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Get the verdict on the hottest new kit
With quite a few months still to go before the latest iPad rebuff is expected, the time is now for Samsung’s Android tablets to stamp their authority. Good thing the new flagship Galaxy Tab S does just that, by adding a fingerprint sensor and software extras that beat iOS 8 to the punch. But is it enough?
The Tab S design is certainly a step in the right direction, slim and stylish, with the grey plastic of old replaced with shiny metallic-style edging and a perforated soft-touch back that you will have decided you like or not if you’ve held a Galaxy S5. It feels premium, even if plastic still dominates rather than aluminium. These are arguably the best-looking tablets anyone’s made outside of Cupertino.
We say “these” as the Tab S is available in two screen sizes, an iPad Mini-troubling 8.4 inches and an iPad Air-challenging 10.5 inches. We’re delving into the bigger of the two, which manages to be 1mm thinner and a smidgeon lighter than the Air; well, plastic is lighter than aluminium. But unlike the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet, which is thinner and lighter again, the Tab S doesn’t have a huge display bezel.
Speaking of that display, it’s just like the Galaxy S5 but on a much larger scale, bright and sharp. Its 2560x1600 resolution trumps Apple’s Retina displays and the Super AMOLED tech makes it stunningly vivid and colourful. It’s almost too dazzling at times, but at its best, this is a screen that you can’t take your eyes off.
There’s no shortage of power helping that pin-sharp screen run smoothly, either. You get a 1.9GHz octacore processor matched with 3GB of RAM that runs Android 4.4 without any stutter or slow down and keeps everything swift and responsive.
The camera suite is a pretty standard affair, with an eight-megapixel sensor at the rear and a 2.1-meg one up front, both shooting in 1080p at up to 30fps. The results are decent, but then a tablet is hardly the ideal device for taking photos. Without the flashy addition of 4K video offered by Sony’s Xperia Z2 Tablet, it doesn’t deliver much wow factor, although shots do shine on
that pixel-packed screen. You also have plenty of space to store your snaps, as the microSD card slot lets you add up to 128GB storage on top of your chosen 16GB or 32GB in the handset. Invest in a reasonably priced card and it will be a while before most will fill that kind of space.
This being a Samsung device, there’s plenty of intriguing/faddy innovations. Much like the S5, the Tab S has had everything thrown at it. The heart-rate monitor is missing, but we’d argue that a fairly sensible exclusion.
You do get the fingerprint sensor, though, offering a simple way to unlock the screen and authorise PayPal transactions, which means you can buy apps from Google Play and shop from a currently limited number of online stores. It’s a neat trick and the partnership has the potential to be really useful. Yet it’s not as easy to use as Apple’s TouchID, with you having to swipe your finger exactly down from the home button rather than just resting your thumb in place, and we found accuracy to be sporadic.
What other tricks has Samsung ported over from the S5? Well, there’s the front-facing camera that watches your eyes continuously to tell if you’re reading the screen, turning itself off if your interest wanes. An infra-red blaster in the slate’s top edge also means you can use it as a sophisticated, if over-engineered TV controller; try losing this remote down the back of the sofa. Elsewhere, the TouchWiz menu swipes in from the side to offer quick shortcuts to contacts, email, and more, plus there’s the Flipboard personal magazine home screen popularised on earlier Galaxy models (but still bettered by HTC’s Blinkfeed).
In fact, Android 4.4 already offers a raft of features that will not hit Apple tablets till iOS 8 lands this spring. Most obvious is SideSync 3.0, which lets you view your phone’s screen on the tab, with texts and call functionality; alas call forwarding only works if you have a side-act S5 at present. You can also sync work from your home desktop thanks to Remote PC, which works a lot like we imagine Apple Handoff will.
As with the S5, the Tab S also comes with a care package of free software. Thankfully this isn’t the bloatware we’ve criticised Samsung for in the past, but genuinely desirable stuff, such as a free three-month subscription to Marvel Comics and a six-month trial for music-streaming service Deezer. These can be found in a widget called Galaxy Gifts alongside a smattering of free games and apps, which sits next door to Samsung’s own-brand efforts including a video editor, scrapbook and its football app. Not keen? Well, they’re not preloaded, so only download what suits.
Of course, the elephant in the room is
that Android still isn’t as advanced in the tablet app department as Apple. Sure, it has the overall numbers to boast, but Google Play tablet fare is really hit and miss, having to stretch to fit various screen sizes and rarely optimised.
There’s no question about it, though, this
the slickest android tablet around, with extras you won’t yet find on the ipad
is the best tablet Samsung has made yet and it’s arguably the slickest, most effective full-size Android slate currently available. There are plenty of toys to place with, from the fingerprint sensor to NFC inter-device connectivity, a swathe of fresh software additions (see Killer Features, right) and the slim, light styling is a big step on from the plastic monstrosities of the past.
These specs should win it plenty of fans in the dead zone before the next iPad announcement, and Android die-hards will declare it king, but we do find it still falls behind Apple in terms of ease of use and apps. You makes your choices… 10.5-inch From $599, 8.4-inch from $479 SAMSUNG.CO m/au , out now Love Slick, stylish design. Stunningly bright screen. Powerful performer. Plenty of innovatory gimmicks Hate Main fingerprint-sensor gimmick needs work. Build’s still plastic. Android tablets apps a bit patchy T3 Says Samsung’s best tablet to date is slicker, slimmer and sexier, but not quite an iPad beater