Samsung Galaxy Tab S (8.4-inch) review: A slick Android tablet, packed with power

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CNET Editors' Rating

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

The Good The Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 is extremely slim, has a gorgeous, super-high-definition display, tonnes of power, and the latest version of Android KitKat on board.

The Bad It's packed full of so much bundled software from Samsung and third parties that it will likely be confusing for first-time Android users.

The Bottom Line With its slim design, fantastic screen, and oodles of power, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 is a superb smaller tablet, and a worthy competitor to the ever-popular iPad Mini.

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The Galaxy S5 may be Samsung's darling child, packing in everything a top-end phone should, but if its 5-inch screen just doesn't cut it for your sofa surfing, turn your attention to the Galaxy Tab S 8.4.

This 8.4-inch tablet shares many of the design cues of the S5 phone, including the soft-touch dot-effect back and physical home button on the front, but packs in a super high resolution display, an octa-core processor (that's eight cores in total) and comes with the latest Android 4.4 KitKat software on board.

It's an impressive piece of kit on paper, but it's going to have to do a lot to edge out the iPad Mini with its similarly high-resolution Retina Display. The Tab S 8.4 can be picked up now with Wi-Fi only and 16GB of storage, directly from Samsung for £319 or for $398 in the US from Amazon. The Retina Display iPad Mini can be had with 16GB of storage also for £319 (or $352 in the US, again from Amazon, which is cheaper than the Apple Store).

Design

The Galaxy Tab is clearly the product of the same design team that worked on the Galaxy S5 as it's easy to spot similarities between the two products. Most notably on the back of the tablet, which has the same soft-touch, rubberised feel with dotted pattern that you'll find on the phone. It feels good to hold and I think it's a definite improvement over the glossy, plastic feel of previous models.

It's an extremely slender bit of kit, measuring only 6.6mm thick -- that's slimmer even than the 7.5mm iPad Mini. The Mini's one-piece metal body feels more sturdy than than the Tab S' plastic build, but it comes down to a matter of personal taste whether you prefer the matte metal of the iPad or the dot-effect of the Tab S. I'm personally quite keen on the bronze colour, which stands out quite a lot from the other smaller tablets, most of which tend to just come in various shades of silver.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

It's longer than the iPad Mini, but it's narrower, as its screen has a 16:9 aspect ratio. It's just about narrow enough for you to slide it into an inside jacket pocket, but I'd still recommend finding a nice case for it -- the Knomad Mini by Knomo will match that bronze colour well -- if you want to keep it safe from the knocks and bumps of everyday life.

Tucked into those skinny edges are the volume and power buttons, the headphone jack, Micro-USB port and microSD card slot (hidden under a little flap). The back panel is home to a couple of little buttons that push in to allow one of Samsung's proprietary covers to attach. Although they're fairly innocuous, I'd still prefer to see the back panel remaining unbroken, with the case attaching magnetically.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The tablet is available in either 16GB or 32GB versions -- if you go for the smaller one, I recommend also investing in a microSD card, particularly if you want to store a lot of movies locally to watch on the plane.

Display

The Tab S's 8.4-inch display has an impressively high 2,460x1,600-pixel resolution, resulting in a pixel density of 359 pixels per inch -- slightly edging out the 326ppi of the iPad Mini. Although the Tab S is sharper on paper, in reality, it's not a difference you'd ever really notice. Both displays are extremely crisp, with small text on Web pages or magazines looking pin-sharp and high-definition photos looking great.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The Tab S has a Super AMOLED panel, which Samsung boasted at the launch is much brighter and more vivid than the iPad's. While this is true -- colours have an extremely vibrant punch to them -- it's perhaps so colourful that it makes pictures look a little unnatural, almost as though you've boosted the saturation slider in Photoshop. The iPad's display is less vivid, but its colour tone is more natural.

If you're after colour accuracy for photography and graphics purposes, the iPad's "honesty" makes it the better option. If you want glossy Netflix shows like "Breaking Bad", "Planet Earth", or, erm, "SpongeBob SquarePants" to look so vivid it hurts, go for the Galaxy Tab S. It's searingly bright, too, doing a great job at countering the worst of the overhead office lights in CNET Towers and should be easily readable in bright sunlight.

Android KitKat software and Samsung extras

The Tab S arrives with the latest version of Android 4.4.2 KitKat on board -- I'd be annoyed to see anything less than the latest software on a new top-end slate -- upon which Samsung has applied its TouchWiz interface. Although the tablet functions much like any other Android slate, Samsung has thrown in a whole host of visual tweaks, not to mention a huge amount of preloaded apps and services.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

You'll find Samsung's usual lineup of bundled apps, including its own Internet browser, calendar, email client, the WatchOn TV guide (which works with the infrared TV remote), a Samsung app store, as well as some new additions like Paper Garden (Samsung's own magazine service) and SideSync 3.0.

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Wireless Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11n
    Wi-Fi 802.11ac
  • Type Android 4.4 (KitKat)
  • RAM 3 GB
  • Weight 10.37 oz
  • Operating System Android 4.4 (KitKat)
  • Storage 16 GB
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