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

Thin, light, and boasting a spectacular screen, the Galaxy Tab S is a worthy iPad competitor that stands out among Samsung's tablet line.

Xiomara Blanco Associate Editor / Reviews - Tablets and monitors
Xiomara Blanco is an associate editor for CNET Reviews. She's a Bay Area native with a knack for tech that makes life easier and more enjoyable. So, don't expect her to review printers anytime soon.
Xiomara Blanco
9 min read

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.


Samsung Galaxy Tab S

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.

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.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S is a movie-buff's best bet (pictures)

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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 10.5Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1Google Nexus 10Apple 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.

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.

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.

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


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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?

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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


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.


Samsung Galaxy Tab S

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 8