The Galaxy Tab S 8.4 and 10.5 are Samsung's latest flagship devices, built to show off the very best of the company's hardware and software prowess.
They're designed as upgrades to the Tab Pros we saw earlier this year, with some spec bumps, a slightly evolved look and, of course, different screen sizes, just in case you were foolishly expecting Samsung to follow any kind of pattern as far as display dimensions are concerned.
Apart from the screen sizes there's very little difference between the Tab S models, so this review combines the two tablets into one. I'll talk primarily about the 8.4-inch model and include additional observations about the 10.5-inch version where necessary.
It's a brutal battle down at the budget end of the tablet market — one that Apple refuses to get involved in — but here we're very much at the premium end of the scale. The Galaxy Tab S devices have been built to go toe-to-toe with Apple's slates, a brave and perhaps foolhardy undertaking.
First impressions are good, though: these devices feel like they're made by a company that has perfected its art. Both models have a 2560 x 1600 pixel WQXGA Super AMOLED screen, which works out at 287 pixels-per-inch on the larger model and 360ppi on the smaller one.
The internals are identical, comprising 3GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, an 8MP rear camera and 2.1MP front-facing camera. The Samsung Exynos 5 Octa CPU inside these tablets combines 1.9 and 1.3GHz quad-core processors with the faster taking over from the slower when required at the expense of some battery life.
Those are some eye-popping specs when you consider that the iPad Air gets by on a mere 1GB of RAM, for example, or that the 2013 Nexus 7 offers a resolution of just 1280 x 800 pixels across its 7-inch screen. There's much more to a device than raw specs of course, but on paper at least Samsung has produced a true champion.
The pricing of these slates matches Apple's iPad line. The Wi-Fi Tab S 8.4-inch will set you back £319 (US$399.99, AU$479.00) the same as the 16GB Wi-Fi iPad mini and the Wi-Fi Tab S 10.5-inch comes in at £399 (US$499.99, AU$599.00) the same as the 16GB Wi-Fi iPad Air.
3G/4G versions of the tablets that can access mobile networks with a SIM card are also on the way, as are 32GB models.
Aside from the iPads and the Sony Xperia Tablet Z2,, the Galaxy Tab S doesn't have much competition. You could put it up against the likes of the Nexus 10 (though it's starting to show its age) but really with most other Android tablets going for less powerful innards and lower prices, Samsung has the premium end largely to itself. Has it produced an iPad rival that Android users can be proud of?
Samsung has never been one to shy away from packing in as many bells and whistles as it can, and the Tab S is no exception. Like the Galaxy S5, the tablet boasts a fingerprint scanner that you may or may not prefer to a PIN code.
It recognised my print every time, but because you need to swipe the home button rather than just put your finger on it, the process can be fiddly - especially the larger tablet, which meant some precise holding to make the function work.
There's a multi window feature for multi-tasking which works as advertised, letting you chat while browsing the web or control your music while poring over Google Maps and so on.
It's of more use on the larger tablet and at this stage multi-tasking on a tablet feels kind of superfluous — once you get a keyboard up on screen as well everything starts to get really cluttered.
Tablets are built for single-tasking and there doesn't seem to be any real need to try and turn them into fully fledged computers, but if you think you're going to find the feature useful then by all means power it up.
The way that Samsung has implemented it works fairly well and managing open windows and apps is straightforward. However, only the main native apps and a few extras such as Facebook and Evernote support it, so you can't go multi-tasking crazy.
Phone and tablet together
Another Samsung extra is SideSync, enabling you to link a phone with your tablet — you can then send and receive voice calls, transfer data, send texts and more.
Unfortunately, it only works with a few Samsung phones (the S5, the S4 and the Galaxy Note 3) which limits its appeal. Like Multi Window, it feels like a niche feature created just to show off rather than to meet any particular need, but to some it will be a great innovation.
There are 30 different gifts bundled with the Tab S, covering subscriptions to sites like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal to an in-flight Wi-Fi deal with Gogo and a free game or two.
