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Review: Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4

By

July 8, 2014

Gizmag reviews the Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.4, an incredibly light and thin tablet with an ama...

Gizmag reviews the Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.4, an incredibly light and thin tablet with an amazing screen

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You'll hear a lot of snarky comments about Samsung's "throw everything against the wall and see what sticks" approach to consumer tech products. And perhaps rightfully so. But the flip side to that strategy is that we get to see the latest innovations not just once a year, but all year-round. Join Gizmag, as we review the latest tablet evolution to shoot out of Samsung's fire hose, the Galaxy Tab S 8.4.

When we were at Samsung's launch event for the Tab S, I heard a lot of talk about the Tab S' screen. And there's a good reason for that: its Super AMOLED display is outstanding. But if you asked me what the Tab S' killer feature is, I'd actually go with its light and thin build. It's insane just how feathery and slender this thing is.

At just 6.6 mm (0.26-in) thick, the Tab S is razor-thin

The best metaphor I can use to describe holding the Tab S 8.4 is a piece of cardboard. That doesn't sound very flattering for a US$400 tech product, does it? Well, it actually is. Imagine holding a tablet that has a stunning display, long battery life and zippy performance – but feels almost like a piece of cardboard in your hand. We've seen lots of airy tablets in the last year, but the 294 g (10.4 oz) Tab S takes it to a new extreme. It's almost mind-boggling that there's so much advanced technology in such a light and thin package.

This makes the Tab S 8.4 outstanding for reading. Ditto for watching video (more on that in a minute) and perusing magazines. You can get lost in whatever it is you're doing, and your arm won't tire a bit.

The Tab S' 2,560 x 1,600 display is stunning

Then there's the screen. The Tab S series (there's also a 10.5-in version) marks the first time we've seen high-resolution Super AMOLED displays in tablets. AMOLED screens have a bit of a love-or-hate reputation, with their larger-than-life colors, but they have a few indisputable advantages.

First, their blacks are "true black," so rather than seeing black pixels that are illuminated by a backlight, AMOLED screens don't fire up any pixels at all for black portions of the display. It's a deeper black than other screens can give you. AMOLED screens also typically have a higher contrast, greater range of colors and wider viewing angles.

So what happens when you put all of this on a ridiculously sharp tablet? Well, in some places, it makes for one hell of an eye candy show. In other spots, well, it isn't as big of a difference as Samsung's presentation suggested.

Samsung's nature-themed demo video, which runs in the tablet's full resolution, looks noth...

The places where the AMOLED display does shine are videos and still images. Samsung includes a sample video with the Tab S that shows various nature shots, and it looks stunning. Part of that it is because the video file plays in the tablet's full 2,560 x 1,600 resolution, as opposed to the standard 1080p or 720p options. But it also has to do with the deeper colors, rich contrast and true blacks that the AMOLED screen gives you. Even if you never buy this tablet, do yourself a favor and try to watch that video on an in-store demo model.

Standard full HD videos played through Netflix and YouTube look great too. They don't have quite the mind-blowing resolution of the Samsung showcase clip, but they do still provide a nice upgrade from streaming those services on other HD tablets – including the latest iPads.

In other places, like your home screen and other apps, the difference isn't as noticeable. The screen still looks terrific there, but compared to Samsung's last tablet with this same screen size and resolution, the Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4, I didn't notice much of a difference. In these "regular" apps, both tablets look great, with no obvious advantage for the Tab S.

The Tab S 8.4 (left) gives you 6 percent more screen area than the iPad mini (right)

As for the screen size of the Galaxy Tab S 8.4, we're looking at a mini-tablet, rather than a full-sized affair. It gives you about 6 percent more screen area than the iPad mini (see the comparison shot above) and 30 percent less than the iPad Air. Customer tastes will vary, but I love this 8-in range for tablets. 7-in slates are usually too cramped for me, and 10-inchers can sometimes sacrifice portability. 8-inchers like the Tab S 8.4 make this Goldilocks very happy.

In terms of software, you get Android 4.4 with Samsung's TouchWiz UI layered on top, which should be familiar to anyone who's used any recent Galaxy device. There are, however, a few cool new features in store this time.

SideSync 3.0 lets you control a paired Galaxy S5 from your tablet

SideSync 3.0 is a nice bonus – but only if you also happen to own a Galaxy S5. If you do, it lets you easily sync the two devices over Wi-Fi, so you can actually control the phone from your tablet. Yes, you'll actually see the GS5's screen on the Tab S' screen (like you see above), and it will run apps and respond to your touches, just as it would on the phone.

That might sound like yet another gimmicky Samsung feature that nobody really needs, but it can come in handy. The biggest perk is that, when you're at home, it lets you leave your phone sitting on a charger. Just tote your Tab S around the house with you and take care of your tablet and phone business – be it calls, text messages or anything else – on the Tab S. Then when you're ready to leave, your 100 percent juiced-up phone will be waiting for you.

If you don't already own a Galaxy S5, I wouldn't recommend buying one just to use SideSync 3.0 with the Tab S. But the phone/tablet syncing is a nice bonus if the GS5 is already your handset of choice. And while the screen sharing portion of SideSync also works with the Galaxy S4 and Galaxy Note 3, the call forwarding feature (essential for leaving your phone on the charger) only works with the GS5.

