Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 review

Samsung has launched two new Android tablets so here's our in-depth review of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4. Also see: The best tablets of 2014.

The new Galaxy Tab S range consists of the 8in model and a larger 10in model. The former uses an 8.4in screen size and will have to compete with devices like the iPad mini 2, Nexus 7 and LG G Pad 8.3. Check out our Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 hands-on review.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 review: UK price

At first, Samsung announced the 8.4in model of the Galaxy Tab S series would cost £349, a fairly hefty price for a smaller tablet. However, the firm realised this was a little over the odds, got its marker pen out and changed the price tag to £319.

That means it matched the Apple iPad mini with Retina display (coincidence we think not) but it's worth bearing in mind that some devices on the market are a lot cheaper. The Nexus 7 can be yours for £199 while the LG G Pad 8.3 can be bought for the same price now after entering the market at £249.

The £319 model comes with Wi-Fi only so if you want 4G connectivity as well, you'll be looking at £399.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 review design

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 review: Design and build

The Galaxy Tab S models will in two colours: 'Dazzling White' and 'Titanium Bronze'. The former has a white rear cover and front bezel while the latter is grey/silver in those places. Both have a copper/gold colours edge and details like the logos.

Somewhat more interesting than the colour is how thin and light this new tablet is. It's just 6.6mm thick according to Samsung which is thinner than the iPad mini 2 and Nexus 7. For its size, it's also staggeringly light; just 294g which makes it really easy to hold one-handed.

Samsung is yet to change its familiar design so the Galaxy Tab S 8.4 looks much like the firm's other tablets. It takes some style advice from the Galaxy S5 with the dimpled rear cover and set of three off-screen buttons – one of which, as usual, is physical.

Those two odd looking circles on the back are for attaching a case – Samsung has gone for this method instead of magnets or a simple clip over. The Samsung Book Cover is available in different colours and, although it's a little tricky to use, won't come off easily. It protects the screen during travel and also allows you to tilt the tablet into various different viewing positions. The downside is that it costs a whopping £45.

Also see our Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 vs Apple iPad Air comparison review.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 review rear cover

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 review: Hardware

Samsung touting viewing as the headline features of the Galaxy Tab S range and as such, the 8.4in has the same resolution as the 10in model and 16:10 aspect ratio. A whopping 2560 x 1600 ((WQVGA) on an 8.4in screen means an impressively high pixel density of 359ppi making it the highest we've seen on a tablet. As you might expect, the display is amazingly crisp and clear. Samsung says the range has the 'world's greatest screen' for a tablet.

It's hard to argue with that although Samsung's AMOLED technology isn't to everyone's taste. The punchy colours can be a little over the top making things look oversaturated and in your face so it's understandable if you would prefer a more natural, laid back display.  

Fortunately, you can adjust the screen mode. By default it's on adaptive display which adjusts the display's gamma, saturation and sharpness depending on the content, but there's also AMOLED cinema, AMOLED phot and basic. The latter provides a more muted look and feel.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 review screen

Since the tablet is all about the viewing experience, it's refreshing to see stereo speakers - although they are side mounted rather than forward facing. They pack a reasonable punch but quality deteriorates at higher volume levels. Think YouTube videos rather than feature length film use.

Although you'll have to pay more for the Galaxy Tab S 8.4 compared to its Android-powered rivals, you do get technology which you'll struggle to find elsewhere. Samsung has borrowed the IR blaster and fingerprint scanner from the Galaxy S5 (but not the heart rate monitor if you care).

It is a little strange, we think, that the IR blaster is on the side of the tablet so you'll need to turn it round into landscape mode to make use of it which isn't the device's natural orientation.

Storage is a fairly standard 16- or 32GB internally (although we can't find the higher capacity on sale yet) and Samsung, as usual, offers a microSD card slot which can accept up to 128GB cards.

There's no downgrade when it comes to other internal hardware compared to the 10.5in model. The tablet has a very healthy 3GB of RAM which is partnered by Samsung's own Exynos 5 Octa-core processor - it has four 1.9GHz cores and four 1.3GHz cores.

With the same core line-up as the larger model, we didn't need to hold the front page as benchmark results were identical or only a few points off. We recorded 2765 in GeekBench 3, 14fps in the GFXBench T-Rex test, 3fps in the harder Manhattan test and 1089ms in SunSpider.

From a user perspective, the Galaxy Tab S 8.4 provides smooth performance. However, perhaps not quite as good as the spec sheet suggests. We have found, like with the Tab S 10.5, occasional lag – sometimes just switching the screen on, or opening an app. Luckily, these lulls of speed were pretty rare so we can safely say that overall the performance is satisfactory.  

As we mentioned earlier, if you want mobile internet, a 4G LTE model is available for an extra £80. This device doesn't have NFC but does have other wireless tech which you'd expect from a decent tablet including 11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0 and GPS.

Photographers will be pleased to hear that the the Galaxy Tab S 8.4 has an 8Mp rear facing camera with an LED flash and a 2.1Mp front facing camera. Both camera are of decent quality, if you should like taking photos and video from a tablet and you can see a sample below.

