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Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 review: A small and skinny tablet with a supreme screen

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The Good The Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 has bright and vividly colorful screen. Its rail-thin design is comfortable and ultracompact. It comes with 32GB of storage, a microSD card expansion slot and fingerprint scanner. Battery life is long.

The Bad Unlike previous models, there's no IR blaster.

The Bottom Line The Samsung Galaxy Tab S2's brilliant screen, plentiful storage capacity and slender build make it a great tablet for everyday use at home or on the go.

8.1 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 7
  • Performance 8

Late 2016 update

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 is among the best deals going in the tablet space. It has many of the same virtues as Apple's iPad Air 2, which starts at $399 (£379 in the UK, and AU$569 in Australia): both are slim, light, fast and fantastic for consuming media. But the entry-level 32GB Tab S2 starts at $250 (£319, AU$549) and throws in a fingerprint scanner, a dazzling AMOLED screen with 2,046 x 1,536 pixels, a stellar 13 hours of battery life, and a microSD slot for adding storage. It comes in two sizes -- a compact 8-inch model and a larger 9.7-inch version ($350 in the US, £349, AU$699) -- each with a 4:3 aspect ratio that's particularly well suited to Web browsing and reading.

That noted, the premium tablet landscape is abundant with great choices. In September 2016, Apple gave a boost to its lineup of iPads, increasing the base storage capacity of the excellent iPad Air 2 from 16GB to 32GB, and dropping the 64GB model entirely. That makes the adjusted retail prices as follows: $399 for the 32GB model (£379, AU$569), $499 (£469, AU$719) for the 128GB model without cellular connectivity, and $629 (£589, AU$879) with it. We don't think the marginal price difference makes the tinier, slightly less powerful iPad Mini 4 the better deal.

Google's Pixel C was the first tablet made and designed by Google, and it's built to showcase everything that Android has to offer. But it's pricey, starting at $500 (£480, AU$670) for the 32GB model and $600 (£559, AU$800) for the 64GB version, and that's before you spring for the $149 (£209, AU$200) keyboard accessory. And then there's Microsoft's Surface Pro 4. Equipped with robust processing power, a perfectly sized display and just-right aspect ratio, and a few critical add-on accessories, the Pro 4 has solidified the Surface's position as the gold standard for Windows tablets.

Check out CNET's head-to-head comparison of Google's Pixel C, Microsoft's Surface 3, Apple's iPad Air 2, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 for a detailed view of how the specs stack up.

Editors' note: The original review of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 8.0, first published in September 2015, follows.

With an exceptional design in tow, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 8.0 gives the Apple iPad Mini a run for its money. The 8-inch Tab S2 is thinner and lighter than both the iPad Mini 4 and the Dell Venue 8 7000, and it offers twice the amount of internal storage for the same price as each of them. (A 9.7-inch version of the Tab S2 is also available, and is otherwise almost identical.)

Running Samsung's Android-based TouchWiz user-interface, the tablet is similar to the company's flagship Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge smartphones, which also utilize the UI. Though it lacks an exciting or cutting-edge feature, the absence of a gimmicky factor doesn't change the fact that the Galaxy Tab S2 is one of the best Android tablets available.

It has a spectacular HD screen with vivid color and this new model sports a 4:3 aspect ratio (last year's Tab S had a wider 16:9 screen that was geared toward video watching) that's prime for reading, apps and surfing the Web. It also features consistently smooth performance, a fingerprint scanner and decent cameras -- a rarity for a tablet. All of that is packed into a superskinny and featherweight design that looks cool, feels comfortable to hold, and is so compact, it'll barely make a dent in your bag.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 doesn't come cheap, starting at $400 for the 32GB model, yet it's a worthwhile investment if you're interested in an Android tablet for everyday use. Its petite dimensions make it a perfect portable companion for an everyday commute or travel. A great iPad alternative with sleek design, vibrant and sharp screen, plentiful storage.

