Samsung has finally decided to meet the iPad Air 2 head on with its new flagship tablet. While theGalaxy Tab S 10.5 had a larger 10.5in widescreen display, setting it apart from Apple’s device, the Galaxy Tab S2 9.7 has exactly the same size, shape and resolution display as the iPad: 9.7in, 2,048×1,536 pixels and a 4:3 aspect ratio.
You could say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and while we’ve long been fans of 4:3 screens at Expert Reviews they tend to divide opinion; 16:9 and 16:10 displays may have the edge for watching films, but tablets with squarer 4:3 panels tend to feel more natural in the hand in portrait mode when reading or surfing the web. There’s also a compact 8in version of the S2; we’ll bring you a full review soon.
Samsung has at least engaged in some one-upmanship with its big rival. The Galaxy Tab S2 is both thinner and significantly lighter than the iPad, at 389g and 5.6mm compared to 437g and 6.1mm. It’s also slightly thinner than Sony’s svelteXperia Z4 Tablet.
As Sony’s flagship tablet, you might normally consider the Xperia Z4 Tablet to be the Galaxy Tab S2’s natural rival on the Android front, but as the Z4 is considerably more expensive (and comes with a keyboard) it sits in a class of its own. The Google Nexus 9 is a better fit; it also has a 4:3 screen with a 2,048×1,536-pixel resolution, but a slightly smaller 8.9in display. It usually costs the same too, although every now and then it drops to the £200 mark at certain retailers.
The Galaxy Tab S2 makes an excellent first impression. Its light weight makes it a pleasure to hold when reading, with the Nexus 9 feeling fat and heavy in comparison. The iPad feels like it has the edge for build quality at first, thanks to a stiffer-feeling rear, but artefacts appear on the screen if you apply even a small amount of flex.
All three tablets have impressive screens, but which you prefer really comes down to personal taste. The Galaxy Tab S2 uses AMOLED technology, and like all displays of this type, has excellent contrast; as it can display absolute blacks, our tests showed it as having a 1:1 contrast ratio. Under the scrutiny of a USB colour calibrator, the Galaxy Tab S2 showed it could display 100% of the sRGB colour gamut, too. However, we had some reservations when comparing it side-by-side with the iPad Air 2 and Nexus 9. Test images on the Samsung screen leapt out thanks to their vibrant colours, but look a little closer and you can see a yellow tint; a common complaint among AMOLED screens. The iPad Air 2 and Nexus 9, by contrast, had no such cast, so while their images had less punch, the colours seemed more realistic. Turning off the Galaxy Tab S2’s Active Display just made images look flat and lifeless.