Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 Review: The Best Tablet Screen Yet

Encased in a thin and light body, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 is an attractive tablet will demand attention from buyers. The Super AMOLED display looks stunningly good, making it arguably the best screen available on a tablet today. Some people won’t like the plastic construction or “band-aid” back design, but it doesn’t feel cheap and would deserve our GottaBeMobile Editor’s Choice Award if weren’t for the bloatware that gobbles up a third of the storage. It’s still the best seven-to-eight inch Android tablet available and easily Samsung’s best effort yet.

samsung galaxy tab s 8.4

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4-inch tablet is the company’s best effort yet.

Samsung sells two sizes of their new flagship Android 4.4.2 KitKat tablet. They both feature a Super AMOLED display that’s second to none. Buyers can get their hands on the Wi-Fi versions and carriers will start selling LTE versions as well. The 8.4-inch Tab S costs $399.99 while the 10.5-inch sells for $499.99. Add $50 for the 32GB 10.5-inch model.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 Video Review

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 Design

People criticize Samsung for their plastic design and the back that some laughingly called the “band-aid” back. Detractors don’t mention the incredibly thin and light design that’s just 6.6mm and weighs 465g. That’s only slightly heavier than the iPad mini with Retina or Nexus 7 from 2013, but they’re only 7.9-inch and 7-inch tablets, which explains the lighter weight. The Tab S doesn’t feel that much heavier thanks to a sturdy, well-balanced design and the plastic case.

Samsung’s hardware doesn’t look better than Apple’s, but most users hide that pretty design inside a protective case anyway. The Tab S does look much nicer than the Nexus 7.

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samsung galaxy tab s back

Some called it the band-aid back, but the texture makes it easier to hold onto.

Our review unit came with the attractive Titanium Bronze finish, but Samsung also sells what they call Dazzling White. The bezel around the screen on our unit looks dark and there’s a light gold trim around it that tapers to the edges. A dimpled back gives users some grip as they hold the Tab S.

samsung galaxy tab s bottom

The bottom of the front holds a fingerprint reader. The edge holds a micro-USB, stereo jack and speaker.

The home button on the bottom front also lets the user unlock the tablet with a swipe of the fingerprint. It’s not as easy to use as Apple’s Touch ID system, but it’s nice to have.

One of the two speakers, the headphone jack and micro-USB port sits at the bottom of the tablet when held in portrait mode. The left side is clean and bare, while the power/volume buttons are on the top right side. An infrared blaster lets users control their home entertainment system using the WatchON app. It’s below the buttons and next to a micro-SD card slot that reads cards up to 128GB.

samsung galaxy tab s side

One side holds the power and volume buttons, IR blaster to control TV and micro-SD card for expansion up to 128GB.

On back we see the camera, flash and two holes used to attach the Samsung Book Cover. More on that below.

The other speaker rest on the top. The tablet’s speakers, separated by the screen, give more of a stereo sound than the iPad’s single speaker at the bottom. They’re also louder and sound better.

samsung galaxy tab s top

The speakers on the top and bottom offer better sound than most tablets of this size.

Samsung left out an NFC chip and didn’t include wireless charging, which we get on the Google Nexus 7. Wireless charging makes it convenient: just lay the tablet on a wireless charging pad. Few tablets include this option. We do get the full range of Wi-Fi standards and Bluetooth 4.0.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S Display

The first look at the Super AMOLED screen on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S stuns buyers. It’s simply beautiful, and easily the best tablet screen available today. The colors look rich, with solid blacks and accurate color temperature. Text displays crisp enough for hours of comfortable reading. Games and movies both look great.

samsung galaxy tab s glossy screen

The glossy screen is hard to view in direct light.

Sadly, the glossy screen makes it hard to use in direct light. This is one of only a couple of complaints about this tablet.

After opening the box, boot the device and treat yourself to the video Samsung included on the tablet. It’s not 3D but nearly looks it. The color brightness and image quality makes everything look better. Watching streaming video even looked better than it does on most larger HD screens.

The screen never looked pixellated and handled every video, web page, game and picture thrown at it.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S Camera

samsung galaxy tab s camera

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S offers a decent 8MP back camera.

Most people don’t buy tablet to take pictures, but it’s nice to have so we can video chat online, grab snaps when there’s nothing else or to scan documents at a meeting.

See our 15 Tips for Using the iPhone 5s Camera for More Than Taking Pictures and use them with your tablet camera.

The Galaxy Tab S front facing 2.1MP camera will shoot selfies for fun and video for hangouts or Skype calls.

The rear 8M camera includes flash. Most tablet users feel awkward taking shots with a big slab of glass. The beautiful display actually makes it satisfying.

Samsung includes a lot of the crazy modes that we get in the Samsung Galaxy S5. See the panning mode in the gallery below. Also notice the up close shot of the football player figurine: it’s a bit blurry, which comes from holding an awkward slab of glass and plastic while trying to take a close up shot.

See some sample images below:

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The video looks decent from both the front and back cameras. See below.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S Performance

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S makes good use of the fast octa-core processor and 3GB of RAM to boot quickly and run games, play videos and handle multi-tasking with ease. There’s not a scenario imaginable where this tablet won’t keep up.

