Saturday, 17 October 2015 14:06

Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 (review)

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Samsung’s new Galaxy Tab S2 presents a remarkable Android tablet experience – it could not be more different to its superb predecessor, the Galaxy Tab S.

In fact I have both – the Tab S that I have used daily as my ‘couch companion’ and occasional travelling companion when all I need is content consumption (Virgin in-flight Wi-Fi and movies) and email. The S2 is drop dead sexy with its 2560 x 1600, 10.6”, AMOLED screen; rich gold trim and faux titanium bronze dimpled back; and a svelte 6.6mm, 465g body. It does what the S2 does as it now uses Android 5.0.2.

The original Tab S is designed to be used in landscape mode – with the hard wired home, return and recent apps buttons on the long ‘bottom’ edge.

The new Tab S2 is designed to be used in portrait mode – with the hardwired home button et al, on the short ‘bottom’ edge. It adopted the 4:3 screen ratio (closer to A4 page size) over the TAB S 16:10 (equivalent to 4:2.5). Its AMOLED screen has a slightly lower resolution than Tab S but side-by-side you cannot tell the difference.

You notice the difference to the Tab S more when you pick it up. It is 5.6mm thin, and 392g.

The S2 review unit was the premium model with 4G LTE, a 9.7” screen; 3GB RAM/32GB storage; and microSD slot. Other models include an 8” Wi-Fi, an 8” 4G/Wi-Fi, and a 9.7” Wi-Fi.

Slip in your smartphone’s Nano sim and you have more like a damned big Galaxy S6 Smartphone – let’s call it the S6 ++++. It functions as an amazing phone that I would take travelling instead of a separate smartphone – although I would look like a dork with a 9.7” screen to my ear and I don’t think I have any pockets large enough!!!

From here on in, I will focus on the S2.

Out of the Box

In keeping with Samsung’s minimalist white box packaging – basic, elegant, and functional – the box contains buds/mic (with replaceable ear pads), a USB 5V, 2A charger (interestingly not a fast charger), a sim cover pin, and a white micro to USB-A cable. The printed quick guide is just that. I also like that it contains a Mobile Muster pre-paid, recycling bag – even if it is a little too small for the used tablet and charger.

Setup is easy – typical Android style with a strong request to sign in to Google and Samsung to access the separate apps store, for backup and more. It is worth doing both – you can sign out later. The Samsung Touch Wiz user experience is very familiar to me – it has a light touch over material Android and its apps all work flawlessly.

Like the S6 series, it has both Google and Microsoft apps. If you have a Google or Samsung account, it will download apps and data from your previous Samsung device. I run Outlook (Office 365) and it loaded flawlessly, although caller ID with known caller’s names did not work until I also enabled Samsung’ email, contact and calendar. Microsoft please take note.

Snap on the optional A$69 Book Cover – and I mean very firmly snap it into two recesses on the back and you have – well a cover. It will work as a stand in landscape mode but not in portrait.

It also has an optional $199 Type cover with a Bluetooth keyboard with mouse pad.

As I did not have the Type cover I also tested with the new Microsoft Foldable Bluetooth keyboard (it is small so does not have a track pad) and a Logitech Ultrathin Bluetooth mouse, and I was able to use Word flawlessly.

 

Screen

It has a 9.7”, Super AMOLED screen. Resolution is 2048 x 1536, 264 ppi, and it has a 72.7% screen to body ratio – good but the bezels are still evident. It has great contrast and is very sunlight readable. The screen has an adaptive display and a reading mode for e-books.

Under the Bonnet

All models have the same Samsung Exynos 5433, eight-core – 4 x 1.9GHz and 4 x 1.3GHz and Mali-T760 graphics processor. There is always an argument that using two or four cores is more power efficient but Samsung’s implementation of its eight-core big/LITTLE - where it only uses the cores it needs - is very well tuned.

There is 3GB LPDDR3 RAM, 32GB of storage and a microSD slot that takes up to 128GB. There is apparently a 64GB model but it is not in Australia.

It has Wi-Fi AC dual band, WiDi, Hotspot tethering (with 4G), and supports 4G+ Cat 6 for up to 300Mbps download. Interestingly all models have a GPS chip and Google Maps.

It uses microUSB for charging and data – it supports USB Flash Drives, hard disk storage and two way communication with a PC – very handy to download photos to the PC.

Bluetooth is 4.1 LE and it supports ANT+ for wearable device connection.

Sensors include Accelerometer, Fingerprint Sensor, Gyro, Geomagnetic, Hall, and RGB.

LTE Bands include (FDD) B28(700), B5(850), B8(900), B3(1800), B2(1900), B1(2100), B7(2600), (TDD) B40(2300) – more than enough for Australia and overseas travel.

It has fingerprint recognition and because it has GPS it supports a very accurate find my device feature – if you enable this.

It is all powered by Android 5.0.2 and I expect it to be upgradeable to Marshmallow.

Performance

In GeekBench 3 tests, the iPad Air 2 scored 4464 and the S2 scored 4275. To put this in perspective the Tab S scored 2881. In standard graphics tests, it scored about half as fast as the iPad Air 2. It has been optimised for the web and gaming where it beats the iPad Air 2.

The comparison with the iPad Air 2 is valid – Apple’s A8X and M8 chips are of a similar generation to the Exynos 5433 in this unit. Hardware wise it is about half the speed of an iPad Air 2 yet I found it very responsive and certainly fit for purpose.

