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Full Review

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4

Small tablets have been dominated by the iPad mini since 2012 – and while its bigger brother has seen a number of rivals, and there have been any number of small, budget models, the higher end of the small tablet market has been pretty much left to Apple alone.

Until now that is, because Samsung has brought out some competition in the shape of the Galaxy Tab S, a device boasting an 8.4in display that can rival Apple’s, running on Android and with a slim chassis. But Samsung has traditionally suffered from cheap body designs – and Android has always lagged a little behind in the apps department. Has that changed? We shall see.

First impressions

Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.4 Review Photo 2
To look at, the Tab S is a good looking tablet – it’s pretty striking, although its bronze touches that sit around the home button and round the edges may not be liked by everyone.

It’s considerably slimmer than the iPad mini with Retina Display (6.6mm to Apple’s 7.5mm) and lighter too – weighing in at 298g (compared with the iPad mini’s 331g).

The Samsung also boasts a narrower chassis than Apple’s tablet, so is better designed for holding in one hand – plus its display is half an inch bigger.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 Photo 5

Yet while it is comfortable to use, it fails to feel as good as its rival. For instance, while it features the same dimples on the back as the Galaxy S5 smartphone, it feels harder. Its glossy finish actually feels a tad slimy – and that bronze finish is made from plastic – in fact there is no metal on this piece of kit at all. For what is supposed to be a premium device, this is a bit of a letdown.

Screen star

But let’s get to what is important – ergonomics and design are important but the standout feature on a tablet has to be its display. Here, Samsung uses AMOLED technology for its 8.4in screen, so there is no need for a backlight – one of the reasons it is lighter and slimmer. Switch up the brightness and it can cope with bright sunlight – or turn it down so that it doesn’t hurt your eyes in a dark room.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 Photo 3

The AMOLED technology does suffer from artificial-looking colour sometimes – something you see on most of the Galaxy devices. Colours are saturated and rich and it delivers bold and big colours too – something you’re probably after if you’ve opted for a white, glossy tablet with bronze trim.

With a resolution of 1600x2560, this is a screen that is far ahead of most rivals – it even has a few more pixels than the iPad mini (1536x20148). In use this means that text is wonderfully smooth and rounded, and icons are sharp. Sometimes though it is hard to tap accurately and icons and text can be a little too small to read easily.

Apart from that, the display proves excellent – it’s the right size for this kind of device, bright and sharp – plus it is widescreen format so you don’t end up with black bars when watching video 

Performance and software

The Samsung user interface TouchWiz does its thing with Android 4.4 – and although some may find it a tad childish, especially with the odd sound effects, it has improved and this is probably the best version of the UI to date.

To the left of the Home screen is a Flipboard-powered magazine app, while the left side provides space for your calendar, social events and email – nice to have them together and accessible with one swipe. Note that you can’t take them away though.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 Photo 4

A swipe from the right opens a whole list of apps such as Google Maps, Chrome, YouTube, Gmail and so on that can be opened next to each other. This is what multitasking should be – you can watch a YouTube video and update your Facebook status at the same time should you wish. Control how much of the display each app occupies by moving the slide, and close both by pressing the Home button.

Fire up intensive apps such as Real Racing 3 and you’ll see that they open really speedily and run smoothly. However, we did see some lag when unlocking the device and flicking from home screen to home screen. It’s not what you’d expect from a high-end device like this – and it’s odd because the 4G version has 3GB of RAM and a quad-core processor. It seems that there is some problem with TouchWiz because the apps run well – hopefully this will be fixed with a software update.

Print party trick

The Tab S has the same party trick as the Galaxy S5 in the shape of a fingerprint scanner in the Home button. It only takes a few seconds to get it set up and then you can unlock your device using a swipe with your thumb or finger – it also allows you to download apps from the Samsung app store and make payments using the Paypal app. It works well and is a good idea – entering a password or PIN on a large tablet can be highly visible if you’re next to someone on a bus or train.

 Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4

There are two cameras – a 2.1 front-facing model and an 8MP model on the back, which includes flash. They are fine for Snapchat and social media but not much else really – probably your phone will perform better in the snapper department.

There are two choices when it comes to storage – a 16GB or 32GB model (both can be expanded by up to 128GB with a microSD card). You can also choose between a Wi-Fi and 4G version (which was lent to us by Three for our review) or a Wi-Fi only one.

The Tab S does feature an earpiece and microphone so you can make calls – although you may look a little strange holding it up to your face – you probably want to consider using a Bluetooth headset or earphones instead. Even if you don’t want to make calls, the 4G facility is handy for iPlayer and Twitter when you’re on the move. The 16GB Wi-Fi model is £329, which rises to £399 if you include Wi-Fi too.

App happy?

When it comes to apps available for larger-screen tablets, Google still falls behind Apple – and of those that are optimised for Android tablets, many don’t look quite as good as they do in their iOS version.

As an example, although the Facebook and Twitter apps look fine, they fail to make use of the extra space available on screen – and a lot of apps have just been stretched to fill out the space. This also means that the high resolution of the Tab S screen makes some icons and text too small to read.

Over time as more devices feature these high resolutions, the developers are bound to optimise their apps to ensure that the user interface makes best use of all the extra pixels.

It really is a pity that the selection of apps on offer isn’t as thrilling as it is for iPad mini owners – Samsung has done a good job bringing this high-end Android tablet to market – and it could be held back by app developers.

However, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot to use in the Play store – and you can find most of the games and apps you can in the Apple App Store – they may just not be quite as polished.

Our verdict

Samsung has produced its best-ever tablet in the shape of the Galaxy Tab S 8.4. It looks good (although some may not appreciate the bronze trim) and it is so light, and slim. It’s a pity it is a plastic device, lacking the aluminium finish of the iPad mini, but we soon came to love it, even with its odd dimpled back.

The screen is where it all happens for a tablet – and the Tab S can easily compete with the Retina Display on the iPad mini, plus it has a widescreen format, which is lacking on Apple’s device.

So what are the downsides? Well, the finger print scanner can be a little temperamental, and the TouchQWiz lag issues need sorting out. Also the app offering can’t compete with Apple at the moment – but that’s not Samsung’s fault.

Despite these little niggles, the Galaxy Tab S 8.4 is a great device, good looking, powerful and sleek, boasting a top-notch screen – this is the Android tablet we have all been wishing for.



Dimensions : 212.8 x 125.6 x 6.6 mm 
Weight: 298 grams
Screen size: 8.4-inch Super AMOLED display
Screen Resolution: 1600 x 2560 pixels
Pixels Per Inch (PPI) : 359
Processor: 2.3GHz Quad core processor
On-board Memory: 16/32GB (microSD support up to 128GB)
Camera:  8MP (rear), 2.1MP (front)
Operating system: Android 4.4.2 (KitKat)
Ultrafast / 3G / 4G LTE: Yes/ Yes/ Yes
Bluetooth / NFC : Yes/ Yes
Battery capacity: 3200mAh
Colours: Bronze and White
Launch Date:  Out Now
Price: £399

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