None of them are particularly life-changing but they might sweeten the deal if you're sitting on the fence about picking up one of these tablets.
The Tab S tablets look and feel fine, managing to be unspectacular but easy on the eye. At 294g or 465g they shave a few grams off the comparable iPad models, although they don't quite have the same 'wow' factor that Apple's slabs do.
These are more functional in design, though by no means ugly, and have Samsung's fingerprints all over them - meaning solid build but if you're looking for an innovative design revolution then you've come to the wrong place.
The faux metal border that provides some variety to the all-plastic body, and the pock-marked textured back are now Samsung staples — the Tab S is essentially the Galaxy S5 writ large.
I'm not sure anyone would ever pick one over the iPad in terms of aesthetics, but the design is perfectly acceptable... in the same vein that a mid-range family car isn't bad to look at. White and brown models are available.
The screen, on the other hand, is exceptional — it's a joy to look at and use. Again, this is no surprise coming from Samsung, which has been making top-quality Super AMOLED displays for some time now.
The screen on the Tab S is bright, vibrant, rich and crisp, perfect for photos and high-definition video clips. Stick Netflix on and you can't fail to be impressed.
Samsung's claiming a 100,000:1 contrast ratio for the screen and I can well believe it. It may be too bright and vivid for some, but to my eyes it looks great — and you can always have a play around with the settings if you want to tone it down a little.
Samsung has included a "reading mode" and a feature called Adaptive Display to tweak the screen settings but these only work with a limited number of stock apps.
Around the sides are stereo speakers, a microUSB charging/data port, a microSD card slot, a 3.5mm headphone socket and the usual power and volume buttons. There's also an infrared port so you can use the tablet to change channels on your television or set-top box from the comfort of the sofa.
The positioning of these ports and extras is worth mentioning. Held in portrait mode, the 8.4-inch model has its power button and volume controls to the top right (like the Nexus 7) and the home button, USB port and headphone socket at the bottom.
So far so obvious, but the speakers are at the top and bottom left corners, which makes sense when you turn the tablet into landscape mode for watching a film, but it still seems a little odd.
On the 10.5-inch model, meanwhile, everything changes again. Hold it in portrait mode and the power and volume buttons, as well as the charging port, are in the same place. However, the speakers have moved to the top and bottom right corners (again for landscape movie watching) and the headphone socket is up in the top right corner.
The home buttons and soft keys are placed on the left, so presumably Samsung wants you to keep it in landscape mode most of the time. That's fine, but then the power and volume controls feel oddly placed.
These design quirks aren't really major issues but they can take some getting used to if you're already comfortable with an iPad or Nexus device. They also help to distinguish the two models: the small one for single-handed operation in portrait mode, the large one for watching content in landscape mode.
The smaller model measures 125.6mm x 212.8mm x 6.6mm, with the larger one coming in at 247.3mm x 177.3mm x 6.6mm. Both are a touch thinner than the comparable iPads — the iPad Air and the latest Retina iPad mini are 7.5mm thick — so the Samsung design team deserves some credit for that.
Interface and performance
Samsung's TouchWiz interface for Android continues to be bright, breezy and packed with all kinds of extra options, screens and apps — pull down the extended settings drawer and there are 19 different settings to toggle on and off, including three connectivity modes and two power-saving modes.
I prefer stock Android overall, but there's nothing major software-wise that would put me off buying a Tab S.
Taken as a whole, the Android OS still feels more awkward and clumsy on a tablet than it does on a smartphone, perhaps because many apps are simply stretched to fill the space.
The Tab S could use some dedicated tablet apps (like the best apps on the iPad) that feel more specifically configured to use the extra room.
The good news is Samsung is working with a number of vendors to create those very apps, although I doubt there will be that many in the coming months. Still, it's nice to see that the South Korean brand has noted the problem.
With so much CPU power and RAM to call upon the Tab S was able to cope very well with everything I threw at it.
