Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 Review: Best Android Tablet of 2015?
Over a year ago Samsung released the Galaxy Tab S, a 10.5-inch high-end tablet with a lightweight design, razor sharp screen and Samsung’s “software perks”. It was an exceptional Android tablet for media consumption. Well, this is the successor, the Galaxy Tab S2, which is thinner and lighter than last year’s model and comes in two different sizes. The review unit I have here is the 9.7-inch version but it also comes in an 8-inch variant.
Design / Hardware
The Tab S2 looks svelte and premium. A pleasure to hold with one hand or two and that’s because it only weighs 450 grams, which is lighter than the iPad Air 2. In fact, Samsung claims it’s the thinnest tablet in the world at 5.6 millimeters thick, that’s thinner than the 6.1mm Dell Venue 8 7000.
I was expecting to see a similar curved-back or edge-screen with a glass back like the Note 5 or Edge Plus, but Samsung toned it down by keeping the back plastic. It has a matte feel to it, which allows you to grip the tablet with ease. The frame is made out of metal with chamfered edges that give it enough spark to feel like you’re holding something that’s well crafted. The tablet as a whole sort of reminds me of last year’s Galaxy Note 4 without the pleather back.
It’s a big tablet at 9.7-inches but Samsung chose the right materials, especially if you plan on holding it for long periods of time. It blends in well with Magazines or books and sometimes I had issues finding it, especially if I left it in a pile of Magazines. That’s the biggest difference between a high end tablet and a cheap one. With a cheaper tablet, there’s more weight and poorer design choices, making it feel more like a computer and not a piece of literature that blends in with your coffee table.
Just like Samsung’s Galaxy S line, the Tab S2 comes with a fingerprint scanner. It works just as well as the one on the Galaxy S6 and it serves as a simple way to unlock your device. It was easy to setup and fairly accurate when it comes to recognizing your fingerprints.
On the back are two circular metal keyboard connectors for an optional Samsung Keyboard cover. It’s Bluetooth and also acts as cover for the front of the screen. I played with it for a little bit and the keyboard itself is pretty solid but it doesn’t actually charge the tablet. The price tag is quite high at $200 and I can only imagine most people will opt for a third-party keyboard instead.
Display & Sound
One thing Samsung always does well is make great displays. Like the Tab S, the Tab S2 has a beautiful Quad HD Super AMOLED display with a resolution of 2048 x 1440 with 264PPI . On a 9.7-inch screen it makes everything look exceptional. In fact, I compared it to the pixel dense iPad Mini 4, which also has a great display, but tended to favour a cooler tone. The Galaxy Tab S2 had a warmer and more vibrant one. For looking at pictures and watching movies, I’d choose the Tab S2, whereas reading books I’d favour the Mini 4.
Last year’s Tab S used an aspect ratio of 16:9, which is great for watching movies, but this year Samsung has opted for an aspect ratio of 4:3, which is better for viewing everything else. In fact, even with the switch to 4:3, I still prefer watching movies on the Tab S2, it’s the actual display that makes it so enjoyable.
On the bottom of the tablet are two stereo speakers. The placement is not ideal for holding your tablet in landscape mode. The lower speaker is too close to the bottom and I found myself consistently covering it with my hand. However, when the speaker is not covered, it produces decent sound. It’s not loud enough for a small party but for individual use it’s good enough. I was able to walk around comfortably between two medium sized rooms and hear what was playing.
Inside is last year’s Exynos 5433 octa-core processor, which has a quad-core 1.9Ghz chip and a quad-core 1.3Ghz chip. This is the same CPU architecture that’s found in the Korean variant of the Galaxy Note 4. It’s still really fast even with 3 GB of RAM, the same as last year’s model. Transitioning through menus were a breeze, no slowdowns while watching videos and it could easily handle multiple apps or playing intensive games.
The Galaxy Tab S 10.5 was praised for being a great performer and looking at the specs of both models beside each other shows little difference between them. Owners of last year’s model, might find very little value in upgrading to the Tab S2. This just shows that the hardware from last year or the previous year before it is still more than adequate.
My unit has the latest version of Android 5.1.1 Lollipop meshed together with Samsung’s Touchwiz. It’s lighter, faster and more refined than previous versions and stripped of useless gimmicky features that add no value for the end user. Samsung still offers its own apps but most of them are not installed. The majority of them can be found living in the Galaxy App store in case you miss any of them. I prefer this approach, allowing the user to decide which apps stay and go. However, there are still a few apps pre-installed such as the Microsoft Office suite and OneDrive but these are actually useful.
Besides that you still have some of the core software features that make a Samsung device. Multi-window allows you to use two apps side-by-side and Flipboard to retrieve your news, by simply swiping from the left side of the home screen to the right. Samsung’s browser is still there as well, but I’m sure most will switch to Chrome.
Battery Life & Storage
Like I mentioned previously, Samsung made the tablet really thin and because of this they had to sacrifice battery size. The battery is a 5870mAh battery, which is smaller than last year’s Tab S that shipped with a 7900mAh one. The battery life is inferior compared to other tablets but it will get you a day and a half to two days of moderate use. Unlike the Galaxy S6 and Note 5, it doesn’t have fast charging or wireless charging to help make up for the smaller battery size.
The Tab S2 comes with either 32 or 64GB of storage space and both have the option to insert a micro SD card that supports up to 128GB.
The Galaxy Tab S2 has an 8-megapixel rear-facing shooter and a 2.1MP front-facing camera. While I don’t recommend making this your primary camera or any tablet for that matter, it does a decent job at taking photos. From my experience, the photos turned out sharp, colourful and snapping photos is fairly fast. Strangely, double tapping the home button doesn’t bring you directly into the camera app, which I find to be very useful when using the Galaxy Note 5 or S6 Edge Plus. The front-facing shooter does well for video conferencing and the rear camera shoots QHD video.
Samsung did a great job updating the Galaxy Tab S2 in areas that matter the most. It’s thinner, lighter, easier to hold, and the display is absolutely gorgeous. The battery life is not as good as last year’s model and the tablet overall doesn’t do enough for me to be blown away by it.
So who should buy this? Well, if you’re an original Tab S owner it’s not worth the upgrade. If you’re someone who wants to spend over $500 on a premium Android tablet, this is one of the very few options. But for the rest out there who just want a tablet to watch movies, browse the net and read books, there are plenty of cheaper options that do the job just fine.