There's no denying that Samsung's current tablet lineup is a convoluted, confusing mess for anyone outside of the tech circle – just in the current run we have the Galaxy Tab 4 7, 8, 10.1; Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition, Galaxy Note Pro 12.2, Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1/12.2, and now the newest member of the family, the Galaxy Tab S. Deep down, I still wish they would've named it the Galaxy S Tab, just so we could call it the Galaxy Stab.

But I digress. The point is that Samsung has a lot of tablets out in its current lineup, and they keep pumping them out. I'm generally in the camp of "less is more," and would like to see Sammy unify its experiences and perhaps release fewer devices in a single fiscal year, but once I got my hands on the Galaxy Tab S, it just made sense. I just understand why this tablet exists, perhaps more than any other Samsung device I've ever reviewed.

After spending some time with both the 10.5 and 8.4-inch Tab S models, I can honestly say that this is some of the best hardware Samsung has ever released. While Tab S may not be perfect, it's easily the best tablet of 2014 up until this point.


Unless otherwise stated, everything in this review pertains to both the 8.4-inch and 10.5-inch models of Tab S since they're essentially the same in every aspect aside from size.

10.5 Specs
  • Display: 10.5 2560x1600 Super AMOLED Panel
  • Processor: Exynos 5 Octa (1.9GHz + 1.3GHz) / Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 Models will also be available (LTE)
  • RAM: 3GB
  • Storage: 16/32GB
  • Cameras: 8MP rear shooter, 2.1MP front
  • Ports: microUSB (USB 2.0), microSD
  • Wireless: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac MIMO,Wi-Fi Direct, Bluetooth 4.0, IrLED
  • Battery: 7900mAh
  • OS: Android 4.4.2
  • Dimensions/Weight: 247.3 x 177.3 x 6.6 mm, 465g (Wi-Fi)/467g (LTE)
  • Price: 16GB – $499; 32GB – $549
8.4 Specs
  • Display: 8.4-inch 2560x1600 Super AMOLED Panel
  • Processor: Exynos 5 Octa (1.9GHz + 1.3GHz) / Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 Models will also be available (LTE)
  • RAM: 3GB
  • Storage: 16/32GB
  • Cameras: 8MP rear shooter, 2.1MP front
  • Ports: microUSB (USB 2.0), microSD
  • Wireless: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac MIMO, Wi-Fi Direct, Bluetooth 4.0, IrLED
  • Battery: 4900mAh
  • OS: Android 4.4.2
  • Dimensions/Weight: 125.6 x 212.8 x 6.6mm, 294g (Wi-Fi)/298g (LTE)
  • Price: 16GB – $399; 32GB – (not yet announced)
  • Insanely light and thin. Both devices are easily the thinnest tablets I've ever used. They're also very light, which makes for good one-handed use, even on the larger model.
  • The display. 4,096,000 gorgeous Super AMOLED pixels. Everything pops, but nothing is oversaturated. One of the most balanced SAMOLED displays I've ever seen, but it still retains all the things that makes SAMOLED great. This is the best tablet display I've ever seen.
  • Samsung's Keyboard. It's incredibly easy to type on, and equally as accurate. Samsung devices are the only ones I don't feel the need to immediately install SwiftKey on.
  • Design. Both devices are very S5-esque, but there are a few touches that are just really cool, like the Simple Clickers that allow cases/covers to be directly attached to the tablet.
  • Bloat. While the Tab S has less bloat than other Samsung devices I've used, there's still a lot going on. All the time. At least it has 3GB of RAM to keep things purring along.
  • Can be slightly choppy when things are happening in the background. Like installing apps, syncing files, or the like. It's not unbearable, but you can definitely tell the processor is taking on a full load.
  • Single notification shade. I just can't get used to this. It seems so much more effective to have two different shades (like stock Android): one for notifications, one for toggles and such. Cramming them both into one fullscreen panel just doesn't make sense to me.
  • It's easy to cover the speakers on the 8.4-inch model. Depending on which way you rotate the device to enter landscape mode (I always rotate to the left – I like to have the navigation buttons under my right thumb), it can put the speakers on the bottom of the device, which is exactly where your hands are. Rotating to the right obviously doesn't have the same issue, but it's hard to change old habits.


Build Quality and Design

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The Tab S's overall design is basically like that of an oversized Galaxy S 5. It features almost all of the same design elements as its phone counterpart, including the doesn't-at-all-look-like-a-bandaid-to-me dimpled back. In fact, the soft-touch back is one of my favorite aspects of the Tab S, as it just feels so nice. Much better than the faux leather found on the Note 10.1 2014 and Note/Tab Pro devices.

While we're talking about the back, let's discuss the "simple clickers." These are button-like indentions that allow Tab S-specific cases to be easily attached to the device. It's an implementation that I've never seen before, but it actually works really well. It enabled cases and book-style covers to be attached to the unit while adding as little bulk/thickness to the overall size as possible. And if you're not the type to use a case, the clickers stay out of the way and basically blend in with the back of the unit (by feel, not sight).

