While the global tablet market continues to shrink, Samsung is still the second biggest manufacturer of tablets after Apple. Back in July, it announced global availability of its latest premium tablets, the 8-inch and 9.7-inch Galaxy Tab S2, and today it released information about U.S. and Canadian availability.
Starting with the Galaxy Tab A that was released earlier this year, Samsung changed its tablets to have iPad-like 4:3 aspect ratio screens. This means that the Tab S2 looks noticeably different that last year's flagship tablets, the 10.5-inch and 8.4-inch Tab S, which had 16:10 aspect ratio screens.
Moving to this screen ratio means that these new tablets work better for reading and browsing when held in portrait mode, but don't work as well for viewing videos in landscape, as there will be black bars above and below the content. The screen resolution has also dropped a little this year, being a lower 2048×1536 versus the 2560×1600 of the Tab S, matching the resolution of the iPad's Retina display. The S2's do still retain the Super AMOLED displays.
Moving to the same screen ratio as Apple's tablets isn't the only thing that Samsung is borrowing from the market leader. The Tab S2 will also be available in three colors -- black, white and gold -- similar to how the iPad comes in gray, silver and gold. To be fair though, Samsung has been offering three color choices in most of its products, and its choices, like Apple's, are more dictated by consumer demand than anything else.
Because these new tablets are Samsung's premium offerings, they are both premium devices inside and out. Just as Samsung has moved to manufacturing its phones from higher-end materials like metal and glass, both Tab S2's have metal frames. Samsung says that they are its thinnest and lightest tablets to date, 16 percent thinner than their predecessors. Both the 9.7-inch and 8-inch models are just 5.6mm thick, and weigh in at 389g and 265g, respectively.
Just as Tab S mimicked design elements of the then-flagship phone, the Galaxy S5, the Tab S2's use the same language as the Galaxy S6 and Note5. Unfortunately, these tablets still have plastic backs, but we guess using glass on the back of such large devices would add too much weight and make them very fragile.
As for the Galaxy Tab S2's internal specifications, both the 9.7-inch and 8-inch models have basically the same specs. Only their screen sizes and battery sizes differ. These new tablets are powered by Samsung's Exynos 7 Octa 5433 SoC (also used in the international market Note 4), which offers quite a big bump in performance over the Exynos 5 Octa 5420 used in last year's model.
Although both SoC's are big.LITTLE octa-core chips running at the same 1.9/1.3 GHz, the 5433 uses four Cortex-A57 CPUs and four Cortex-A53's. The 5420 used the less-powerful Cortex-A15 and A7. The GPU on the 5433 is also more powerful; it's the Mali-T760 MP6, which as almost as powerful as the T760 MP8 found in the Exynos 7420 used by the Galaxy S6. In fact, the 5433 and 7420 are very similar SoCs, with the only other differences being that the 5433 is a 20 nm chip running at slightly slower clock speeds, and only supports up to LPDDR3 RAM. This means that it should have no problem pushing around the pixels on the high-resolution displays of both Tab S2 models.
|Products||Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 9.7-inch||Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 8-inch|
|Display||9.7-inch Super AMOLED @2048 x 1536 (264 PPI)||8-inch Super AMOLED @2048 x 1536 (320 PPI)|
|SoC||Samsung Exynos 5433||Samsung Exynos 5433|
|CPU Core||ARM Cortex-A57 (4x @ 1.9 GHz) +ARM Cortex-A53 (4x @ 1.3 GHz)[big.LITTLE]||ARM Cortex-A57 (4x @ 1.9 GHz) +ARM Cortex-A53 (4x @ 1.3 GHz)[big.LITTLE]|
|GPU Core||ARM Mali-T760 MP6 @ 700 MHz||ARM Mali-T760 MP6 @ 700 MHz|
|Memory||3 GB LPDDR3||3 GB LPDDR3|
|Storage||32 GB, 64 GBwith microSD up to 128 GB||32 GBwith microSD up to 128 GB|
|Battery||5,870 mAh, non-removable||4,000 mAh, non-removable|
|Front Camera||2.1 MP||2.1 MP|
|Rear Camera||8 MP||8 MP|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac (MIMO),Bluetooth 4.1 LE, 4G LTE (optional), microUSB 2.0||Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac (MIMO),Bluetooth 4.1 LE, microUSB 2.0|
|Special Features||Multi Window, fingerprint scanner(touch)||Multi Window, fingerprint scanner (touch)|
|OS||Android 5.0 (TouchWiz)||Android 5.0 (TouchWiz)|
|Materials||Aluminum, Plastic||Aluminum, Plastic|
|Size||169 x 237.3 x 5.6 mm, 389g(Wi-Fi)/392g (LTE)||134.8 x 198.6 x 5.6 mm, 265g(Wi-Fi)/ 272g (LTE)|
For the other specs, the new Tab S2's don't differ too much from last year's models. They both have 3 GB of RAM, come with 32 GB of storage and a microSD slot. The 9.7-inch S2 will be available in either Wi-Fi only or LTE models. The 8-inch only comes as a Wi-Fi model in the US and Canada. In the U.S., the 9.7-inch model will also be available with 64 GB of storage, but unlike the iPad, there is no 128 GB offering -- but that's what the microSD slot is for. The 64 GB model will not be sold in Canada.
