It's pretty clear what tablet Samsung is challenging with the new Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4. This $399 slate is going right after the iPad mini with Retina Display, offering a sharper and bigger screen in a design that's just as thin and light. Samsung's tablet is also packed with business-friendly apps to make you more productive on the go, as well as a new Magazine interface to deliver more information at a glance. The Tab Pro 8.4 could use more endurance, but overall this premium device is a compelling option for Android fans.
Like the Galaxy Note Pro, the Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4 sports a leatherlike plastic back with stitching around the outside edge. This treatment adds an air of elegance while making the slate easier to grip. Up front, you'll find a familiar white face rimmed in silver plastic. The oval home button sits below the 8.4-inch screen, while the 2-MP camera is just to the right of the Samsung logo at the top.
Despite sporting a bigger 8.4-inch screen than the 7.9-inch iPad mini, Samsung's tablet is a hair lighter (11.6 versus 11.7 ounces) and is nearly as thin (8.6 x 5.1 x 0.3 inches versus 7.9 x 5.3 x 0.29 inches). The Samsung is taller for narrower . Lenovo's 8-inch Miix 2 comes in at 8.5 x 5.2 x 0.3 inches and 12.2 ounces. The 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HDX is larger and heavier than all of the above, measuring 9.2 x 6.2 x 0.31 inches and weighing 13.3 ounces.
Along the flat left edge you'll find a microSD card slot capable of adding up to 64GB of additional storage to this 16GB tablet. Two speakers and a microUSB port line the bottom while a headphone jack sits on the top right edge. The power button and a volume rocker adorn the right side, just above an IR blaster, for turning this slate into a TV remote control.
While it was designed as a business-focused tablet, the Tab Pro 8.4-inch feels slightly top-heavy while thumb typing in portrait mode. We also wished Samsung had included a stylus for even more precise input and to aid in taking notes.
Display and Audio
For now, the Galaxy Tab Pro is the pixels per inch champ in the mid-size tablet market. Within its 8.4 inches, Samsung packed an impressive 2560 x 1600 screen, or 359 ppi. The 7.9-inch iPad mini with Retina display comes up short with 2048 x 1536 pixels and 326 ppi. The Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9-inch matches the Tab Pro's resolution but its ppi is a lower 339.
Text was sharp and colors popped when we watched an HD trailer for "Hunger Games: Catching Fire." In fact, Jennifer Lawrence's skin tones looked remarkably better and more crisply in focus on the Galaxy Tab Pro than they did on the iPad mini with Retina display. However, the iPad's contrast was superior, with deeper blacks.
Registering 452 on our light meter, the Galaxy Tab Pro was quite bright. The iPad mini with Retina display (390 lux) and Kindle Fire HDX 8.9-inch (440) both scored lower, but Lenovo's own Miix 2 (534 lux) is much brighter.
Lorde's voice on "Royals" came through loud and clear on Samsung's slate, but there was a complete lack of bass coming from the dual speakers on the bottom edge of the tablet. It almost sounded as though she was singing a cappella and snapping to herself.
OS and Interface
The Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4-inch comes with Android KitKat 4.4.2, the latest version of Google's mobile OS. Additionally, it boasts a new iteration of Samsung's TouchWiz skin that appears flatter and more subdued, partly thanks to the simple cyan default desktop wallpaper. It definitely adds a businesslike air to the tablet.
The Tab Pro 8.4 has three home screens by default. The first is the most traditional, with a few rows for app icons and a weather widget on top. Swiping in from the left opens Samsung's new Magazine UX, which hooks into news reader app Flipboard. Each tile displays dynamic content from around the Web or your social accounts. Tapping a story opens the full Flipboard app.
If you swipe from the right you open the business center of the Magazine UX. Widgets include news headlines by topic, your calendar appointments, and email or social networking alerts from some services (but not Facebook, Pinterest or Google+). You can fit up to six tiles on each home screen, and the tiles get larger or smaller depending on how many you include.
Like other Samsung devices, the Tab Pro 8.4-inch offers several quick settings in its notification drawer, including buttons for Wi-Fi, screen rotation, Bluetooth and GPS, along with brightness and volume sliders. You'll also notice some toggles for Samsung specific features, such as Smart Pause, Smart Stay and Multi Window.
The full Settings menu has a different layout than the one on stock Android devices, providing tabs for Connections, Device, Controls and General settings, all adorned with Samsung icons.
We found the default Samsung keyboard, which supports swiping, usable but a tad cramped in portrait mode. Switching to landscape mode helped. We appreciated having a dedicated number row, as well as features like predictive text, which can learn from what you type as well as from third-party apps like Facebook and Twitter.
