Is it possible to build a tablet more popular than the iPad?
Samsung (SSNLF) has certainly tried, and the company’s latest effort, the Galaxy Tab S2, comes closer than just about any other tablet on the market. The S2 shares the iPad Air 2’s screen size, LTE options, and starting price. However, it outfoxes the Air in a few key areas while falling short in others. It’s a winning tablet, to be sure, but not necessarily the overall winner.
I reviewed the 9.7-inch model, companion to Samsung’s new 8-inch S2 that’s nearly identical save for price: The larger tablet starts at $499, while its smaller sibling goes for $399.
The S2 looks nice if unremarkable: It’s a tablet, after all, that is surrounded by an understated metal strip and cased in plastic—black, white, or gold—at the rear. Pick it up, though, and it feels amazingly thin and light. The S2 measures just 5.6mm thick and weighs a scant 13.8 ounces. The iPad Air 2 is a little thicker and heavier, though it’s also sheathed in sturdier, flashier metal.
On the feature front, Samsung squeezed in all the necessities and then some. An octa-core Samsung Exynos processor keeps everything fast and fluid, even if it is technically last year’s chip. The 2,046 x 1,536-pixel AMOLED screen offers more than ample resolution for a screen of this size, and it looks dazzling whether you’re playing a game or watching a movie—though the 4:3 aspect ratio may disappoint fans of the latter activity. (For everything else, it’s the superior format.)
As for storage, the baseline model gives you 32GB—double that of the $499 iPad—and expandable to boot: a microSD slot accommodates memory cards of up to 128GB. Too bad you need a paper clip to pop open the card tray. Too bad, too, that Samsung fills roughly one-fifth of the onboard space with bloatware, most of which can’t be deleted.
Everything else ticks the expected tablet-spec boxes: competent front-facing and rear-facing cameras, an all-day battery (based on my average usage), and the latest version of Android (5.1.1, automatically downloaded to my review sample shortly after I started testing it).
But the S2 also stands out with a few amenities, including a fast-acting fingerprint scanner that’s built into the Home button. You also get solid split-screen multitasking in apps that support it, though not enough of them do. (Mostly it’s the core Android stuff.) Samsung’s SideSync feature mimics Apple’s Continuity, effectively turning the S2 into an extension of your Samsung phone: If the latter rings and it’s in the other room, you can take the call on your tablet. Similarly, Samsung’s QuickConnect can mirror the S2’s screen to your Samsung Smart TV (or vice-versa), but obviously not everyone will own (or choose to own) a Samsung TV just for that option.
I kept waiting to discover some jaw-dropping standout feature, some indisputable reason the Galaxy Tab S2 should be your next tablet, but it’s just not there. As tablets go, it’s a really, really good one. For fans of Samsung products and/or owners of a Samsung phone, it’s a logical extension. Maybe it’ll even stop you casting an envying eye at your cubicle-mate’s iPad Air 2, but I doubt it.
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