Going under the hood, the Wi-Fi-only version of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 features a Samsung Exynos 5420 8-core CPU, whereas the LTE versions use a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 with four Krait cores instead.
LTE users won’t miss the octa-core CPU, though. On four runs of Quadrant benchmarks, the Tab S 10.5 LTE averaged a whopping score of 22,355, making it easily the fastest Android tablet we’ve tested. That even beats the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition), which sports the Exynos 5420 found on the Wi-Fi-only Tab S. There’s no letdown in the subjective performance either, with even the complex apps running as smooth as glass.
For such a flagship device, it could be a little disappointing that the Tab S only comes in 16 GB and 32 GB versions — and the 4G LTE variant is only found in 16 GB. Fortunately, the Tab S sports a microSD memory card slot, allowing for you to add up to 128 GB of additional memory. With cards that size costing as little as $110 as of this writing — and 64 GB cards being available for under $35 — the amount of internal memory feels almost moot. But only almost; with flash memory being as cheap as it is, it would be nice to have a little more right out of the box, especially if you’re going to eat 6 GB of it out of the box by loading the device up with tons of apps that no one asked for.
The Galaxy Tab S 10.5 supports all the currently available versions of Wi-Fi, including both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz networks. HDMI is also in there, supposedly, although it’s only accessible through one of the terribly inconvenient “MHL” adapters. Rounding out the usual suspects are Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy and GPS.
There is one thing that’s a little disappointing here. For whatever reason, the Tab S doesn’t include Near Field Communication (NFC). To be sure, that’s not a huge complaint — we doubt there’s many people who really use NFC on a tablet very often. But that’s a self-reinforcing problem. There’s no demand for it to be universal if people don’t use it, and people won’t be likely to use it unless it’s universal. NFC beaming is, at the very least, convenient. And it is bizarre that 10 years after Bluetooth was supposed to solve this problem, the easiest way to send a file to another device in the same room is still by email.
As mentioned earlier, the Tab S 10.5 is available in an LTE version on all four major carriers. Unfortunately, no one version of the device is compatible with all four services, but this does mean that some carrier-specific customizations are available. For instance, Sprint’s version also supports the telecom’s tri-band aggregation technology, called Spark, which is supposed to offer download speeds of up to 60 megabits per second. Don’t get too excited though, because Spark is still in very limited deployment; from our location, the nearest Spark city is 300 miles as the crow flies, so we weren’t able to test that specifically.
Otherwise signal performance of the LTE radio is about on par with what you would expect from a good smartphone in terms of holding on to a connection.
Here’s where we run into one of the only real foibles of the Galaxy Tab S 10.5. Like most manufacturers, Samsung modifies Android. Sometimes, this works well; the quick access in the notification shade to turning on and off things like Wi-Fi and GPS, for instance, is great. So is the fact that there’s only one notification shade, thus fixing Google’s worst interface design decision in years.
But then there are changes which don’t work so well. “Magazine UX,” the tiled newsfeed system they build into Samsung’s new tablets, is one of those times. It doesn’t really do anything that you couldn’t already do with widgets, and it doesn’t go away. Overall this is a kind of petty complaint, but on a tablet that’s otherwise so excellent, some of the annoying software does tend to stick out.
Besides Magazine UX, the Tab S is loaded with both Samsung customizations and third-party apps. One of the most prominent of the former is multi-window mode, which lets you run two separate apps side by side in split screen. We’ve gone into this in greater detail with previous devices, but it still merits saying here that it’s a very handy feature, possibly the most useful real customization on the Tab S. Being able to work with two things at once — say, looking at a web page on one side of the screen and Google Maps on the other, or splitting it between GPS navigation and playing videos for family road trips. Multi-window on a 10-inch tablet essentially gives you the equivalent of two 7-inch screens to work with, which can be very handy.
There’s also a staggering heap of third-party apps loaded onto the Galaxy Tab S 10.5, far too many to go into detail about. Many of the usuals are there such as Amazon’s bevy of apps, Samsung’s app store, Flipboard, eBay, Spotify, Hancom Office, et al. Also featured is Samsung’s SideSync, which lets you share files between your devices easily as well viewing your tablet screen on your PC, or your smartphone on your tablet. Unfortunately, this only works on very select Samsung smartphones and tablets.
One of the surprises working with the Tab S is the camera. Even on high-end tablets like this, you can usually only expect so much out of the camera, especially in low light: usually meaning anything other than direct sun. So it was a nice discovery to make that the Tab S produces brighter pictures with more detail in less than optimal light than other devices we’ve used, including my Galaxy S4. Mind you, that’s not to say that the camera is GOOD in low light–photos are still lacking in focus and high in noise — but it’s visibly better than average. Considering how stagnant mobile device cameras have been for years, any improvement is good news.
Despite its extreme thinness making you wonder how Samsung could possibly have actually fit a battery inside there, the battery life on the Tab S 10.5 is surprisingly powerful. Actually, let me rephrase that: it’s shockingly powerful.
Usually a rule of thumb is that a 10-inch tablet would probably max out at 10 hours of battery life, maybe 6-8 if you’re running it hard. Samsung rates the 10.5 at 9 hours, which would be fairly average, but it considerably outpaces that prediction. You probably couldn’t run down the Tab S 10.5 in less than 8 hours by anything other than the most ludicrously power hungry activities … and under somewhat more cautious use, the Tab S will go for 12 hours or more.
It’s hard to define “average use” these days with such a widely diverse sets of requirements, but if you’re accustomed to getting a full day out of competing tablets, the Tab S 10.5 will make you very happy indeed.
Price and Availability
Just a bit more: Page 3 wraps up our final thoughts on this high-end tablet.