Hands-on: Samsung Galaxy Tab S review

Samsung has announced the Galaxy Tab S, which it believes will be the turning point for the company's tablet business.

There are two variations available, an 8.4-inch model and a 10.5-inch model, and both will come in Wi-Fi and LTE versions.

We got the chance to get our hands on new tablets at the launch event in New York, to see whether the new range really is "the next big thing".

Beautiful, vibrant display

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S range makes the move from a TFT LCD display found on the Samsung Galaxy TabPro tablets - launched at the beginning of the year - to the Super AMOLED display found on the company's smartphones. The difference is definitely noticeable.

We saw the Galaxy TabPro 10.1 up against the new Galaxy Tab S 10.5 and the colours were certainly richer and punchier, while the blacks were blacker, making the new display look beautiful.

AMOLED displays have been criticised in the past for over saturating colours and this is still a little concern here as some of the colours looked unrealistic. However that said, side-by-side, we would still opt for the Super AMOLED over the TFT LCD screen as the blacks really did look super black and made for a pleasant viewing experience.

Samsung has added three pre-set display viewing options to the Galaxy Tab S too, comprising AMOLED cinema, AMOLED photo and basic. The demo clearly showed a difference between the three modes and a couple of them offered less saturation of colours, which made them seem more realistic.

In terms of the viewing angles, we found they weren't perhaps as good as we would have hoped, and tilting the device too far meant the whites weren't as white. The room conditions made this difficult to judge though, so it is something we will look at more closely when we get the device in for a full review.

S5-like design

The design of the Galaxy Tab S tablets follow the path of the Galaxy S5 smartphone, which Samsung claims has been inspired by modern design. There are two colours available for the Galaxy Tab S range, comprising Titanium Bronze (shown here in the 10.5-inch) and Dazzling White (shown here in 8.4-inch), which the company says came from sunshine and sunshine on a snow field.

We preferred the Dazzling White in both the smaller and larger tablet, as the blend with the rose gold metallic trim looked great. At first glance we weren't as convinced about the Titanium Bronze, mainly because of the off-black bezel on the display, but it grew on us over time.

If you weren't a fan of the textured back on the Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone - sometimes likened to a Band-Aid - then you probably won't like the Galaxy Tab S design as it features the same, just on a larger scale.

Both the 8.4-inch and the 10.5-inch models were comfortable to hold and light enough to hold in one hand, which is an achievement for the larger model.

The 6.6mm slimness is pleasure, and while the rear of the device isn't perhaps to everyone's taste, Samsung has managed to make this device feel more premium than others before it, despite the fact that it doesn't offer an entirely metal finish.

The trim around the edge of the device is fuss free and looks great, and while we were hoping for a metal finished rear, we can forgive it as the 294g and 465g weights are lighter than other tablets we have come to know and love, premium materials or not.

Samsung has also added the fingerprint scanner from the SGS5 to the Tab S meaning you will be able to confirm payments with PayPal just like you can with the S5. It worked in exactly the same way as the smartphone and allows you to register up to three fingerprints per user, but you can have up to eight users on the Galaxy Tab S tablets.

Powerful performance

Under the hood is an Exynos octa-core processor made up of 1.9GHz and 1.3GHz cores, supported by 3GB of RAM in both devices. We had a quick play with both and found we were able to glide through them easily, changing apps and tasks without a problem or any sign of lag.

It is something that will need to be tested more thoroughly when we get it in for review, but we were impressed with what we have seen so far from a performance point of view.

Testing the battery and camera is not possible in the short amount of time we had with the devices but we did find the S5's Ultra Power Saving mode is present on them, which we found worked well on the smartphone so it will be interesting to see how it performs on the tablet.

Software and features

Unsurprisingly, you'll find Android 4.4 KitKat as the platform for both devices, with the Samsung skin on top. If you have been using an S5 for the last couple of months, you will find yourself in very familiar territory.

The circular apps icons are all present and the layout is identical to what you find on the S5, so the Galaxy Tab S is very easy to navigate and find the areas you are looking for.

There are a number of new features for the Tab S including the ability to take calls using your tablet with the SideSync 3.0 feature. We saw it in action and it is quick to set-up and respond, working via Wi-Fi direct. You will have to have the LTE versions for the tablets to be able to voice call though.

One thing we did particularly like was the ability to multi-task with the multi-window feature. This allows you to use two apps at once or one app in two windows and it means you can take a call on your tablet for example, and then open Google Maps and send the directions of where you are meeting someone in a text message. It's a great feature and one that means you can take advantage of the screen space on offer.

Samsung has also teamed up with a number of publishers including Condenast to offer a range of magazines in the Paper Garden section that has been optimised for the Galaxy Tab S size. We had a quick flick through Glamour magazine and it looked good on the tablet. This feature will only be available in four countries from launch, including the UK and US, but the company said more will be coming in the future.

Fashionable accessories

Samsung has also introduced two covers to go with the new tablets, comprising the Simple Cover and Book Cover, similar to what Apple did with the Smart Cover and Smart Case for the iPad.

However, rather than opting for magnets to hold the covers in place, Samsung has introduced a click and lock mechanism where the covers attach to the tablet by clicking it in.

There is also a Bluetooth keyboard case, all of which look great and follow the same design as the tablets themselves, complementing them well.

First impressions

We like the Galaxy Tab S range quite a lot and we were impressed by some of the features on board.

The display is beautiful on both sizes, offering a sharp, detailed and vibrant image and while the colours may have seemed a little unrealistic at times, we still thought the difference from the TFT display was huge.

In terms of build and design, we love the slimness of the range and its weight. It was comfortable to hold and the fuss-free metal trim around the edge helped make the Galaxy Tab S feel more premium.

Overall, we're big fans, despite the fact that we aren't entirely convinced about the textured rear. The tablets seem to be speedy and the extra features like the multi-tasking are a real bonus.

Samsung is definitely on the right path with the Tab S and we are looking forward to spending a little more time with them closer to launch.