Galaxy Tab S2 review: A worthy counterpart for your smartphone

Samsung's second-gen tablet series knocks it out of the park again with solid performance and a lighter-than-Air chassis.

tabs2 9781
Credit: Florence Ion
At a Glance
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab S2

    Greenbot Rating

    The Galaxy Tab S2 is a good, solid Android device. It's worth choosing either the 8-inch or 9.7-inch variant if you're not particularly interested in a Google Nexus tablet.

It’s been a relatively quiet year for Android tablets. Besides the Nexus 9 and Dell Venue 8—both of which are about a year old—not many Android tablets have made waves. That’s why I’m glad that Samsung is doubling down on its Tab S series.

The Galaxy Tab S2 is one of the best Android tablets, though it’s only an incremental improvement over its predecessor. It offers solid performance, a stunning display, and comes in two very thin, very comfortable-to-hold sizes. As far as premium Android tablets go, Samsung still reigns supreme.

Light as a feather

tabs2 9825 Florence Ion

The 9.7-inch Tab S2 is ridiculously light.

I was in love with last year’s 8.4-inch Galaxy Tab S. It was a stylish tablet and, with its snap-on folio case, it quickly became my daily gadget companion. I’d typically tether it to whatever smartphone I was using at the time to answer emails and get a little writing done on the train ride in to work. I also used it to play through the entirety of Peggle Blast.

tabs2 9786 Florence Ion

Old versus new: the Galaxy Tab S on the left and the Galaxy Tab S2 on the right. Both tablets are winners in their own respect, though I prefer the plain Jane style of this year’s Tab S2.

Now I’ve switched up to the 8-inch Tab S2, though there’s a bigger, iPad-like 9.7-inch version too. It’s great for reading a magazine on Next Issue or playing Pokemon Shuffle—my new obsession. It’s so much lighter than its counterparts, too. The Wi-Fi-only versions of the 8.4-inch and 10.5-inch Tab S weigh 0.648 pounds and 1.025 pounds, while the 8-inch and 9.7-inch Tab S2 weigh 0.584 pounds and 0.858 pounds, respectively. The Tab S was light, but a bit dense. With the Tab S2, I’m constantly checking to see if it’s still in my bag.

tabs2 9789 Florence Ion

The plastic construction of the Tab S2 doesn’t feel hokey like older generations of Samsung devices—and there’s a fingerprint scanner embedded in the Home button.

To keep it lightweight, Samsung built the Tab S2 out of plastic and aluminum. The tablets aren’t as fancy-looking as the latest crop of Galaxy smartphones, but the plastic construction of the Tab S2 ensures it’s a bit more drop-resistant than its smartphone counterparts—which I know a thing or two about, because I’ve dropped both review units a few times in the last two weeks. Oops.

tabs2 9799 Florence Ion

It’s my favorite show on the 8-inch Tab S2.

The Galaxy Tab S2’s Super AMOLED display is just as bright and vibrant as the rest of the Samsung device family. It’s set at a 2048x1536 screen resolution, which nets 320 pixels-per-inch (ppi) on the 8-inch Tab S2, and 264 on the 9.7-inch variant. I especially like the display at its lowest brightness setting, which is dim enough that reading an ebook before bed won’t stimulate my eyes so much that I can’t fall sleep.

tabs2 9815 Florence Ion

Reading is comfortable on the Galaxy Tab S2.

Samsung switched to a 4:3 aspect ratio for this year’s Tab S2 duo. It makes watching Beverly Hills, 90210 a pleasure because it actually uses up the entire screen, though you’ll have to be careful not to cover those bottom speakers or what you’re watching will sound muffled. I’m also not too keen on the fact that the USB port and headphone jack are both along the bottom edge; when you have them both plugged in, it's hard to hold the tablet in portrait orientation without the cords getting in the way.

A solid, reliable tablet

tabs2 multiwindow

The Tab S2 is powerful enough to handle MultiWindow mode, which uses two apps at once, simultaneously.

Both the 8-inch and 9.7-inch Galaxy Tab S2 come with an octa-core 1.9GHz Exynos 5433 processor and 3GB of RAM. It’s a slight specification bump from last year’s Tab S, though it’s unnoticeable. The Tab S2 is a casual-use device; it’s not particularly aimed at professionals or digital artists, though it can handle arduous tasks. You also won’t have to worry about it lagging and freezing up while launching apps.

