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Hands on: Samsung Galaxy Tab S2

The Galaxy Tab S2 is an Android tablet that’s worth a premium price

Thin, light, powerful and comfortable to hold. Samsung gets high-end tablets right with the Galaxy Tab S2.

Samsung quietly announced its new Galaxy Tab S2 range in the early summer, in an effort to capture the interest of those will to spend a little more money than is really necessary for an Android tablet.

There are two sizes available, either an 8-inch and a 9.7-inch model, the latter of which sees Samsung move to a 4:3 aspect ratio, just like an Apple iPad. What strikes you most when you pick up a Galaxy Tab S2 is the weight. If you equate ‘premium’ with heft, then you’ll be disappointed. Even the bigger 9.7-inch tablet is incredibly lightweight, and would be effortless to hold with one hand on the train, or propped up in bed.

The design is the second high point. The corners are curved, and don’t taper off into a sharp edge. This is important for such a big device, particularly if you read while supporting the tablet in your palm or rest it on your chest. The Tab S2 won’t dig in uncomfortably. The lightness is a little disconcerting though, and it almost feels delicate, something accentuated by the incredible thinness — just 5.9mm. The gold color is very attractive. It’s like the S6 Edge Plus’s gold hue, subtle, and not too bright. It’s more visually exciting than the white version, and certainly the one to choose if you get the choice.

It’s surprising that the Tab S2 isn’t an all-metal tablet. The chassis is metal, but the entire rear panel is plastic, although visually and texturally it does a good impression of metal, so from a distance the game isn’t given away. However, it’s obvious when you hold it that only the edge is metal. Is it a black mark against the Tab S2? Not really, but some may feel cheated given the high £400+ ($625+) price.

Related: Hands on: Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Plus

Tablets aren’t always going to be your first choice when it comes to taking photos, but if you find the Galaxy Tab S2 is the closest one to hand when a picture opportunity presents itself, you’ll probably like the results. The 8-megapixel sensor may not match the S6, but it does have an f/1.9 aperture, autofocus, and the ability to shoot 1440p video. That’s impressive enough for a phone, let alone a tablet. A good test was impossible in the environment where we used the Tab S2, but the app and UI is similar to that used by Samsung on its phones.

It’s worth noting the difference between the 8-inch and the 9.7-inch tablets when it comes to the camera module on the back. It’s considerably more pronounced on the smaller model, and though it’s not flush on the 9.7-inch tablet, it’s far subtler.

A fingerprint sensor has been integrated into the Home button. Setup is identical to that on the S6 phone — press repeatedly on the sensor for about a minute — and the response once activated is lightning fast. Inside, it’s Android 5.0.2 covered with Samsung’s vastly improved user interface over the top. The screen on which it’s displayed is incredibly bright, with intense colors, and solid white backgrounds.

Effortless to hold with one hand on the train, or propped up in bed.

Swipe to the right from the home screen and you’re presented with Samsung’s news feed, which is powered by Flipboard. It’s as attractive as you’d expect from the two companies, and the stories are eye-catchingly displayed. It’s a feature we actually use, which is a rarity among new phone features. Samsung’s also struck a deal with Microsoft, so any Microsoft login — whether it’s Hotmail, Skype, or Outlook, will provide access to its Office Solutions software.

Related: Hands on: Samsung Galaxy Note 5

Samsung is ignoring MicroSD card slots on its phones, but hasn’t abandoned them on its tablets. You’ll happily add another 128GB of storage space to the standard 32GB or 64GB internal memory. It’s another aspect of the Tab S2 that will tempt anyone able to spend a little more on an Android tablet, because it adds to the longevity of the device.

Conclusion

How high up the temptation scale does the Galaxy Tab S2 go? It’s up there with Sony’s Xperia Z3 Compact, easily one of the best Android tablets available. Provided you overlook the lack of waterproofing (a big Sony bonus), and have no preference over metal-look plastic or glass on the rear panel, make sure you take a close look at the Galaxy Tab S2.

The 9.7-inch version, which feels surprisingly compact, is the version to buy. We don’t have a final price or release date yet, but it will likely cost around $500, like an iPad.

Highs

  • Thin and light
  • Crisp and bright screen
  • Plenty of storage
  • Potentially decent camera

Lows

  • Expensive
  • Plastic rear panel’s a letdown