Eye-popping display; Attractive design; Immersive, versatile Kids Mode; Quality touch keyboard
Many apps not optimized for high-res display; Expensive; Mediocre Camera
Combining the sharpest display on a tablet yet with an attractive design and powerful software, the Galaxy Tab S 8.4 is worth its premium price.
For many shoppers, today's 7-inch tablets don't seem much more useful than their smartphones. But if a slate with a 10-inch screen feels too bulky for you to hold through an entire movie or mobile gaming session, an 8.4-inch tablet like Samsung's Galaxy Tab S 8.4 could be just the right fit. Made for mobile entertainment, the Galaxy Tab S 8.4 features a razor sharp Super AMOLED display in a light and stylish chassis. A speedy Octacore processor, an immersive Kids Mode and the ability to remotely control your phone add to the list of compelling features. But do you get enough benefit from its display to justify the premium price?
Samsung takes a lot of criticism for its use of plastic materials in tablets and phones, but our bronze Galaxy Tab S 8.4 looked every bit like a high-end product. Even though it is not made of metal, the bronze colored sides and dimpled bronze back offer a compelling look that's consistent with Samsung's Galaxy S5 phone but even more compelling. A dark gray bezel with capacitive navigation buttons for app switching and back, along with a physical home button, complete the snazzy aesthetic.
At 8.37 x 4.94 x .26 inches and 10.37 ounces, the Galaxy Tab S 8.4 is noticeably thinner and lighter than the iPad Mini with Retina Display (7.9 x 5.3 x .29 inches, 11.7 ounces) and the LG G Pad 8.3 (8.5 x 5.0 x 0.33 inches, 11.9 ounces). Despite its slim size, Samsung found room for a infrared port that lets you use the device as a remote and a microSD card slot that lets you expand the 16GB of internal memory by up to an additional 64GB.
Considering that 64GB cards cost just $34 online, Samsung's tablet provides a lot more storage for a lot less money than the iPad mini, which has no reader but costs $499 for a 32GB version and $599 for a 64GB capacity. Interestingly, Samsung uses a microUSB 2.0 port on the Galaxy Tab S 8.4, rather than the microUSB 3 port it put on its most recent phones.
The Galaxy Tab S 8.4's sharp display is a blessing when using most apps, but exposes flaws in some others. When browsing through home listings in the Trulia real estate app in landscape orientation, the tablet displayed content in three different different panes: one with a list of local homes, another with an area map and a third with a blow up of the currently-selected house.
Samsung's Adapt Display technology, which adjusts color display based on the content, and its ambient light sensor combined to provide bright, colorful images even in direct sunlight. On our light meter, which measures display brightness in lux, the Galaxy Tab S 8.4 scored 505, well above the 348 tablet category average, iPad Mini with Retina (390 lux), Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 (465 lux) and the LG G Pad 8.3 (273 lux).
When we took the device out on our roof in noon sunlight on a cloudless day, it was easy to see all the icons and controls on the screen, something that's impossible on many other mobile devices.
While not perfect, the screen returned a solid Delta E color accuracy rating of 4.9, a bit better than the 5.4 category average (0 is perfect accuracy). When we placed the Galaxy Tab S 8.4 next to an iPad Air and played a trailer for "X-Men: Days of Future Past," images like the red in a character's lips or the yellow in his t-shirt were deeper on the Tab. However, with a Delta e rating of just 1.4, the Air's duller palette is closer to real life.
Music playback was a bit tinny from the Tab S 8.4, both when we played the guitar and drum-heavy "How You Like Me Now" and the bass-centric "Forget Me Nots." However, we could hear a separation of sound, as some instruments appeared to be coming out of the left side and others from the right.
At 78 decibels on our sound meter, the Galaxy Tab S 8.4 is loud enough to fill a small space, but a bit below the 79 dB category average and the LG G Pad 8.3's mark of 80 dB. Located on the top and bottom of the device, the speakers don't get muffled by putting the tablet down on a table, holding it in portrait mode or holding it in landscape mode, as long as you hold the top corners.
User Interface and OS
We particularly like Samsung's virtual keyboard, which continues to be the best available on any platform. The large keys have plenty of spacing, which makes it easy to avoid hitting adjacent letters, and a dedicated number row. The keyboard also provides helpful next-word prediction that can learn your writing patterns from your Facebook, Gmail and Twitter and accounts.
Like Samsung's flagship phone, the Tab S 8.4 has a fingerprint reader built into its home button. After enrolling our index finger by using a panel in settings, we were able to quickly swipe past the lock screen in just one attempt. However, on some occasions our first swipe didn't take.