The Tab S2's both have fingerprint scanners and use the same touch-based technology as the Galaxy S6 and Note5. This is a big step up from the frustrating-to-use swipe style scanner found on the Tab S.
Like the Tab S, these new models still have an 8MP rear camera and 2.1MP front camera. Because Samsung didn't spend any time in its press release on them, we assume that they are probably going to be using the same sensors and optics, too. Thus, although you'll be able to capture acceptable images in decent light with them, don't set your expectations too high. To be honest, we wish tablet manufacturers would simply drop the rear-facing camera, but there does seem to be a group of people who persist in taking pictures with their tablets (and blocking our view at events), so we don't expect this feature to go anywhere any time soon.
One area that has received a substantial downgrade from 2014 is battery capacity. This seems to be a running theme with all of Samsung's 2015 devices, and while technologies like fast charging can partially make up from the size downgrade, we do wish that the quest of ever-thinner and -lighter devices didn't impact such a crucial component of any mobile device.
The 8-inch model's battery is only a little smaller at 4,000 mAh versus the 4,900 mAh of the Tab S. Unfortunately, the 9.7-inch model's battery is substantially smaller at 5,870 mAh vs. the 7,900 mAh of last year's model, though it is a smaller device, too. Until we've been able to test them, it is hard to say how much the smaller batteries will impact battery life, as the new SoC's are likely to be more power-efficient.
Both models run Android Lollipop 5.0, and it appears as though they're also running the same version of Samsung's TouchWiz UI as found on the Tab A and Galaxy S6, not the newer version with the new icons that the Note5 and S6 edge+ use. Like all of Samsung 2015 devices, the Tab S2's come with a suite of Microsoft applications pre-installed, such as Word, Excel and OneDrive.
One point of interest is that unlike the Galaxy Tab A, the Galaxy Tab S2 does not offer the S Pen stylus as an option. In previous years, Samsung marketed stylus-enabled tablets as Note products, so when the Tab A came with a pen, we were a little confused as to why it wasn't called a Note. Because the Tab S2's are S Pen-less, we assume then, despite the Tab A anomaly, that there will also be new Note premium tablets launched soon.
The new Galaxy Tab S2 will be available in the U.S. next week, starting September 3. You'll be able to pre-order the Wi-Fi-only models at Samsung.com, Amazon and Best Buy starting today, and the 9.7-inch LTE model will be sold by AT&T, Sprint, US Cellular, T-Mobile and Verizon. The Wi-Fi models come in all three colors, whereas the LTE model comes in black at most carriers (you can get it in white from Verizon).
In Canada, the Tab S2 is delayed a little, with the Wi-Fi models in all three colors coming to retailers on September 16, and the 9.7-inch LTE model from Bell, Rogers and Telus in black. In the Great White North, you can also pre-order them starting today.
As for pricing, in the U.S., the 32 GB 9.7-inch Wi-Fi model is $500, and the 8-inch model is $400. In Canada, due to the exchange rate, the pricing jumps up to $600 and $500 CDN, respectively. Pricing for the 64 GB Wi-Fi model has not been announced, and pricing for the LTE models will be announced by the carriers.
Update, 8/26/15, 6:00pm PT: For pricing of the 9.7-inch LTE model, T-Mobile has announced that it will be selling the Galaxy Tab S2 on September 3 for $650 outright, or $27 for two years. AT&T will sell its Tab S2 starting on September 4 for $600 outright, for twenty payments of $30, or for $500 on a 2-year term. Also, it looks like the 64GB version of the 9.7-inch Tab S2 (priced at $600) is a Best Buy exclusive in the US, and only comes in black.
Alex Davies is an Associate Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware and Tom's IT Pro, covering Smartphones, Tablets, and Virtual Reality. You can follow him on Twitter. Follow Tom's Hardware on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.