When it comes to tablets, the current thinking seems to be “go big or go home,” or at the very least, “come with a keyboard.” The Galaxy Tab S2, on the other hand, seems like a careful perfection of the way tablets used to be — not a computer replacement, but a straightforward 8-inch or 9.7-inch tab with no real bells, whistles, or gimmicks. It’s a tablet, plain and simple.
And you know what? That’s just fine. But when you’re dropping anywhere between $400 to $650 for this handheld window into the internet, you’d hope for just a little bit more.
The S2’s Big Advantage
When digging into the specs and using this tablet, it all feels pretty familiar. But where the S2 is distinctly unique is in the way it’s put together. The race to create the very lightest and very thinnest tablet is nothing new, but the S2 has knocked it to another level. The 9.7-inch Galaxy Tab S2 is just 389 grams (or 13.7 ounces). That’s a good deal lighter than 2014’s iPad Air 2 coming it at a comparatively hefty 437 grams (15.5 ounces).
It doesn’t stop at just weight either. The Tab S2 is also super thin, at only 5.6mm, shaving a good half a millimeter off the Air 2. The result is a tablet that’s so light that when picking it up, it almost smacks you in the face because you’re expecting something so much heavier. It’s a conversation starter, an almost unbelievable achievement that you can’t help but hand it to other people saying “just hold this” and wait for that glazed look of amazement.
The whole tablet’s physical design is built to achieve that exact reaction. Unlike its new smartphones, Samsung’s tablet doesn’t stick an extra panel of Gorilla Glass on the back or use aluminum siding, because all the “premium” material would just add excess weight. In fact, the only metal you’ll find on this guy is a thin strip around the bezel, the obround home button (with fingerprint ID baked in), and two little magnetic circles on the back for the tablet’s extra keyboard accessories. That’s it, which is surprising level of restraint for Samsung in 2015.
All this attention to thinness and weight might have you wondering if Samsung left any room for a decent battery. My real world tests showed that the Tab S2 could get through a solid day of average use and was great at conserving battery on standby. I took the Tab S2 on vacation, and after a three days of inactivity, it was only at 60 percent. Not. Too. Bad.
But to be honest, tablets hardly ever leave my apartment because I often use them as a more comfortable way to cruise through the internet rather than an on-the-subway reading companion (I have a Paperwhite for that).
An Upgraded OS (But Still Missing Some Good Stuff)
Samsung’s TouchWiz operating system, it’s go-to skin of Android on all its smartphones and tablets, has come a long way from the bloated mess of yesteryear. But strangely, a lot of the neat software stuff you get on the latest and greatest Samsung smartphones like the Note 5 or the S6 Edge+ don’t make it to the latest and greatest tablet.
Two quick examples: You can’t livestream to YouTube straight from the camera app, which was a neat addition on the Note 5. You also have less customization options when it comes to rearranging icons on the Tab S2, sometimes making the icons feel too large—like a poor eyesight edition tablet or something.
But as far as responsiveness goes, the Galaxy Tab S2 has an Exynos 5433 quad-core CPU, the one that was embedded in last year’s Note 4. That’s also not exactly top of the line, but at no point did I see any discernible lag so I can’t complain too much. The 9.7-inch model also takes a step down on the resolution side of things from last year’s Tab S at 2048x1536, but once again, everything still looked great even with the slight downgrade, and with Samsung’s Super AMOLED display packed inside, colors looked stunning. Deep blacks and great color reproduction. It’s one of the better displays on a tablet that I’ve seen.
Samsung’s also backed away from the 16:10 landscape orientation, which weirdly but the home button on the side of the device when held vertically, and opted for a 4:3 ratio with the hardware key on the bottom—the design layout made popular by the iPad. Keeping in mind that attention to thinness and weight, it’s the most iPad-like Galaxy Tab ever made.
But it has some of its own tricks, too. The tablet is compatible with Samsung’s SideSync capability, letting you connect the Tab S2 with a Samsung smartphone or TV (a JS9500 to be specific), but that’s all just fluff for people engrossed in Samsung’s walled garden.
But like all other Samsung products out there, the Tab S2 has a plethora of multi-window multitasking options, so you can have pop out windows while navigating through other apps. However on an 8-inch and even a 9.7-inch tablet, things get crowded pretty quickly, so I usually just stuck with the old “one app at a time” strategy while flipping through Android’s multitasking carousel when I needed to switch between apps. Nothing fancy.
The Tablet for You?
The Tab S2 is a pure consumption machine that definitely won’t give you tablet elbow thanks to its insanely light weight. But tablets are becoming so much more. With the world recently recognizing Microsoft’s Surface as the badass tablet/laptop we’ve believed in all along, it seems like this next wave of tablets is going to also jockey to be your one and only computing device—whether for work or play.
But tablets like the Tab S2 will always have a place. Even though Samsung frustratingly left out some of its more recent software additions (it could always push those to the Tab S2 in a future update), it’s still the very best tablet Samsung’s ever made and a slightly cheaper substitute over Apple’s iPad Air 2.
It may not win over your tablet affection, but it deserves consideration.