Apple is not the unassailable juggernaut in the tablet market that it once was. The firm has released strong products like the 9.7in iPad Air 2 and the 8in iPad Mini, but Apple's slate sales have fallen significantly in the past year, despite rising demand for business-friendly tablets.
To complicate matters, Samsung has just announced the Galaxy Tab S2, a follow-up to 2014's excellent Galaxy Tab S. It's launching in August in 9.7in and 8in models, notably identical screen sizes to its two big Apple competitors.
Both parties can expect a struggle when the Galaxy Tab S2 hits the shelves. Samsung has the thinner, lighter design with a greater emphasis on business use, but it's going up against established high-end products from Apple that made tablet PCs a big deal in the first place.
We'll have a full review of Samsung's effort closer to release, but for now we've compared the specs of the 9.7in Galaxy Tab S2 with the 9.7in iPad Air 2 to see which ultra-thin tablet has the theoretical edge.
Dimensions and design
Galaxy Tab S2: 169x237x5.6mm, 389g (WiFi)/392g (LTE)
iPad Air 2: 170x240x6.1mm, 437g (WiFi)/444g (LTE)
It's a narrow victory - literally - but the Galaxy Tab S2 wins out here in terms of thinness, screen-to-bezel ratio and weight.
That's not a failing of the iPad Air 2 by any means; despite being released last year, it's still a superbly thin and light tablet by 2015 standards, and 0.5mm is hardly a yawning chasm of a depth difference.
We are intrigued by the Galaxy Tab S2's new metal case, though. It's a clear upgrade to the polycarbonate bodywork on the original Galaxy Tab S, and possibly an attempt to give the second-generation model a more premium look and feel on par with the iPad Air 2. Apple's tablet already has these qualities to spare, thanks to its anodised aluminium chassis.
Ultimately, these two products are so similar in terms of design and materials (though we say that having not tested the Galaxy Tab S2's build quality) that the 'better' of the two will be determined largely by personal preference.
Galaxy Tab S2: Samsung Exynos 4533 octa-core (4x1.9GHz, 4x1.3GHz) application processor with 3GB RAM
iPad Air 2: Apple 1.5GHz triple-core A8X with 2GB RAM
The iPad Air 2's A8X system on a chip is a powerful processor that performed very well in our review tests, but the Galaxy Tab S2 - on paper - dwarfs it.
With more cores and more RAM, we expect the Exynos 4533 to have the upper hand, especially when multitasking or running applications that particularly benefit from multithreading, such as games.
Galaxy Tab S2: 9.7in Super AMOLED display at 2048x1536 resolution
iPad Air 2: 9.7in Retina display at 2048x1536 resolution
Resolution is a dead heat; both devices share the exact same PPI of 264, meaning they'll look equally sharp (though not as crisp as some smaller, sub-8in tablets).
We're more familiar with the iPad Air 2's bright and vibrant display, but we've always been impressed by the boldness of previous Super AMOLED screens - including that of the original Galaxy Tab S - so we're confident that the Galaxy Tab S2 will maintain that level of quality.
The iPad Air 2 display's main advantage will be its anti-reflective coating which, as we said in our review, does an admirable job of resisting glare.
Samsung hasn't announced whether the Galaxy Tab S2 will have an anti-reflective screen, but the Korean firm generally doesn't bother with such coatings, instead preferring to sell stick-on screen protectors with the same functionality.
Operating system and software
Galaxy Tab S2: Android 5.0 Lollipop
iPad Air 2: iOS 8.4
The iPad Air 2 runs the latest version of Apple's mobile OS, having launched with and upgraded from iOS 8.1. In addition to useful tools introduced in 8.1, like the revamped QuickType keyboard, swipe gesture controls and Continuity webpage/document syncing features, 8.4 introduced a number of bug fixes, including one for a notorious problem where receiving a certain Unicode text through iMessage caused the device to crash.
Even so, we're inclined to favour the Galaxy Tab S2 for its use of Android 5.0 Lollipop and selection of pre-installed productivity software. It would be nice if it ran the more recent Android 5.1, but 5.0 is still a significant improvement on previous versions, boasting a less intrusive notification system, performance enhancements for multi-core processors, auto-enabled encryption and a battery saver mode.
What's more, the Galaxy Tab S2 will come pre-loaded with Microsoft Office Solutions, featuring the Android versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote straight out of the box.
