Size-zero tablet for the Android crowd

The tablet form factor is in the midst of an existential crisis. Smartphones with massive screens and laptops with detachable displays have been squeezing the tablet’s natural territory from above and below. A luxury at best when they were first conceived, the use case for a tablet has become even more iffy over the past couple of years.

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Samsung’s newest tablet, the Galaxy Tab S2, does little to address this overarching problem, focusing instead on delivering a solid device that does what it is says on the box extremely well.

Design

The Galaxy Tab S2 has a metal frame with a plastic rear cover. Despite the special coating that Samsung has put on the plastic to make it feel nicer, it does not measure up to the feel of the aluminum unibody construction of an iPad.

However, the lack of metal shaves a lot of weight off the device. The Tab S2 is ridiculously light. Weighing in at 265 g, the device is very easy to hold for extended periods of time. The other dimension of note with regards to the S2 is its thickness, or lack thereof. At 5.6 mm, it is the thinnest tablet currently available.

We found that the superlative dimensions make for a tablet that is very comfortable to use and carry, but the tradeoffs in the materials used means that it does not feel as premium as it should have.

Display

The Super AMOLED display technology has long been a selling point for Samsung devices. It allows for individual sub-pixels to be lit up rather than the entire screen, which results in improved power consumption and more importantly, better contrast than any other kind of display.

The 8-inch panel on the Tab S2 has superb colour reproduction and is bright enough to be used outdoors during the day. It uses a 4:3 aspect ratio which is more suited to web browsing and apps than the 16:9 ratio used in the outgoing model.

Performance

The octa-core Exynos system-on-chip (SoC) that powers the Tab S2 consists of a quad-core Cortex A57 clocked at 1.9 GHz and an A53 at 1.3 GHz. This engine, combined with a Mali-T760 MP6 graphics unit and 3 GB of RAM makes for an extremely capable tablet. The tablet comes with 32 GB of storage space on-board, which can be augmented via the microSD slot.

During our testing, we had no issues multitasking, running graphics-intensive games or playing high resolution video on the S2. However, in terms of pure performance, it is no match for the likes of the Dell Venue or the NVidia Shield or the runaway leader, the iPad Air 2. While all these devices run on processors designed specifically for the expanded size of the tablet form factor, the Samsung runs on a smartphone processor from last year – the same one that was used on the Galaxy Note 4. It is able to handle everything the Play Store throws at it now, but the deterioration of that ability is likely to be faster than its competition.

The Tab S2 supports WiFi, 4G LTE and Bluetooth connectivity. In our usage, it managed to catch and hold signals very well, and consistently maintained a high throughput connection. It also features a fingerprint sensor that is built into the home button.

Battery life

Due to its extremely compact dimensions, there is simply no space in the Tab S2 for a large battery. As a result, Samsung has shrunk the lithium ion unit powering the device from a 7,900mAh capacity to 5,870mAh. This works out to a little less than two days in terms of real life usage with a couple of hours of web browsing, a full-length film and some gaming and music playback.

If you’re using it purely for media consumption on the go, the battery life might be sufficient because of the AMOLED’s superior power efficiency while playing video, but browsing and gaming eats away at the juice on this device very quickly. And it does not have a quick charging feature either, taking around four and a half hours to cycle up from zero to fully charged.

Camera

The proportion of users who use their tablet as a primary imaging device is miniscule. Most tablet camera rolls are filled with odds and ends – pictures and videos that presented themselves while the tablet was already in use. For these purposes, the 8 MP rear camera on the Tab S2 is actually overkill. It is not in the class of the best smartphone cameras, which pack 16 MP these days, but it does a very commendable job in daylight. The dropoff in quality in badly lit conditions is obvious and unavoidable. It also records 1080p video and even has a 2K option (although you will have to sacrifice video stabilization to achieve that resolution).

Software

The Tab S2 runs on Android 5.0.2 with Samsung’s custom TouchWiz UI on top. The implementation is fairly clean coming from Samsung, which is infamous for its bloatware. Apart from the customary browser and email client replacements, Samsung has also bundled the entire Microsoft Office suite, which is a definite bonus for those looking to use the tablet to be productive. The device also has preloaded software which allows it to interface with smart TVs and computers and bounce content in both directions.

Bottomline

The Galaxy Tab S2 is a very straightforward tablet in a world where other devices of its ilk are learning a variety of fancy new tricks in order to stay relevant. It has magnetic connectors on the back for accessories, but the hardware ecosystem is non-existent and Samsung’s own Book Cover Keyboard isn’t available in India yet.

What it does have going for it is a very comfortable form factor, good build quality and performance that is more than adequate. If you are looking for a media consumption device with a screen larger than your smartphone, and you do not like iOS, the Galaxy Tab S2 is a good option.

But with all the churn currently underway in the tablet space, we would recommend holding off on such a purchase because we are firmly of the opinion that plain-jane tablets like the S2 are on their way out.