Samsung Galaxy Tab S (10.5) 4G review

Has Samsung ruined its best tablet with its TouchWiz software?

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5
  • Expert Rating

    4.00 / 5

Pros

  • Thin and light
  • Top-notch hardware
  • Market leading screen
  • Finger scanner

Cons

  • Samsung's TouchWiz overlay

Bottom Line

Samsung has made the best tablet on the market in many ways. The 10.5in screen is in a league of its own, the design resonates, it has a proficient camera and any variant of the Tab S is worth its asking price. Faulting the Tab S’ hardware is a tall order; faulting its software is far too easy. TouchWiz brims with bloatware, is sluggish, unattractive and a nuisance for prioritising Samsung’s agenda over individual needs. It is reason enough to walk past the Galaxy Tab and and buy an iPad. Or a Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet.

Would you buy this?

Samsung's flagship tablet leads the market with a stunning display and adds an innovative finger scanner to the everyday slate. Almost everything about the Tab S is perfect. Almost.

Note: Good Gear Guide used a 16GB version of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S (10.5) 4G provided by etailer Yatango Shopping for this review.

Desirable physique, Unparalleled display

The Tab S has the body for Samsung’s design language. Bezels are finer, the tablet is thinner and the weight is on the low end. These traits give the slate the physique it needs to pull off a dimpled back and a shaved steel chassis coloured in rose gold. Few Samsung products, think the cumbersome Galaxy S5, model the design so well.

Even the mundane benefits from a sense of spectacle when it's viewed on the Tab S

The main attraction is the Tab S’ 10.5-inch screen. All of the numbers impress: it has a 2560x1600 resolution, crams 288 pixels into each inch and has a contrast ratio of 100,000:1. Samsung claims the Tab S’ display can produce 90 per cent of the colours in the UV spectrum. Little evidence thwarts the assertion.

Rival Apple has long set the standard in the tablet space. We set the brightness to max on a top-end iPad Air and compared it to our review Tab S 10.5. Photos snapped by a Sony a5000 camera were uploaded to each for a side-by-side comparison.

The Samsung tablet unequivocally has the iPad Air beat on colour range, brightness, contrast and viewing angles. Even the mundane, whether it’s a web page or a movie, benefits from a sense of spectacle when it's viewed on the Tab S.

Brightness remained on the low end of auto throughout our testing period. Some products necessitate skimping on the brightness for the preservation of battery, but this wasn’t one of those cases. The Galaxy Tab S’ screen can be comfortably viewed at this level.

Not all content will look desirable on the Tab S’ screen. The high resolution will reveal flaws in photos and videos if the content is of low quality. This is evidenced when viewing photos captured in dim lighting with the Tab S’ rear camera.

The 7mm, 465 gram Tab S is lighter than the iPad Air, but fractionally larger and heavier than Sony’s Xperia Z2 Tablet. Serious force is needed for the thin slate to flex on account of being well balanced and rigid.
The 7mm, 465 gram Tab S is lighter than the iPad Air, but fractionally larger and heavier than Sony’s Xperia Z2 Tablet. Serious force is needed for the thin slate to flex on account of being well balanced and rigid.

Rotten KitKat

The Galaxy moniker denotes the Tab S is an Android device. From the box it runs 4.4 KitKat dressed in Samsung’s cumbersome TouchWiz overlay.

You’ll have to waste data on updating the TouchWiz bloatware desecrating Android

The last time Good Gear Guide crossed paths with Samsung’s rendition of Android was on the NotePro 12.2 — and we were fans. The TouchWiz interface donned by the NotePro felt purpose built for the tablet form factor.

Unfortunately the version found on the Tab S is closer to that of the Galaxy S5. Instead of the attractive white interface featured on the NotePro, the Tab S is plastered in hues of green and blue found commonly on high-visibility jackets. Evidently the company is trying to unify its tablet and smartphone software; we only wished Samsung went with the attractive interface and not the eyesore.

The Tab S' settings menu compared to the NotePro's
The Tab S' settings menu compared to the NotePro's

Worse yet, TouchWiz constantly upsells services in all probability most won’t use. “Samsung Galaxy would like access to Picasa Web Albums” is asked every time you use the gallery. No other overlay requests access to so many applications so brazenly. Eventually most will tire from the notifications and end up giving the tablet access to all their data.

Every few days another notification will pop up from some obscure Samsung application you don’t use. This time the notification is from Samsung’s proprietary application store and you’ll have to waste data on updating the TouchWiz bloatware desecrating Android.

Other overlays request access to applications, but none moreso than Samsung's TouchWiz. We often find ourselves updating Samsung Galaxy apps we don't use and cannot uninstall.
Other overlays request access to applications, but none moreso than Samsung's TouchWiz. We often find ourselves updating Samsung Galaxy apps we don't use and cannot uninstall.

Then there’s the homescreen. Samsung, in its infinite wisdom, demands at least one Flipboard homescreen is used on top of the default Android homescreens. Whereas HTC’s BlinkFeed and LG’s G screen can be turned off, Samsung insists you as the owner of the Tab S make use of it Samsung’s way. Too often will you find instances like this where Samsung is closing off open-source Android; where it is prioritising its agenda ahead of the needs of the user.

For each of TouchWiz’s shortcomings, there is a silver lining. An application called SideSync makes it possible to virtually control Galaxy smartphones from the Tab S. The app uses Wi-Fi direct technology to establish a connection with the smartphone and then relays its functionality, including phone calls and texting, to the tablet in a practical fashion. Samsung’s management of user accounts is also commendable.

There will be moments when SideSync proves handy
There will be moments when SideSync proves handy

Click over to learn more about the Tab S' Finger scanner, Camera, 8-core processor and the verdict

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