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Samsung Galaxy Tab S (10.5) 4G review

Has Samsung ruined its best tablet with its TouchWiz software?

Samsung's flagship tablet leads the market with a stunning display and adds an innovative finger scanner to the everyday slate. Almost everything about the Tab S is perfect. Almost.

Note: Good Gear Guide used a 16GB version of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S (10.5) 4G provided by etailer Yatango Shopping for this review.

Desirable physique, Unparalleled display

The Tab S has the body for Samsung’s design language. Bezels are finer, the tablet is thinner and the weight is on the low end. These traits give the slate the physique it needs to pull off a dimpled back and a shaved steel chassis coloured in rose gold. Few Samsung products, think the cumbersome Galaxy S5, model the design so well.

Even the mundane benefits from a sense of spectacle when it's viewed on the Tab S

The main attraction is the Tab S’ 10.5-inch screen. All of the numbers impress: it has a 2560x1600 resolution, crams 288 pixels into each inch and has a contrast ratio of 100,000:1. Samsung claims the Tab S’ display can produce 90 per cent of the colours in the UV spectrum. Little evidence thwarts the assertion.

Rival Apple has long set the standard in the tablet space. We set the brightness to max on a top-end iPad Air and compared it to our review Tab S 10.5. Photos snapped by a Sony a5000 camera were uploaded to each for a side-by-side comparison.

The Samsung tablet unequivocally has the iPad Air beat on colour range, brightness, contrast and viewing angles. Even the mundane, whether it’s a web page or a movie, benefits from a sense of spectacle when it's viewed on the Tab S.

Brightness remained on the low end of auto throughout our testing period. Some products necessitate skimping on the brightness for the preservation of battery, but this wasn’t one of those cases. The Galaxy Tab S’ screen can be comfortably viewed at this level.

Not all content will look desirable on the Tab S’ screen. The high resolution will reveal flaws in photos and videos if the content is of low quality. This is evidenced when viewing photos captured in dim lighting with the Tab S’ rear camera.

The 7mm, 465 gram Tab S is lighter than the iPad Air, but fractionally larger and heavier than Sony’s Xperia Z2 Tablet. Serious force is needed for the thin slate to flex on account of being well balanced and rigid.
The 7mm, 465 gram Tab S is lighter than the iPad Air, but fractionally larger and heavier than Sony’s Xperia Z2 Tablet. Serious force is needed for the thin slate to flex on account of being well balanced and rigid.

Rotten KitKat

The Galaxy moniker denotes the Tab S is an Android device. From the box it runs 4.4 KitKat dressed in Samsung’s cumbersome TouchWiz overlay.

You’ll have to waste data on updating the TouchWiz bloatware desecrating Android

The last time Good Gear Guide crossed paths with Samsung’s rendition of Android was on the NotePro 12.2 — and we were fans. The TouchWiz interface donned by the NotePro felt purpose built for the tablet form factor.

Unfortunately the version found on the Tab S is closer to that of the Galaxy S5. Instead of the attractive white interface featured on the NotePro, the Tab S is plastered in hues of green and blue found commonly on high-visibility jackets. Evidently the company is trying to unify its tablet and smartphone software; we only wished Samsung went with the attractive interface and not the eyesore.

The Tab S' settings menu compared to the NotePro's
The Tab S' settings menu compared to the NotePro's

Worse yet, TouchWiz constantly upsells services in all probability most won’t use. “Samsung Galaxy would like access to Picasa Web Albums” is asked every time you use the gallery. No other overlay requests access to so many applications so brazenly. Eventually most will tire from the notifications and end up giving the tablet access to all their data.

Every few days another notification will pop up from some obscure Samsung application you don’t use. This time the notification is from Samsung’s proprietary application store and you’ll have to waste data on updating the TouchWiz bloatware desecrating Android.

Other overlays request access to applications, but none moreso than Samsung's TouchWiz. We often find ourselves updating Samsung Galaxy apps we don't use and cannot uninstall.
Other overlays request access to applications, but none moreso than Samsung's TouchWiz. We often find ourselves updating Samsung Galaxy apps we don't use and cannot uninstall.

Then there’s the homescreen. Samsung, in its infinite wisdom, demands at least one Flipboard homescreen is used on top of the default Android homescreens. Whereas HTC’s BlinkFeed and LG’s G screen can be turned off, Samsung insists you as the owner of the Tab S make use of it Samsung’s way. Too often will you find instances like this where Samsung is closing off open-source Android; where it is prioritising its agenda ahead of the needs of the user.

For each of TouchWiz’s shortcomings, there is a silver lining. An application called SideSync makes it possible to virtually control Galaxy smartphones from the Tab S. The app uses Wi-Fi direct technology to establish a connection with the smartphone and then relays its functionality, including phone calls and texting, to the tablet in a practical fashion. Samsung’s management of user accounts is also commendable.

