Android tablet makers try to keep up with the Apple iPad juggernaut. The latest comes from Samsung with their refreshed Samsung Galaxy Tab S2, the most current in a long line of Galaxy Tab tablets. The tablet gets some key updates, but also comes with a few confusing changes that seem like a step backwards.
How does the new Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 ($399.99) compare to the old Tab S and the competition? Should Android tablet buyers give it a serious look? Finally, does it compete well with the iPad mini 4 recently released by Apple?
Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 Design
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 comes in three color options, gold (above), black (reviewed here) and white (below). They look nice for a rectangular slab of plastic, metal and glass.
Samsung shaved some girth and weight off the Samsung Galaxy Tab S for the Tab S2. For example, the new tablet measures 9.35 ounces compared to 10.37 for last year’s model. The Tab S2 feels light and comfortable to hold while using it. It is also incredibly thin.
Last year’s Tab S measured 8.37″ x 4.94″ x 0.26″. The new one measures 7.82″ x 5.31″ x 0.22″. While that may not sound like much of a difference, the ratio changed with the shorter but wider design. Samsung also made it slightly thinner, affecting battery life. More on that later.
The Galaxy Tab S2 does not stand out from the other thin slabs of glass on the market. It has a smooth back with an angled edge along the two longer sides instead of a sharp 90 degree angle from the back to the side. Samsung also gave it rounded corners. This feels better while holding it, especially with one hand. People with small hands won’t want to do that.
On front we get a home button that doubles as a fast and accurate fingerprint reader. Unlocking the tablet with a finger takes less than a second, much like the new Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and iPhone 6S Plus.
The power and volume buttons rest on the upper right edge with the tablet in portrait mode. They are solid and do not wiggle in place like many cheaper tablets and phones.
The bottom edge holds stereo speakers and a headphone/mic combo jack. That’s also where we find the micro-USB port. The tablet produces great sound while plugged into quality headphones. The speakers themselves sound okay.
Samsung puts two connectors on the back right used to attach a proprietary cover (see image above of old Tab S which works the same). In our review of the earlier version of the Tab S Samsung cover, we said that the snaps proved difficult to connect and it took too much force to remove the cover from the tablet. The older Tab S felt like it might break while un-snapping the cover from these two connectors. Since it works the same way, I assume it will suffer from the same problem. Samsung might have fixed it, but I didn’t trust the case enough to buy one. I mention it as a warning for those who might want to get the Samsung Book Case.
The back camera protrudes from the tablet making it a little wobbly when placed flat on its back. The protruding design also means the tablet will not lay flat without a case. This is a minor annoyance that Samsung could solve if they would forget going for the “thinnest tablet in the world” moniker. Make it a little thicker so the camera is flush with the back cover and add some battery power.
No one makes a more beautiful Android tablet display than the Samsung Galaxy Tab S and Tab S2. Their Super AMOLED displays offer incredible color accuracy and brightness. It looks stunning. Samsung ships a sample video with the tablet and it looks almost 3D.
The pixel count dropped by a few pixels to 2048 x 1536 from 2560 x 1600 for the older Tab S. As a result the pixel density dropped from 359 to 320. At this high pixel density, most people will not notice a big difference. The images it produces still look stunning. The iPad mini 4 comes with 324 ppi. After seeing all three, the difference is negligible, but the Tab S and Tab S2 look better than the iPad mini 4.
There is also a new aspect ratio on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2. The Tab S used a wider landscape screen aspect ratio like most of the 16:9 or 16:10 tablets out there. However, now we get a 4:3, which works better on a hand-held device in portrait mode. This gives us more width while reading books, magazines, surfing the web or playing games in portrait mode.
Video quality looks almost three-dimensional. Streaming video looks pretty good, even when it is not the best video quality.
The bezel is a little too large, but that is a minor complaint. It does not change the way a person uses the tablet. Some argue that a wider bezel makes it easier to hold a tablet without touching the screen. I disagree, but I won’t hold this against the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 considering they got everything else right on the display.
Power and Battery Life
Samsung bumped the RAM on this tablet from 2GB in the Tab S to 3GB which results in better gaming performance along with better performance in general. It uses the same speed processor, an Exynos Octa-core processor running at 1.9GHz.
The tablet runs butter smooth. Swiping from screen to screen happens fluidly and apps pop open quickly. I never experienced any performance issues, even while playing games.
Video streaming and local playback also worked beautifully. Videos played smoothly in both cases. This is a result of great graphics performance and excellent Wi-Fi speeds due to the 802.11ac Wi-Fi.
Unfortunately, the battery life does not last as long as some other Android tablets or the recent model iPads. Samsung only put a 4,000mAh battery in the tablet. This drops real-world usage well below the 10 hours promised by the manufacturer – about 20-25 percent less.
One way to get better battery life is by turning off Wi-Fi when the display is not running. This limits the tablet’s usefulness in certain situations such as downloading app updates or in-app downloads in the background. At other times users upload images or stream audio from music services all while the screen is turned off. They can not do any of these when Wi-Fi gets turned off with the screen off.
Most people do not take a lot of time considering camera quality on their tablets. We feel weird holding up a tablet to take snap shots, but many still use them that way. I use a tablet camera mainly to capture page scans, meeting notes or things written on a chalkboard or whiteboard in meetings. For that, a basic camera works. Usually this happens in bright enough rooms that a flash does not matter. That is good because the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 dropped the flash that we got on the older Tab S.
Images look fine for low-end 8MP camera. The front facing camera will work well enough for video chat sessions using Skype or Hangouts. It measures 2.1MP.
The back camera does include auto-focus and our test shots below will show you how good they look.
The new tablet comes with 32GB and 64GB options plus a micro-SD card slot with up to 128GB of potential storage for images or video. The Tab S only offered a 16GB option, something we really dinged them for in our Tab S review.
I bought a Samsung Galaxy Tab S2. However, I may return it depending on how software updates go.
Samsung made another beautiful tablet and people who know they want an Android tablet will love the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 8.0 Android tablet ($399.99). In fact it is one of the best Android tablets running Lollipop available. However, Google just announced Marshmallow (Android 6.0) and if experience predicts future results, Samsung will not update any time this year. Not to mention LTE carrier models take even longer. At the same time, Samsung confirmed to GottaBeMobile the Tab S2 will be updated to Android 6.0 Marshmallow, and T-Mobile recently announced it’s Tab S2 LTE will receive Marshmallow in the near future. This is good news for potential buyers.
Other Android tablet options include:
- Nexus 9 – not recommended since it is slow and big
- New Kindle Fire 7 for only $50 – only great if you are an Amazon customer who likes to read and watch videos on the go
- NVIDIA Shield 2 – a great gaming tablet with a stylus and plenty of power for games at the same price as the Tab S2
The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 or the new Google Nexus 6P also give the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 some stiff competition since they’re only a couple of inches smaller. The Note 5 comes with the great S Pen. Carrying a big phone means fewer things to bring with you.
The Apple iPad mini 4 also competes well with the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2. The introductory iPad mini 4 only comes with 16GB of memory. There is a 32GB version that is a better one-to-one comparison with the Tab S2 costs, but it costs $100 more than Samsung’s offering. However, buyers can find more accessories for an iPad.
Get the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 if you want a nice Android Lollipop tablet that works well for entertainment, games, business use, reading and online stuff. Android Gamers should go with the Shield. People who just want the best overall tablet should stick with the Apple iPad mini 4.