Wi-Fi AC was very fast. In tests, it achieved 91Mbps out of a possible 100. I did not try 4G LTE as I only get two bars and there is no Cat 6 where I live. Compared to a Surface 3 it was twice as fast.

I was impressed with its multi-tasking and split screen.

Camera

It has an 8MP CMOS sensor camera with 4X digital zoom and autofocus. The f/1.9 lens is low light capable but there is no flash. It will capture UHD (2160P) video.

It is not designed for happy snappers who want great pictures. The camera is adequate for the task – taking pictures of white-boards in class, occasional snaps to remind you of something, etc. The camera app – the same as on the smartphone S6 – has all the bells and whistles available so you can have fun and perhaps take better pictures that I got on automatic.

The front 2.1MP CMOS sensor is fine for Skype and selfies.

Audio/video content device

All models have USB (MHL) to HDMI, full HD output, and will play almost every known audio and video format.

It will also connect to other compatible Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and Wi-Fi direct enabled devices like any Samsung compatible TV, Galaxy phone, and printer.

You can connect other devices like a WD MyCloud – a DLNA server - via apps in the App Store. I was able to watch catch-up TV quite well with enough volume for personal use. The only issue is the twin speakers are on the short bottom edge so using it with the Book Cover means all sound comes from the left side. Attaching a Bluetooth speaker would be best.

Battery

The 5870 mAh battery Lithium-ion is non-removable. In independent testing, it achieved 109 hours of music play and up to 30 hours talk time for 3G (less for 4G). Samsung claim it has up to 14 hours of video play battery life (verified).

But the tests also tell a slightly different story. Active web browsing achieved 6 hours of use – the Surface 3 was nearly eight hours.

Interestingly the charger is only 2A and it does not have a fast charge feature - expect it to take about four hours from zero to 100%.

In my tests over two weeks I found it worked for up to seven days with occasional daily use. In week two I remembered to shut it down – versus sleep mode – and it still had 60% left at the end of the week.

Another valuable option is Samsung’s brilliant power bank model EB-PN920 – a fast charge capable, 5200 mAh, gold coloured backup battery. Although this is really for its smartphones supporting fast charge – 10 minutes gives four hours of use – it has sufficient power to nearly charge the S2 to full power. It costs around $100 but has many other uses.

Conclusion

I apologise for the rather clinical analysis – let’s be a little less formal. I love the first generation Tab S – it is like a comfortable pair of slippers. The new kid on the block is faster, sleeker, and brasher. But it is an evolution – not a revolution. Samsung have traded off some features for a thinner unit and that means no NFC, no IR controller, and a smaller battery - less stamina.

If you have a Tab S do not upgrade – if you have any other Android tablet then this is for you as it is the latest and greatest.

I pinched the following table from Anandtech showing the differences – please also read its extremely comprehensive review here

Samsung Galaxy Tab S Series

Model

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5"

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4"

Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 9.7"

Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 8.0"

SoC

Samsung Exynos 5420
4x Cortex A15 @ 1.9GHz
4x Cortex A7 @ 1.3GHz
Mali T628MP6 @ 533MHz

Samsung Exynos 5433
4x Cortex A57 @ 1.9GHz
4x Cortex A53 @ 1.3GHz
Mali T760MP6 @ 700MHz

RAM

3GB LPDDR3

NAND

16/32GB NAND + microSDXC

32/64GB NAND + microSDXC

Display

10.5" 2560x1600 SAMOLED

8.4" 2560x1600 SAMOLED

9.7" 2048x1536 SAMOLED

8.0" 2048x1536 SAMOLED

Dimensions

247.3 x 177.3 x 6.6mm

212.8 x 125.6 x 6.6mm

169 x 237.3 x 5.6mm, 389g

134.8 x 198.6 x 5.6mm, 265g

Camera

8MP Rear Facing. 2.1MP Front Facing

Battery

7900mAh
(30Wh)

4900mAh
(18.6Wh)

5870mAh (22.3Wh)

4000mAh
(15.2Wh)

OS

Android 4.4.2 KitKat

Android 5.0 Lollipop

Connectivity

2x2 802.11a/b/g/n/ac + BT 4, GNSS, microUSB 2.0

Launch Price

$499

$399

$499

$399

 

Would you buy this over an iPad Air 2? Yes and no.

  • If you are an Android user then this is for you
  • If you are an iOS user the iPad is for you – and never the twain shall meet. These are two entirely different ecosystems
  • If you have not tried either ecosystem then I recommend this Android device without reservation – over the iPad Air 2. Android is an easy OS to learn and use, has all the apps, and prices are easier on the wallet
  • As a curve ball, you may consider some of the Atom based Windows 10 devices like the Surface 3, or equally impressive models from Toshiba, Dell, HP, Acer and Asus. Windows 10 is a full-fat OS that supports all USB devices, networks, Windows programs, and more. What you lack is the extensive app ecosystem of Android, and the absolute thinness and lightness of the Tab S.

All prices are with 32GB storage and are available in white, black or gold.

  • 8” Wi-Fi$499
  • 8” LTE/Wi-Fi$649
  • 9.7” Wi-Fi$599
  • 9.7” LTE/Wi-Fi$749

PS – shop around on-line – you may get a bargain but if you are buying the 4G, watch out for overseas models that may not have Australian LTE bands.

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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