Samsung’s latest Galaxy Tab S2 tablet is the thinnest yet, outdoing both Apple and Sony,and it comes with a vibrant 9.7in screen and a microSD card slot for storing hundreds of movies.
The follow up to the Galaxy Tab S, the first truly good Samsung tablet, improves on design and speed, but swaps a widescreen for a squarer one, making it a more direct challenger to Apple’s iPad.
Thin and light
Innovation in tablet design has reached a plateaux. The S2 is typical of this: it’s thin, light and has a 9.7in screen – and it’s similar to almost everything else.
In fact, at 5.6mm thick and 389g in weight, it’s 1mm thinner and 76g lighter thanlast year’s Tab S, 0.5mm thinner and 4g lighter than Sony’s Xperia Z4 Tablet and 0.5mm thinner and 48g lighter than Apple’s iPad Air 2.
The design is understated. A 9.7in screen with thin bezels, metallic sides and matt plastic back. A smaller 8in version is also available. The home button at the bottom of the screen has a fingerprint scanner hidden underneath it. The back has two popper button holes for attaching Samsung’s various cases.
The screen is the main star of the show and, as with last year’s Tab S, it is stunning. Rich, vibrant colours and deep, inky blacks make videos and photos look fantastic. It has a pixel density of 264 pixels per inch making it as sharp as the iPad Air 2 – its main rival. Unlike most other Android tablets the screen is in the 4:3 ratio, the same as the iPad, which is better for reading books, but means big black bars are visible at the top and bottom of the screen when watching video.
- Screen: 8in or 9.7in (1536 x 2048) Super AMOLED (264 ppi)
- Processor: Samsung Exynos 5433 octa-core (1.9 GHz quad-core + 1.3GHz quadcore)
- RAM: 3GB of RAM
- Storage: 32GB; microSD slot also available
- Operating system: Android 5.0.2 Lollipop
- Camera: 8MP rear camera, 2.1MP front-facing camera
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1 with BLE and GPS (LTE optional)
- Dimensions: 237.3 x 169.0 x 5.6mm
- Weight: 389g
Samsung has found success using its own processors within its smartphones such as the Galaxy S6, one of the fastest smartphones currently available. The Tab S2’s processor is, however, not quite as fast. It gets the job done for the most part and still feels responsive particularly diving in and out of the recently used apps list, but it doesn’t feel as rapid as the Galaxy S6 in day-to-day usage.
Multitasking was relatively painless. Samsung’s Android tablets allow you to use two applications side-by-side, but only for a limited selection of apps. Those that work, such as Chrome and Gmail, work well. I wish the list of supported apps was longer. Resizing the apps could also be smoother.
The tablet had no issues playing video, playing the odd game or viewing photos. Graphically intensive games such as Nova run smoothly, but battery life took a hit.
Battery life was good but not exceptional. I got around seven hours of comic reading with the screen quite bright, which is good. Standby time wasn’t quite as impressive. If left on a coffee table and used occasionally it would be dead within three days, which is a common problem with Android tablets – one that is solved by Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Samsung’s power-saving mode helped a little.
It took just under four hours to fully charge. There was no fast charging available, which is disappointing.
The Tab S2 ships with Android 5.0.2 in the UK and is due to be updated to Android 5.1, but the update had not arrived by the time I had finished testing the device.
Samsung’s customary “TouchWiz” modifications to Android are present. Most of them are cosmetic and not as sleek and good looking as the standard Android experience.
Some of the customisations add things lacking from standard Android. Good ones include Multi Window, which allow a small selection of apps to be placed side-by-side on one screen, two at a time.
Samsung’s smart stay, which keeps the screen on when you’re looking at it, is particularly handy for reading when you might not touch the screen for a minute or so.
The cameras are similar to last year’s Tab S cameras, which are relatively bright for tablet cameras, but are not up to scratch compared to a decent mid-range smartphone camera. I don’t recommend making it your primary holiday camera
The home button doubles as a fingerprint scanner for unlocking the device and some third-party apps. It’s fast, accurate and up there with the best of them, even when upside down.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 comes in two sizes, with or without 4G. The 9.7in Galaxy Tab S2 with Wi-Fi and 32GB of storage as reviewed costs £399 in black or gold. The 8in version with Wi-Fi costs £319. 4G versions cost £50 more.
The Galaxy Tab S2 is Samsung’s best tablet to date. It’s thin, light, has a fantastic screen and can do limited side-by-side multitasking.
The 4:3 ratio screen is a mistake, however, as it makes watching video a poorer experience than those with a widescreen. It also is not as sprightly as Samsung’s top-end smartphones, which is disappointing and raises the question why it doesn’t have the same processor as the Galaxy S6?
Its main rival is the iPad Air 2. For the same money you get a better screen, more storage and a microSD card slot with the Samsung, but battery life is disappointing. Hopefully an update to the latest Android 6.0 Marshmallow may help.
Pros: limited multitasking, fingerprint scanner, excellent screen, thin, light, microSD card slot
Cons: 4:3 ratio screen worse for watching video, battery life could be better, no quick charging, plastic back feels cheap compared to rivals