Samsung’s Tab S arrives, we go hands-on with this iPad Air beater

Apple’s iPad Air has held the tablet benchmark for many for a good year, and while Sony’s Xperia Z2 Tablet has provided some good competition, Samsung is betting its new Tab S will attract even more eyes.

Whether you call it a content consumption or a content creation device, the tablet is one gadget Australians are falling in love with. Apple has more or less led this category since the iPad rocked up, and while companies did eventually find a way to match Apple, when the company produced the iPad Air, the game changed again.

Now, however, Samsung is ready with a product that it thinks can compete properly, providing a better screen, a thinner body, a lighter weight, and some neat features that it hopes can bring people over to the Samsung side.

From our hands-on, which is admittedly longer than most of the other hands-on time we have with other products, Samsung may have a winner here, because when you pick it up, the first thing you’ll notice is the thickness and the weight, or the lack of each.

Your hands don’t have a scale in them — unless you’re bionic, in which case they’ve built you better, stronger, and we apologise — but the Tab S is very comfy in the hands, weighing a few grams lighter than the iPad Air.

Interestingly, Sony’s Tablet Z2 beats both of them to the punch, coming in at 426 grams, which is lighter than the Air’s 478g and the Tab S with 467g, but it’s still impressive, all the same.

Even the thickness scores points, measuring 6.6mm compared to the iPad Air’s 7.5mm. Once again, it’s a wee bit thicker than Sony’s option, which measure 6.4mm and manages to pack in water-resistance, which both the Samsung and Apple lack, but we’re not here to talk positives on the Sony.

Rather, let’s talk about what the Samsung excels in, because one of these will shine at you to get your attention, doing so in a rather bright way.

We are, of course, talking about the screen, which is very clear and very bright on both the Tab S products. While the 10.5 inch 2560×1600 screen has a lovely look to it, displaying 287 pixels per inch close to the 291 pixels per inch of the Air, it’s the 8 inch Galaxy Tab S that really grabbed us, beating both the devices with an amazeballs 355 pixels per inch.

The Tab S is thinner than the S5.

For those not aware of what these numbers mean, the amount of pixels per inch determines the clarity of the screen, with the higher number basically suggesting how many more pixels are packed in over a unit of measurement.

We’ve done the math in the past, and you can play with one of our interactive articles to see the difference between devices with low ppi counts versus those with high, but essentially, the bigger the ppi, the better the images and text will look, and the more your eyes will thank you.

The catch in all of this is our eyes which can, for the most part, only really see a maximum of 300 ppi, which is why the Apple Retina resolution is just over it. That said, higher can still look better, with more research around this very issue based on viewing distances, because the viewing distance of a 5 inch phone is very different from a 3.5 inch phone and a 10 inch tablet, and all of these are different again if your eyesight has issues.

There are a lot of factors at play, but essentially on a tablet, a pixel per inch count of between 280 and 350 is ideal with current technology, so having one at 355 is pretty remarkable.

Another factor is screen type, and while Samsung’s use of a 2560×1600 screen isn’t unheard of — we saw it on both the new Galaxy Note models for this year, the 2014 edition of the 10 inch and the much bigger 12 inch model — the use of it on a Super AMOLED screen is very cool, too.

This is like having a very bright and very colour impressive screen on a tablet, with a use of what Samsung calls an “adaptive display,” able to change the gamma, saturation, and sharpness of the screen based on what you’re doing, while also supporting preset modes to work better with watching movies, viewing photos, and even reading.

Performance is something that’s a little hard to judge on our models. For the most part, the Tab S was snappy, relying on a Samsung built Exynos 5 octa-core processor made from two quad-core processors, but there were some bugs here and there, which wasn’t a surprise since they were pre-production samples.

One feature really grabbed us, though, and more than we expected it would: SideSync.

This concept will make it possible to use your phone when you’re nowhere near it, with the tablet connecting to the phone over a wireless network and providing a software version of your phone on screen, making it possible for you to take photos, play games, and do useful things such as send texts, and make and receive calls when you’re nowhere near your phone.

For Samsung, this is a new thing, and while the idea compares to one LG used on its G Pad, Samsung has taken it a step further, providing an idea on the tablet that we’ll be seeing on the next iteration of Mac OS.

Testing it briefly, we found it doesn’t work with many phones.

That seems to be a Samsung issue and not a pre-production issue, with support for the SideSync program only extended to the Galaxy Note 3, S4, and S5 phones, but when engaged (and if you have both products from the Samsung ecosystem of phones and tablets), you’ll find you can use your phone when you’re nowhere near it, relying on the power of your network. We walked around our office trying it and found there was a fair amount of range, which worked better than working over Bluetooth for this style of transmission.

In general, our first impressions with the tablet are very good, and while we’re not a huge fan of Samsung’s TouchWiz version of Android in general, it feels better on this tablet than it does on the Galaxy S phones, with a touch more control, and some more obvious split-screen windows to work with.

Interestingly, the 8.4 inch and 10.5 inch tablets are more or less identical, with the same eight-core chips, 3GB RAM, 16 or 32GB storage, support for up to 128GB microSD, GPS, WiFi 802.11ac, Android 4.4 “KitKat,” 8 megapixel rear camera, 2.1 megapixel front camera, and a screen capable of throwing up a 2560×1600 screen.

Really, the question you’ll have if you’re at all interested in either should be the size, and while we like the small amount of time we’ve had with the 10 inch, we’d probably take the 8 inch over it, not just because the screen quality will be better on this small one, but because the 8 inch size is closer to a trade paper, and with this sort of tech inside, could be an even smaller replacement for both a content consumption device and a tiny content creator as well.

A size comparison between the S5 and the 10 inch Tab S.

Consumers will, ultimately, be able to decide for themselves shortly, with the Galaxy Tab S tablets set to hit retail on July 14, retailing from $479 for the 16GB 8.4 inch WiFi model and from $599 for the 10.5 inch 16GB WiFi only model, with 4G models also popping up later on.