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Otherwise, we're looking at a pretty standard layout. On the 8.4-inch model, power, volume, IR blaster, and microSD are on the right, 3.5mm headphone jack and microUSB port on the bottom, and nothing on the left or top. The speakers actually flank the top and bottom when in portrait mode (which I feel is the most common way to use a tablet of this size), but are placed appropriately when the display is flipped into landscape; makes perfect sense for watching videos and whatnot. As noted above, the one downside is for those of us who flip left for landscape mode: it puts the speakers at the bottom, putting them directly in the area where most people grip the device. On the other hand, if you flip right, it puts the volume rockers on the bottom. There's just no winning.

The 10.5 is very similar, though it's designed for landscape use most of the time: microSD slot and microUSB port are on the right, headphone jack on the left, and power, volume, and the IR blaster are all on the top. The speakers, of course, are found on either side, close to the top.

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While both devices have pretty narrow bezels, they're remarkably so on the 8.4-inch model. This leads to the feeling of holding a much larger display packed into a smaller form factor – it's basically all display.

Build quality on this duo is fantastic. Samsung has caught a lot of crap in recent months because of its "all plastic, all the time" build motto, but the Tab S feels super solid. Everything is quite tight and feels really well constructed, something that I assume has to be done this way since the device is so thin. There's absolutely no room for creaky plastic or bulky seams on the Tab S, and the overall construction proves that. It feels really, really nice. Probably Samsung's best-built tablets to date.



This is the crown jewel of the Tab S experience, and hands down the best display I've ever seen on a tablet. Seriously – you have to see it to believe it. The 2560x1600 resolution keeps everything extremely sharp and crisp (especially on the 8.4-inch model), and the Super AMOLED panel keeps colors bright and vibrant. Samsung clearly put a lot of work into display tweaks, too, because it has that traditional SAMOLED look without the "I feel like my eyes are being sliced open by tiny pixel razors" feel that SAMOLED displays often have. It's very well balanced.

This is in large part due to the "Adaptive Display" settings, which automatically detects the type of content on the screen (for some applications), as well as the ambient lighting in the room, and adjusts the color output appropriately. It's immediately noticeable for reading apps like Play Books, where it slightly dampens the whites for a softer look. You can literally see the display change before your eyes when exiting the app, which is nice. For most other apps, however, it's far more subtle. It also tweaks the colors for other applications, like the Gallery, Videos, Camera, and "Internet," which is Samsung's fairly crap-tastic browser. While Adaptive Display's usage may seem very narrow, I feel like it easily affects how the display reacts across the entire OS, especially when comparing it to the other settings modes: AMOELD Cinema, AMOELD photo, and Basic.

When it comes to brightness, the Tab S is following the S5's lead – it gets bright. I can't say for certain if it matches the S5's 700 nit claim, but it's definitely packing some heat in the panel, and is always readable even in bright sunlight.

In short, after looking at the Tab S display, all my other tablets just look lackluster and unsatisfying. If you're interested in every possible detail about the Tab S display, Display Mate has an incredible write-up on it.



Tablet speakers are important primarily for one reason: watching movies and videos. And since the Tab S has such a beautiful display, that's something you'll likely be doing more of, which makes the speakers even more important.

While fairly small and out of the way, the Tab S's speakers get the job done. They're not overly powerful or loud, but they maintain crisp audio that perfectly suits catching a flick or streaming a quick YouTube video.

Unfortunately, the placement of the speakers on the 8.4-inch model is questionable. As I pointed out in the Design section above, if the device is rotated to the left (which I honestly feel like is the most common way to rotate a tablet) it puts the speakers at the bottom. If you flip right to put the speakers at the top, the volume rocker ends up on the bottom. *sigh*



In short, it's a tablet camera. It's not the best I've ever seen, but I supposed it'd get the job done in a pinch. Colors appear to be washed out when outdoors, and the indoor (low light) quality is basically abysmal. But you're not really buying a tablet for the camera, are you? That's what your phone, or maybe even an actual camera is for. If you must take pics with a tablet, however, I'm sure you can get usable images with enough tinkering.

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Screenshot (09_28AM, Jun 25, 2014)

Both Tab S models have 16GB of storage on the lowest end, though 32GB options are also available if you want to spend the moneydollars. Storage is pretty limited on the 16GB model, because (naturally) Samsung's UI and add-ons takes up quite a bit of space.

Right out of the box, the Tab S only has about 9GB of storage, which really isn't much when you start throwing some heavy games on it. That's kind of a shame, too, because gaming on that beautiful screen is amazing.

Fortunately, it also has a microSD card slot, which will at least help keep files like movies, music, and pictures off of the tablet's primary storage.

Battery Life


Fun fact: Super AMOLED displays don't require backlighting, so they're both thinner and more energy efficient. That means devices (like the Tab S) can be thinner and lighter thanks to smaller batteries, but still get a good amount of battery life.

During my testing, I tried to use both devices as equally as possible (though I am biased towards the 8.4 as my favorite), and ended up with about seven hours of screen-on time (per device) doing various activities: web surfing, Play Books, Play Magazines, YouTube, Netflix, and lots of time checking things in Settings and tweaking the homescreens.

