iPad Air vs Samsung Galaxy Tab S: Tablet Face-Off

ipad tabs lead

Samsung sells every size tablet you can imagine, but with the Galaxy Tab S the company hopes it can beat the iPad Air at its own game. It comes to this battle armed with a 10.5-inch Super AMOLED display that promises to run circles around the Air’s Retina LCD, as well as a design that’s both thinner and lighter. Plus, the Samsung has some unique software tricks up its sleeve.

However, the iPad Air is the reigning tablet champ for a reason, offering more than 500,000 optimized apps and a fast 64-bit A7 processor in a sexy aluminum body. So which device is the one to buy? We put these slates through nine rounds of combat to crown a winner.

Design

design tab sThe Galaxy Tab S 10.5 looks like a supersized Galaxy S5. The tablet offers the appearance of metal, with a gold-ish rim that surrounds its 9.73 x 6.98 x 0.26-inch frame, but it’s merely plastic. We do, however, like the Dazzling White and the Titanium Bronze options, and the soft-touch finish on the back.

MORE: Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5: Full Review

design ipad2Overall, though, it’s tough to compete with the iPad Air’s clean, unibody aluminum chassis (available in Space Gray or Silver). Measuring 9.4 x 6.6 x 0.29 inches, the iPad is smaller but thicker than the Tab S.

MORE: Apple iPad Air: Full Review

The Tab S weighs in at 1.02 pounds, compared to the iPad Air’s 1.05 pounds. Both of these slates are very comfortable to hold for long stretches.

We like the microSD Card slot on the Tab S, which offers an expanded 128GB worth of storage space, and we appreciate that Samsung included an IR blaster on the top edge for controlling the TV via the company’s WatchOn app. The iPad Air uses a proprietary Lightning connector, while the Samsung uses a microUSB port.

Winner: iPad Air. Although we like the Tab S’ sheer portability, the iPad Air looks and feels more like a $499 product.

Display

galaxy tab s display compared to ipad air

What a difference Super AMOLED makes. While watching an HD trailer for “Guardians of the Galaxy,” the difference between these two tablets was instantly obvious. Zoe Saldana’s green skin really popped on the Galaxy Tab S’ 2560 x 1600-pixel panel. It’s so much brighter that the iPad Air’s 2048 x 1536-pixel display made Saldana merely look jaundiced instead of reptilian.

The 10.5-inch display on the Tab S was also sharper, allowing us to clearly make out the wrinkles on Glenn Close’s neck. At least the iPad Air’s 9.7 inches did a better job of making her look younger.

The brightness we observed during real world testing was also backed up by our light meter testing. We recorded an average brightness on the Air of 411 lux, while the Tab S notched 502 lux. Neither display was easily viewable in bright sunlight, however.

The Tab S is capable of displaying 154 percent of the sRGB color gamut, compared with the iPad Air’s 99 percent. However, the Air’s colors are more true to life. The Tab S registered a Delta-E rating of 3.4 (0 is best). The iPad Air scored 1.4.

Verdict: Galaxy Tab S. The screen on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 is brighter and just looks better.

Audio

ipad tabs audioApple places the iPad Air’s dual speakers on either side of the Lightning connector on the bottom edge of the tablet (if held in portrait mode). Samsung, on the other hand, places its dual speakers along the top left and right edges.

While neither the iPad Air nor the Galaxy S Tab 10.5 offer stunning sound quality, both were passable. However, on the Air we heard more bass and could more clearly make out the gasp for air in Imagine Dragon’s “Radioactive.” On the Tab S, the drums and guitar sounded hollow. Similarly, the muted vocals on “Ho Hey” by The Lumineers from the Tab S disappointed in comparison to the fullness and depth coming from the iPad Air.

There’s no denying that the Tab S gets louder. On the Laptop Mag Audio Test, which involves measuring the volume of a tone played from 13 inches away, the iPad Air produced 67 decibels of sound. The Tab S produced a booming 79 dB.

Winner: iPad Air. Sure, the Galaxy Tab S 10.5 gets loud, but the iPad’s speakers offered more satisfying audio quality.

Performance

Apple’s 64-bit A7 chip, which powers the iPad Air, makes for a zippy tablet experience. The tablet instantly flipped from landscape to portrait mode and opened and closed apps in a flash. The Tab S’ octa-core Exynos processor was a step or more behind in many of these real-world scenarios.

ipad-tabs-nova3For example, opening the “N.O.V.A. 3″ game took 6 seconds on the Air and 16 seconds on the Tab S. Between opening the camera app and being ready to shoot, the Air was 2 seconds faster than the Tab S (4 seconds versus 2 seconds). Opening “Despicable Me: Minion Rush” took 2 seconds on the Air versus 4 on the Tab S.

