Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 review
Stupendously good hardware, but lags narrowly behind the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet as our Android tablet of choice
Samsung may rule the roost when it comes to Android smartphones, but the Korean firm hasn’t yet stamped its dominance on the tablet sector. Now, Samsung is hoping to change all that with the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5in, which packs in a Retina-beating AMOLED display and a whole host of high-end features. See also: what's the best tablet of 2014?
Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 review: display
The most notable feature is its stunning 10.5in, 2,560 x 1,600-resolution Super AMOLED screen. Alongside its sibling, the Tab S 8.4in (which we’ll post a review of in the coming days), it’s the only tablet on the market to feature such a panel. When you turn it on, it stops you dead in your tracks: graphics and images jump out of the screen in a way that they simply don’t with IPS-based screens – such as on the Apple iPad Air or Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet – and darker scenes teem with inky blacks and oodles of detail.
That’s because the pixels on AMOLED screens each have their own light source, which can be switched off to achieve perfect black. Other LCD technologies employ a backlight that lights the whole panel while it’s on, so blacks are ever so slightly grey.
It’s a fabulous screen, but we did have to tinker with it to get it looking its best. In the default “adaptive” mode, which changes colour balance and intensity based on what’s on screen, the Tab S’s display was a little too luminous – it wasn’t colour accurate in the slightest. This presented itself in movies with actors looking like they’d had one too many sessions at a fake tanning salon.
Luckily, this can be toned down using the Display Mode presets. We found the Basic setting provided the best colour accuracy, without negatively impacting on the AMOLED display’s punch and presence.
As easy as it is to fall in love with the Tab S‘s screen, though, it’s worth stating that AMOLED technology has a couple of key flaws. First, maximum brightness isn’t as high as it is on the best IPS displays. You can see this in our test results: measured with a colorimeter, the Tab S 10.5 only reaches a maximum 276cd/m2, where the best IPS screens hit 400cd/m2 and above. In a train carriage, where bright sunlight was streaming through the window, this tablet wasn’t as readable as an iPad Air set to maximum brightness, for example.
Over time, AMOLED displays also suffer from screen burn, so depending on how much you’ll use it, the Tab S 10.5 may not look quite so good a few years from now.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 review: design
Tear your eyes away from the display, however, and the Galaxy Tab S 10.5 is a rather handsome device. It’s amazingly thin, measuring a waif-like 6.6mm between the glass at the front and the rear panel. It’s extremely light too: at 465g, you’ll barely notice it in your bag, and holding it up to watch a movie or read won’t prove tiring at all. It isn’t quite as light as the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet, and doesn’t have that product’s water-resistant sealing. However, we prefer the shape of the Samsung: its rounded edges and corners make it the more comfortable tablet of the two to hold for long periods. Our only minor moan is that although the narrow, bronze-framed bezels look great, they make it tricky to pick up the tablet without activating the touchscreen accidentally.
The Tab S 10.5’s rear panel is made entirely from plastic, and there’s a pair of rather ugly-looking circular sockets where the official cover snaps in. It isn’t cheap-feeling, but it’s far from being as luxurious and solid-feeling as the iPad Air’s aluminium chassis.
On the plus side, the Galaxy Tab S comprehensively outstrips the iPad Air when it comes to connectivity. In keeping with Samsung’s traditions, there’s a microSD slot capable of accepting cards up to 128GB in size, the microUSB socket supports MHL for HDMI video output to your TV, wireless stretches to dual-band 802.11ac, and there’s an infrared transceiver along the top edge of the tablet, which means you can put it to use as a giant universal remote control. To cap it all, the Tab S 10.5in is available as a 4G tablet for a premium of around £80; Apple’s premium is £100.
Disappointingly, there’s no stylus with this tablet, but Samsung noses in front of Apple once more by including a fingerprint scanner. It’s built into the home button and works in the same way as the scanner on the Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone; the centrally mounted home button isn’t a terribly convenient position for it, though.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 review: core hardware and performance
Samsung tops impressive connectivity and features with an equally fine-looking line-up of core components. At the heart of this ultra-thin tablet lies a Samsung Exynos 5 Octa SoC, which has eight cores (four running at 1.9GHz, four at 1.3GHz), 3GB of RAM, a base storage allocation of 16GB and Mali-T628 MP6 graphics.
This is the same spec as the larger, Samsung Galaxy NotePRO 12.2 – and, not surprisingly, delivers benchmark results that are in the same ballpark. It completed the SunSpider test in 478ms, gained single- and multicore scores of 741 and 1,769 in Geekbench 3, and 14fps in the GFXBench gaming test. As with its larger sibling, the Tabs S 10.5’s high resolution hits gaming performance hard. The iPad Air scored 21fps in the latter test, while the 1080p Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet gained 28fps.
The Tab S 10.5 feels perfectly responsive, however. There were very few occasions when the tablet slowed significantly, and even its rather fussy Magazine UX tile-based newsfeed was smooth as butter.
Battery life was impressive in our tests, with the power-efficient AMOLED screen really paying dividends. In flight mode, with the display set to 120cd/m2, the Tab S 10.5 lasted 13hrs 26mins before hitting 5% capacity; the screen then dimmed automatically and continued for a further 31 minutes before expiring. That’s a highly impressive showing, and is beaten only by the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet (14hrs 38mins) and the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9in (16hrs 3mins).
It’s also good to see that the camera hasn’t been completely overlooked. The Tab S’s 8-megapixel rear camera, which is accompanied by a single LED flash, captures clean, clear stills and decent 1080p video as well. There’s also a front-facing 2.1-megapixel camera for video conferencing, but this wasn’t so great; we weren’t particularly impressed with the sideways-facing speakers, either, which aren’t particularly loud or full bodied.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 review: software
Whether or not you like the way Samsung skins Android 4.4 with its TouchWiz front-end, or the way it bloats every product with a dizzyingly long list of preloaded apps, there’s no denying there are some gems here.
Among the more useful features are SmartStay, which keeps the screen on while you’re looking at it (handy if you use your tablet for reading ebooks); the multiwindow mode, which lets you line up two apps side by side; and the new SideSync feature, which allows you to drag files back and forth between the Samsung Galaxy smartphone and the tablet, and even answer calls without picking up your handset.
We’re not so keen on Magazine UX, Samsung’s FlipBoard-style tiled newsfeed, which sits permanently to the left of the main homescreen, but there’s enough here to forgive such niggles – Samsung sweetens the deal with a three-month Now TV Movies trial and 50GB of Dropbox storage for two years.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 review: verdict
As with most of Samsung’s recent flagship mobile products, the Galaxy Tab S 10.5 is an excellent tablet that we’d be more than happy to own. It’s packed with useful features, the screen is beautiful, both battery life and performance are top-notch and the design is the very definition of svelte.
However, in a head-to-head against our current favourite Android 10in tablet, it just misses out on the win. The differences are small, but the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet’s better battery life, water-resistance and slightly faster performance mean that this Samsung - fantastic although it is - slips marginally behind.
|Warranty||2 yr return to base|
|Dimensions||247 x 6.6 x 177mm (WDH)|
|Resolution screen horizontal||2,560|
|Resolution screen vertical||1,600|
|Display type||Super AMOLED|
|CPU frequency, MHz||1.9GHz|
|Camera megapixel rating||8.0mp|
|Built-in flash type||Single LED|
|Upstream USB ports||0|
|Mobile operating system||Android 4.4|