The fingerprint scanner in the Galaxy Tab S 8.4 is a great match for individual user accou...

Another nice feature (or, in this case, combination of features) is the marriage of the Tab S' fingerprint sensor to user accounts. The Tab S not only lets you create separate user accounts for each person who's going to be sharing the tablet, but you can also authenticate each login with a swipe of the finger. Anyone who doesn't have your passcode or fingerprint will be locked out.

It's an easy and convenient way for each friend or family member to log in, where they'll each find their own home screen, apps, photos and data. Tablets are very personal devices, so this approach won't work for everyone. But if you live in a home that doesn't mind sharing, this setup can potentially save you some money.

Toolbox is a software feature that lets you bring up an app launcher (five max) from anywh...

Another nice bonus is Toolbox. It's a small, semi-transparent circle that hovers on the edge of your display. Tap it and you'll get a pop-out bar filled with five app shortcuts (of your choosing). Touch one of those icons and you'll jump straight into that app, no matter where you're coming from. You can also slide the trigger circle around to adjust where it lives. Combine Toolbox with Samsung's Multi Window (side-by-side multitasking), and you have a tablet that makes hopping from app-to-app a fast and easy process.

I do have one big annoyance with what's otherwise an outstanding tablet. Ever since the iPad mini launched, we've seen plenty of rival tablets with extremely narrow side bezels, like those we see on the Tab S. On the iPad, though, Apple put some code into iOS that rejects accidental touches around the edges of the screen. This was a brilliant idea by Apple, as it lets you grip the side of the tablet and (almost) never have your grip register as a touch.

The Tab S doesn't have that. So you're faced with a choice: grip it on the side, as you might an iPad mini, and end up registering all sorts of accidental screen touches (I run into this frequently when using the Tab S). Or you can hold it some other way, which I find to be less comfortable in hand.

You might need to be careful not to touch the edges of the Tab's screen when you're holdin...

This is the kind of detail that might sound small, but can have a noticeable effect on your experience of using the tablet. And it's a detail that Apple nailed a year and a half ago (and continues to today) but Samsung has yet to cover. Maybe it's a patent issue and Samsung is afraid of getting taken to court yet again, or maybe it's simply a case of marketable good looks coming before customer experience. Either way, I think any tablet with skimpy bezels is going to be much better with this kind of edge touch rejection.

Battery life, on the other hand, is another bright spot. In our standard test, where we stream video with brightness set at 75 percent, the Tab S 8.4 chugged along for an impressive 9 hours and 3 minutes. That's in the same upper echelon that the two newest iPads scored in. Unless you're doing things like playing processor-intensive games for hours on end, with the brightness cranked all the way up, this should easily be an all-day machine.

This shot might suggest otherwise, but the Tab S 8.4 actually has terrific viewing angles

On a hardware level, the Galaxy Tab S is in a league of its own. No other series of tablets – iPad included – gives you such an outstanding combination of screen quality, lightness and thinness. On a software level, it has a few cool tricks up its sleeve as well. But there is that pesky lack of edge touch rejection, along with a tablet app library that still lags behind the App Store's. The Tab S 8.4 is an excellent tablet – one of the best around – and is most definitely worth a look. But for those reasons it isn't quite the no-brainer buy over the Retina iPad mini that it could have been.

Gizmag recommends the Galaxy Tab S 8.4 to anyone looking for a small-ish tablet with the best display and light/thin build around. The Galaxy Tab S 8.4 is available now, starting at US$400 for the 16 GB Wi-Fi only model.

Product page: Samsung

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About the Author
Will Shanklin Will Shanklin covers consumer technology for Gizmag. He's previously written for Android Central, Geek, GottaBeMobile, Android Police, and The Huffington Post.
He lives in New Mexico, U.S., with his lovely wife, Jessica.
  All articles by Will Shanklin
1 Comment

I just purchased one and gave my 3 month old Note 8 to my wife. This is even better than the article makes out. I'm not a Samsung junkie and I had actually wanted the iPad for its higher res display until this came along. I had settled for the Note 8 as it was cheaper and I wasn't thrilled about the Apple store. The TabPro display is simply fantastic! It is even higher resolution than my PC monitor (very annoying need new monitor now) and watching a blue-ray movie on it I was amazed at all the small detail I had missed before. I hadn't seen that screen resolution video anywhere on mine but I am looking for it. Even in bright sunlight where the display is supposed to have problem it really wasn't that noticeable. The extra memory and cpu power make any game you play smooth and responsive.

There are a few thing that are not bad but not expected. Battery life is very good but with a rather slow recharge rate. Instead of 2-3 hours it is over night 6-8. There is no way to access the setup menus on the apps now as the same button used before now just opens the task manger and shows the programs you had previously run. I am digging through the manual for that but have yet to find it. The power cable is VERY short. Short enough that you may want to buy an extender as using the tablet when its plugged in allows for very little movement. The transfer rate between the PC and the tablet on USB 3 does not seem as fast as the Note. Noticeably slower.

And yes I would buy another one.

Wragie
9th July, 2014 @ 02:19 pm PDT
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