The recent Samsung Unpacked 2015 event in London was primarily focused on showing off the Galaxy S6 Edge+, but we also had the opportunity to try out the Galaxy Tab S2 for the first time since it was announced last month.
Samsung will launch 8in and 9.7in editions and is - yet again - looking to take a chunk out of Apple's market share, this time by going after the identically sized iPad Air 2 series. Even the prices are the same as the iPad Air 2's: the 8in model will start at £319, and the 9.7in model £399. We got our hands on the 9.7in Galaxy Tab S2 version.
Measuring 169x237.3x5.6mm and weighing 389g, the 9.7in Galaxy Tab S2 is seriously thin and light. Thinner and lighter, in fact, than the equivalent iPad Air 2. At first, holding it feels slightly peculiar, as we'd expect a tablet of this width to be a bit weightier. Still, it's easy to appreciate how comfortable and ultra-portable it is, even before that mild initial shock wears off.
The inclusion of a plastic back panel - rather than one made from metal or glass - somewhat dulls the sense that this is a premium device, but the Galaxy Tab S2 is far from tacky. There's a strip of metal around the edges to protect against knocks and, despite the exceptional thinness, we couldn't bend or flex it; the only adverse effects of our attempts were some unimpressed looks from the event staff.
There's no room for a full-size USB port, but there is one microUSB port and a microSD slot for expanding the built-in storage - 32GB or 64GB - with up to an extra 128GB.
At 2048x1536, the Galaxy Tab S2's resolution has actually been downgraded from the original Galaxy Tab S's 2560x1600. In sharpness terms, this is partly offset by the maximum screen size also shrinking from 10.1in to 9.7in.
Frankly, we can't take too much issue with the new model's display, even with the lower resolution. Text, pictures and videos look nice and crisp from almost any angle, and colours appear sumptuously vibrant. The latter point is a common quality of Samsung's Super AMOLED displays, although these are also prone to slipping into oversaturation. Fortunately, this doesn't seem to be a problem with the Galaxy Tab 2.
Operating system and software
The Galaxy Tab S2 will ship with Android 5.0.2 Lollipop. It's a shame that it won't include the more up-to-date 5.1 version, like the upcoming Galaxy S6 Edge+ and Galaxy Note 5, since 5.1 added a handful of performance optimisations as well as support for the managed user profiles feature that didn't quite make it into 5.0. There's no word as to when the Galaxy Tab S2 will be updated to the latest Android version.
At least Android 5.0 is a solid OS in its own right. Device encryption is enabled as standard, and the UI has been tweaked from previous versions to be more user friendly, such as the ability to respond to notifications from the lock screen. Specific apps can also be ‘pinned' to the screen, which is useful for enforcing the correct use of business-owned devices by staff.
Samsung has, of course, added its TouchWiz custom skin. It doesn't seem to interfere with the Galaxy Tab S2's interface too much, although besides delaying the speed at which Android updates are rolled out to Samsung devices, TouchWiz also brings such unhelpful bloatware as the redundant S Planner and S Voice tools.
A much more welcome addition is the suite of Microsoft Office apps, including Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The Galaxy Tab S2 includes a one-year subscription to Office 365, which unlocks some useful upgrades to the free versions of these apps, like the ability to track changes in Word documents or save annotations on PowerPoint presentations.
On top of Android's built-in encryption tool, a fingerprint sensor is integrated with the Galaxy Tab S2's Home button, enabling users to unlock the tablet with a single press. We didn't get to try the process of registering prints, but when a Samsung representative demonstrated the feature, it worked instantly on their first attempt. The sensor definitely looks like one of those rare security measures that manages to be reliable, user friendly and time-efficient all at once, so we're pleased to see it working on the Galaxy Tab S2.
Samsung's octa-core Exynos 5433 system-on-a-chip powers the Galaxy Tab S2. It combines four 1.9GHz cores with four 1.3GHz cores and 3GB of RAM, making it a little slower on paper than Samsung's top-end smartphones but still fast enough that we could open and run multiple apps without a hint of slowdown.
We also managed to sneak in a couple of benchmark tests. The Galaxy Tab S2 scored an admirable 406.6ms in Sunspider and 4,122.ms in Kraken, equally respectable by tablet standards. These place the Galaxy Tab S2 close behind the Galaxy S6 Edge in the same tests, and it handily beats the more expensive Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet.
We found that the Galaxy Tab S2's 8MP rear camera took some reasonably sharp snaps, even in low light. Likewise, the 2K video we recorded looked clean and clear, although the real test of this camera will be how stills and videos look on a larger laptop or desktop screen.
We also took a few pictures with the 2.1MP front-facing camera. These were much more colourful than we've come to expect from webcams and selfie cameras, but edges still appeared quite fuzzy and images as a whole lacked detail. Samsung has already begun adding superior 5MP front-facing cameras to its mid-range smartphones, specifically the Galaxy A series, so it's a slight let-down that the higher-end Galaxy Tab S2 must make do with just 2.1MP.
We were tentatively excited about the Galaxy Tab S2 when it was first announced; as an upgraded successor to one of the all-time great tablets, the Galaxy Tab S, what's not to like?
The answer, we've learned, is very little. It's true that the cameras could have been improved further, but that pales into insignificance when considering the speedy performance, attractive display and marvellously slender design. Judging by the time we spent with the Galaxy Tab S2, Samsung seems to have created another great tablet, and a worthy adversary for the iPad Air 2.
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