It’s been a little over six months since we reviewed Samsung’s latest attempt to take the iPad Air on, a product that arrived with a fair amount of fanfare and the expectation that someone had finally matched Apple’s iPad Air, with a sleek look, svelte design, and a screen that could bring excitement simply due to how bright and high resolution it was.
Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S did bring a lot of interest to Android tablets, at least the high end ones, not just because it was a new take on Samsung’s Galaxy Tab range, but because it provided solid competition for not just Apple’s tablet, but one from Sony which sported a slim body and water-resistant design, the Xperia Tablet Z2.
Samsung’s Tab S was a different beast altogether, though, bringing a look that matched luxurious furniture, with a dimpled textured back, gold trim, and enough bells and whistles to make you realise that yes, you were buying another of Samsung’s high-end machines.
For starters, there was the screen, packing in a particularly impressive 10.6 inch Super AMOLED display sporting the resolution of 2560×1600. With these numbers put together, Samsung was essentially offering a tablet with 300 pixels per inch, higher quality than even Apple’s iPad Air, which carries a 2048×1536 resolution on a 9.7 inch screen, with the numbers coming out to 264 pixels per inch there.
Most of these are just numbers, and the real proof was in the use of the device, but Samsung did pretty well here, too.
As such, the screen was bright, clear, and very crisp, and you’d be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t like what they saw. We were even more intrigued by the 8.4 inch model, which we’ve only briefly seen, and yet packed in the same resolution, essentially offering even more pixels per inch, hitting 360, one of the highest we’ve heard of on a tablet.
But the 10 inch is what we had, so we reviewed that.
And overall, it’s a decent little machine, offering a comfortably thin design, superb screen, and decent battery performance, with some loud speakers to boot.
Six months in, there are things about the Galaxy Tab S that still rock.
Things like the screen, which six months in is as lovely as it ever was, providing excellent viewing angles, crisp imagery, and colour that we wish was as rich on every display.
The design is also nice, and while we normally prefer metal bodies, the textured plastic back is easy to hold, even if we never quite got our hands on the specialty cases Samsung made for these tablets.
We’re still not huge fans of the fingerprint scanner, and are looking forward to seeing an updated version of the technology that works just as well as Apple’s — perhaps the version on the upcoming Galaxy S6 will be made for a new generation of Samsung tablets in the near future — but the inclusion of it is, at the very least, useful for some.
But one thing has us stumped, and that’s Samsung’s Magazine UX.
For those who don’t remember this, Magazine was a change to the typical TouchWiz overlay Samsung included with its tablets, with an extra set of home screens with various quadrants made for Samsung-specific widgets.
These were widgets designed to show your calendar and agenda, your mail, news in various topics, and even social networking feeds, with the idea being that you could modify the layout quickly and easily to make these tablet pages more like your own personal magazine.
Flipboard was tapped to provide the news feeds, and when you used it together with the Samsung Galaxy Tab S, your feeds were sent through to the system, showcasing not just the picks by Clipboard, but what you wanted to see.
The idea had merit, especially since companies like HTC tried to come up with its own take on the idea — Blinkfeed — and other Android app makers aimed to do similar things with widgets, but one thing stopped Magazine UX from being useful: it was never finished.
Six months after releasing the Samsung Galaxy Tab S with the Magazine UX, the widgets still don’t work properly, the refresh times are lagging, and generally the whole thing with Samsung’s Android overlay is more easily replaced instead of being dealt with.
Load up the Magazine UX page and just like it was when it was launched for the first time, the widgets still cannot read Google accounts.
Even though the various Google services are all closely connected with anything happening on Android, Samsung’s Magazine widgets will not touch your Google Calendar or your Gmail account.
If you want to read both your regular POP3 mail or Exchange account with your Gmail account through one of these widgets, you’re stuck, and if you wish to see your Google calendar via the calendar widget or agenda widget on Magazine UX, once again, you’re stuck.
Other widgets through this system have also yet to be touched, patched up, and fixed to make them more useful than what they are. Social networking widgets won’t let you post through the Magazine UX screen, so really, all you’re doing is reading updates as they come in, and even that last part isn’t necessarily guaranteed.
Instead, there’s a possibility that the information in the widgets won’t actually refresh, and we’ve been left reading older information, even after forcing the refresh button’s hand several times.
Simply put, Samsung’s Magazine UX has issues, and these were issues back when the Tab S was a brand new product. Six months in, that new tablet smell has worn off, and Samsung hasn’t even touched the problems, leaving us wondering what we can do.
So what can you do?
Our best suggestion thus far has been to change the launcher, with Google’s “Google Now” launcher our choice, not just because it seems to operate more smoothly than Samsung’s TouchWiz version, but also because we can replace Samsung’s unfinished Magazine UX with Google Now, which isn’t only better programmed, but more complete.
Instead of needing to program our own pages of widgets that don’t work particularly well, Google Now will just track the sort of news we should read based on what we’re searching for, while the Android accounts will communicate our calendar and agenda to Google Now on a regular basis.
Weather is also there, and it’s updated on a regular basis, killing our need to constantly hit the refresh button and hope for the best.
Seriously, Samsung’s unfinished Magazine UX and its TouchWiz overlay can mostly disappear when Google’s own stock launcher is employed, and the whole Tab S tends to feel a little more speedy when this is employed.
And that’s really the bulk of the problem with the Tab S sorted, because running with Google’s take on Android instead of Samsung’s own, the tablet actually performs the way we’d want a tablet to perform.
We do need to note that despite the excellent hardware, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S isn’t our favourite Android tablet around, currently sitting second fiddle to Sony’s 8 inch Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact, but at least with Google’s launcher, we’re enjoying our time with it, and this will no doubt help you in this regard, also, at least until the second-gen Samsung Galaxy Tab S rolls around, which knowing Samsung, will probably be in a few months.