Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 review

9

Daniel Bader

August 13, 2014 9:22pm

How is Samsung like New York City? Well, it’s practically city-sized; it never sleeps; and it’s constantly trying to reinvent itself to stay ahead of the game. Shaky similes aside, Samsung, the world’s biggest smartphone manufacturer, has turned its attention recently to tablets with its new Tab S line.

Available in 8.4″ and 10.5″ varieties, both devices sport similar specifications and absolutely stunning Super AMOLED screens with resolutions of 2560×1600, in ultra-slim bodies and ‘premium’ designs, that reinforce the company’s intentions as the top Android tablet manufacturer.

In truth, the Tab S lineup is little changed from the TabPRO series that we looked at earlier in the year, replacing Snapdragon chips for its own octa-core variety of Exynos chip, sleeking up the bezels and adding a fingerprint scanner that debuted on the Galaxy S5. But the important thing to note that is the Tab S will be the company’s flagship tablet series going forward, leaving the cheaper Tabs as the entry-level product and the PRO series in limbo.

At $419.99, the Tab S 8.4 is the closest thing to a true iPad mini with Retina competitor we have — but is it worth buying? If you’re an Android diehard, we think so.

Specs

  • Android 4.4.2 KitKat w/ TouchWIZ
  • 8.4-inch 2560×1600 pixel Super AMOLED display
  • 1.9Ghz quad-core Cortex-A15 / 1.3Ghz quad-core Cortex-A7 chip  Exynos 5420 SoC / Mali T628 MP6 GPU
  • 3GB RAM / 16GB internal storage
  • WiFi (b/g/n/ac), Bluetooth 4.0, Finger Scanner
  • 8MP rear camera
  • 4,900mAh battery
  • 212.8 x 125.6 x 6.6 mm
  • 294 grams

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What Works

The Tab S 8.4 is, first and foremost, a really easy tablet to hold in one hand. It’s slimmer and taller than the iPad mini with Retina, but more importantly weighs some 30 grams less. Its plastic build isn’t going to win awards for design, but Samsung has managed to slim down the 8-inch tablet to a footprint only slightly larger than the much-cheaper Tab 4 7.0.

We’ll get to software in a minute (because it’s actually quite good), but first the screen. This is one of the nicest screens I’ve ever seen on a tablet. AMOLED, which has typically been cost ineffective to scale to larger sizes, works beautifully for the kinds of media-intense use cases expected here. Colours are rich and brightness is excellent, and the usually blue inflection one sees in whites is largely absent here. Viewing angles, too, something that matters more on a shared-experience tablet than a smaller smartphone, are IPS-calibre.

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Aside from its svelte new body and gorgeous new screen, the Tab S takes a page from the Galaxy S5 with its dimpled backing. And those holes on the side? Clips for a new smart cover design that, as seen in the video, securely attaches to the tablet to protect, prop and otherwise enhance the overall experience.

Unlike Apple’s own Smart Cases, the Book Case has three angles with which to prop the tablet: one for typing and two for comfortable media viewing. The clips themselves may mar the symmetry of the device’s back, but they do make for a much sturdier accessory as a result, and it’s one of those times that function wins out over form.

Because the tablet itself is only 6.6mm thick, it slips unburdened into a bag or purse, even with the cover attached, and there’s the right amount of heft without feeling cumbersome. While I preferred the faux-leather backing of the slightly-larger TabPRO 8.4, the Tab S of the same size feels like a more well-considered product, and its advantages, especially with the integration of a multi-user facilitating fingerprint scanner, are numerous.

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The Android 4.4.2-based software is also quite impressive. Samsung finally appears to have found equilibrium between quirky complicated and feature-full choice. The Magazine UX we saw on the TabPRO is still here, but the widget-heavy home screen runs considerably smoother thanks to the Exynos 5420 chip, and is no longer the default view upon first boot. Samsung’s Multi Window feature, which runs two apps simultaneously, has proven to be quite useful on tablets, especially since users tend not to bounce between apps like they do on phones. For example, I spent most of my time with Twitter on one panel and Chrome on the other, and it operated much like my MacBook.

The Tab S also gets some benefits from partnerships with other companies: Samsung gives users 12 months of free Globe And Mail reading with the new Android tablet app, while Marvel, Dropbox, BusinessWeek and Evernote all get some love, too. The company rightfully understands that it can no longer differentiate on software alone — LG, Sony and many others emulate its best features, and improve on its worst, in both the smartphone and tablet space — so these value adds are extra incentives to choose a Samsung Tab over a competing iOS or Android slate.

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I’ve said it many times, but I prefer the portrait tablet form factor to the horizontal one in the Android space. While most newer apps have been designed with tablet specifications in mind, there are thousands of others that still haven’t — and they look far better blown up on an 8.4-inch display than a 10.5-inch one. Samsung’s done a great job partnering with the right companies to ensure top compatibility — and performance — with certain apps, and that work shines through here.

