The iPad is the leader in tablets, but Samsung is ready to challenge Apple by channeling the goodness of its Galaxy S5 smartphone into two new slates. With its Galaxy Tab S series (available in 8.4-inch and 10.5-inch variants), the electronics giant offers impressive AMOLED screens that outgun Apple’s brilliant Retina displays in terms of color and resolution. Samsung also packs Exynos 5 octa-core processors and a feature that lets you remote control your phone from the slates.
In this clash of the tech titans, can Samsung’s new premium tablet lineup overthrow Apple?
|Galaxy Tab S 10.5||iPad Air||Galaxy Tab S 8.4||iPad mini with Retina|
|$399 (16GB)||$399 (16GB)
|Dimensions||9.7 x 6.9 x 0.25 inches; 1.02 pounds (Wi-Fi), 1.03 pounds (LTE)||9.4 x 6.6 x 0.29 inches; 1.05 pounds||8.4 x 5.0 x 0.25 inches; 10.37 ounces (Wi-Fi), 10.51 ounces (LTE)||7.9 x 5.3 x 0.29 inches; 11.6 ounces|
|Display||10.5 inches; 2560 x 1600 AMOLED (287 ppi)||9.7 inches; 2048 x 1536 (264 ppi)||8.4 inches; 2560 x 1600 Super AMOLED (360 ppi)||7.9 inches; 2048 x 1536 (326 ppi)|
|Processor||Exynos 5 Octa-core (1.9-GHz quad-core)||Apple 64-bit A7 with M7 motion co-processor||Exynos 5 Octa-core (1.9-GHz quad-core + 1.3 GHz quad-core)||Apple 64-bit A7 with M& motion co-processor|
|Operating System||Android 4.4 KitKat plus TouchWiz||iOS 7||Android 4.4 KitKat plus TouchWiz||iOS 7|
|Storage||16GB + microSD up to 128GB||16/32/64/128GB||16GB + microSD up to 128GB||16/32/64/128GB|
|Camera||8MP with LED Flash rear, 2.1MP front||8MP iSight camera with TrueTone dual LED Flash, HD front||8MP with LED Flash rear, 2.1MP front||5MP iSight camera with TrueTone dual LED Flash, HD front|
Apple proved it can do design better than anyone else with the iPad Air‘s wonderfully thin and light frame. At just 9.4 x 6.6 x 0.29 inches and 1.03 pounds, the Air is currently one of the lightest big-screen tablets on the market.
MORE: Best Tablets 2014
That said, the Tab S 10.5, at 9.7 x 6.9 x 0.25 inches and 1.02 pounds (Wi-Fi model; LTE model 1.03 pounds), beats Apple at its own game, with a slimmer and lighter body.
Samsung continues to take the edge in this round with the 8-inch models. The Galaxy Tab S 8.4 (8.37 x 4.94 x 0.25 inches, 10.37 (Wi-Fi) / 10.51 (LTE) ounces) cuts a sleeker profile and weighs less than the iPad mini with Retina (7.9 x 5.3 x 0.29 inches; 11.6 ounces)
To be fair, the iPad Air and Mini have more premium aluminum designs, while the Galaxy Tab S goes the plastic route. On the other hand, we like the dimpled backside of the Tab S, which reminds us of the S5.
Samsung is kicking things up a notch with the Tab S slates. Both the 8.4 and 10.5-inch models boast impressive 2560 x 1600 WQXGA Super AMOLED displays. Samsung says the Tabs also deliver more than 90 percent of the Adobe RGB color spectrum, meaning they can show more colors.
Resolution-wise, this is sharper than the iPads’ 2048 x 1536 screens. Despite being larger than the iPads’ 9.7- and 7.9-inch displays, the Tabs carry pixel densities of 287 pixels per inch and 360 ppi (10.5- and 8.4-inch models respectively). That’s better than the iPads, which come in at 264 ppi (Air) and 326 ppi (mini).
We’ve been impressed by Samsung’s equally sharp displays before, especially in its Note 10.1 (2014), which had the same 2560 x 1600 resolution.
