Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 8.0 review: A slender wonder
Harder, better, faster, stronger. It’s almost as if Daft Punk had travelled into the future and written a song about Samsung’s new pair of Android tablets. Picking up where the Galaxy Tab S left off, the 8in and 9.7in Galaxy Tab S2 are designed to fill that premium-priced Android hole in your life – and give Apple’s iPad mini 4 and iPad Air 3 a run for their money while they’re at it.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S2: Features and design
The first of Samsung’s new double-act to arrive in Alphr’s offices is the 8in model – and it’s quite, quite lovely. Emerging from its packaging in a flurry of crinkly plastic and sparkly cardboard (no expense spared here), the Tab S2 is the very definition of compact loveliness, all slender metal shaped to perfection. Okay, that sounds like every compact tablet on the market these days, but it’s fair to say that the Tab S2 8in really is thin. Measuring 5.6mm from the glass at the front to its flat aluminium rear, it’s as barely-there as tablets come, and gets to briefly wear the “thinnest tablet in the world” crown until the next claimant arrives.
In fact, it’s so thin that the (surprisingly decent) 8MP camera at the rear juts out by a couple of millimetres, a tiny metal ring serving to protect the oh-so-slightly inset F1.9 lens so you don’t end up scratching it every time you plonk it on a table. Thankfully, the pared-down design doesn’t mean that Samsung has struggled to accommodate all the usual premium Android tablet features: you get nippy 802.11ac Wi-Fi (or 4G for around £60 more), Bluetooth 4.1, a front-facing 2.1MP camera for selfie emergencies and there’s also a microSD slot to expand on the standard 32GB of storage.
All told, this looks and feels exactly like a high-end Android tablet should. Despite weighing a feathery 265g – a whole 66g lighter than the Apple iPad mini 3 – the metal shell is taut and almost completely flex-free. Unlike other compact Android tablets we’ve seen that attempt to muster high-end appeal – such as the plastic and fake-leather Asus ZenPad S 8.0 – everything about the Galaxy Tab S2 feels properly expensive.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S2: Display
Which brings me neatly onto the Tab S2’s screen. Just look at it (I know you can’t, but bear with me). The Tab S2’s Super AMOLED display is absolutely delicious. On a practical note, the 4:3 aspect ratio screen feels more spacious than the 16:10 displays on the previous Tab S tablets, but it’s the image quality that truly impresses.
At its default settings, Samsung has decided that its display technology is best demonstrated by bombarding your eyeballs with the excessive, over-saturated colours of its Adaptive display mode. Delve into the menus, however, and the boring-sounding Basic mode provides some of the most well-balanced images you’re likely to ever see on a tablet.
Other tablets can keep pace with the Tab S2 for pixel density – the 2,048 x 1,536 resolution is becoming commonplace these days – but the quality is superb. Our X-Rite i1Display Pro colorimeter reported a maximum brightness of 334cd/m2 (and contrast is effectively infinite due to the AMOLED technology), while the Basic mode successfully reproduced nearly 99% of the sRGB colour space. Everything looks perfectly natural and well-balanced, much more so than any other compact tablet on the market.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S2: Performance and battery life
Samsung has given the Tab S2 something of an upgrade when it comes to performance. The 3GB of RAM and octa-core Exynos 7 5433 processor are by no means a cutting-edge combo. This is the same chip found in the year-old Galaxy Note 4 smartphone, but it’s still quick by tablet standards. It makes for a tablet that feels superbly slick, darting back and forth eagerly between menus and applications, and scrolling smoothly through complex webpages.
Its results of 1,256 and 4,276 in the single- and multi-core elements of the Geekbench 3 benchmark outpace every other compact tablet on the market, and isn’t a long way behind larger premium contenders such as the Apple iPad Air 2.
It isn’t an across-the-board victory, however, and despite making a good improvement over the previous generation, gaming performance still isn’t up with the best. An average frame rate of 20fps in the GFXBench 3.1 T-Rex HD onscreen test isn’t bad by any means, but the Intel Atom hardware in the Asus ZenPad S 8.0 manages 26fps and the Apple A8 chip in the Apple iPad mini 2 and iPad mini 3 edges in front with 23fps. In fairness, there’s more than enough pixel-mashing power here to take on any of the latest Android games, though.
As ever, Samsung hasn’t been able to resist tinkering with stock Android. It’s also a slight disappointment that the Tab S2 ships with Android 5.0.2 beavering away under the TouchWiz skin rather than the very latest build, but it’s no great loss – Samsung has promised that an upgrade will surface soon enough.
Thankfully, though, the TouchWiz UI doesn’t clutter up the tablet with much in the way of fluff. There’s a clock and a weather widget centre-stage on the homescreen, a few apps scattered around such as Samsung’s S Planner calendar app, Samsung’s app store and the Microsoft Office apps, and the Briefing newsfeed screen, which pops up when you swipe right on the homescreen. If the Samsung apps really get your goat, then you may find it annoying that you can’t uninstall many of them, but they never bothered me.
There’s one glaring problem with the fad for ever-slimmer tablets, however – it leaves precious little room for things like, you know, the battery. And as the Tab S2 now relies on a relatively small 4,000mAh power unit, which is 18% smaller than its predecessor, you’d expect stamina to take a hit. The move from a 28nm processor to a slightly more efficient 20nm CPU seems to have done the trick, though. With the screen calibrated to our usual 120cd/m2, and Wi-Fi switched off, the Samsung kept going for a creditable 14hrs 54mins. Gaming was the only area where the Tab S2 fell significantly off the pace. In the GFXBench battery benchmark, the Tab S2 achieved a middling result of 3hrs 56mins. By comparison, the iPad mini 3 lasted over an hour longer.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S2: Verdict
So, what’s the catch? The only catch is, as it turns out, that if all the above has well and truly sold you on the 8in Galaxy Tab S2, then you’ll now need to go and find £300. That’s a lot of money for an 8in tablet these days. If you can abide an extra couple of inches, then that kind of cash will get you a 32GB Nexus 9 and leave you change for a round at the pub (although not, admittedly, if it’s in London). And then there’s the 32GB iPad mini 2 at £259. Decisions, decisions.
The Samsung is a great tablet, though, at any price. The most important aspect of any tablet is the screen, and here the Galaxy Tab S2 just knocks it clean out of the park. Everything from movies to games to animated GIFs look utterly stupendous – so good, in fact, that I regularly found myself picking up the Tab S2 in preference to my iPad mini 2. Yes, it’s bloody expensive, but it’s also refined, dainty and runs Android – and some people love that kind of thing. If that’s just what you’ve been looking for, you should probably go out and buy one.