There will be moments when SideSync proves handy
There will be moments when SideSync proves handy

Click over to learn more about the Tab S' Finger scanner, Camera, 8-core processor and the verdict

Page Break

Biometric security, 8 megapixel camera

Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S has the distinction of being the first tablet with a finger scanner. The tech resembles that used in the Galaxy S5 and, because a tablet can’t be used with just one hand, it naturally lends itself to the tablet form. Nor has Samsung rested on its laurels by using the finger scanner to launch different user accounts.

No other tablet offers such a functional way to alternate between user accounts

Good Gear Guide created four separate user accounts on the Tab S, each one guarded by the biological protection of individual fingerprints. Switching between one account to another was fuss-free as, from the standby screen, it required only that you nominate your thumbnail and swipe a finger. This takes just three or four seconds.

No other tablet offers such a functional way to alternate between user accounts. Two types of accounts can be configured: a user account and a ‘restricted profile’, which limits applications to just those nominated. Restricted profiles primarily have children in mind and therefore can’t be protected with a password/fingerprint lock.

This feature is not without room for improvement. Movies, music and photos cannot be shared between different user accounts. Having multiple user accounts could see the internal storage of a 16GB tablet exhausted quickly, with the 32GB model following not long after.

Up to eight different user accounts can be configured on the Galaxy Tab S
Up to eight different user accounts can be configured on the Galaxy Tab S

Running multiple user accounts on the Tab S will tax its performance. We found the tablet began to slow down when we had four user accounts configured and 85 percent of the tablet’s storage consumed.

8 megapixels and Full HD

Resting flush on the Tab S’ rear is an 8-megapixel camera that's fluent in Full HD recording and is complemented by a single-LED flash. Camera performance is impressive, even more so for a tablet. Image noise is kept to a minimum, blacks retain a lot of detail and colour has a nice, rich range. Viewing photos and videos on the Tab S’ screen is a treat; however, the high resolution can highlight the fallacies in a photo.

A 2.1-megapixel front camera with a knack for Full HD videos can be used for videoconferencing over applications including Skype.

Captured with the Tab S 10.5
Captured with the Tab S 10.5

Captured with the Tab S 10.5
Captured with the Tab S 10.5

Captured with the Tab S 10.5
Captured with the Tab S 10.5

8-core processor, Long lasting battery

The Tab S manages to squeeze some of Samsung’s leading kit into its slender 7mm waistline. Two quad-core CPUs work concurrently based on ARM’s big.LITTLE architecture: one is an economical 1.3GHz quad-core CPU, while the other is a more powerful 1.9GHz quad-core CPU. The idea behind the big.LITTLE ARM architecture is the tablet will better manage power consumption by only using the powerful CPU when needed.

Additional computing smarts include 3GB of RAM, a 4G modem on select models and internal storage options of 16GB or 32GB. Adding more storage is possible as the Tab S can take microSD cards up to 128GB in memory.

Connectivity is yet another strong point for the Tab S. The cellular version of the tablet supports the 4G networks of Vodafone, Optus and Telstra, with compatibility for the in-development 700MHz bands of the latter two telcos. Both versions of the Tab S offer support for dual-band 802.11ac, Wi-Fi direct, Mobile High-definition Link and Bluetooth 4.0. Surprisingly near field communications (NFC) is missing from the tablet’s repertoire, but it’s absence is easily forgiven.

A dimpled back has never looked so good
A dimpled back has never looked so good

Days of battery

Powering this orgy of cutting-edge specs is a 7900 milliamp-hour battery. Charging the Galaxy Tab S is carried out over microUSB 2.0 and will take a little over four hours.

...any variant of the Tab S is worth its asking price

Good Gear Guide used the Galaxy Tab S as our primary tablet during our week of testing. We surfed the Internet over both Wi-Fi and 4G, used the camera, watched YouTube, social networked, emailed, took notes, played music and streamed videos to our Chromecast.

Our usage was intermittent with the tablet spending a day here and there on standby. During this cycle the Galaxy Tab S lasted almost four days without a charge. We anticipate the tablet will last a day with heavy usage on account of the screen’s appetite for battery life.

Final thought

Samsung has made the best tablet on the market in many ways. The 10.5in screen is in a league of its own, the design resonates, it has a proficient camera and any variant of the Tab S is worth its asking price. Faulting the Tab S’ hardware is a tall order; faulting its software is far too easy.

TouchWiz brims with bloatware, is sluggish, unattractive and a nuisance for prioritising Samsung’s agenda over individual needs. It is reason enough to walk past the Galaxy Tab and and buy an iPad. Or a Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet.

It’s the only reason why we would.