Samsung Galaxy Tab S review: A premium Android tablet for movie buffs

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CNET Editors' Rating

4 stars Excellent
  • Overall: 8.3
  • Design: 9.0
  • Features: 8.0
  • Performance: 8.0

Average User Rating

4.5 stars 1 user review
Review Date:

The Good The Samsung Galaxy Tab S rocks a vividly colorful, razor-sharp screen and exclusive software perks in an ultra-thin and lightweight design.

The Bad Starting at $500 or £400, it's a high-end purchase. Touchscreen response can lag if many of its memory-hogging apps are open in the background.

The Bottom Line An exceptional screen and a long list of software goodies make the Galaxy Tab S Samsung's best tablet to date and our top Android choice for an entertainment slate.

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The Samsung Galaxy Tab S is shaking up the tablet scene with an ultra-thin, lightweight design and colorfully brilliant screen that blows the competition out of the water.

The 10.5-incher isn't the only tablet with a spectacular display -- the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 and Apple iPad are two of the most notable -- but of all of those the slates, the Tab S takes the cake. Its pixel-packed super-AMOLED screen boasts richly saturated colors and deep contrast levels, resulting in a visually immersive user experience and HD content that looks better than real-life.

It's a high-end buy, starting at $500 for the 16GB, £399 in the UK and AU$599 in Australia (pricing for the 32GB has yet to be announced in the US and UK). But its premium build, robust user interface with bevy of customization options, and exclusive services makes the 10.5-inch tablet's lofty price easier to bear.

Locally, the 32GB version has been priced at AU$699, while the 4G-enabled Tab S -- only available in 16GB -- is AU$749.

Design

The Galaxy Tab S is currently one of the thinnest and lightest tablets available. Its 0.26-inch (6.6mm) thickness is the same as its smaller 8.4-inch counterpart, and it's just as impressively sleek. The light 0.65 pounds (295g) is also the lightest in the 10-inch and larger tablet category, but despite its wafer-thin build, it didn't feel cheap or flimsy.

Comparing the best large tablets

Tested spec (all Wi-Fi only) Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1 Google Nexus 10 Apple iPad Air
Weight 0.65lb (295g) 1lb (469g) 1.33lb (603g) 1lb (469g)
Width (landscape) 9.7in (246mm) 9.6in (243mm) 10.4in (264mm) 9.4in (240mm)
Height 7in (178mm) 6.8in (171mm) 7in (178mm) 6.6in (170mm)
Depth 0.26in (6.6mm) 0.29in (7.3mm) 0.35in (8.9mm) 0.29in (7.5mm)
Side bezel width (landscape) 0.4in (10mm) 0.5in (13mm) 0.9 (23mm) 0.8in (20mm)

The Tab S comes in "dazzling white" and "titanium bronze" (which looks more like a dark gray to me) with a light goldish brown trim and plastic dimpled back, similar to the Samsung Galaxy S5. Samsung has been criticized for the band-aid like texture of the plastic back, but the dimples on the Galaxy Tab S are more spaced out.

I didn't mind the feel of the sparsely dimpled plastic back and I found the tablet very comfortable to hold, without much wrist fatigue after long periods of use.

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The Tab S is the thinnest and lightest large tablet. James Martin/CNET

The top edge is home to the power button, volume rocker, and IR blaster, with the dual speakers located on the top left and right edges of the slate. The microSD card slot and micro-USB port are on the right edge and the headphone jack sits alone on the left edge.

There are Samsung's usual trio of buttons on the bottom bezel, with a home button as well as capacitive back and recent buttons. The active area of the capacitive buttons are small and accurate -- it's difficult to accidentally press them without touching the button logo -- something that can't be said for the smaller 8.4-inch model.

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The plastic dimpled back is comfortable against your fingertips. James Martin/CNET

The bezels on the tablet are super-slim, adding to the sleek design of the Tab S, but they don't provide a lot of thumb space for elongated video watching -- even with my small hands. Those with larger hands will want to invest in one of the Samsung cases for a more comfortable viewing experience.

It doesn't ship with the case, but I'd consider it an essential accessory -- especially if you're a big movie-watcher. The cases snap onto the back and are easily adjustable to a few different viewing positions. In addition to protecting the gorgeous display, it takes away the anxiety of accidentally touching the screen, or one of the capacitive buttons, while you're knee-deep into your latest movie rental.

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The proprietary cases snap onto the back like buttons. James Martin/CNET

Features

The Galaxy Tab S runs on Android 4.4 with Samsung's TouchWiz UI. TouchWiz has come a long way and, though bloatware-averse shoppers will hate it, those looking for a user-friendly slate that doesn't strip away customization options will find the colorful overlay easy to get acquainted with.

Samsung backs up the vibrant screen and sleek looks of the Tab S with a myriad of software features, including Paper Garden, Samsung's new magazine service; Milk Music, a free streaming music radio service; and SideSync, an app for easily syncing your Galaxy S5 onto the screen of your Tab S.

The magazine content offered through Paper Garden features exclusive interactive dimensions that help usher the tablet into new e-reading territory. Popular publications, such as GQ and Vogue, come to life like virtual pop-up books. Extra information, blurbs and bonus content is just a tap away. Readers will enjoy the new way to indulge in their favorite magazines, but just be aware that aside from the free previews, you must pay for the downloads.

screenshot2014-06-23-00-41-44.png
The multi-window function performs smoothly. Screenshot by Xiomara Blanco/CNET

The latest over-the-air software upgrade includes access to Milk Music. The free radio service runs smoothly in the background if you're simultaneously using the tablet for something else, and the "intelligent music buffering" succeeds in seamless continuous play with no buffering wait times.

SideSync 3.0 allows you to sync your Tab S with a Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone. It's only compatible with those two devices, so Galaxy S4 owners will have to upgrade to take full advantage of the feature. The Tab S easily walks you through the syncing process and, once you download the app onto your S5 and connect to the tablet, it's smooth sailing from there. Your phone screen is mirrored onto the tablet screen so, instead of juggling two separate devices, you keep your S5 in your pocket and access it on your Tab S. There's a slight lag in response, but it works smoothly.

screenshot2014-06-23-18-52-40.png
The SideSync 3.0 app allows you to mirror your Galaxy S5's screen onto the Tab S. Screenshot by Xiomara Blanco/CNET

More goodies await in Samsung's app store. Samsung offers special apps for communicating with your Galaxy Gear Fit, as well as a few fun extras like a video editor and popular mobile games.

There are a few "gifts" when you purchase a Galaxy Tab S, including (in the US, at least) a 3-month subscription to Marvel Unlimited comics, and free magazine samplers. However, the free swag isn't limited to the Samsung app store -- you can download the movie "Gravity" for free via the Google Play store and the Kindle for Samsung app gives free book samples every month. The free stuff you get will vary by region.

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Samsung offers apps to help your Galaxy devices work together. Screenshot by Xiomara Blanco/CNET

The Tab S offers a fingerprint scanner for unlocking your device, as well as paying with PayPal and X. It's easy to setup and I preferred it as a way to unlock the screen -- the added level of security is useful, but it also reduces the smudges caused by swiping to unlock the screen.

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Where to Buy

Samsung Galaxy Tab S (10.5-inch, white)

Part Number: SM-T800NZWAXAR

Typical Price: $599.00

See manufacturer website for availability.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Weight 465 g
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