Slick screen: Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S 10.5 reviewed

Get to using the tablet, and the impressive experience continues with good specs to let you run most apps you’ll want to throw at it. Unlike other tablets, this isn’t just a Samsung phone inside of a tablet, because in Australia, the Galaxy S5 is Snapdragon-based.

That’s different from the Tab S, which relies on two quad-core processors running together, making it an octa-core (eight-core) system and accompanied by 3GB RAM, past the 2GB sweet spot that Android tends to prefer.

Even though we’re not huge fans of Samsung’s TouchWiz interface, it’s a relatively usable affair here, with the exception of Samsung’s Magazine UX, which you’ll hear about shortly.

TouchWiz feels relatively stable now that we’re a few generations in, and while the colours of the menu don’t feel as bright or flat to work with, the multiple homescreen approach is easy to get your head around, the lack of a dock is easy to adjust to if you don’t use many homescreens, and there’s always a shortcut to all of your apps or your files depending on which corner you press.

In general, apps are relatively snappy to load, and even playing some of the heavier games — such as Telltale’s “The Walking Dead: Season 2” — the system showed very few signs of struggling.

Jumping between apps exhibited some lag, that said, appearing as we launched some apps, or even scrolled through some web pages, and while this was out of character with the high-end hardware on-board, it doesn’t last long. As such, this could be a firmware glitch, and patched up later on.

The battery life also isn’t bad, either. It will depend on your use, of course, but we found around a day of solid use was possible from the battery, as we watched the odd video, surfed the web, read and wrote emails, and did some social networking, but it is possible to get around two days if you use the Galaxy Tab S less.

Oh fingerprint scanner, why don't you like our friction ridges?

There are other features worth noting, such as the fingerprint scanner taken from the Galaxy S5, which still doesn’t do much outside of unlocking your device, your Samsung account, or your PayPal account. Similar to the issues we’ve seen on other fingerprint-enabled smartphones, swiping the sensor two out of three times didn’t work for us, which stops us from wanting to use the feature.

Not helping this is the lack of Near-Field Communication, meaning it can’t be used to pay for things at cafes, which we admit isn’t as convenient as a phone, but could still be nice to have around.

Also included are a pair of decent speakers sitting on the side which are bright and loud, and while it would have been better to see them up front, they’re much better than the standard speakers we see on the backs of tablets.

The camera on the Tab S isn’t bad either, and while we hesitate to use any tablet in public as a camera, if you have to, the 8 megapixel shooter isn’t bad here, providing relatively snappy auto-focus and reasonably detailed images. We wouldn’t switch it out for a better phone camera, but it will provide better images than you might expect.

An image from the Samsung Galaxy Tab S

Overall, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S is a solid competitor for Apple’s own, and really, that’s the big boy Samsung has to take on, even if there are other just as impressive tablets out there, including Sony’s own excellent Xperia Z2 Tablet.

But while the hardware is top notch, it’s the software we take aim: even though Samsung’s Android overlay “TouchWiz” has improved on previous versions, it’s the whole unique additional interface that is one giant let down because, well, it’s just incomplete.

We are in fact talking about Samsung’s Magazine UX, a homescreen that in TouchWiz is always there no matter what you do, sitting at the ready on the left-most screen, and ready to show you a combination of news feeds from Flipboard, calendar information, and emails, all sitting in various quadrants that can be flipped around and changed when you need it, with more Magazine UX screens added if you can’t fit everything in on the one or prefer a large display of information.

Magazine UX in action

No matter how many times we tried to get into Samsung’s multi-window take on how operating a tablet should be, we would in the end feel shortchanged, and that’s because the system isn’t complete, and barely offers an experience beyond the limited functionality Samsung has provided.

For instance, if you want to check your email, but you only have a Google Mail (GMail) account, such as the one your Google account provides, you can’t access the mail from the mail screen in the Magazine UX. That feature is only available through the mail app, so unless you have a Microsoft Exchange account of access to a POP3 email account, you’re out of luck in Magazine UX.

The same goes with the calendar, and if you use your Google Calendar religiously for storing your appointments and dates, Samsung’s Magazine UX won’t touch it. Sorry, but it will be ignored.

Even the widgets which should be connected to Google require separate logins: YouTube and Google Plus ask you to login, which is mad when they’re already connected to your tablet by way of your account.

And what if you want to use Twitter from the UX screen? Well, you can certainly read it, provided Flipboard can check your information, but posting, well, that’s a no.

Magazine UX doesn't have a lot of choice in the widget department.