Samsung opened its press launch of the new Galaxy Tab S by telling the journalists that J K Shin, President of Samsung Mobile, had declared that 2013 was going to be the year the firm made inroads into the global tablet market. He set a target of 40 million units for the year, a target which it was able to meet with some ease.
So what’s the next step? Well, it’s mostly evolutionary rather than revolutionary. The new model, announced today, is called the Galaxy Tab S, and is available in two sizes – 10.5 and 8.4-inches. Each of those models is then available in either a Wi-Fi only, or an LTE 4G version. So, in total, there are four distinct models to chose from. There’s also a choice of storage too, adding more options. You can have either 16 or 32GB of built-in memory and add up to 128GB with a microSD card.
This is a massively powerful tablet too, there’s either an octo-core Samsung Exynos or a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor. The processor you get depends on cellular data, you’ll get the Qualcomm if you opt for the LTE device, and Samsung’s own on the Wi-Fi only version. I didn’t get long to play with the tablets during my pre-brief in New York, but what I did see were enormously responsive tablets that feel like they’re capable of running any app you care to mention. The 3GB of RAM will help keep everything going quickly too, so we’re pleased to see Samsung not cutting corners here.
The latest version of Android, 4.4 KitKat provides the operating system, while Samsung’s recently smartened-up user interface offers some nice design tweaks. The interface looks flatter now, which feels more mature. If you’ve seen the Galaxy S5, then you’ll be aware of the direction Samsung’s design is taking. I like it too, it’s much more pleasant to look at than the old TouchWiz UI from older Samsung phones and tablets.
Also joining the Galaxy Tab S is the fingerprint scanner. This allows you to unlock the device with one one of three enrolled fingerprints, but it also allows you to purchase things with PayPal in a secure fashion.
The two major advances that stand out with the Tab are its incredible thinness, at 6.6mm it’s, in Samsung’s words, the height of just five credit cards stacked. The 10.5-inch model weighs 465g, while the 8.4 is 284g, to feel them in person though gives a much better impression, these two devices are both incredibly light.
The second advance is the screen. Samsung has switched from TFT LCDs in the previous generation of tablets, to S-AMOLED here. There’s also a massive resolution bump to 2560×1600, which has been the major story since news about these tablets leaked. Certainly, in the flesh, these tablets both look amazing. The S-AMOLED has all of the usual brightness, colour and sharpness you would expect, and the viewing angles should easily beat any LCD screen. Even better though is how the screen works in bright sunlight, where in the demo I saw, you could see just how good the S-AMOLED is in comparison with LCDs.
To keep things looking good at all times, Samsung has developed an adaptive display, which is able to take light readings from around the device, and tweaks the colour based on that. So, outdoors you would get a slight blue hue, and indoors it would be more yellow. In addition to that, there are three modes for photos viewing, movies and one called “basic”. The names mostly speak for themselves, but what I noticed with basic was that it made the screen much closer in colour and brightness to an LCD. This might sound odd, considering how proud Samsung is of the S-AMOLED, but it also makes for a slightly less overwhelming video watching experience.
A big area of focus for Samsung too, is on accessories. There are three cases available from launch, a keyboard hard case, a simple cover that just protects the screen, and a complete wrap that keeps the whole tablet safe from bumps and scratches. Samsung has also opted for a slightly different way to attach its cases. The plastic body of the Tab means that magnets aren’t viable for keeping cases attached, as they are with the iPad. Instead, there a two small receptors on the tablet itself, into which you press a couple of studs on the case. The keyboard cover doesn’t attach with these clips, when you’re typing, it just rests in a groove. When you’re using it as a case, there’s a latch which locks the tablet into place.
Samsung is also looking to get content partnerships in place, and encourage people to use its new Papergarden service, which will take content from leading print publications and present it in a manner that complements the high resolution screen in the device. At launch there will be magazines available in the U.S., U.K., Brazil and naturally, Korea. It looked good in the demo we saw, but not revolutionary.
There are also a series of other services included that will perhaps appeal to business users. You get three month trial subscriptions to Linkedin, Wall Street Journal and for downtime, Marvel comics. Also supported are Cisco’s WebEX and Remote PC, which gives more useful tools to use if you’re switching from a laptop to a tablet for mobile working. There are also partnerships with Amazon, so Tab owners get a free book each month, and some content deals with Google which will start with a free copy of the movie Gravity.
The Tab also includes new multitasking features, so you can read emails while looking at Google Maps. This split screen function works especially well on the 10.5-inch model, and really feels like it adds something to Android that isn’t present on the standard Google editions. This is the feature that I think will make this tablet practical as a laptop replacement.
Also exciting is the ability to pair your tablet to your Samsung phone. Doing this allows you to see when people send you messages or try to call. You can even make and receive calls on the tablet too. You do need a Samsung phone to make use of that feature, LG on the other hand does support any phones with its similar app.
So how as Samsung done in its attempts to beat other tablets on the market? It has to be said, well, the Tab S is without doubt its most impressive tablet to date. Gone is the slight cheap feeling of Samsung’s older Tabs. The plastic used is perhaps less ideal than Apple's aluminium construction, but the build quality is still excellent. It’s also a lighter device for it, beating Apple’s iPad Air by a few grammes.
The content deals are interesting too, as is the move of the 10.5-inch tablet into laptop replacement territory. With these, Samsung is aiming at Apple and trying to build a more vibrant ecosystem around the Galaxy Tab. Will it tempt people away from the iPad? Perhaps, but considered on its own, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S is a great device and is a geniune advancement over the previous generation.
The Tab S goes on sale in July, the 10.5-inch will start at $499 and the 8.4 will begin at $399.