Samsung’s update to its premium Android tablet line, the Galaxy Tab S2 is sleek, powerful and compelling — as long as you actually need a tablet update.
Samsung has somewhat pulled back on its absolute tsunami of tablets of recent years; there was a time when that, taking LTE and straight Wi-Fi options, you could find one of around a dozen different Samsung tablets on store shelves. Even if you were quite brand loyal, picking one could be a puzzling experience.
Last year’s Galaxy Tab S (which I reviewed for the ABC here) represented a new premium high water mark for the company, presenting a tablet that was fast, well designed and well worth it if you were interested in a premium Android tablet.
Where do you go to from there? Samsung’s newest premium Android tablet is the Galaxy Tab S2, an even faster, slightly thinner device that sits, price-wise, in competition to those tablets from that other major player in the tablet space. You know the one.
From a technical standpoint, the model I’ve been testing out is has a 9.7″ 8.0” Super AMOLED 2048 x 1536 (QXGA) display, behind which sits an Octa-Core (Quad 1.9GHz + Quad 1.3GHz) processor and 3GB of RAM. It’s an Android 5.02 (“Lollipop”) device running Samsung’s TouchWiz UI, which has taken on a much lighter approach than in recent years, although predictably Samsung’s insistence on the positioning of the back button is at odds with much of the rest of the Android world. That being said, it’s pretty much only Samsung that sells serious quantities of Android gear, so maybe their approach is better.
Samsung’s most recent premium phones, the Galaxy S6/Edge and Note5/Edge S6 Plus have been notable for being fixed storage devices with no microSD capability, but this bit of thinking doesn’t extend to the Tab S2, which has a microSD card slot and, if you opt for the LTE version, a NanoSIM slot as well. No matter whether you opt for LTE or not, or 8.0 inch display or 9.7 inch display, you’re looking at 32GB available onboard.
Physically, the 9.7″ Galaxy Tab S2 measures in at 169 x 237.3 x 5.6mm, and 392 grams for the 4G LTE version I’ve been testing. If you don’t want or need SIM capability, the straight Wi-Fi version sheds 3 grams from that carrying weight. According to Samsung’s own specifications for the generally identical Galaxy Tab S2 8.0 inch, the difference in weight between the LTE and Wi-Fi versions is a heftier 7 grams. Sure, you’ll never notice it in the hand anyway, but what’s Samsung putting in the 8 inch tablet that doesn’t go into the 9.7 inch? At a guess, maybe the larger display gives them more space to put a wider and lighter LTE antenna inside.
One transmitter that you got in the Galaxy Tab S that isn’t in the Galaxy Tab S2 is an infrared port for remote TV control. I’ve got to admit that I only ever had intermittent success with the Tab S in this respect, but it still stings a little to lose a feature in a newer tablet.
One oddity of the LTE modem in the Galaxy Tab S2 is that it’s software supported for phone calling. If you figured the Note 5 or S6 Edge Plus wasn’t ludicrously large enough for your calling needs, maybe the Galaxy Tab S2 will suit you better, although you’ll have to put up with the odd placement of the speakers when taking calls with it.
The build of the Galaxy Tab S2 is, like the Tab S before it, one of the key selling points, as it’s a solid design that feels good in the hand. Its aspect ratio of 4:3 is solid for content consumption, although obviously not ideal for 16:9 style video. Super AMOLED screens generally allow for rich colour displays, and in this respect the Galaxy Tab S2 doesn’t disappoint, whether you’re surfing the web or playing games.
I’m not a big fan of using tablets as cameras, but if you must, the Galaxy Tab S2’s 8MP rear and 2.1MP front cameras are adequate, if unexciting. Nobody’s throwing top-end optics into tablets, even at the premium end of the pond, and Samsung is really no different here.
For those who love their benchmarks, here’s how the Galaxy Tab S2 measures up:
Samsung Tab S2 Benchmarks,
PC Mark Work ,5649
3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited ,19984
Geekbench 3 ,1257/4311
The Galaxy Tab S2 features a 5,870mAh battery that Samsung reckons is good for “up to” 12 hours of video playback. Interestingly, the smaller (but similar resolution) 8 inch tablet only gets a 4,000 mAh battery, but that’s said to be good for 14 hours. In anecdotal testing it’s certainly fine for a full day’s use for browsing, games and music. Using Geekbench 3’s BatteryMark with screen dimming on, the Galaxy Tab S2 managed to run for 7:06:30 for a battery score of 4233.
One minor irritating quirk with the Galaxy Tab S2 — and maybe it’s just me — but the fact that the microUSB charging socket is slightly offset to the right of the home button fools me every time I go to charge it. There’s probably a very sensible reason for charging from that spot, and it doesn’t affect actual charging in any way, but it’s odd.
While I’m in minor nitpick mode, Samsung provided me with the Galaxy Tab S2 “Book Cover” case. It’s a fine protective case that does a solid job of protection while not adding all that much bulk, but it’s a real pain in the backside to actually fit to the Galaxy Tab S2. Tiny recesses in the back of the Tab S2 are meant to line up with connectors on the case, and they do, but you have to push very hard to actually get them to take properly. Once it’s on, it won’t come off again lightly, but if you’re like me, you’ll struggle at first to get it attached.
Samsung pitches the Galaxy Tab S2 as a premium tablet, and prices it accordingly. The 8.0 inch Wi-Fi 32GB version has an RRP of $499, with the LTE version priced at $649, while the 9.7 inch version is $599 for Wi-Fi only and $749 with LTE.
It’s an interesting space for an Android tablet, because so many have come to challenge a space where to date, only Apple has been able to make solid tablet profits. If all you want is basic Android on a tablet, it’s a tough ask to entirely justify the Galaxy Tab S2, although equally I can’t argue that it’s not a powerful device.
There’s a challenge here for any tablet buyer, and this applies to you folks on the iOS side of the divide, too. Accidents notwithstanding, you probably don’t need a new tablet each and every year in the same way that many do indeed swap out smartphones. It’s perfectly feasible to run multiple years on standard tablet hardware, and while the Tab S2 is a nice device that is indeed better than the Tab S was before it, it’s not such a radical reinvention that you’re going to be doing radically new things with it.
When you can buy a simple web browsing Android tablet for just a couple of hundred bucks (if that), spending north of $500 on one is a tough ask. I’ve no hesitation in calling the Galaxy Tab S2 the best Android tablet money can buy, but in a market where cheap Android tablets are widely available, it would be wise to carefully assess your needs before laying your money down.