These apps can be purchased separately on the iPad Air 2, but having such versatile Windows-compatible software already installed (and at no extra cost) is a huge boost to the Samsung tablet's enterprise credentials. iOS isn't without its strengths, but the Galaxy Tab S2 wins this round.
Impressively, both tablets include a touch-operated fingerprint sensor. Biometrics aren't a flawless security tool - you can change a password if it gets discovered, but you can't change a fingerprint - yet fingerprint readers remain an efficient authentication method for devices shared between multiple users, as is often the case with business tablets.
On the software side, Samsung said that the Galaxy Tab S2 will have additional anti-malware applications pre-installed, although it hasn't specified what these might be. In any case, adding an extra layer of protection over Android's encryption and authentication measures shows that Samsung is taking security seriously.
But perhaps not as seriously as Apple. The iPad Air 2 benefits from iOS 8.4's dizzying number of built-in security functions, from support for the Secure Enclave - a separate processor that locks off key management information if the kernel is compromised - to 256-bit encryption of apps that may hold corporate data, such as Mail, Contacts and iMessage.
Since iOS isn't open source, like Android, it's also proved less susceptible to malware and general cyber attacks.
We're definitely keeping an eye on the additional security software included with the Galaxy Tab S2, but for now the iPad Air 2 takes the security advantage.
Galaxy Tab S2: 5,870mAh
iPad Air 2: 27.3-watt-hour rechargeable lithium polymer battery
Strictly in terms of numbers, Apple takes this one as well; the iPad Air 2's 27.3-watt-hour battery equates to a considerable 7,340mAh, trouncing the Galaxy Tab S2.
The extent to which this will result in a longer battery life in practice remains to be seen. In our battery burn tests, we found the iPad Air 2 stood up to its claimed video playback of 10 hours.
Since both tablets have the exact same screen size, we'd expect the Galaxy Tab S2's smaller battery to fall quite a bit shorter. That said, it's possible that Android 5.0's battery saving mode could help it limp on.
Galaxy Tab S2: 32GB or 64GB internal storage, expandable with up to 128GB of microSD storage
iPad Air 2: 16GB, 64GB or 128GB internal storage
We appreciate the iPad Air 2 offering a wider range of internal storage sizes than the Galaxy Tab S2, even if the 16GB option is a little low for enterprise use. Otherwise, there's not much between the two in the storage stakes, as 32GB, 64GB and 128GB drives are all perfectly serviceable by slate standards.
Regardless, the Galaxy Tab S2's microSD support is a big plus. Besides hot-swappable cards giving the Galaxy Tab S2 effectively limitless capacity, there's a practical efficiency benefit in being able to quickly transfer data stored on microSD between the tablet and, say, a smartphone or camera.
Galaxy Tab S2: 8MP rear-facing camera, 2.1MP front-facing camera
iPad Air 2: 8MP rear-facing camera, 1.2MP front-facing camera
It's quite surprising that the Galaxy Tab S2's front camera has the better specs here. Apple has always been keen on promoting the iPad and iPhone series as video calling tools via its FaceTime app, but for those who hold image quality paramount the Samsung tablet will be the better choice.
As for the rear cameras, the Galaxy Tab S2 rises above megapixel parity with 2K video recording. The iPad Air 2 can manage only 1080p (not that 1080p is in any way poor).
The Apple device, on the other hand, boasts a long list of extra features which might make it the more versatile camera: a five-element lens, enhanced face detection, exposure control and panorama mode. So far, the only special feature announced for the Galaxy Tab S2's rear camera is autofocus, which the iPad Air 2 has as well.
Overall, our instinct is that the higher-quality front camera and 2K rear camera will make the Galaxy Tab S2 a better tablet for shutterbugs, although we're going to withhold judgement until we can test it ourselves.
Nine months is a long time in tech, so the 2014 iPad Air 2 should be lauded for how well its specs hold up against the newly announced Galaxy Tab S2. In some areas, like security features and battery size, Apple's tablet has even maintained distinct advantages.
All the same, it's hard not to get excited about the Galaxy Tab S2; the successor to one of our favourite tablets ever, it looks set to improve on the original with a more secure OS, extra productivity software and an even thinner, lighter design.
At the very least, anyone in the market for a new high-end slate should consider holding off on the iPad Air 2 and waiting a few weeks to see whether the Galaxy Tab S2 can deliver on its huge potential.
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