Editors' note: The 8-inch (reviewed here) and 9.7-inch versions of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 are almost identical. Portions of their reviews are similar.

Design

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 is -- to date -- one of the thinnest and lightest tablets available. It's a mere 5.6mm thin and 0.58-pound (265g) light, slightly edging out its main competition, the Dell Venue 8 7000 and Apple iPad Mini 4.

Tested spec Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 8.0 Apple iPad Mini 4 Dell Venue 8 7000
Weight 0.58 pound (265g) 0.65 pound (298.8g) 0.67 pound (306g)
Width (landscape) 7.8 inches (198.6mm) 8 inches (203.2 mm) 8.5 inches (216mm)
Height 5.3 inches (134.8mm) 5.3 -inches (134.8 mm) 4.9 inches (124mm)
Depth 0.22 inch (5.6mm) 0.24 inch (6.1mm) 0.24 inch (6mm)
Side bezel width (landscape) 0.56 inch (14.2mm) N/A top bezel: 0.18 inch (4.6mm); other: 0.69 inch (17mm)

Its design itself is sleek with a premium look and feel. The build might feel cheap to some who prefer the aluminum backs of the iPad Mini 4 or Dell Venue 8 7000, but it's heaps better than last year's plastic faux-leather texture with fake stitching accents.

The right side of the tablet houses the power button, volume rocker and microSD card slot. To insert a microSD card, you must use a small pointy object to eject the tray. A thick needle or paper clip should do the trick. On the bottom edge you'll find two speakers with a headphone jack and Micro-USB port between them.

The buttons slightly protrude from the edge. Josh Miller/CNET

Speaking of the edges, though the corners are nicely rounded, the edges themselves are flat. This gives you a surface big enough to rest your fingers on the sides when using it. The dimensions of the 8-inch tablet are just right for one-handed use. Even with my small hands, I could comfortably hold it with a secure grip. The smooth suede-like finish on the back is also comfortable against your fingertips -- it almost doesn't feel like plastic.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 is so easy to carry around, the barely-there description of its presence is akin to an advertisement for pantyhose or Invisalign braces. When I had it in my bag -- even with the 9.7-inch model in there too -- I didn't notice the difference in weight,and it's so thin, it fit into any crevice I squeezed it into.

The thinnest tablet to date. Josh Miller/CNET

Aside from it's convenient portability, it's very comfortable to use. Everything from gaming to reading felt pleasant and my hands or wrists never tired when holding it for a long time. The plastic build lacks the high-end aesthetic that aluminum-backed models -- like the Dell Venue 8 7000 and Apple iPad Mini 4 -- have, however it's the reason why it's a featherweight.

If I were to use the Galaxy Tab S2 every day during a commute or every night while reading before bed, I'd definitely pick the lightweight nature of the plastic construction over the finesse of an aluminum design. It's easier on your hands and wrist, and no sweat to carry around everywhere. Despite its other great attributes, I'd have to say that its minimal design, aesthetically and physically, is my favorite thing about the Samsung tablet.

The back has a suede-like feel. Josh Miller/CNET

Features

The Galaxy Tab S2 runs on Android Lollipop 5.1 with Samsung's TouchWiz overlay. If you've used a Samsung tablet or phone before, it'll look familiar. There aren't any dramatic changes to the UI, however the Flipboard-esque Magazine feature that was premiered on last year's Tab S is notably absent. Considering there's already an app that closely resembles the reading-aggregator function, this isn't a big loss.

Like the Tab S, the new model packs a bunch of free goodies straight from Samsung, and most of them lend themselves to the new reading-friendly screen size. Included with your purchase of the Galaxy Tab S2 are free 6-month subscriptions to The Economist and The Guardian publications, as well as one for Pocket, an app that saves content for reading later. There's also a three-month subscription to Scribd, which is like Netflix for books, and free premium content on Stitchr, a podcast app. If you're into writing as much as you like reading, Samsung also throws in free downloads of the Hancom Office apps.

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