Finally, the fingerprint scanner works better on the Galaxy Tab S than it does the Galaxy S5. It’s not an improved scanner but merely a different use case. There’s more room to swipe a finger, and users tend to hold a tablet in two hands anyway, whereas the GS5 encourages one-handed unlocking,which tends to be finicky at best. The scanner also enables a unique multi-user mode that makes the tablet — especially the larger 10.5-inch model — a great living room fixture, as the device can be set up to allow kids access to their favourite apps and nothing else, while parents have peace of mind that they won’t need to teach a password.

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What Needs Work

As much as I enjoyed the experience of using the Tab S 8.4, and feel it’s Samsung’s best slate to date, there’s something still incomplete about using Android in a tablet format. Samsung doesn’t make that first impression any better by forgetting to debug certain aspects of the OS, too.

While slowdown and app crashes were less common on the Tab S than they have been on slates of the past, I would find myself swiping across the home screen or attempting to open an app to little or no effect; the OS has yet to catch up to my input. This was not an isolated incident, either, and is neither welcome nor excusable on a device with four Cortex-A15 chips, a super fast six-core GPU and 3GB of RAM.

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Speaking of specs, that the device only has 16GB of internal storage still irks; while it’s excusable on a phone, Samsung needs to understand that tablets are media consumption-heavy products and require more storage space without the added hassle of exchanging microSD cards. This is doubly true after Google limited what can be stored on those cards for security reasons.

Battery life, too, was lower than the equivalent TapPRO, since Samsung slimmed both models of the Tab S to be as svelte as possible. The 4,900mAh battery is only 50% larger than most current smartphones, and while usage tends to be different between all-day devices and tablets, I still found myself having to charge the Tab S every night.

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Wrap-up

I unabashedly like the Galaxy Tab S, and believe that there are few better choices for an Android slate this size. The big question is whether it can compete with the equivalent iPad mini with Retina display, which offers a far superior app selection, better battery life and a smoother software experience. Both products are $419 for the 16GB WiFi model, so it stands to reason that comparisons will be made.

If you’re a current Samsung user, features like SideSync 3.0, which mirror your phone calls and texts on the Tab S screen, are worth staying in the ecosystem for. But the reasons to buy a premium Android tablet are fewer than the equivalent arguments for a high-end smartphone, and while the screen is luscious and watching media a dream, one should still be weary of Android’s continuing growing pains in the tablet space.

 

9

Final Score

  • JB

    Excellent review dan. Very well done.

    Personally id go with a Xperia Z2 Tablet or Nexus 7. But this actually looks pretty decent for a Samsung Tablet anyway.

    • Nadefrenzy

      Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact or Z2 Tablet yes. Nexus 7–no. Too small. Can’t compare.

    • marorun1982

      He did not compare..

      I would myself got for a Sony xperia tab to replace my nexus 7.
      I dont like samsung product at all..

      Still those are a nice improvement.

    • Nadefrenzy

      “Personally id go with a Xperia Z2 Tablet or Nexus 7″

      He/She just.. compared.. them.

    • marorun1982

      That’s making a choice.

      Comparing would be :

      Sony Z2 is waterproof the Samsung is not.

      The Samsung is smaller than the Sony.

      Ect.

      Saying you would take the Sony is just making a choice.

    • Nadefrenzy

      Wot? You make a choice after making a comparison.

    • marorun1982

      But he only made the decision the choice he did not compare.

      Omg you acting like a troll on purpose?

    • Nadefrenzy

      He decided on one product from two options. That’s comparing. If he had bought both then sure he wasn’t comparing. Oh and please, you replied to my comment, nitpicking this whole “comparing” argument. So, if anything, you’re the one who’s trolling.

    • marorun1982

      Lets see the definition of both words :

      comparison (kəmˈpærɪsən)

      1. the act or process of comparing

      2. the state of being compared

      3. comparable quality or qualities; likeness: there was no comparison between them.

      de•cid•ed (dɪˈsaɪ dɪd)

      adj.

      1. in no way uncertain or ambiguous: a decided improvement.

      2. free from hesitation or wavering; resolute; determined.

      There is a world of difference between both term.
      You can make a decision whitout comparing.
      But the fact here is thats he did not make a comparison he just made a decision.

      If i tell you i will take the BMW over the toyota and dont give any more information you will say i am comparing Toyota with BMW? Wake up!

    • Nadefrenzy

      “free from hesitation or wavering; resolute; determined.”

      If it’s indeed that, then there wouldn’t even be a second choice which btw he himself brought up.

      If it’s so absolute he would’ve just said that “i’m getting the Nexus 7″ or “i’m getting the Z2 tablet”.

      When in fact, he said, “Personally id go with a Xperia Z2 Tablet or Nexus 7″.

