Android’s best iPad: Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S2 reviewed

Switch the Galaxy Tablet S2 on and you’ll be greeted by easily the tablet’s best feature: its screen.

By now, you’re probably aware of the quality of Samsung’s screens and how the company is constantly developing and focusing its efforts in this space, and in the past few years, we’ve certainly seen some impressive results from Samsung displays.

Whether it comes from a fantastic LCD monitor, a bright and vibrant quantum dot television, or the stunning AMOLED screens seen on its mobile devices, Samsung is constantly blowing our eyelids off when it comes to showcasing its results in the display world, and the screen on the Tablet S2 is no different.

While this is the first time we’ve seen Samsung built a 4:3 aspect ratio screen — a sizing that looks more like the sort Apple would use rather than Samsung — its 2048×1536 screen offers the same level of clarity as the iPad Air 2, and feels like it offers more brightness in general, even doing that thing its flagship phones do which somehow pulls from an extra reserve of power when you head to bright sunlight and turns the screen up brighter.

What this translates to is that you can actually use the tablet in the harsh sunlight that our majestic nation offers, and with the Aussie sun beating down on your sunscreen-laden back, you could sit in the backyard and surf the web, if you were so inclined.


Back indoors, the screen will pull itself down to a more appropriate viewing brightness, and it’s here you’ll have the best experience with viewing, since the lighting will be more balanced.

Colours are rich and images are clear, and if we thought Samsung couldn’t make a better screen than what we saw on the Tab S, we were wrong, because even though the pixel clarity has dropped ever so slightly, the display manages to feel better.

Some apps may not render exactly perfect, as we found Evernote didn’t feel optimised for the 4:3 screen Samsung was using with a little bit of pixelation in some of the text, but we suspect this might come down to some app updates later on, as we’ve not seen this before.

Otherwise beyond this minor thing, the display is lovely, and seriously gives other tablets a good run for its money. Corning’s scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass protects this display, helping if you accidentally run keys over the screen, which we’re not even sure why you’d ever do.

Samsung's Galaxy Tab S2 in its optional Book Cover.
Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S2 in its optional Book Cover.

Let’s talk about the interface, because this is one area where Samsung has improved things.

To put it simply: no more silly Magazine UX.

Magazine UX in action
Magazine UX in action

You might not recall Magazine UX, but we sure do.

Back in the Galaxy Tab S, and even a tablet or two before it, Samsung had the bright idea of adding a different overlay to Android to make it a little more modular. You had a quadrant in the top left, one taking up the side on the right, and you could fiddle with the layout of these as you pleased, with the ability to bring in emails, your calendar, and news feeds using the Magazine UX.

It was a neat concept, but there was one major flaw: it was never finished. As a result, there was virtually no support for any apps or widgets beyond the few Samsung provided, and most would have given up on Magazine only a few minutes after realising that Samsung had given up before it had started.

Fortunately, Magazine UX isn’t here on the Tab S2, and instead we’re being greeted with a minimalistic interface similar to that of Samsung’s 2015 phones.


As such, you’ll find the lightest version of Samsung’s TouchWiz Android overlay here, with a relatively stock Google Android experience, and very apps loaded on top.

The shortcut dock is very much customisable, and we’re glad to see Samsung has well and truly shaken free of the locked-dock shackles that it held close for so long, and in general the whole device just flows nicely.

You’ll find several widgetised home screens, a dropdown menu, and of course an app menu available to you, and basically if you’re at all familiar with a Samsung smartphone from this year (2015), this will be a familiar experience.

Performance is also solid, with little to no lag as you jump from app to app, with the eight-core processor doing its best to make the tablet experience on the S2 a pleasant one.


Samsung tells us that this is the fastest Galaxy tablet it has ever produced, and while the specs on paper suggest the chip is very, very similar to the model used in the previous Tab S — complete with the same amount of RAM, no less — the benchmarks suggest that it’s actually a revised variant of the Samsung-made octa-core chipset, with a slight increase in what it can do against the previous model.

That’s good news if you happen to play games and use a fair amount of apps, because it means the Tab S2 won’t let up when you really need it.