Review

Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 Review: Best tablet display, just not fit for videos

Here at SamMobile, we had something of a love-hate relationship with the Galaxy Tab S, Samsung’s second tablet with a Super AMOLED display. The tablet had a good design and the display was stunning, but a weak processor made the experience on the software side rather irritating at times. With the Galaxy Tab S2, Samsung set out to fix all the shortcomings of the original, while also opting for a 4:3 aspect ratio for the display instead of the 16:9 ratio that is a standard on most Android tablets.

As we noted in our hands-on, the new iPad-like aspect ratio isn’t the best fit for watching videos, something tablets are heavily used for. But apart from that major change that may or may not work out for many users, the Galaxy Tab S2 – which comes in 8.0 and 9.7-inch sizes – has all of the important features one would look for in a high-end tablet. But how is the real-life experience of using the Galaxy Tab S2?

Read on to find out.

Design

The Galaxy Tab S2 is Samsung’s thinnest tablet yet with a thickness of 5.6 mm, and combined with the metal frame around the sides and the soft touch plastic on the back, it feels rather premium. Despite the thin frame, the tablet feels solid in hand, though the Tab S2 attracts considerably more fingerprints than the Tab S. The thinness and size of the 8-inch model make it feel better than the 9.7-inch model, and it’s the one we would prefer if we were out to buy the Galaxy Tab S2.

With the metal frame around the sides and the soft touch plastic on the back, the Tab S2 feels rather premium

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The front of the Tab S2 is dominated by the Super AMOLED display (which is gorgeous), with the hard home button, recent apps and back keys below it. The home button has an integrated fingerprint sensor – it’s the same touch-based sensor as the Galaxy S6, and it’s as accurate and fast as well. Above the display you get your usual sensors (including the front-facing camera) along with the Samsung logo.

The top of the tablet is completely bereft of any ports or features. At the bottom, you get stereo speakers with each grille placed at the left and right corners, and the microUSB port and headphone jack between those grilles. The power and volume buttons (in that order) are at the right of the device, and the left side is as barren as the top.

The Galaxy Tab S2 has a good overall design; it’s not as premium as the iPad because of the soft touch plastic on the back, but that in turn helps it be easier to hold and operate.

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Display

The Galaxy Tab S2 has one of the latest-generation Super AMOLED displays from Samsung, and you probably know what we’re going to say here. But we’ll say it anyway – the display on this thing is amazing, with all the inherent qualities of the Super AMOLED technology. The colors simply pop out of the screen, something that is enhanced by the large size of the display compared to Samsung’s smartphones. The blacks are as black as can be, and the viewing angles are impeccable except for a very slight shift in colors at extreme angles. The resolution has been reduced from 2560×1440 pixels to 2048×1536 pixels, but in regular usage the reduced pixel density doesn’t make any difference unless you’re looking at the screen up close.

The display on this thing is amazing

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But while the display itself looks amazing, we’re not too happy about the new squarish aspect ratio. It’s great for reading books, browsing and using productivity tools like note-taking apps, but for viewing pictures and videos, it just doesn’t work out. Most of the times videos on YouTube would have black bands at the top and bottom as videos are usually shot in 16:9. The video player that comes pre-installed does give you an option to stretch the video to fill the screen, but that either cuts out some part of the picture or elongates things on-screen.

For viewing pictures and videos, the display’s aspect ratio just doesn’t work out

Media consumption is what we use our tablets for most of the time, so in that regard the Galaxy Tab S2 isn’t a great choice. We understand why Samsung has made this move – the bestselling tablet of all time, the Apple iPad, has a similar screen ratio, but it’s a move that affects the experience for the end user. The display is excellent, but it’s shaped in the wrong way if media consumption is your primary use case on a tablet.

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Software

The Galaxy Tab S2 runs Android 5.0.2 Lollipop out of the box (yes, it’s not 5.1.1), with the same version of Samsung’s TouchWiz UX as the one that debuted on the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 edge. This might be Android 5.0.2, but Samsung has fixed things like the missing A-Z sorting in the app drawer and included Multi User support, which isn’t there on the company’s smartphones but is very important on a tablet. There is no support for themes, however, but we hope the company will add the feature through a software update.

