NEW YORK — My, how I was seduced by the striking display on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S I first gazed at a few weeks ago. The glow hasn't worn off now that I've been living with Samsung's latest flagship tablet awhile.
The stunning screen surpasses the resolution on the best of the iPad screens. It's the banner feature here. But it's not the only reason to consider buying one.
These are Samsung's thinnest and lightest tablets. But somehow, merely writing this sentence doesn't do them justice. The tablets start at $399.99 and $499.99 respectively (with 16 gigabytes of storage) and come in two sizes — an 8.4-inch display model, and the 10.5-inch version that I concentrated on for this review. The larger model weighs just over a pound and is about as thin as five credit cards stacked on top of one another. The smaller, equally svelte model weighs about 10.4 ounces. You notice the weight when you pick them up — and I mean that in a positive way.
My test unit is encased in titanium bronze hues I found attractive, though it also comes in white. The plastic dimpled back follows the design principles of Samsung's premium Galaxy S5 smartphone, which, frankly, won't appeal to everybody.
The first of these Galaxy Tab S devices are Wi-Fi-only, though Samsung is planning to bring out versions later this summer with wireless LTE connectivity.
I ran into no snags getting past the lock screen on the Tab S with its built-in fingerprint reader. I had a far worse experience using the similar fingerprint reader on the S5 phone. On the Tab S, you can register up to three fingerprints.
The tablet also has a microSD memory card reader, a feature missing from the rival iPad.
While the hardware leaves me (mostly) gushing, I don't generally have the same warm and fuzzy feelings for the Tab S software, an area in which Apple, at least in most respects, retains an advantage. To my mind, Android tablets — this one runs version 4.4 KitKat — are just not as intuitive as iOS, and boast far fewer apps that have been optimized for the tablet. There also seems to be unnecessary duplication: two different Web browsers, two photo display apps, two music players and so on.
Samsung does provide some appealing stuff. These include an app called Paper Garden that shows off handsome digital editions of Vanity Fair, Architectural Digest and other magazines.
A welcome Kids Mode lets parents keep certain applications and media content off limits to the younger users in your house. Mom and Dad can also set daily playtime limits.
Samsung's new Milk Music streaming service is fresh.
And you can split the screen to display two open apps at the same time.
Meanwhile, if you own a Galaxy S5 phone as well as the Galaxy Tab S tablet and the two are within Wi-Fi range, you can view and control content from your phone screen on the tablet, even handling calls. If you're charging the phone in a nearby room, you can take an incoming call on the tablet. Nice. And isn't it Samsung's dream, just like it is for Apple and other rivals, to get you to buy into the complete ecosystem?
Still, I keep coming back to the chief selling point, the gorgeous screen, made even more impressive when you realize it's not a battery drain. I got just shy of 9 hours in my harsh battery test — brightness to the max, streaming a movie. And you can bolster longevity with a power saving mode that turns off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, changes the screen to gray scale and restricts app usage to a few essential apps of your choosing.
On the super AMOLED screen, colors are vivid, rich, and true to life, whether I was watching movie clips or playing a game. Samsung claims the "contrast ratio" — think the measure between the brightest and darkest image on the screen — is 100 times better than that of an LCD tablet. The viewing angles are splendid. Samsung has also incorporated a proprietary adaptive display technology that can automatically adjust the color and saturation on the screen, depending on which key app is in use.
You can also adjust viewing modes for watching movies, say, as opposed to viewing pictures. Another plus: I could make out the display in bright sunlight.
Samsung says the Galaxy Tab S is mainly aimed at the kind of people who consume lots of video, not just short clips, but full TV shows and movies. The target audience represents a decidedly different market segment than the company's Galaxy Note Pro tablets, which, unlike this one, comes with Samsung's proprietary Galaxy S Pen digital pen. Those machines are designed for folks who employ slates mostly for creative pursuits.
The arrival of the Galaxy Tab S (and that smashing display) means the iPad faces a formidable new challenger. In the ongoing rivalry between Apple and Samsung, we have a winner: the consumer.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Samsung Galaxy Tab S
$399.99 on up (for 8.4-inches); $499.99 (for 10.5-inches)
Pro. Smashing screen. Thin and light. Kids Mode. Ability to display two apps at once. Strong battery.
Con. Software duplication. Not as many optimized tablet apps.
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