MORE: Best Tablets 2014

ipad-tabs-3dmarkOn certain synthetic benchmarks, the Tab S does have a small edge in processing power. On Geekbench 3, which measures multicore performance, the Samsung tablet scored 2,775, while the iPad Air notched 2,694. However, Apple’s slate took the lead in the graphics department, scoring 14,850 on 3DMark Ice Store Unlimited compared with the Tab S’s 13,481.

Winner: Apple iPad Air. The iPad Air offers superior performance in everyday usage.

App Store and Content Selection

galaxy tab s ipadIt’s no secret that the Google Play store doesn’t provide a wide range of tablet apps. Meanwhile, Apple offers more than 500,000 iPad-optimized apps. In fact, some third-party apps on the Tab S are downright disappointing. For example, Facebook on the Galaxy Tab S reminds us more of a stretched version of the phone app rather than a tablet-friendly option; there’s just too much white space.

We did prefer the look and feel of Evernote on the Tab S. It comes pre-loaded, along with some other useful apps such as Flipboard, Hancom Office Viewer, Netflix and NYTimes. While we like that Hancom syncs with Dropbox, when/if Android L comes to the Tab S you’ll also be able to view Word docs from within Drive.

MORE: 25 Best Android Apps

Samsung also loads up a few of its own helpful apps, including Remote PC for controlling your PC, Milk Music for browsing tunes via a retro dial, and the e-magazine Papergarden app.


ipad air appsConsumers who purchase an iPad Air can download Apple’s iLife and iWork suites free, which include Pages, a document-editing app; Numbers, a spreadsheet app; Keynote, used to create presentations; iMovie; iPhoto; and GarageBand.

MORE: 25 Best iPad Apps

When it comes to content selection on the Google Play store versus iTunes, there’s a comparable amount of movies, TV shows, music and e-books. However, we did notice in our limited survey that Apple’s content will cost you more per item. For instance, buying a digital copy of Disney’s “Frozen” costs $14.99 on Google Play, but will run you $19.99 on iTunes. Similarly, Season One of the latest “Cosmos” TV show costs $25.99 on Play versus $30.99 on iTunes. And best-selling e-book “The Silkworm” by Robert Galbraith costs $8.99 on Google Play versus $14.99 on iTunes.

Winner: iPad Air. The quality and selection of apps on the iPad continues to beat Samsung and Google’s Play store options, assuming you don’t mind paying a little bit more for content.

Cameras

Looking for proof that megapixels aren’t everything? Take a good look at the photos we took with the iPad Air’s 5-MP rear camera and the Galaxy Tab S’s 8-MP shooter.

tree_comparisonA shot of a maple tree on a sunny day appeared hazy and blown out on the Tab S, but deep and rich on the iPad Air. The depth of field apparent in the Air’s shot of orchids in our sunny office beat the singular focus and lack of detail on the Tab S’ similar shot.

lowlight-comparison

A low-light image of our Pop Daenerys Targaryen taken with the Tab S picked up and seemingly amplified ambient light for a brighter photo. However, we noticed significant grain in the image. The Air’s photo was darker but delivering more detail, as you can see in our tchotchke’s hair. 

selfie_comparison

We do love the Beauty Face treatment that Samsung’s camera employs on front-facing selfies. All our skin blemishes automatically disappeared, but left us with a slightly out-of-focus look.

Winner: iPad Air. Apple’s tablet just takes better-looking photos.

Battery Life

ipad tabs batteryOn the LAPTOP Battery Test (Web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness), the iPad Air lasted 9 hours and 30 minutes. The Galaxy Tab S lasted a strong but shorter 8 hours and 57 minutes.

MORE: 10 Tablets with the Longest Battery Life

That’s not a huge difference in runtime, but having an extra half hour of juice could mean being able to last through that meeting versus scrambling for pen and paper.

Winner: iPad Air. Both tablets offer excellent endurance, but the Air lasts longer.

