Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 8in review
A fantastic screen and superb build quality make this Android tablet a competent rival to the iPad Mini
Samsung has launched its latest compact tablet, the Galaxy Tab S2. Successor to last year's excellent Tab S, the Tab S2 is competing primarily against the iPad Mini 4, launched by Apple in September 2015.
The Tab S2's 8in 2048x1536 display is predictably gorgeous, and is among the most eye-catching tablet screens out there. Interestingly, the Tab S2's screen is actually slightly inferior in terms of pixel count to its predecessor, which boasts a pixel density of 359ppi over the Tab S2's 320ppi when comparing the 8in models.
Still, the Tab S2's panel is no slouch, and its excellent clarity and fantastic contrast means that even the tiniest text is perfect readable. Watching everything from YouTube cat videos to Netflix blockbusters is virtually guaranteed to be a great experience.
As frequently seen on Samsung devices, the sAMOLED display has been calibrated to make sure colours are vibrant and eye-popping, but if you're after colour accuracy, switching the screen to basic mode gives some of the most spot-on reproduction around.
The new 4:3 aspect ratio is also a welcome change, and makes reading books and web pages much easier than the 16:9 ratio previously seen on the older Tab S. It's the same ratio as the iPad Mini, and the two feel very similar indeed.
Design and build quality
Samsung's tablet is still playing second fiddle to Apple's iPad Mini in the design and build quality stakes, but not by much. It's a gorgeous bit of kit, with high-quality semi-gloss plastic chassis, and razor thin chrome-effect bezels. It's also staggeringly thin at just 5.6mm, it's currently the thinnest tablet in the world, and the chamfered edges along the longest sides make it feel even slimmer than it already is.
It's incredibly light, too, weighing in at just 265g for the 8in WiFi-only version. In fact, it's under 100g heavier than Samsung's flagship Galaxy S6 Edge Plus. It's no trouble at all to carry around all day, and if you slip it into a bag, you'll barely notice it's there.
Specs and hardware
The Tab S2 is fitted with Samsung's own Exynos 5433 CPU, an octo-core model with four cores running at 1.9GHz, and four running at 1.3GHz, handling heavy and light workloads respectively. It's paired that with 3GB of RAM and either 32GB or 64GB of onboard storage.
The expandable MicroSD storage that's been notably absent from Samsung's latest crop of smartphones is still in service here, and ups the potential capacity to 128GB. Bluetooth 4.1 and dual-band .11ac Wifi are also on display. One feature that is missing, however, is NFC, so anyone wanting to use the Tab S2 for mobile payments may end up a little disappointed.
These figures are, unfortunately, a little on the unimpressive side. The Tab S2 is still packing much the same internal components as last year's Tab S, which also featured 3GB of RAM and an octo-core processor at 1.9GHz and 1.3GHz. As a result, it isn't quite as powerful as we'd expect.
The comparison is particularly stark when measured against its stablemate, the S6 Edge Plus. Despite tablets ostensibly being designed for heavier workloads, the Edge Plus is actually packing more RAM and a more powerful processor than the Tab S2, and edged it out noticeably in our benchmarks.
In practice, however, this deficiency is unlikely to make much of a difference. Modern apps are almost universally lightweight and we had no problems with performance in real-world use. 3GB of memory is perfectly adequate for virtually every tablet task, and the Tab S2 can happily juggle HD movies, games and web browsing with no complaints.
The Tab S2's 4,000mAh battery acquitted itself well in our tests, lasting a fairly impressive 10 hours and 55 minutes. In real-world use, the battery comfortably lasted through the day. This is the saving grace of opting for less cutting edge hardware, as it means users don't have to judiciously manage things like their brightness levels in order to eke out a little more juice.
The Tab S2 runs Android Lollipop 5.0.2, but should be set for an upgrade soon after the release of Android Marshmallow. As with most Samsung devices, it's overlaid with the company's TouchWiz user interface. Whether you like the more rounded app icons is mainly down to personal taste, but other elements are more annoying.
Samsung has taken to bundling Flipboard with its devices, replacing the Google Now page usually found to the left of the home screen with a Flipboard briefing hub instead. It's marginally more useful than the collection of first-party widgets Samsung used to include, but we'd prefer it if there was a choice of apps.
Document editing is an absolute joy on the Tab S2. The large screen provides heaps of work space, and even dense files are easy to navigate with the touch controls. One feature that particularly helps this is the left and right arrow keys that are included on the Galaxy Tab S2's keyboard.
Samsung's multitasking features are put to their best use here, allowing users to have two apps running simultaneously in adjustable side-by-side windows. It's a useful feature, and makes good use of the Tab S2's screen space and switched-up aspect ratio, but it's a little hampered by patchy app support. Microsoft Word, for example possibly one of the most obvious use cases is not compatible with the feature.
Although it may be getting old-hat to some users by now, the Tab S2's inbuilt fingerprint reader remains a reasonably major feature. Used for both device security and payment authentication, the reader's functionality is set to get a substantial boost when increased support is rolled out as part of the Android Marshmallow update.
We were unimpressed with the fingerprint reader due to the different way one holds a tablet as opposed to a phone, unlocking the device with a fingerprint was awkward and time consuming. This was not helped by the fact that the recognition seemed decidedly patchy, and couldn't identify us half the time.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 is an absolutely phenomenal compact tablet. It doesn't have the most overpowered, bleeding-edge hardware on the market, but it doesn't need to. It's more than powerful enough to do everything the average user needs out of a tablet, and it'll look damn good while it's doing it.
The Tab S2 looks sleek and professional, it performs well, and it's got a good battery life. It's not perfect, but the few issues we do have with it are decidedly minor. Not only is it a great 8 inch tablet, it's genuine competition for the all-powerful iPad Mini.
This compact tablet ticks virtually every box for premium devices, with a superb display and a premium feel.
CPU: 1.9GHz/1.3GHz Octo-core Exynos 5433
OS: Android Lollipop 5.0.2
Display: 8 inch 2048x1536 sAMOLED screen
Storage: 32GB/64GB (expandable)
Dimensions: 199x135 x5.6mm
2,000 days: the CIO's world in 2025
What the role of the CIO will look like in five years timeDownload now
The workers' experience report
How technology can spark motivation, enhance productivity and strengthen securityDownload now
6 best practices for escaping ransomware
A complete guide to tackling ransomware attacksDownload now
The IT roadmap from modernisation to innovation with consistent hybrid cloud
A guide to a modern, cloud-enabled IT infrastructureDownload now