We get a 4900mAh battery, which translates into good performance. With normal use, including reading with Amazon Kindle, streaming video via Netflix, Play Movies and YouTube as well as checking email a few times a day plus Internet usage, it lasts a good ten hours on a single charge. That’s about average for tablets. Gamers and heavy video users will drain it faster, but most can go all day.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S Software

screenshot of PIM widget

Samsung offers a full-screen PIM widget with calendar, docs and email.

Android 4.4.2 and Samsung’s latest version of Touchwiz adorns the Samsung Galaxy Tab S. Like the complaints about plastic, people slam Samsung for loading down their devices with apps and burdensome interface enhancements. The complaints about plastic don’t fit the Tab S, but the bloat issue does.

Samsung did a better job with this tablet, letting the user choose whether to download some of the apps or camera modes. However, there’s still a load of apps some may not use and can’t remove without hacking their tablet. On a fresh 16GB Samsung Galaxy Tab S the user only gets 10GB of space. Android 4.4.2 Kitkat makes using a micro-SD for anything other than storing media near impossible without rooting. If Samsung made apps like Dropbox, Netflix, Papergarden and WebEx optional downloads, that would help. They make money from these companies by sticking the user with these apps that we can’t remove.

samsung kids mode

Kids Mode locks down the tablet so kids can’t buy apps or use adult apps and websites.

Some of the pre-installed tools will benefit users. Parents will like Samsung Kids Mode, which lets parents lock down the tablet so kids can’t run up a huge Google Play Store or Galaxy Apps store bill. Parents can protect the tablet with a password and only give access to apps they want their kids to use. All they have to do is turn on Kids Mode and then run it before handing it over to little Susie on the long car ride to Grandma’s.

The Home screen comes with a number of apps and widgets. Swipe left to show two screens with full-page widgets. One gives users a personal information management screen with calendar, office documents and email. The second provides news and other information.

Both of these full-page widgets use tiles that the user can customize. Tap and hold to remove a tile and then tap the widgets button at the bottom of the screen to add a new one. Users can include news panes, app shortcuts, social networks and more.

change the full screen widgets

Change the full-screen widget by tapping and holding on a pane and removing it and then adding a new one from the Widgets button at the bottom.

WatchON offers a widget that opens a TV Guide and remote control app. It’s easy to program for most TV and Satellite or Cable boxes. This makes the Tab S a great living room companion while watching TV or looking for something to watch.

Touchwiz, Samsung’s overlay on top of Android 4.4.2, brings out strong emotions. Some like it while others hate it, preferring stock Android or another manufacturer’s overlay. Touchwiz is now cleaner than older versions and doesn’t get in the way as much. As a long time Samsung users, it feels natural.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S Book Cover

samsung galaxy tab s book cover

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S Book Cover is expensive but doesn’t feel like it.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S case protects the tablet and comes in 5 colors with two styles in each color. We tested the Book Cover, which includes a small magnetic flap to hold cover closed. This flap gets annoying, so choose the Simple Cover that doesn’t have it and costs $20 less.

book cover connects with two buttons

Press hard to attach these two white buttons to the holes on the back of the Tab S.

The case integrates with the Tab S thanks to a pair of connectors on the back of the tablet and wakes the screen when opening it. The Book Cover has two buttons on the inside that snap into the holes on the back of the tablet. They don’t install easily, but also don’t fall off.

The case holds the tablet in stand mode for easy viewing, typing and general use.

stand mode

Installing the cover took so much force it seemed like the screen might break. It didn’t, so push hard to get it installed. Unlike other covers, the user can hold the tablet by the cover itself and it won’t fall off.

back of the book cover

Book Cover back.

The fine texture feels a little annoying and the green cover pictured isn’t the best color. They also cost too much at $60. Hopefully third parties will integrate the attachment mechanism and offer better and cheaper cases.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S Review Unit Specs

  • Chipset: Samsung Exynos 5 Octa-core 5420 1.9Ghz processor
  • Display: 8.4-inch 2560 x 1600 pixels
  • Internal Storage: 16GB
  • microSD Slot: Accommodates up to 128GB
  • Battery: 4,900 mAh
  • Android 4.4.2 KitKat
  • Dimensions: 212.8 x 125.6 x 6.6mm
  • Weight: 465g
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac MIMO and Wi-Fi Direct
  • Bluetooth 4.0 LE

Samsung Galaxy Tab S Review Verdict

Samsung did a great job in their latest Android device. The Samsung Galaxy Tab S screen alone deserves high praise. Add the useful fingerprint reader, a nice look, thin and light construction and a fast fluid user-interface, and it makes for one of the best tablets in the seven-to-eight inch range.

Compare it to the Google Nexus 7, now a full year old, and the Apple iPad mini with Retina, also introduced last year, for good alternatives. Others recommend the LG G Pad as a third possible competitor. As an Android user, I’d choose the Galaxy Tab S over both of its Android competitors. Due to hardware design and construction, Apple still beats Samsung in a head-to-head comparison, but the gap got narrower. Android fans can rest assured. Their Apple wielding friends don’t get much more tablet for the same price.

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If Samsung would remove the bloatware, they have an even better tablet with the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4.

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