Special Features

Not surprisingly, Samsung packed the Galaxy Tab S 10.5 with a plethora of features. Using the bundled SideSync 3.0 app, you can mirror whatever is on your Galaxy smartphone on the bigger 10.5-inch screen. That means you can drag and drop files between devices, or make and receive calls, even if your phone is across the room.

tab_s_featuresSamsung has also brought its fingerprint scanning technology from the Galaxy S5 phone to the tablet, beating Apple to the punch. Swiping the home button unlocks the device or enables you to make payments via PayPal, although the latter option is complicated.

Another handy extra you get from Samsung is Kids Mode. While the iPad does offer some helpful parental controls, it does not create a separate family-friendly environment complete with cartoonish backgrounds. The Galaxy Tab S 10.5 also pre-loads some fun kids apps, including a karaoke sing-along app, perfect for the “Frozen”-obsessed crowd. We appreciated that kids have their own store for downloads, like the Sprinkle Islands water-physics game, but you will need a Samsung Apps profile. Our favorite part of this app is the ability to limit playtime.

ipad_air_featuresThe iPad Air doesn’t have a ton in the way of bells and whistles, but it does have Siri. Apple’s personal assistant not only has a lot of personality and a sense of humor, but she’s pretty smart, too. By talking to your tablet, you can set alarms, check the latest sports scores, find a place to eat, play your last voicemail, turn on Bluetooth and much more. We also like Apple now that it offers a male voice option as well.

Winner: Galaxy Tab S. Samsung’s slate has a lot more capabilities right out of the box compared with the iPad Air.

Accessories

ipad-air-accessoriesBoth Apple and Samsung offer you a choice of cases that cover just the front or the entire tablet. For the iPad Air, you can opt for the $39 polyurethane Smart Cover or the $79 leather Smart Case. Both accessories are available in six colors, and both fold easily to serve as a stand or make typing more comfortable.

tabs_accessoriesSamsung’s similar $39 Simple Cover and $69 Book Cover come in five colors. The Tab S has two grooves on its back, into which you snap the above covers, but we found lining up everything a chore. Also, switching between the three available viewing angles is less intuitive than with the Air’s Covers.

Samsung will offer a separate keyboard for the Tab S, which will come with a clasp that will make the tablet feel more like a laptop when closed. Apple doesn’t make a keyboard case of its own, but there are several third-party options available, as well as scores of other accessories. You’ll find everything from screen shields and sleeves to ruggedized cases.

Winner: iPad Air. Apple’s cases are easier to use, and there are more third-party accessories.

Overall Winner: Apple’s iPad Air

ipad air tab s scorecard

This looks like one embarrassing loss. Apple’s $499 iPad Air is clearly superior in seven out of nine key categories, including design, audio, performance, apps, accessories and battery life. The camera on the back of Apple’s slate is also miles better. In other words, the Air wins this contest in a rout.

The $499 Galaxy Tab S 10.5 is the winner in some areas. We generally prefer the richer and more vibrant display on the Samsung, and only it offers a handy Kids Mode for busy families. Plus, the Galaxy Tab S doubles as a TV remote and lets you expand its memory. Overall, though, the iPad Air remains the tablet to beat.

ipad tab s verdict

AUTHOR BIO
Anna Attkisson
Anna Attkisson
A lover of lists and deadlines, Anna Attkisson covers apps, social networking and accessories. She's proud to say she loves each and every one of her phablet, three tablets, three laptops and desktop. She joined the Laptop Mag staff in 2007, after working at Time Inc. Content Solutions where she created custom publications for companies from American Express to National Parks Foundation.
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  1. Constable Odo Says:

    I’m somewhat surprised there was that big of a lead for the iPad Air because spec-wise the Samsung seemed rather well-featured. I wonder how sales of the Galaxy Tab are doing because it seems so many Android tablet buyers want to pay much less for their tablets. Anyway it was a nice review to read but I think Samsung fans will really be disappointed with the iPad’s victory.

  2. pjsercel_boston Says:

    The iPad Air is 0.29″ thick, not 0.39″ thick, as reported…

  3. Robert Jasiek Says:

    The statement “Samsung sells every size tablet you can imagine” may be Samsung’s own advertisement speech, but is false. Samsung does not sell any 4:3 displays, and this is an important difference to the iPad.

    Filing “you can drag and drop files between devices” under “special features” of the Galaxy Tab S is a great understatement, as this basic feature is essentially missing on iPads.

  4. Jake Says:

    What a load of nonsense! How much did Apple pay you for this review?

