Galaxy Tab S review: The screen's the thing with this iPad rival

Mike Homnick

Today's Best Tech Deals

Picked by PCWorld's Editors

Top Deals On Great Products

Picked by Techconnect's Editors

At a Glance
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5

  • Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4

Samsung’s tablet lineup can feel a bit crowded—it already offers Tab and Note devices, each with its own Pro version. And the Galaxy Tab S announced earlier this month adds another tablet to the mix. Good thing, then, that the Tab S 8.4 and 10.5 are among Samsung’s best tablets yet.

galaxytabs Mike Homnick

There’s a lot going on with the Tab S, and after a quick read of the spec sheet, it’s easy to see that Samsung had its sights on perfection. While you’ll still find some of the company’s standard features and unfortunate plastic build materials, the entire package seems more well-thought-out than some of its other products.

Read the full review of the Galaxy Tab S at

With the Tab S, the great screens that adorn Samsung’s smartphones are now available in tablet form. The screen on the Tab S looks stunning, but it may be something that only enthusiasts will seek out. AMOLED displays are bright and offer deep blacks, but you’ll find that the colors are usually over-saturated throughout. Personally, I like the touch of over-saturation on the display, especially when viewing already-vivid colors.

With display resolutions of 2560x1600 (that’s slightly higher than the resolution of the iPad Air), text and images on the Tab S tablets are ultra crisp. Given that both tablets share the same resolution, this gives the 8.4-inch Tab S a higher PPI (pixels per inch) spec of 359, as opposed to the 287 PPI found on the 10.5-inch model.

galaxytabs 7 Mike Homnick

Just because the display on the Tab S is ultra vibrant and bright doesn’t mean that you’ll always want it to be. Luckily, Samsung has a few tricks of its own to help you adjust the brightness and tone of the gorgeous screen. No matter the content you’re viewing—an ebook, a movie, or even a website—the Tab S will have a setting for it, as Samsung’s Adaptive Display adjusts itself for the best viewing experience. While Adaptive Display is currently limited to only seven applications, Samsung provides three Screen Modes that work for all apps to provide optimal tone and brightness for whatever you’re viewing.

The Tab S tablets are more than just fantastic displays slapped on top of average tablets. Both sizes of the Tab S have an incredibly thin profile of 6.6mm, which is thinner than most smartphones today. The AMOLED display helps in this regard, as it doesn’t need the backlight that LCD panels do. The new tablets are also very light. With the larger Tab S weighing only 465 grams, it’s difficult to believe you’re holding a tablet with a 10.5-inch screen. As for the 8.4-inch Tab S, its 294 gram weight is almost the same as two Galaxy S5s.

The design of the Tab S line doesn’t deviate much from the aesthetic of the Galaxy S5 smartphone, but Samsung introduced a few changes to provide a more premium look and feel. The same perforated plastic of the S5 adorns the back and provides decent grip. Colors are limited to Titanium Bronze or Shimmering White, and on both of them, the edges are lined in a copper metal finish. The end result really does make the tablets look like premium devices, and not like run-of-the-mill, cheap-looking Samsung hardware.

galaxytabs 3 Mike Homnick

Classic Samsung design, for better or for worse

Rather than try to woo customers with hardware alone, Samsung has struck deals with content providers. From a free 3-month subscription to Marvel Unlimited to a year’s worth of Bloomberg BusinessWeek, buying a Tab S gives you a wealth of content. Looking for a good magazine to read? Head over to Samsung’s Paper Garden app, and you’ll find some of Condé Nast’s best offerings. GQ, Vogue, Vanity Fair, and other popular magazines can be found here, all of which look great on the high-resolution display. 

If you just want to curl up with a good ebook, Samsung has you covered here, too. Kindle for Samsung is a customized app for the Tab S, and not only brings you the massive ebook store from Amazon, but also one free ebook a month via Samsung Book Deals.

The software experience on the Tab S line isn’t going to surprise anyone. The custom interface on Samsung’s latest tablets is a tweaked TouchWiz, focusing on a magazine-like experience designed with larger screens in mind. The software is hardly perfect, and can lag a bit from time to time, though not often. Given the heavy customization in the user interface, the tablet’s 3GB of RAM will likely be put to good use.

The Exynos 5 Octa processor powering the Tab S provides a snappy and fluid experience, though it’s been known to be a bit of a battery hog at times. Luckily, even with the insanely bright display on these tablets, the battery sipped power gracefully when I was using either device. After about four hours of heavy use on the 8.4 inch Tab S, the 4,900 mAh battery had only gone down to 84 percent with the screen brightness cranked all the way up. Streaming HD video had an obvious impact on battery life, but nothing dramatically different from the competition. The 10.5-inch Tab S fared slightly better in similar use (it has a larger battery to accommodate its larger display)

The bottom line

The Tab S offers a double threat, first with its high-res Super AMOLED display and then with an incredibly thin profile. Add to fact that both the 8.4- and 10.5-inch versions are lighter than the iPad Mini and iPad Air, and Samsung’s latest flagship tablets are bound to turn heads.

If the display and thinness of the Tab S line aren’t enough to get you excited, the free content Samsung bundles with these tablets should be enough to keep you busy for a while. Samsung may churn out tablet after smartphone after tablet, but the Tab S duo offers enough appealing features to stand out in a crowded field.

Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.
At a Glance
Shop Tech Products at Amazon