I’ve read several Galaxy Tab S2 reviews that mentioned the device’s less-than-stellar battery life, but I’ve had a different experience. Both tablets got through a day’s worth of mixed usage, including playing games, streaming video, and reading ebooks at the brightest display setting, though by the end of the night they needed to be plugged in. In our Geekbench battery tests, the 8-inch Tab S2’s 4000 mAh battery pack lasted five hours and 57 minutes—about an hour less than Samsung’s Galaxy S6—while the 9.7-inch Tab S2’s 5,870 mAh battery pack lasted six hours and 12 minutes. Both devices also offer the Galaxy S6’s fast charging capabilities, so you’ll be able to charge it up enough in an hour to last through a flight from New York to San Francisco.  

People still use their tablets to take photos

There are still people out there who shoot photos with their tablets. I’m not happy about this, but I’ve learned to accept that this is a thing that happens in the world. And anyway, it’s not like tablet makers are discouraging this behavior. Samsung certainly isn’t.

tabs2 high light

On the bright side, if you choose to snap photos with the Tab S2, you’re covered.

tabs2 low light

The Tab S2’s low-light performance is only half as good as its Galaxy smartphone counterparts. 

Samsung improved the 8-megapixel rear-facing camera sensor on the Tab S2 by enlarging the aperture so that it takes better photos in low light situations. This will prove helpful if you’re using your tablet to snap a quick and candid photo here and there. The front-facing camera is only 2.1-megapixels, however. I would have rather the Tab S2 come equipped with the same wide-angle, 5-megapixel sensor featured in the latest crop of Galaxy smartphones, since selfies are more likely to happen when you’re casually hanging out on the couch with your tablet already in hand.

Same old software

tabs2 home screen

I’ve seen this Home screen so many times this year. 

Both versions of the Galaxy Tab S2 run Android 5.0.2 right out of the box, though there’s an Android 5.1.1 update waiting once you set up the device. You’ll have to contend with a suite of Microsoft apps that you can’t delete, but at least there’s an expansion slot for more space.

Samsung also bundled in applications like SideSync, which lets you swap files and things between your device and your Mac or PC, and Quick Connect, which only works with compatible Samsung televisions. There are also a slew of Galaxy Gifts available to you once you sign up for a Samsung account, including six months of The Economist and several Hearthstone freebies.

I ran a few benchmarks on the 9.7-inch Tab S2 to see if the Android update made a difference in software performance, and it doesn’t. But for what it’s worth, I spent a year using the Galaxy Tab S and I still consider it one of the best tablet devices Samsung’s ever made. It hasn’t slowed down since I set it up with my account. I hope to say the same about the Tab S2 a year from now.

A worthy update

tabs2 9805 Florence Ion

Samsung’s got another hit on its hands with the Galaxy Tab S2.

It felt weird writing this review nearly a week after Apple announced the larger, professional-grade iPad Pro. Typically, when Samsung announces a new tablet device—or any device, really—there’s a bunch of commotion about whether it will have the same impact on the Android world that Apple’s devices do. But that’s not the case here.

The Galaxy Tab S2 is extremely laissez faire—it doesn’t take itself as seriously as last year’s Tab S, which Samsung constantly compared to the iPad in its marketing. It’s for Android users who want something a little more premium than Google’s Nexus offerings, but don’t particularly care about whether or not it runs stock Android.

If you’re looking for a tablet companion of your own and you want to stick to Android, either size of the Galaxy Tab S2 will work. I personally prefer the smaller size because of its portability—I typically travel with just my purse on me. However, if you’d rather not pay the full price for an Android tablet but are still looking for something that’s stylish and powerful, there’s plenty of original Tab S tablets on sale that are still worth bringing home.

greenbot rating 45

This story, "Galaxy Tab S2 review: A worthy counterpart for your smartphone" was originally published by Greenbot.

To comment on this article and other Network World content, visit our Facebook page or our Twitter stream.
At a Glance
  • Greenbot Rating

    The Galaxy Tab S2 is a good, solid Android device. It's worth choosing either the 8-inch or 9.7-inch variant if you're not particularly interested in a Google Nexus tablet.

    Pros

    • Bright, vibrant display that dims enough in the dark so that you're not straining your eyes to read
    • Extremely light and portable—you'll have to check to make sure it's still in your bag!

    Cons

    • Like most Samsung devices, it comes bundled with apps you can't remove
Related:
Must read: Hidden Cause of Slow Internet and how to fix it
Notice to our Readers
We're now using social media to take your comments and feedback. Learn more about this here.