Included camera modes are auto, beauty face, shot & more, panorama, HDR and dual camera but you can download more.

See also: Best Android tablets 2014: here's where we bring to you the 22 best Android tablets in the UK right now.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 review test photo

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 review: Software

The Galaxy Tab S 8.4 is running up-to-date software so it has Android 4.4.2 KitKat with Samsung's latest TouchWiz interface pre-installed. The interface mirrors that of the Galaxy S5 with the firm's own icons, widgets and drop down notification bar etc.

There are good and bad things about TouchWiz although these will somewhat come down to personal taste and how you use the device.

We like the ability to run two apps side-by-side on the tablet and you can access this feature (Multi-window) by swiping in from the right side of the screen so it's easily accessible at any time. There's also the way the recent apps menu pops up from the bottom of the screen without using the entire display, which on tablets is pretty unnecessary.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 review software

The notification bar is also packed with helpful elements including quick settings for lots of, er, settings and sliders for both screen brightness and volume. SideSync 3.0 is also handy for controlling a smartphone (calls and texts etc) from the tablet but it has to be a compatible Samsung handset.

Our main quibble is with Magazine UX which sits to the left of the main homescreen panel. It works a bit like HTC's BlinkFeed providing content tailored to what you're interested in. It also has a section for organisation such as a calendar and email but these only provide info if you use the built-in apps, not Google's.

That's fine if you use that kind of feature but Samsung doesn't allow the interface to be removed, one panel must remain so at best, you'll have to ignore it exists.

New additions include Papergarden, Samsung's latest digital magazine service, and Kick – a football app which provides in-depth data and stats on players and teams. It also features the latest scores and information while games are in progress. It's a shame that the tablet won't be on sale until half way through the World Cup then.  

There is a load of free content up for grabs if you do buy a Galaxy Tab S thanks to Galaxy Gifts. By submitting a proof of purchase form online, Samsung will let you download some apps for nothing including RunKeeper and Cut the Rope 2. Even better is free three- and six month subscriptions to Sky's Now TV service and Deezer.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 review: Battery life

With a smaller battery than the 10in model (unsurprising), you won't be shocked to discover that the device doesn't last as well. Perhaps it would with less demanding hardware than it's bigger brother but as we've pointed out the resolution of the screen remains at 2560 x 1600.

The 4900mAh non-removable battery holds its charge well when not being used (on standby/sleep), as we found with the Galaxy Tab S 10. In terms of video playback, you'll get a decent performance of around or nine hours on average (mainly depending on screen brightness). Samsung claims 12 hours of video and 10 hours of web browsing over Wi-Fi.

With varied use – we're talking occasional web browsing, gaming, social networks, videos etc – you'll find the Galaxy Tab S 8.4 will comfortably last a few days before you need to charge it.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4: Specs

  • Android OS 4.4.2 (KitKat)
  • 18.4in Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen, 2560 x 1600 pixels, 359 ppi
  • Exynos Octa-core processor (1.9GHz & 1.3GHz)
  • microSD, up to 128 GB
  • 16/32 GB internal storage
  • 3 GB RAM
  • GPRS
  • 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Wi-Fi Direct, dual-band, DLNA
  • Bluetooth 4.0 LE with A2DP
  • IR Blaster
  • Fingerprint scanner
  • GPS
  • microUSB v2.0 (MHL 2.1)
  • stereo speakers
  • 3.5mm jack
  • 8 Mp, 3264 x 2448 pixels, [email protected]
  • 2.1 Mp front camera
  • Non-removable Li-Po 7900 mAh battery
  • 126 x 213 x 6.6 mm
  • 294 g
  • Android OS 4.4.2 (KitKat)
  • 18.4in Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen, 2560 x 1600 pixels, 359 ppi
  • Exynos Octa-core processor (1.9GHz & 1.3GHz)
  • microSD, up to 128 GB
  • 16/32 GB internal storage
  • 3 GB RAM
  • GPRS
  • 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Wi-Fi Direct, dual-band, DLNA
  • Bluetooth 4.0 LE with A2DP
  • IR Blaster
  • Fingerprint scanner
  • GPS
  • microUSB v2.0 (MHL 2.1)
  • stereo speakers
  • 3.5mm jack
  • 8 Mp, 3264 x 2448 pixels, [email protected]
  • 2.1 Mp front camera
  • Non-removable Li-Po 7900 mAh battery
  • 126 x 213 x 6.6 mm
  • 294 g

OUR VERDICT

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 is one of the best Android tablets we've ever reviewed. In terms of hardware it's the best you can buy right now and has a superbly thin and light design. There's very little to dislike here aside from some elements of the TouchWiz software and the higher price compared to Android rivals (the iPad mini 2 is the obvious alternative if you're not set on Android). If you would rather save money and aren't so bothered about top-notch spec and additional features like the fingerprint scanner and IR blaster, check out the Nexus 7 and LG G Pad 8.3.