  5. stephen Says:

    It’s such a biased review by an isheep journo. It’s easy to get a glare on the photo and by touching the focus or moving slightly it disappears. I could get the ipad to do the same. Most people I know use a case for the ipad and as such never see the aluminium. If they don’t use a case then the aluminium is a huge pain in the bum because it’s slippery. Also I think the headphones sound great on the tab s. I wouldn’t so sad to listen to a film or song on ANY tablet speakers. It’s so much more immersive with headphones. As for watching a film on the ipad , it’s the wrong size screen. It’s like an old square tv. Thats why all good tv makers don’t make their best tv’s with the aspect ratio of the ipad. It’s old fashioned.

  6. MarliLolZ Says:

    well that’s a total bias elaboration… i mean sure u could have just said… go buy Apple and don’t buy Samsung…

    u know instead of this lengthy diatribe on how the iPad is the better tablet and doing all this comparison only to give the Samsung credit for things that people would simply dunk u for not mentioning… frankly i find apples software and gadgets in general more proprietary and restraining that any other company out there…

    well at any rate reviews will always favor the more established company… ie Apple… but still in the real world how many people actually buy an iPad compared to the Samsung Galaxy frenzy out there…

    blehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh….. review one thing and reality is a totally different thingie… bleh….

  7. D.C. Says:

    What a load of crap! you guys are such apple fan boys it makes me sick. Comments like “it just feels nicer” “it just sounds better”. Is that when your holding it between your legs? you’ve never given a fair test yet when it involves apple crap and you never will. This is exactly why I’ll never renew my subscription to your always biased magazine

  8. Jordan Says:

    This article is the biggest load of crap.

    Fire Anna. She is horrible and unprofessional.

  9. Jake Says:

    I’m not being funny but my wife has an I pad air. And I have just bought a tab s 10.5 and it is so superior in every way.. This review could NOT be more wrong.. my wife is so jealous. It looks better feels better and performs better.. Do not pay attention to this review.. k

  10. jamison Says:

    whoa, those camera samples, it seems odd. and when she said 7 of those she ticked as “clearly” is laughable

  11. jamison Says:

    the writer puts too much emphasis on optimized apps and yet does not put points on how customizable android is compared to ios, and what about the multiwindow function for productivity?

  12. cliff Says:

    What a crock of crap. What did I expect from icnet. Apple never gets a bad review.

  13. cliff Says:

    I meant ilaptop. Same difference!!

  14. Devo Says:

    Good honest review!The Anti-Apple Heads are buzzing with anger. They just can’t accept that Apples keep you healthy. The originals are usually better.

  15. Eduardo Says:

    Daughter has an iPad and it cannot send text messages to any phone other than Apple products–what a huge annoyance. What about the Galaxy? Doesn’t it send texts to any phone?

  16. Anna Attkisson, LAPTOP Managing Editor Says:

    She could try downloading an app like WhatsApp. Her friends would also need to have the app, but it would allow her to send messages via Wi-Fi.

  17. Guy koman Says:

    The iPad air is the best tablet ever. That´s why:

    Great autonomy
    Blazing fast with no lags
    Reduced audio latency
    Best screen touch latency
    Great accessories

    Huge quality apps collection
    Microsoft office apps for ipad
    Best games exlusive to ios (infinity blade, the limbo game etc.)
    Create and Edit full HD movies (not possible on android)
    Create great music with apps like garageband
    Create 3d scenes with verto studio
    Etc.

  18. Octavio Says:

    This review is tendentious and partial, if you are going to do a fair compare at least show no favoritism for Apple in your comments.
    Btw, if you’re going to shoot against the sun, at least try to avoid direct sunlight on the lens as it did with the iPad.

  19. Yuka Says:

    Well,the ones that says apple ipad is a piece of crap,then get a life! I know that samsung is way better,but give apple ipad air a break.i am a seven year old,and i have the apple ipad air. And i think that apple isnt a piece of crap to me,it is a piece of my life! So deal with it!!

    -yuka

  20. No name Says:

    Wow, this review is crap. There is absolutely no mention of the tab s ultra power saving mode which allows you to crank out weeks of standby time on less than 20 percent battery. Our about how the tab s has 3 times the ram and an unassisted GPS. not to mention 4 times the cores with it’s four weakest being faster than the air’s only two. The tab s also gives you loads of extras. Not to mention multi user support. The ability to unlock and log in to your user account with just you fingerprint. Plus what about Swype as supposed to some pain auto correct that never gets it right. If you want a fair review click this link: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jul/10/samsung-galaxy-tab-s-review-ipad-apple

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