The upgraded software is one of the key advantages the Tab S2 has over its predecessor. Samsung completely turned around TouchWiz with the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge; the interface looks much cleaner, modern and sleek, and its colorful nature is well suited to the Super AMOLED display. Oh, and it’s worth mentioning that a pack of Microsoft apps come pre-loaded, with 100GB of free OneDrive storage for every user.

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Performance

Performance was pretty much the biggest issue on the Galaxy Tab S, as the Exynos 5420 was unable to cope with the Quad HD display, and that device was also running Samsung’s previously unoptimized software. On the Tab S2, there’s an octa-core Exynos 5433 processor running the show, with four cores clocked at 1.8GHz and the other four clocked at 1.3GHz. This chipset is considerably faster than the 5420, and the tablet performs very well. Everything happens at a quick pace, and the animations are smooth throughout. There are a few hiccups now and then when we’re going back and forth between apps, but there really isn’t any Android device out there that doesn’t suffer from those hiccups.

Everything happens at a quick pace, and the animations are smooth throughout

Multitasking is where you might feel the Tab S2 is a downgrade, because the tablet comes with the same aggressive RAM management as other 2015 devices from Samsung. It’s not as bad as it was on the Galaxy S6, but if you put the Tab S2 beside another Android tablet with 3GB of RAM, you will see how apps in the background get killed a little too quickly on the Tab S2. There’s no way of knowing why the Korean giant is limiting the multitasking experience on its devices this year, and our best guess is that it’s a way to hide the fact that TouchWiz still isn’t as optimized as it should be.

Camera

The Galaxy Tab S2 features an 8-megapixel camera on the back and a 2.1-megapixel camera on the front. Tablets and imaging don’t usually go hand-in-hand, and as expected both the cameras on the Tab S2 more or less get the job done. Image quality is slightly above average, and if you’re limiting usage of those images to Facebook and other social networks, you won’t see yourself complaining. But if you start looking at them on your PC, you will notice a distinct lack of fine detail in many cases even in natural lighting conditions.

The cameras are good if you’re limiting usage of those images to Facebook and other social networks

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Video calls over the front camera are clear for the most part, though there is visible noise in the image indoors, something that can’t really be avoided. Again, the cameras are fine considering this is a tablet and not a smartphone, but you won’t be coming away impressed with what’s on offer.

Here are a few camera samples:

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Battery Life

Both variants of the Galaxy Tab S2 feature smaller batteries than the ones seen on the original Tab S, but that didn’t seem to affect regular endurance in our experience. Watching videos, the tablet could go on for around 8 hours of continuous usage before reaching the first warning level (15 percent), but the total usage times do seem to have gone down. With general usage we were charging the tablet in around two days, and the small batteries and higher-end processor are no doubt the major reason behind it.

The tablet could go on for around 8 hours of continuous video viewing

Audio Quality

The audio experience is an important aspect on tablets, and this is another area where we were neither disappointed nor impressed with the Galaxy Tab S2. Both variants feature stereo speakers located at the bottom of the device; the sound produced was good with a certain amount of depth, but the volume wasn’t very high. The placement at the bottom can be a problem when you have the tablet on your lap, and we can’t wait for the day when Samsung will start using front firing speakers. There is enough space on a tablet’s top and bottom for accommodating loudspeakers, and it’s something the Korean giant would do well to adopt in the future.

Sound produced by the loudspeakers was good with a certain amount of depth, but the volume wasn’t very high

Wrap Up

Super AMOLED displays are amazing, and when you put them on a tablet, the experience becomes even better. The first Galaxy Tab S provided a stunning viewing experience, and the Galaxy Tab S2 does the same while also improving on the software front. As media lovers, we don’t agree with the new aspect ratio of the display, but at the same time we have to say the Tab S2 is a great tablet. There are improvements in all the right places, and the display is as stunning as one would expect it to be.

Battery life could have been better, but it’s not a major concern unless you’re a frequent traveller that uses the tablet a lot and don’t have access to a charging point for multiple days on a stretch. In the end, the takeaway is this: If reading books and browsing the web are going to be two of your primary use cases, the Galaxy Tab S2 is an excellent choice. If you’re a fan of watching movies and YouTube videos, the original Galaxy Tab S is still a better bet despite its issues.

ProsCons
Beautiful displayNot suitable for videos and pictures
Premium yet ergonomic designOkay cameras
Fast softwareSome specs still not very up-to-date
Great for browsing and readingBottom speaker placement
Good battery life
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