The Tab S2 delivers quality in all the areas that matter – it’s the best-value large Android tablet around.
T here are certain things that you’re guaranteed to get with the 9.7in Samsung Galaxy Tab S2. The first is quality. It’s clear from the moment you pick it up that this is a premium tablet, with no hint of flex and a stylish, understated design. The second is speed. Inside sits an octa-core processor and 3GB of RAM, which combine to give slick performance in pretty much everything you do. And the third is a magnificent 9.7in display.
Even more impressive is that Samsung delivers all this in a tablet only 5.6mm thick. It’s easy to let a stat like that wash over you, so let me emphasise the point: it means there’s barely 1mm of metal above or below the headphone socket (which sits at the bottom of the device). In a world where we’ve come to expect truly remarkable engineering as a matter of course, it’s, well, truly remarkable.
Naturally, the S2 is light too. At 389g, it’s 10% lighter than the 437g Apple iPad Air 2. Just as importantly, the Galaxy Tab S2 feels well balanced in the hand, which is rather important if you’re going to watch films with it.
However, Samsung’s designers need to have a rethink here. When watching video, my right hand’s instinctive position meant my little finger covered one of the speakers while my thumb all too easily brushed the back button. This isn’t disastrous, but it meant I had to position my hand in a certain way.
Design and software
I described the Tab S2 as understated, which could be seen as a backhanded compliment. Others might call the gold version a little dull and prefer the white or black versions, but it’s certainly the colour I’d opt for if all prices are equal. That said, the black version tends to be significantly cheaper, as the gold version only appears to be available from a handful of retailers, such as John Lewis.
I initially liked the fact that Samsung is selling a keyboard cover to go with the S2. This cleverly clips into the two depressible buttons fitted into the Tab’s rear. However, it’s somewhat expensiveat $199.
This is a shame, especially when Samsung puts productivity at the forefront of the Tab S2. It preloads Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, and that makes perfect sense with a large 4:3 screen. When paired with the right keyboard, this is a machine that you can actually do things with.
As ever, Samsung can’t help but add its own TouchWiz software layer over Android 5.0.2 (Lollipop), but the end result is easy to get to grips with. I still prefer vanilla Android, but TouchWiz isn’t overly invasive.
I’ve already nailed my feelings to the mast regarding the Tab S2’s screen: it’s one of the best out there. Let me qualify that to an extent, though, as in its default setting (Adaptive display), some might find its vibrant colours a little too eye-popping. Naturalists will prefer the Basic mode, but, to my eyes, it turns everything a little drab.
That said, to get the best accuracy, you should switch to Basic. In this mode, it covered 100% of the Adobe sRGB gamut in our tests, and as it uses Super AMOLED technology, contrast is perfect. Naturally, it’s darned crisp too: that’s what happens when you pack 2,048 x 1,536 pixels into a 9.7in screen. That resolution translates into 264ppi – exactly the same as the iPad Air 2.
The internals of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 9.7in are identical to its 8in sibling, the cunningly titled Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 8in, so it should be no surprise that the two perform almost identically in benchmarks.
For example, it scored 1,268 in the single-core Geekbench 3 test and 4,295 in the multi-core test – within a percent or two of its brother. While that put the Tab S2 8in in the upper echelons of compact tablets, it’s a more mixed result in relation to larger rivals. The iPad Air 2 scored 1,683 (33% faster) and 4,078 (5% slower), for example.
Its gaming benchmark scores were less impressive. I put it through its paces in GFXBench 3.1 and found it stumbled compared to the best tablets, typically rendering half the frames per second of the iPad Air 2 or the Nexus 9.
But, frankly, you can get lost in benchmarks. What really matters is that this is a fast performer in all the areas that matter. It’s still more than capable of handling demanding games such as Hearthstone, and should power through web browsing, most games and whatever else you throw at it for years to come.
I was, at first, a little fearful to see that Samsung had opted for a 5,870mAh battery, significantly smaller than the Apple iPad Air 2’s 7,340mAh. In practice, though, it delivers: it lasted 12hrs 9mins in our video-rundown test, an hour and a half longer than the iPad Air 2. (Note: we’ve changed the brightness that the battery test is run at, so results in other reviews may not be directly comparable – however, we did retest the iPad Air 2.)
This is credit to the efficiency of the processor, which will switch to the lower-power 1.3GHz cores when it can afford to. If you’re playing games, then expect much worse stamina. Likewise, pumping the screen up to its full 359cd/m² brightness will drag life down.
I was also pleased to see little drop-off overnight. Traditionally a strength of iPads, the Tab S2 9.7in lasted a full week of light use between charges, with less than 1% lost while I was sleeping each night.
Value for money
The 9.7in Galaxy S2 can be had for around $540. At the same time, we’re seeing the Nexus 9 drop to sub-$400 levels.
However, I’d still say the 9.7in has the edge on value for money. It feels and looks significantly superior, there’s 32GB of storage to the Nexus 9’s 16GB, and the screen is that much bigger and better. If you can buy the Tab S2 9.7in for less than $500 the word bargain creeps to mind.
That’s especially true when you consider you can add up to 128GB of additional storage via the microSD slot, so opting for the 32GB model now won’t be a decision you later regret.
The Tab S2 9.7in isn’t a perfect tablet: gaming performance could be better, while a lack of accessories compared to the iPad 2 Air holds it back. Come on Samsung, make that keyboard cheaper!
However, Samsung hasn’t compromised in the areas that matter. As I did right at the start, I’ll come back to that screen and the build quality. Factor in the price, and the Galaxy Tab S2 9.7in becomes PC & Tech Authority’s top choice for larger Android tablets.