The Multi Window mode on the Tab Pro 8.4 is particularly useful for multitasking. The feature splits the screen between two different apps, just as it does on other Samsung Galaxy devices. By sliding out the Multi Window menu on the right side of the screen, we could drag two of 14 available apps side by side. That meant we could open Gmail or the Chrome browser while also having access to Hancom Office apps or YouTube on the same screen.
You can also create a floating second screen by tapping, rather than dragging, an app from the bar to the right of the screen. And, unlike Windows 8 devices, you can drag content from one window to another. For example, you can drag a photo from the Gallery app into an outgoing email as an attachment.
The Google Play store comes preloaded on the Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4-inch, so you'll enjoy access to about 1 million apps. Also, with the purchase of this device Samsung throws in $25 in Google Play credit, one year of Gogo In-flight Wi-Fi, 50GB Dropbox space for two years, and a three-month subscription to Hulu Plus. Samsung also includes several productivity apps for business users.
MORE: 25 Best Android Apps
With the Remote PC app you can control your Windows machine from the Tab Pro 8.4-inch. That means you can copy files to and from its hard drive over the Internet. The setup requires a software download and sign in on the computer first. Once signed in, we navigated our three monitors in the office with our finger on the touch screen. However, we observed a noticeable lag in executing commands.
E-Meeting allows you to create a digital white board and share it with other users on your local Wi-Fi network who are also using the software. Samsung also includes WebEx for digital conferencing. SideSync 3.0 lets you share data or your screen with a Samsung PC, phone or tablet. Samsung KNOX creates a separate, secure environment that company IT departments can control if they're doing device management.
Opening the preloaded Hancom Viewer app, which allows you to view Microsoft Word, Excel or Powerpoint documents, gives you the option to download the full Hancom Office suite for free. We installed Hword for Tablet and found it to be very familiar and easy to use for creating and editing documents.
When it comes to tablet apps, the Google Play store still trails the iPad by a significant margin. But Google deserves credit for
improving the selection and curating good tablet apps. For example, there's a Tablet 101 section in the Play store that highlights Pinterest, Mint, Pulse and a handful of other options.
The 2.3-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core plus 2GB of RAM inside the Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4-inch gives this tablet plenty of power. We enjoyed silky smooth gameplay in the water racing game "Riptide GP2," and the camera opened in a brisk 1.6 seconds. In most cases, we also quickly returned to the home screen after closing an app.
However, we found the Tab Pro to be a bit sluggish at times. For instance, it took the Samsung tablet 14 seconds to open the N.O.V.A. 3 app, versus just 5 seconds for the iPad mini with Retina Display. And while we've seen worse, there was lag when changing screen orientations.
The Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4 performed fairly well on synthetic benchmarks, however. On Geekbench 3, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall performance, the Samsung notched 2,807, which beats the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9-inch (2,609), the Lenovo Miix 2 8-inch (2,608) and the iPad mini with Retina display (2,519). The category average is a mere 1,873.
On 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited, a synthetic test that measures graphics prowess, the Tab Pro 8.4-inch scored 15,281. That's far and away better than the category average of 8,267, and it is better than the iPad mini (14,128) and the Fire HDX (12,768).
The Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4-inch rear 8-MP shooter delivers detailed but somewhat dull photos. Almost no blue came through in a shot of the New York City skyline, and a close-up shot of shrubbery was warm but not exactly vibrant. That said, a tangled mess of branches was highly detailed.
The 2-MP front camera offered good color representation on the selfies we took in our office, but we found the camera placement on the top right to be a bit awkward. The photos also lacked definition.
Like other Samsung devices, the Tab Pro 8.4-inch comes with a smorgasbord of camera features, including Panorama Mode, Best Face, Best Photo, Sound & Shot and Drama Shot, which makes it look like a person is moving by showing them in various positions within the same picture. We liked that we could remove photobombers with Eraser mode. We also had fun accessing both the front and rear camera simultaneously, capturing our reaction in a tiny postage stamp on top of a shot of our newsroom.
When it comes to shooting video, the Tab Pro 8.4-inch can hold its own. A 1080p clip we captured of cars rolling down a city street was smooth and clear, with the yellow of the cabs popping on the screen.
The Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4's biggest weakness is its short endurance. On the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves continuous surfing over Wi-Fi on 40 percent brightness, the tablet lasted 7 hours and 32 minutes. That's only 10 minutes below the tablet category average (7:42) but 3.5 hours behind the iPad mini (11:06). The Lenovo Miix 2 (8:26) and Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9-inch (13:42) also have more staying power.
The $399 Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4-inch tablet is on a par with what you'd pay for the Apple iPad mini with Retina display and is only $20 more than the cost of the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9-inch. For the money, you get a very crisp and colorful display and access to professional grade apps for getting real work done. We wish Samsung had thrown in a stylus for this Android-powered tablet, however, and the battery life is disappointingly short compared to the competition. But if you want better multitasking than the iPad mini in a slim and light design, the Tab Pro 8.4 is a worthy investment.