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Samsung Galaxy Tab S2

Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 (9.7, Wi-Fi) review

Chris Finnamore
14 Sep 2015
Expert Reviews Recommended Logo
Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 three-quarters
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
400

It has some stiff competition from Google's Nexus 9, but this is the most desirable Android tablet there is for under £500

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Samsung has finally decided to meet the iPad Air 2 head on with its new flagship tablet. While the Galaxy Tab S 10.5 had a larger 10.5in widescreen display, setting it apart from Apple’s device, the Galaxy Tab S2 9.7 has exactly the same size, shape and resolution display as the iPad: 9.7in, 2,048x1,536 pixels and a 4:3 aspect ratio.

You could say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and while we’ve long been fans of 4:3 screens at Expert Reviews they tend to divide opinion; 16:9 and 16:10 displays may have the edge for watching films, but tablets with squarer 4:3 panels tend to feel more natural in the hand in portrait mode when reading or surfing the web. There's also a compact 8in version of the S2, and you can click here to read our full review

Samsung has at least engaged in some one-upmanship with its big rival. The Galaxy Tab S2 is both thinner and significantly lighter than the iPad, at 389g and 5.6mm compared to 437g and 6.1mm. It's also slightly thinner than Sony's svelte Xperia Z4 Tablet.

As Sony’s flagship tablet, you might normally consider the Xperia Z4 Tablet to be the Galaxy Tab S2’s natural rival on the Android front, but as the Z4 is considerably more expensive (and comes with a keyboard) it sits in a class of its own. The Google Nexus 9 is a better fit; it also has a 4:3 screen with a 2,048x1,536-pixel resolution, but a slightly smaller 8.9in display. It usually costs the same too, although every now and then it drops to the £200 mark at certain retailers.

The Galaxy Tab S2 makes an excellent first impression. Its light weight makes it a pleasure to hold when reading, with the Nexus 9 feeling fat and heavy in comparison. The iPad feels like it has the edge for build quality at first, thanks to a stiffer-feeling rear, but artefacts appear on the screen if you apply even a small amount of flex.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 rear

All three tablets have impressive screens, but which you prefer really comes down to personal taste. The Galaxy Tab S2 uses AMOLED technology, and like all displays of this type, has excellent contrast; as it can display absolute blacks, our tests showed it as having a 1:1 contrast ratio. Under the scrutiny of a USB colour calibrator, the Galaxy Tab S2 showed it could display 100% of the sRGB colour gamut, too. However, we had some reservations when comparing it side-by-side with the iPad Air 2 and Nexus 9. Test images on the Samsung screen leapt out thanks to their vibrant colours, but look a little closer and you can see a yellow tint; a common complaint among AMOLED screens. The iPad Air 2 and Nexus 9, by contrast, had no such cast, so while their images had less punch, the colours seemed more realistic. Turning off the Galaxy Tab S2's Active Display just made images look flat and lifeless.

Performance and benchmarks

The Galaxy Tab S2 has a Samsung Exynos Octa 5433 processor. This consists of four 1.9GHz cores for demanding tasks and four 1.3GHz cores to save battery when running programs that don't require so much grunt. Our benchmarks showed it to be a strong rather than spectacular performer. In the Peacekeeper browser-based benchmark, the Galaxy Tab S2 scored 1,012, which is half that of the Nexus 9 (2,020) and iPad Air 2 (2,749). Likewise, its single-core Geekbench score of 1,230 is far behind the Nexus 9's 1,637 and the iPad Air 2's 1,811. The Samsung tablet pulls things back in the multi-core Geekbench test, with 4,194 compared to 4,516 for the iPad Air 2 and just 2,818 for the Nexus 9.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 Peacekeeper benchmark
Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 Geekbench benchmark
Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 battery benchmark

Single-core performance is nothing special, but the Galaxy Tab S2 scores well in multi-core and battery life tests

The supplementary low-powered cores appeared to help in our continuous video playback battery test, where the tablet scored an impressive 12h 9m; over two and a half hours more than the iPad Air 2, but slightly less than the Nexus 9 could manage. 

Subjectively, however, the tablet certainly doesn't have any performance problems. Android 5 runs beautifully smoothly, with none of the lag spotted on Samsung tablets in the past. Certain websites, such as the Guardian, even seemed slightly smoother on the Galaxy Tab S2 than on the Nexus 9.

The operating system has some neat touches, notably Samsung's own multitasking system. If you press the Recent key, certain apps have an extra icon at the top-right. Pressing this will make the app snap to a portion of the screen; to the top if you're in portrait mode, or to the side in landscape. You can then resize the amount of room the app takes up on the screen. This only works with certain apps, but means you can look at email at the same time as a map, or a web page at the same time as take notes, for example.

Gaming is one area where the Galaxy Tab S2 can't match up to the competition, however. In the GFX Bench Manhattan test it scored just 956 at its native resolution, which is far off the Nexus 9's 1,942 and the iPad Air 2's 2,331. Popular fantasy card game Hearthstone was perfectly playable on the Tab S2, but there was some occasional jerkiness; this wasn't something that happened on Google or Apple's tablets.

Gaming performance lags behind the competition

Conclusion

There's no doubt the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 is an impressive tablet. It's slim, light and has a generally excellent screen, as long as you're willing to put up with a slight yellow tint for the sake of excellent contrast. However, it sits in an odd position in the tablet market. It's the same price as the iPad Air 2, which has superior performance, if worse battery life, and is up to £200 more than the price-yoyoing Google Nexus 9, which isn't as nice an object but has stronger performance. However, if you can't stretch to Sony's £500 Xperia Z4 Tablet and want a high-end Android tablet, the Galaxy Tab S2 is a great buy. It wins a Recommended award. If it's not quite your thing then check out our regularly-updated Best tablets and buying guide.

AwardRecommended
ManufacturerSamsung
ModelGalaxy Tab S2
Rating*****
Hardware
ProcessorOcta-core 1.9GHz + 1.3GHz Samsung Exynos Octa 5433
RAM3GB
Screen size9.7in
Screen resolution2,048x1,536
Screen typeAMOLED
Front camera2.1 megapixels
Rear camera8 megapixels
FlashNo
GPSYes
CompassYes
Storage (free)32GB (23GB)
Memory card slot (supplied)None
Wi-Fi802.11ac
Bluetooth4.1
NFCNo
Wireless data4G +£30
Size169x5.6x237mm
Weight389g
Features
Operating systemAndroid 5.0.2
Battery size5,870mAh

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