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

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.

Thanks to the IR blaster on the top edge, the Galaxy Tab S also works as a remote control. The WatchOn app makes the setup easy -- I was able to connect to my TV and Blu-ray player in a few minutes -- and personalized viewing suggestions based on your location and cable provider are great for those "there's nothing on TV" kind of nights.

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The fingerprint scanner consistently worked accurately. James Martin/CNET

If you're ever in a pickle and need to squeeze every last bit of your battery life, Samsung has an ultra-power saving mode that does just that. It changes the screen to grayscale, turns off Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and limits the available apps. I never found myself in a battery-saving-pickle during testing, but it's a considerate addition for those who often do.

Screen

One of the Tab S's biggest selling points is the bright and colorful Super AMOLED screen. The 10.4-inch display boasts a 2,560x1,600-pixel resolution and 359 pixels per inch, which results in impressive lifelike sharpness.

The 10.4-inch model has a wide viewing angle and its impressive color range -- 94 percent of the RGB color gamut, Samsung claims -- is apparent, even when simply flicking through the Magazine UX pages. Who knew widgets could be useful and aesthetically pleasing?

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The vibrant screen begs to be your binge-watching buddy. James Martin/CNET

The native video app makes the most out of your movies and TV shows, with a variety of settings geared towards enhancing your entertainment experience. In addition to audio optimization and widescreen or fullscreen playback options, the AMOLED cinema mode brings video to life with an extra punch of color.

The mode increases the contrast and saturation, resulting in a more vibrant and visually immersive viewing experience. For most videos, it was a vivid enhancement, but sometimes it was too much -- already natural-looking scenes and skin tones can look oversaturated, with a strong green and red hue. Ultimately, it's up to personal preference if you like the result.

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The adaptive display function only works with native apps. Screenshot by Xiomara Blanco/CNET

The adaptive screen technology is also limited to native apps on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S. When using the apps, the display improves details on images, color reproduction, white balance, color saturation, gamma correction, and contrast. It all sounds great, but unless I was switching from one environment to another, I didn't notice a huge difference.

Performance

The Galaxy Tab S features Samsung's multi-window function that allows for simple multi-tasking. It only allows basic tasks like checking email, or browsing the Web, and not all apps are capable of doing so.

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The multi-window menu is easy to customize, but not all apps are compatible. Screenshot by Xiomara Blanco/CNET

To access the multi-window function, swipe from right to left starting at the right bezel. The menu that appears is easily customizable and you can even make your own shortcuts to your favorite combination of apps to use. If you're constantly browsing the Web while watching YouTube videos, you can make a shortcut icon for both apps to open at once.

Once you get the hang of how to work the function, it's easy and useful for juggling two activities at once. Performance during multi-tasking is usually smooth, but it can lag if large apps are open in the background or if you're downloading many files.

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The speakers are located on the top of the left and right edges. James Martin/CNET

I found transferring files between the tablet and a computer somewhat buggy -- the tablet would randomly disconnect while transferring files, or the computer would not recognize it -- so I found using a microSD card to be the easiest way to load my content onto the Tab S.

Gaming performance is silky smooth for simple mobile games and larger games launch quickly, with speedy, lag-free performance, thanks to the tablet's generous 3GB of RAM and octa-core processor. I was impressed with the consistently smooth gameplay and, as long as many apps aren't open in the background, touchscreen response was swift and accurate.

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The 8-megapixel rear camera features image stabilization. James Martin/CNET

Speaker quality isn't particularly impressive, but audio quality holds up at maximum volume and is loud enough when listening in a personal space.

Though the tablet's performance was consistently zippy, it wasn't without a few hiccups. If many apps are open in the background and you're quickly switching from one app to another, the touchscreen's response lags. The native video app also inexplicably paused during video playback at random times, even if no other apps were running in the background. The only logical explanation I came up with is that a ghost was following me around all weekend.

Anecdotally, the tablet's 7,900mAh battery lasted for two days of medium-to-heavy use without needing a charge. On a full charge, after watching two full movies and browsing the Web for an hour, the battery still had a little less than half of its battery life. We're currently testing the tablet in the CNET Labs, so check back for the final battery testing result.

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Thanks to their bright, colorful screens, the Galaxy Tab S are two of the best movie-watching slates. James Martin/CNET

Conclusion

The Super AMOLED screen and sleek design are undeniably the Galaxy Tab S's biggest selling point, but the exclusive software goodies are what give the Tab S a high-end edge over the competition -- and make its lofty $500/£400 starting price easier to bear.

The Galaxy Tab S's main competition are the Apple iPad -- the current king of premium tablets -- and the Galaxy Tab Pro -- a comparably specced cousin with a similar user-interface and sleek design. The Tab S' magazine and music content services and free exclusive apps offer more for your money -- and there's also the thinner, lighter design and sharper, more colorful screen.

If you're interested in a sleek tablet for work, the Samsung Galaxy Pro tablet leans towards productivity more than play. The iPad is a no-brainer for those who are already knee-deep in the Apple ecosystem. But if you want a slate built for binge-watching TV shows, taking your favorite movies on the road, and enjoying the fun aspects of owning a tablet, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S is the best premium buy to date.

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Wireless Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11ac
    Wi-Fi 802.11n
  • Type Android 4.4 (KitKat)
  • RAM 3 GB
  • Weight 16.4 oz
  • Operating System Android 4.4 (KitKat)
  • Storage 16 GB
  • Processor Samsung Exynos 5 Octa
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