It's not the 12 hours that Samsung claims (or Engadget got in its tests), but I wouldn't say it's awful, either. If you don't mind a little stutter, you could throw it into Power Saving mode and probably increase the time by a couple hours (maybe more). But like with all other devices, how long it lasts depends on how you use it – I'd say my usage is on the shorter side of the spectrum.


Launcher, Interface, and SideSync

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When it comes to the primary interface of its devices, Samsung has always walked to the beat of a different drum, and the most recent tablets started bringing actual content to the launcher. With the Note 10.1 2014, Samsung introduced what it then called My Magazine, a Flipboard-powered news aggregator of sorts. With the Note/Tab Pro series, the magazine interface became more integrated, and Samsung changed the name of its launcher to Magazine UX. The Tab S launcher is very similar to that: it has the traditional launcher pages with widgets, icons, and whatnot, then to the left is the Magazine UX interface with a seemingly random assortment of content. One more swipe to the right pulls up a Chameleon-like interface with quick access to social network streams, calendar, and the like. I'm honestly not sure how many people will use the features, but they're available nonetheless.


Look, I can surf the web while surfing the web

Like with the Note/Tab Pro tablets, the notification bar is hidden in the magazine UI, which is pretty annoying. The same goes for the Settings menu. And My Files, Hancom Office, Milk Music, and basically every other Samsung app. Guys, we like the notification bar. In fact, it's an integral part of Android. Not every app needs to be fullscreen!

Like with basically all Samsung devices since the original Note tablet, Multi-window is present on the Tab S, though instead of offering up to four running apps at once (like the Note/Tab Pro 12.2), it only allows for a much more usable two. At this point, it works as it has on past devices: slightly clunky but still pretty usable. I just wish there were a way to use any app in dual-screen mode. I need to be able to watch Netflix and Youtube at the same time for maximum content exposure.

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Samsung included a bunch of its apps along for the ride, but the most notable on the Tab S is SideSync. This basically lets users control their Samsung phone from the tablet over Wi-Fi direct. That includes making calls, replying to text messages, or just generally navigating the OS. I found that it worked surprisingly well over both 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks, though sometimes the phone interface overlay glitched up. Also, when using SideSync in fullscreen mode, the home, back, and recent apps buttons disappear...which is a silly oversight on Samsung's part.

When making a call over SideSync, it essentially puts the call in speakerphone mode, so it plays through the tablet's speakers and uses the onboard microphone for voice. Again, it worked surprisingly well.

I'm not entirely sure how often something like this would be useful (aside from while the phone is charging in another room), but I still think it's cool that Samsung included it.


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Update: After a few more weeks of use, I started to notice a lot more lag on the Tab S. It became more hesitant to wake, and slowed to a crawl while background tasks were running. After a while it perked back up to its normal spunky little self, but it's still worth mentioning. Pretty typical of Exynos processors past, something I thought Samsung had fixed. Guess I was wrong.

I generally like to judge how fast a device is going to be by how quickly it switches orientation, and most of the time, these tablets absolutely fly. That doesn't come as much of a surprise to me, since the Tab S has the same processor as the Note/Tab Pro tablets, both of which performed extremely well.

The only time I encountered any hesitation at all is when apps were updating in the background and FolderSync was doing its initial sync to Dropbox. Even then it wasn't bad, just noticeably more hesitant than normal.

Samsung has also included a couple of power saving modes on the Tab S, one of which basically just restricts the device's octa-core Exynos 5 processor, presumably to the lower-powered cores. For those who may not be familiar with the Exynos 5, it's essentially two quad-core chips mashed together: one high-powered 1.9GHz, and one low-power 1.3GHz. I assume Power Saving mode uses only the 1.3GHz cores. It also reduces the display frame rate, lowers brightness, and disables the capacitive buttons' backlighting. The device becomes noticeably more choppy in this mode, though it's probably fine for light surfing, reading, or the like.

Then there's Ultra Power Saving Mode. Sounds intense, no? It is...for the battery. It basically sucks for the user. This mode essentially turns off all colors on the display (so it's grayscale), and limits usage to a select group of apps, like the calendar, Facebook, G+, calculator, clock, and Samsung's browser. It disables nearly all other functionality, including screenshot capabilities. It's a strange and scary place, and I can't see myself ever using it...especially without support for Play Books.


These are not only the best tablets that Samsung has ever released, but they're easily better than any other tablet on the market right now. I personally prefer the 8.4-inch model and highly recommend it, but if you're a larger tablet kind of person, the 10.5 is equally as fantastic.

The Tab S display is in a league of its own at this point, and will become the benchmark for all tablet displays moving forward. It's insanely vivid and crisp, bright enough to read in direct sunlight, and efficient enough to allow the device to clock in at a crazy-thin 6.6mm. At $399 and $499 respectively, the 8.4 and 10.5 are clearly gunning for the iPad Mini Retina and iPad Air, and they're doing a damn good job of it.

The bar has been raised, tablet makers. Time to step up to the plate.

Buy:  Amazon, Best Buy