It’s not an iPad. But boy, is it close.
Here comes Samsung with the Galaxy Tab S2, the latest attempt to unleash a legitimate competitor to the iPad. Samsung’s been at it for a few years now, with mixed results, but this year, this time, it delivers a solid all-around tablet. And while the iPad is still the king, the Galaxy Tab S2 easily sits atop the Android tablet heap.
While Apple is venturing into tablet galaxies unknown (did you SEE the iPad Pro?), it’s a back-to-basics approach that drives Samsung’s latest tab. The Tab S2 is all about “thin” and “light,” and it’s about delivering a traditional form factor with traditional under-the-hood tools. For all the reinventing that Samsung’s tried to do in the smartphone space, it wants to keep it simple with its tablet, giving users things they need with few extra frills.
The result will have many fans, although those who track horsepower and demand longevity in their tablets may be disappointed.
The look and feel of the Tab S2 is its easy and obvious strength. Samsung touts this device as the market’s thinnest — and the device is ridiculously slim — a mere 5.6 mm thick. Its 256 grams of weight are distributed cleanly and evenly, the end result being a tab that’s less noticeable in your hands than the latest copy of “Muscle and Fitness” magazine.
Samsung achieves this weight by continuing to eschew an all-metal design in favor of a polycarbonate shell. This lacks that cold but solid feel that an iPad delivers, and it’s prone to smudges, but it does manage to feel comfortable and soft in your hands. Metallic trim lends a polished feel to the entire look.
The Tab S2 also gets a more friendly form factor. A year ago, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab line went with a 16:10 aspect ratio, perfect for watching movies but uncomfortable and strange for many other things, such as portrait web page viewing and reading.
Samsung dumps that experiment in favor of a more standard 4:3 aspect ratio. The results, predictably, are much improved. You can still watch movies on the 2,048×1,536 AMOLED display, and they look terrific.
Now, so do web pages, and games such as Hearthstone and Fallout Shelter, once cramped or annoying to play, feel completely natural. Hearthstone, in fact, is so stable and beautiful and the lush Tab S2 screen that I now play it almost exclusively on the Tab S2.
Samsung also brings over several of the features that have helped define the Tab line, highlighted by expandable memory. The Tab S2 only includes 32GB of onboard memory, but that can be expanded by 128GB via a microSD card slot. Oddly, one of Samsung’s more unique features does not make a return: There’s no infrared blaster here, so this tablet cannot control your TV.
The hardware is slightly lackluster, a shortcoming for anyone thinking ahead. The quad-core CPU does its job effectively, and browsing is snappy, graphics in games solid. But the Exynos unit in the Tab S2 is also the same as last year’s Galaxy Note 4 smartphone. What’s speedy today and was speedy last year is destined to be dated sometime next year, potentially leading to annoying slowdown.
Battery life, meanwhile, won’t blow you away. You’ll get about a day of normal usage out of the Tab S2, making it perfectly functional but hardly impressive. The cameras are that way too; an 8-megapixel shooter on the back and a 2.1-megapixel front-facing unit get the job done, and the shots are solid. But this isn’t pushing Nokia for top camera honors anytime soon.
Many of the other features in the Tab S2 are solid but not game-changing. Sidesync and Quick Connect are the big additions, allowing you to use the Tab S2 to interface with your smartphone and TV, respectively. But, as you might expect, they only play nicely with other Samsung devices, limiting their appeal. Sidesync only works with Samsung smartphones. And Quick Connect requires you to have DNLA on your TV.
The end result is a tablet that delivers a solid aesthetic and easily competes with the iPad at home, although it struggles on the road. Samsung built the Tab S2 to be the center of a Samsung-powered living room, and near a charger, as distraction during an evening of TV, it thrives.
But on the road it’s not as stellar. While the light form factor is perfect for airplane reading and movie viewing, there’s no Amazon Instant Video support, and you may wish for a more powerful battery on the road.
Samsung is on the right track though, and show’s plenty of progress with the Tab S2. It’s not an iPad. It may not knock the iPad from its perch, but it’s the best attempt yet.
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