Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4″ Review

Rating:

When it comes to compact media tablets, Apple’s iPad mini is the one to beat. But, a true contender has recently entered the ring: the Samsung Galaxy Tab S. For the price of $419.96 you get a glamorous 8.4-inch screen, excellent battery life, and a body that rocks.

Android purists may find Samsung’s modifications to the user interface, especially the permanent placement of the Magazine UX screen, to be nothing but clutter on a beautiful display. However, if you can look past some of Samsung’s interface tweaks (and the company certainly gives you some nice free incentives) the Galaxy Tab S makes a wonderful media consumption machine.

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Design

Sophisticated and classy would be the words I’d use to describe the Galaxy Tab S. The soft-touch copper back and the bronze accent framing that beautiful AMOLED display is gorgeous—hard to believe it’s all plastic. The material makes it incredibly thin (6.6 mm) and light (.65 lb). It felt great in hand and made an excellent commuting companion. I ended up swapping it out for my Kindle that I regularly take on the train and supplementing it with comic books in addition to novels.

There are two speakers at the top and bottom of the device. The speakers were positioned in the only spot where I could hold the device length-wise, so my hands muffled the speakers. This was especially problematic when playing games, but while watching movies and TV shows I could reposition my hands to cup the tablet instead. This minor adjustment allowed sound to bounce off my hands toward me. Sound was good, even at high volumes without distortion. There’s also a headphone jack next to the bottom speaker and the micro USB jack that’s used for charging.

The Galaxy Tab S comes with 16GB of internal storage, but only about 12GB is available after the Android OS and extra system-essential items. Thankfully, Samsung has struck a deal with DropBox, giving users two years and 50GB of free storage. There’s also a microSD card slot for up to 128 GB of expanded internal storage.

For security you can set a password, pattern, or fingerprint in order to unlock your tablet. I would caution against using the fingerprint reader. There were a few occasion I swiped my finger across the reader and it didn’t accept it. The tablet would exclaim, “Swipe the entire pad” or “No match”. There was more than one occasion where I exceeded the amount of tries, so I had to wait 30 seconds until I could have another go. There’s an alternative unlock button handy for situations like these, where you can just enter in your password associated with the device.

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Display

The display is the standout feature. Its 1,600 by 2,560 pixels (359 ppi) Super AMOLED screen looks great. Colours were vibrant and not over-saturated. I have since switched from reading comic books on my older 10-inch iPad 2 to the Galaxy Tab S because of this reason. Despite the iPad 2’s bigger screen, text and images are much clearer on the Galaxy Tab S, and it’s hard for the iPad 2’s 1,024 by 768 resolution and washed-out LED screen to compete. The AMOLED screen also sips at the battery, helping to increase its longevity.

 

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Software

Android 4.4 KitKat is onboard, but Samsung has made a few tweaks to the stock OS. The Samsung Galaxy Tab S looks cluttered when you first log in. Pre-installed apps and widgets already take up the main home screen and several others. However, there are options to modify Samsung’s TouchWiz UI, but it’s far from the stock Android purists may be looking for. The widgets and pre-installed apps can all be removed, but there’s one that will remain: Samsung’s Magazine UX. It sits on the far left screen providing headline news stories in several categories if you choose to acknowledge its existence.

One widget users may not want to throw in the trash immediately is Samsung’s “Galaxy Gifts”, which include trial or sample subscriptions and some free stuff. There’s a 3-month Marvel Unlimited subscription, 6-month trial subscription to The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications. There’s even a “Kindle for Samsung” app that allows you to get a free book download every month. These usually include only a few titles, like “Crime Wave”, a chick-lit novel—something for light beach reading. These apps aren’t pre-installed, the Galaxy Gifts widget just takes you to a page where you can choose whether to install them or not.

For parents that occasionally loan their tablet to their kids, Samsung provides an app linking to an install page for a “Kids Mode” on your Galaxy Tab S. This feature allows you to setup a separate user account for the wee-ones in your family, so they aren’t playing around with any of your apps and settings.

Camera

Tablet cameras aren’t well-known for their amazing photos and the Galaxy Tab S is no different. Its 8 megapixel back camera took decent snapshots and the photo editor allowed for some silly sticker additions. The 2.1 megapixel front-view camera will be fine for any video chatting or selfies you may want to take, but there will be plenty of noticeable noise in dimly-lit photos.

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Performance

The Galaxy Tab S uses an Exynos 5 “octo-core” processor with 3GB of RAM. The Exynos 5 actually uses two quad-core processors, one 1.3GHz processor for light, everyday tasks to save on battery life and a 1.9GHz one for games and media that require a heavier processor. These two processors working together helped extend battery life. It hardly skipped a beat in day-to-day tasks and was no slouch when it came to gaming.

The Galaxy Tab S handled multitasking between watching YouTube videos and browsing the web perfectly. My only gripe would be that you can only multi-task with select apps, so no watching Netflix while browsing at the same time. The only time there was any hint of lag was when I had about 10 apps running in the background.

Games ran smoothly. I played “The Bard’s Tale”, “Jack Lumber”, and “Gemini Rue”, and never encountered a stutter.

Battery life was great. In day-to-day use, watching Netflix, reading comics and Kindle books, and browsing the web while watching YouTube (all while Wi-Fi was turned on) the Galaxy Tab S’s 4900mAh battery lasted around 2 days with off and on use.

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Bottom Line

Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S 8.4 is a great tablet that’s well-worth the $419.96 listed price. The Google Play Store doesn’t quite have the same premium app market as Apple, but all the major players are there (Twitter, Kindle, Netflix, Candy Crush, etc.) and even a few Apple doesn’t even have. The TouchWiz UI can be overlooked, but Samsung pushes the limits with its mandatory Magazine UX–it’s hard to ignore and impossible to remove. Samsung seems bent on tweaking the Android OS, so don’t hold out for future updates to be able to remove it. The freebies user will get through the “Galaxy Gifts” program will help to quell some of those frustrations, but it’s the AMOLED screen that shows its true beauty—in fact, all those internal hardware specs (long battery life, good processor) wrapped into that sleek, light body would convince anyone otherwise. It certainly won me over.

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Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4" Review
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Natalie Shoemaker

Natalie found her passion for writing about tech when she started with PCMag. She has also written for Geek, GDGT and TechnologyTell.

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