      If you think that that’s an absolute statement, then perhaps you yourself need to wake up.

    • marorun1982

      You really like to play with words I see.

      I stand by what I said he made a statement for choice he want in no way he compared anything.

      No more time to waste.

    • Nadefrenzy

      Nitpicks a genuine statement made; posts definition of words to satisfy self-conceited argument… then blames others that they “like to play with words”.

      You sure don’t look like you got time to waste.

      PS: I stand by what I said, but yea nice one on ignoring my previous rebuttal.

    • marorun1982

      Blablabla?

  • Mike Lovell

    At what point is it going to be important that Samsung doesn’t support these products after only one year? Isn’t that worth mentioning in a review? People might own this product for more than a year, right?

    Example: Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 released 2012. Last update to Jellybean in 2013 and hasn’t been updated since. Pretty much the same story for every Samsung tablet released in 2012.

    Do we have any reason to believe that this will change?

    • ShaBi

      Samsung themselves probably lost track of their models from a year ago with the rate they introduce a “new” tablet, and said “Screw it, these guys will just buy a new one anyways. Look at our $2, $3, $4, and $5.”

    • KiwiBri

      Great Point Mike. I like the look of some of the Samsung stuff, but the lack of support and constant releases of newer devices put me off.

    • Anthony Roberts

      Oh my God I was having this same discussion the other day….without updates it makes it useless…..These should have at the very least with these kind of specs a 3 year update window. Samsung though is all over the place with their devices they are all over the place losing focus….

    • KiwiBri

      I just found out that the TabPro series was cancelled.. nice hardware but the software support is the turn off for me. Maybe look at the Nexus 9 or Sony Z3 Compact.

    • Lion5

      I bought the Tab 3 8.0 and it was updated to Kit Kat a few months later. The updates don’t bring much to the table these days anyway. Especially for what I use a tablet for.

  • jclowater

    At some point reviewers of Android tablets will get over their personal preference for ios. I have a tab pro. Used to have an ipad mini. I much prefer the tab pro. The application difference is just not that important any more. All apps that I use work great on my android tablet and there are no ios only apps that I want. I would buy this in a minute if I did not have the tab pro.

  • Aidolon

    Thanks for the review – this tablet has definitely piqued my curiosity.

    That said, is there any chance of testing its video playback capabilities? I’m particularly interested in whether the Exynos processor can handle software decoding of 1080P 10-bit h.264 Matroska files. MX Player would be my app of choice for such a test, but any video player would help.

    • Mike J

      I’ve had the 10.5 inch Tab S for about a week now and have watched a number of these files, both from an external sd card and a USB drive (via USB to go). I have a fair number of 720 and 1080p H.264 MKV files which I’ve tested using MX Player Pro and everything’s been smooth as butter. Netflix and 1080p YouTube videos also run perfectly fine with no problems. Wish I could say as much for the OS itself and can testify to the lag and chop the author touched on when navigating that and browsing the web. But as far as HD video goes I don’t think you’ll experience any problems. As a matter of fact, I’ve already had the thought that if I was only going to consume video this would be a great solution. As I actually want to browse the web on my tablet I think I’ll be returning this. It’s just too continually frustrating, at least for me.

  • KrispyInTO

    The GPU in this tablet is the Mali-T628. It’s slower then a Adreno 330 so it struggles a bit with 2560×1600

  • Drew

    This thing is honestly godly when it comes to the resolution and display. I have the tab S 10.5 and I can’t wait to take this to class and use it for all my eBook needs since textbooks these days weigh so godamn much. Granted if it wasn’t for the fact that I traded some old tech in and got around 250 bucks off the full price, as well as the fact that the moron who grabbed me the tablet got me the 32 GB version and charged me for the 16gb instead, then yeah,I might have waited on this purchase a lot more.

  • Yves Thibault

    Thanks for the review, however what about the Galaxy TabPRO 8.4. You mention the TabPRO in the review but don’t have review of that tablet. More importantly would be a comparative analysis of both tablets with a possible recommendation of which is the better choice.

    • KiwiBri

      dont worry, Samesung cancelled that one already.lol

  • Suraj Racharla

    Amazing tablet and score is also well deserved. Best tablet if you want an amazing screen

  • http://www.lead2xl.com/ Mitch McCrimmon

    I bought this tablet back in early summer and really like it. It’s the brass/copper coloured one – looks expensive in this colour – and the first tablet (or phone) that felt comfortable to use (not too slippery) without a backing cover attached. The grip is fine. I love the small bezels, so much so that iPads and the Nexus 9, with such wide bezels look ungainly, boxy and chunky. I have no complaints about the Tab S 8.4 and highly recommend it. I had an original iPad, then the first iPad mini. Wouldn’t have another one unless Apple lets me use a mouse with it.