Samsung of late has been playing the premium game, upping in terms of design and material build. We’ve seen this across its smartphone range—from the flagship Galaxy Note5, S6, S6 edge and S6 edge plus; and mid-range A series. This has also trickled down to its tablet range with the Samsung Tab S2 8-inch and 9.7-inch. Read on for the full review.
It couldn’t be more contrasting. When compared to its predecessor the Tab S (8.4-inch and 10.5-inch), the new Tab S2 abandons the 16:10 ratio and plasticky build. Samsung makes no attempt to hide the fact that the changes are a deliberate attempt to directly compete against the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 4.
Design and build
First let’s take a look at the design aspects of the flagship tablet. You’ll notice right away how well built the Tab S2 is. It feels fantastic in the hand and looks premium thanks to metal edges and glass front. While the back is still plastic, Samsung has managed to make it less cheap-ish. I’m glad they’ve ditched the dimpled faux leather on the Tab S.
You’ll appreciate that it’s unbelievably thin at just 5.6mm, a full millimetre thinner than its predecessor. It’s also lighter at 389g (392g for the LTE version). Being so thin and light, it feels smaller in the hands than it actually is.
On the front it’s pretty minimalistic with just the front camera above the display, and two capacitive Menu and Back buttons on either side of the physical Home button. The home button also has a fingerprint sensor built-in.
On the right frame, there’s the usual volume rocker, power button as well as a microSD card and SIM.
Down at the bottom are stereo speakers, 3.5mm mic jack and micro-USB port.
Flip to the back and you’ll find the 8MP rear camera sans flash and two circular magnets that work with the optional Book Cover Keyboard.
Samsung makes the best displays—both on smartphones and tablets. The Tab S2 boasts a Super AMOLED screen with 2,048 x 1,536 resolution (264PPI). Due to its letter paper-sized 4:3 aspect ratio though, pixel density is actually slightly lower than on the movie-friendly 16:9 display on the Tab S. You’ll be hard-pressed to notice though. It’s not the best display Samsung can make, but it’s definitely good enough. It’s bright, vibrant and sufficiently sharp for reading, web browsing and movies.
The display delivers 94% of natural tones and true-to-life colours (Adobe RGB) and also comes with Adaptive Display which intelligently adjusts gamma, saturation and sharpness depending on lighting environment. It also comes with Reading Mode that optimizes the screen for reading.
Why did Samsung abandon the 16:9 aspect ratio that’s perfect for watching movies and opt for 4:3 instead? Are people watching less movies and reading more? Unanswered questions.
Anyways, under the hood, the excellent octa-core Exynos 7 5433 processor (1.9GHz quad-core + 1.3GHz quad-core) is mated to a Mali T760MP6 GPU together with 3GB of LPDDR3 RAM. Not very different from the Tab S it replaces but still a step up.
In terms of storage, the Tab S2 starts with a base 32GB, upgradable via microSD (up to 128GB).
The Tab S2 ticks all the checkboxes when it comes to connectivity, offering Wi-Fi 802.11ab/g/n/ac MIMO (2.4GHz/5GHz), Bluetooth 4.1 BLE, GNSS and optional 4G LTE. Unfortunately, there’s no NFC, though.
As mentioned previously, there’s a fingerprint sensor built into the Home button, which has been improved from the Tab S. No longer do you have to swipe to scan.
Samsung also removed a couple of things on its new tablet. Firstly, no IR blaster and no LED flash with the camera.
Speaking of camera, the main camera is a capable 8MP shooter while the front gets a 2.1MP unit. The bad news is there’s no LED flash. The good news is, the main shooter has a fast f/1.9 lens that takes in much more light. Ultimately, I don’t find many people taking photos with tablets, especially not in this size, so it isn’t much of a deal-breaker. Having said that, the camera is more than decent able to shoot in Panorama, HDR, Dual Camera, Pro and Virtual Shot modes.
The audio quality from the bottom-firing speakers is pretty good, offering pretty room-filling decibels while retaining quality.
Keeping the tablet powered all day is a 5,870mAh battery (the 8-inch version gets 4,000mAh). Unfortunately there’s no fast-charging or wireless-charging capabilities which is a shame for a flagship tablet.
The excellent Book Cover Keyboard (only for the 9.7-inch variant) is optional and costs a hefty USD149.99 (MYR659). It’s pricey but if you need to get work done, this is a must-have accessory.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 runs Android 5.0.2 Lollipop out-of-the-box with the infamous TouchWiz on top. While I’m not a fan of Samsung’s UI, it has improved tremendously over the year. It’s lighter, more fluid and adds some useful enhancements to the user experience.
From customisations to nifty features like the Splitscreen Mode, Pop-up Window and Smart Manager.
The Korean tech giant has learned its lesson in the bloatware department, but that’s not to say that there isn’t any bloatware. Despite having Google’s official mainstays like Chrome, Contacts, Camera, Gmail, Drive, Photos and etc, there are still TouchWiz equivalents which you’re likely not going to use.
With the Tab S2, Samsung is bundling Microsoft apps—Office, Skype, OneDrive—neatly tucked in a Microsoft folder. There’s 100GB of free OneDrive storage valid for two years. Buyers will also get a 12-month free subscription to iflix and Samsung’s own Milk Music (free to use with an optional Premium version).