPad Air. For ordinary tablet usage like mine, the Galaxy Tab S should be quite sufficient. But keep in mind that if you watch several movies in a row at the AMOLED Cinema mode, your battery is bound to drain faster.
Biometric Security (Average)
The use of biometric security in Galaxy Tab S shows promise, but at the present the implementation is not as straightforward. The prompt to register your fingerprint is accompanied by an animated screen showing how to swipe your finger over the flashing region. However, it takes a very specific motion to correctly register.
Considering it takes eight correct (or valid) scans before the fingerprint can be used, you could spent quite some time figuring out the right way to swipe across the screen. Even if you managed to register and store a legible fingerprint, when you use the finger to unlock the screen, the same motion must carefully be repeated, or it won’t unlock.
Thankfully, the device includes the option to unlock it using a password as an alternative. During my trial, I frequently lost patience with the fingerprint reader and opted for the password.
The test unit I received is running Android Kitkat 4.4.2. It comes preloaded with some Samsung apps, like SideSync app that lets you synchronize multimedia content from other Android devices with SideSync installed. The remote PC software works as intended in my test.
The process is not as simple as, say, mirroring your iPad screen on your home TV—something that takes just a few tabs using Apple Airplay. To give your Galaxy Tab S control over your PC, you must first setup a Samsung account. Next, you need to go to a specific URL to download and install an Agent applet in your home PC.
When all these components are in alignment, then you can activate Remote PC to navigate and run the registered PC straight from the tablet itself. The additional steps take some time and effort, but in my view, they’re warranted.
If it’s possible for anyone in possession of your mobile device (say, someone who happens to pick it up in your absence) to activate this feature without much effort, you should have grave concerns over the security of your PC. The additional validation steps required in Samsung’s remote PC setup ensures that the tablet user enabling the function is also the PC’s rightful owner.
While the function works as designed, it also reveals how much more work is needed to make tablet-to-PC communication seamless. If your PC runs a touch-enabled OS, your remote PC experience will likely be better.
On the other hand, I find that recreating the mouse operations required to navigate my Windows 8 PC (no multitouch) remotely from the Galaxy Tab S’s finger-friendly Android OS is no easy feat. Solving this kink, I’m afraid, will take compatible interfaces for both mobile and desktop hardware. It’s is not solely Samsung’s responsibility. It’ll take cooperation from both mobile device makers, OS giants, and regular computer makers.
Another notable function is the multiple-window option. In theory, the Galaxy Tab S lets you operate several apps simultaneously: for example, Facebook, your Photo Gallery, and Gmail, all open in three separate windows.
But in reality, I wouldn’t recommend opening more than two, because the limited screen real estate of a tablet just can’t reasonably accommodate more than that. Besides, it becomes much harder to swipe the corner margin to activate the app panel once you have two apps already open.
Camera (Good +)
The Galaxy Tab S’s built-in camera is 8 Megapixel, which gives you good-looking, decent photos. The camera also comes with additional Modes, like the HDR mode that produces more vibrant colors; or the Dual-Camera Mode that captures both the front and back views in the same photo.
The camera settings dialog box offers different effects, similar to Instagram filters. Like all tablets, the magazine-size device is not as easy to operate as lighter, smaller phones for extended photography, selfies, or aiming at objects at difficult angles. In outdoor usage on windy days, the sun glare and the tablet’s tendency to shake and flutter about in the wind makes it less than ideal for photography.
In battery capacity test, Galaxy Tab S scores close to 8,000 mAh (measuring the current a battery discharges per hour, higher is better). That puts it ahead of the Sony Xperia Z2 tablet (9,000 mAh), but below the iPad Air (close to 9,000 mAh).
The Galaxy Tab S’s Geekbench Multithread score (designed to evaluate processor power) is close to 3,000. That supersedes both the iPad Air’s 2,500+ score and the Sony Xperia Z2’s sub-2,500 score. In graphics performance as determined by GFXBench T-Rex benchmark, the Galaxy Tab S registers between 10-20 FPS (frame per sec).
This score is significantly lower than the iPad and the Sony Xperia Z2 tablet, both of which register nearly 30 FPS. The lower frame rate could undermine the viewing experience when watching movies with intense explosion and fast-paced action sequences.
In device-to-device comparison using 3DMark benchmark, the Galaxy Tab S scores close to 15,000, almost neck to neck with the iPad Air. But both are outperformed by the Sony Xperia Z2’s score of nearly 20,000.
Overall (Very Good)
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S is a capable, robust tablet that works the way you would expect a tablet to work. It offers good multimedia viewing experience in a standard tablet form. The 8 Megapixel camera gives you high-quality photos and videos for sharing and recording memorable moments. Device security with fingerprint scan is a nice touch that offers assurance, but at the moment the technology feels slightly premature. Overall, the Galaxy Tab S 10.5 can stand up to the rest, but it’s difficult to pinpoint special characteristics that make it stand out from the herd.