- Superb screen
- Solid specs
- Excellent battery life
- Expandable memory
- Easy multiple users
- Magazine UX customizations can be annoying
- Lots of unneeded third-party software
- No NFC
Quick TakeA superb AMOLED display, slim design, and great performance make the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 the best tablet on the market today. Adding 4G LTE makes it even better.
Sporting a spectacular screen, high-end specs, and solid fundamentals, Samsung’s latest answer to the iPad Air not only proves it’s a contender, but that it can go toe-to-toe with any other device on the market and come out looking good.
Before we begin, a note on device versions. The Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 comes in a variety of flavors. There’s the basic Wi-Fi-only model, of course, with a suggested retail price of $500. But it’s also available with built-in LTE from all four major U.S. carriers. This adds a premium of around $100 to the price, but check with your carrier for exact prices. The version we received for this review is the one available on Sprint, but it’s fundamentally identical to the other models, except for a few notes we’ll make along the way.
Build & Design
On first taking it out of the box, you’ll realize how staggeringly thin and light the Tab S 10.5 really is. At 0.26 inches thick, it’s slimmer even than the Apple iPad Air and a hair lighter (467 grams versus 478 g). Even the older Galaxy Tab 10.1 LTE feels like a thick, clumsy antique when compared to the Tab S.
Once you get past the thinness, the actual looks of the S 10.5 aren’t anything remarkable. It’s not ugly, but it doesn’t exactly leap out and grab the eye. At least not until you turn on the screen, but we’ll get to that in a second. We think that the white version (shown at right) looks nicer than the “titanium bronze” we received, but we haven’t seen one in person.
The casing is plastic all over, which will probably disappoint some people, but it’s good quality plastic and not likely to smudge.
The screen is where the Tab S 10.5 fully and completely sets itself apart from competing 10-inch tablets. In place of a conventional LCD screen, the Tab S has an Active Matrix OLED display, something previously found almost exclusively in smartphones, and never before in a 10-inch tablet.
The difference is relatively simple. Conventional LCDs have two layers: One generates the picture, while a light source behind it makes it visible. The pixels on an AMOLED screen form the image and emit their own light, so there’s none of the “waste light” that makes even black areas on regular LCDs a dark grey.
That’s the technical explanation. The real world explanation is much simpler: An AMOLED screen looks absolutely stunning, to the point that a 2560 x 1600 resolution is one of the least amazing things about it.
If you’ve never seen one, it’s really hard to overstate how gorgeous an AMOLED screen is. Colors are more vibrant, images seem crisper, and everything pops. A lot of this comes down to the contrast ratio: how much brighter white is than black. A good conventional LCD will manage maybe 1000:1. A plasma TV may manage 10,000 to 1. The OLED display in the Tab S 10.5 is rated at 100,000 to 1. And that’s really just a number to toss around, since the black pixels don’t need to emit any light at all; how do you measure infinity? A good example of this can be seen when using the device in a dark room; it’s impossible to distinguish between black areas of the screen and the device’s bezel.
It performs impressively in more mundane ways, too. The brightness, for example, has an enormous range of adjustment. The lowest end is so dim that it’s not very bright even in a pitch black room, making it very comfortable for reading at night. The highest brightness feels like you could get a tan from it.
Although it does sport a 10.5-inch screen, larger than most other comparable tablets, the difference between that and a 10.1- or 9.7-inch screen isn’t terribly noticeable.
The bottom line is this: The Tab S 10.5 has the best tablet screen that money can buy. The iPad Air can’t compete, and everything else not made by Samsung is so far in in third that they would need binoculars.
Other Buttons and Ports
Stereo speakers occupy the “upper” edges of the device. The only other thing on the left side is the headphone jack, but the righthand side contains the microSD card slot and micro-USB connector, as well as the slot for the SIM card on LTE models. (And on a thankful side note, Sprint has finally joined the rest of the world and adopted SIM cards.)
Along the top edge, just above the camera, you’ll find a tiny infrared port for Samsung’s increasingly ubiquitous universal remote control feature.
The Galaxy Tab S 10.5 uses a physical home button, placed in a landscape orientation. Usually use on-screen buttons are better for flexibility, but this model does have a good reason for going this way. The home button hides a fingerprint reader of the same type as used on the Samsung Galaxy S5, for locking and unlocking the tablet without a password.
The other benefit of this is that the Tab S can easily recognize various users by their fingerprints. This means the device can be used by everybody in the family, with each person getting their own files, apps, wallpaper, etc. There’s also a “restricted mode” which gives limited access to apps, and a “kids mode” to make sure the youngest users don’t get into trouble.
Fingerprint scanner performance is solid; we had a few mis-reads to be sure, but once you get the hang of how you’re supposed to scan, it’s very consistent, even when your fingers aren’t perfectly clean or if you’re in a bit of a hurry.
Don’t stop now. Page 2 covers the performance of the Galaxy Tab S 10.5.