However, there isn’t much content readily available right now that takes advantage of such a high-res screen. Plus, not as many apps are optimized for the higher resolution display on Android devices when compared to Retina-optimized apps for the iPad. This was most evident when looking at the New York Times homepage on both the Galaxy Tab S and the Air, as the paper’s logo was much more pixelated on the Tab S.
You’ll notice the biggest differences in terms of color and contrast. Side by side, colors were much more saturated on the Tab S than on the Air. For example, in a photo of an impala running through the grass, the animal’s hide had a redder hue, and popped off the screen more on the Tab S.
In another shot of a sea turtle, the water on the Tab S’ display had a bluer hue, where the iPad Air’s screen had an almost purplish tint.
Likewise, in a photo of the Dolomite mountains, the sky was bluer and the grass was literally greener on the Tab S than on the iPad.
However, sometimes this oversaturation of colors on the Tab S isn’t as desirable. In another photo of a mountain pasture (above), the grass on the Tab S’ screen was a fluorescent green, and looked almost artificial. While not as saturated, that same scene looked much more natural and true to life on the iPad Air.
With a 1.9-GHz octa-core Exynos 5 processor (which combines four high-power cores with four low-power ones), each Tab S slate should be fast enough for your most taxing apps. You should not encounter lag while playing games, editing documents or watching movies on the Tabs.
When we tested the Galaxy Note Pro, which carries the same processor as the Tab S, we saw above-average benchmark results. However, the Note Pro’s CPU couldn’t hold a candle to the iPads’ A7 processor for performing such everyday tasks as closing apps and switching display orientation. We noted the same behavior during our hands-on with the Tab S.
To see how the Tab S slates stack up against the iPads though, we’ll have to put the final shipping version through our full set of tests.
Samsung is the king of special features, and the Tab S series is jam-packed with a bunch of software add-ons. The top perks are the latest version of SideSync, a Kids Mode and music discovery app Milk.
SideSync is Samsung’s remote viewing tool that lets you control your Galaxy smartphone from your tablet. The newest version lets you make and receive calls from your Tab S through a Wi-Fi Direct connection to your phone. You can also drag and drop files from your phone to your tablet.
While you can view your iPad’s screen on your Mac or MacBook with an app such as Reflector, Apple doesn’t offer remote controlling of your tablets from other devices just yet, and sharing content across devices is mostly facilitated by AirPlay or iCloud. With iOS 8, there will be a Hand Off feature for picking up where you left off on your Mac on your iPad.
With Kids Mode on the Tab S, you can decide the type of content and length of play your child gets before handing off the Tab S. Multi-User Mode also gives you access to individual, customized user profiles for easier sharing. You won’t find multiple user accounts on the iPads.
As on other Galaxy devices, the Tab S will also support Multi Window, which let you open up to two apps side by side. No such feature is officially available on the iPad yet.
Debuting on the Tab S is Samsung Papergarden, a magazine reader app optimized for the Tab S that features titles such as Elle, Vogue, Architectural Digest, GQ and Rolling Stone. You’ll get all single issues free through July 31st, along with a 3-month free trial of Marvel Unlimited.
Samsung is also throwing in, through Galaxy Gifts, a year of free Gogo In-flight Wi-Fi access, a 12-month subscription to Bloomberg BusinessWeek, a 6-month trial subscription to the Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post and a 3-month subscription to The New York Times, Sirius XM Radio and Audible. Apple doesn’t give away free content with purchase of its slates.
Another neat new feature on the Tab S is a fingerprint scanner, just like the one on the Galaxy S5. You can use this to sign into your tablet or approve purchases. Apple’s slates don’t have a fingerprint reader yet, although many expect it to show up in the next iPads.
The most important advantage that the iPad has is apps. Apple’s App Store has hundreds of thousands of apps that are designed for tablet usages, while many options in the Google Play store are stretched-out phone apps. The selection is improving, but you certainly won’t find many apps that take advantage of the Tab S’ high-res screen. Most new apps for the iPad Air and mini are optimized for its Retina displays.
The Galaxy Tab S line should give Apple a run for its money, thanks to a brilliant display and wealth of special features. We especially like how Samsung attempts to integrate the smartphone experience. If you want a tablet for videos, productivity and family sharing, the Galaxy Tab S is a solid option. Fans of top-quality apps, however, will continue to prefer the iPad.