The Tab S 8.4 has four home screens for your shortcuts and widgets. The center screen comes default with a few popular shortcuts and a time / weather widget. The screen immediately to the left provides Samsung's "Quick Briefing" grid which shows tiles for important things like content from its My Magazine news feed, videos on your device, stock quotes and alarms you've set. The screen to the far left shows your calendar, recently edited documents and emails in another useful grid. If you don't like either grid page, you can long press and drag the tiles to the trash.
The Tab S' 8-MP camera offered mixed results in our tests. Outdoor shots of a New York City skyline were crisp and colorful and a shot of a bas relief sculpture was particularly detailed. However, images of a red tree taken with bright light behind made it look like the subject was immersed in a whitewashed haze. When we shot a 1080p video of cars rolling down the street, video was smooth and images were sharp.
Like other Samsung phones and tablets, the Galaxy Tab S 8.4 has a slew of camera modes. Shot & More enables you to remove unwanted photo bombers, and "Drama Shots" make it look the subject is moving through the picture. You can also download additional modes, such Sports shot and Sound & shot (still image with sound in background). However, some modes such as Animated Photo mode, which lets you make funny animated GIFs, are available on Samsung's phones but not the Galaxy Tab S 8.4.
On Geekbench 3, a synthetic benchmark that measuriPad Mini with Retina Displayab S 8.4 scored a strong 2,768, higher than the tablet category average of 2,141, the A7-powered iPad Mini with Retina Display (2,519) and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 600-powered LG G Pad 8.3 (1,717)..
It took the Galaxy Tab S 8.4 4 minutes and 48 seconds to transcode an HD video to 480p using the Vidtrim app. That's more than twice as fast as 11:58 category average and comfortably ahead of the G Pad 8.3's 8:02 time. However, the Snapdragon 800-powered Kindle Fire HDX completed the same test 29 seconds faster (4:19).
The Tab S 8.4 took a reasonable 16 seconds to launch the demanding game N.O.V.A. 3, which is 1.6 seconds faster than the category average and just a second behind the LG G Pad 8.3 (15 seconds). However, the iPad mini with Retina Display loaded it in 5 seconds, perhaps due to its different operating system.
When we played high-speed 3D games such as Monster Truck Destruction, the 3D graphics were detailed and motion completely smooth. On 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited, a synthetic benchmark which measures graphics prowess, the Tab S 8.4 scored a strong 13,518, which is far better than the 9,695 category average, the LG G Pad 8.3's 7,785 score, and the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9's mark of 12,786. The iPad mini with Retina Display scored a slightly-higher 14,128.
In addition to S Voice, Samsung throws in a number of apps that directly compete with Google's own apps, including a web browser that competes with Chrome, alternate music and video players and a Samsung app store that takes on Google Play. With the exception of the media players, we prefer Google's traditional apps to their Samsung counterparts.
The Remote PC app lets you take confrol over a Windows PC. After installing client software on our laptop, we found it easy to take control from the tablet. The connection was fairly responsive, perhaps because both devices were on the same network.
Hancom Office lets you view and, after installing an update, edit Office documents. Paper Magazine is a third-party digital magazine store. WebEx Meetings is a front end for Cisco's video conferencing service. Bloomberg Businessweek is a digital news app that comes with a one year subscription; the same offer applies to all Samsung device owners who download the app on their own from Google Play.
Kids Mode lets you designate specific videos, songs and photos that will be visible in its gallery, music and movie players. There is also an option to limit how much time your child can use the device. Kids cannot outsmart the mode by rebooting the device. When we restarted from within Kid Mode, the system booted right back into it, after making us go through the lock screen.
The camera app replaces Samsung's complex myriad of imaging modes with fun effects options. You can place funny cartoon icons on top of your face, such as sunglasses or crossed eyes. There's also a drawing app and a simple sound recorder.
We tested the Book Cover in Electric Blue and really appreciated its sharp looks and textured surface. We also like the cover's ability to wake the device when folded back or put it to sleep when closed. However, attaching the cover required required too much force for our liking, and folding the backside in order to prop up the tablet requires a learning curve.
Editor's Note: At some point during our first run of the test, the network experienced an Internet outage, though the device stayed connected to the router for the entire time. We'll run the test again and update, though the impact on the result should be minimal.
In our experience, the Tab S 8.4 took an eternity to charge. When we plugged the device in with over 40 percent charge, it approximately 4 more hours to reach 100 percent.
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|CPU||Samsung Exynos 5 Octa (1.9-GHz Quadcore + 1.3-Ghz Quadcore)|
|Storage Drive Size||16GB|
|Storage Drive Type||Flash Memory|
|Display Resolution||2560 x 1600|
|Front-Facing Camera Resolution||2.1MP|
|Card Reader Size|
|Warranty / Support|
|Size||8.37" x 4.94" x 0.26"|