Streaming a video on YouTube while browsing the web in Chrome? No problem. Listening to music and checking Facebook at the same time? Easily done.
Swipes and taps are all instantly registered no matter what app you're in and I hardly noticed any lag at all during my time with both devices.
The back of my tablet did get a little warm during extensive and heavy use, but I wouldn't say it was uncomfortable — obviously when the more powerful quad-core processor kicks into action, everything is going to heat up a little and you're going to get a more sudden drop in the battery level.
It seemed to be more noticeable on the smaller model, presumably because the components are tightly packed in.
Under the hood we have Android 4.4 KitKat and all that goes with it. If you don't like what Samsung has served up in terms of apps, then you can easily install some alternatives from Google Play (an escape route unfortunately closed off to Kindle Fire HDX tablet owners).
Geekbench 3 reported scores of 911 single-core and 2697 multi-core for the 8.4-inch Tab S and scores of 886 single-core and 2313 multi-core for its bigger brother. That means it's just about edged out in the performance stakes by the Z2 Tablet and the iPad Air, but it's a tight race.
This is a tablet that performs as well as you would expect given it's top-of-the-range components. Android 4.4 KitKat with TouchWiz is largely a pleasant experience, with the niggles that we've mentioned above, and apps are smooth and responsive.
There's still room for improvement in software terms, but there's no major black mark against the device.
If you've already nailed your colours to the mast as far as a mobile OS is concerned, I don't think the Tab S is going to change your mind one way or the other. We'll have to wait and see how well iOS 8 and Android L take to larger screen sizes further down the line.
I get the feeling that there's very little here that make me believe that Samsung is going to push the Android tablet experience forward, while iOS 8 should continue to extend Apple's lead as the most user-friendly UI on a tablet.
That's not to say iPads are automatically better than Android slates, but I really hope Android L offers a lot more to tablet makers.
Battery life on the Tab S is impressive. You can get at least a working day out of it with pretty much constant use, and more like two under regular conditions. If you didn't play with it much at all, several days wouldn't be out of the question.
On the days I was testing the Tab S it had dropped to around 60% by the evening from a full charge in the morning, with the larger model having slightly more juice left in the tank.
That's a scenario that was repeated in our standard 90 minute HD video test — the 8.4-inch model dropped to 87% battery from a full charge, with the 10.5-inch model holding steady at 90%. Although the larger tablet has a bigger screen, it's working with the same number of pixels and has a larger battery installed (7,900mAh vs 4,900mAh).
The same TechRadar video test knocked the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet down to 72% and the 2013 Nexus 7 down to 80%. It's not the most scientific measuring stick but it gives you a fair idea of where the Tab S fits into the market as a whole.
The ultra power-saving mode is worth a mention, something we first saw on the Galaxy S5. It turns Wi-Fi and Bluetooth off, switches to a greyscale mode and restricts you to only the most essential apps like the calendar and clock (you can add apps to this list if you want to). Should you ever go on holiday and forget your charger, it may come in handy.
With a battery level of 59% I switched on the ultra power-saving mode and was given an estimate of 30 days' worth of standby time. Even as an estimate, that's noteworthy. The technology inside the Tab S screen — where black pixels don't draw any power — certainly helps here.
That's on top of the usual power-saving mode that dims the brightness, turns off constant syncing and disables Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS. You can dig into these options and fine tune them if you wish to. It's a less drastic option, but it can help when you're trying to save power as much as possible.
With the TouchWiz software running on the Tab S, swiping left takes you not into Google Now but into Samsung's Magazine UI, designed as a one-stop shop for all the news that interests you most.
It's a nicely presented app but it's no real improvement over alternative dedicated tools like Flipboard that have been around much longer. The only way to get rid of it is by installing an alternative launcher app, where it would have been nice to have more customisation options to bring a more comfortable home screen.
That said, in general use, the Tab S is a pleasure to use: comfortable in the hand at both sizes, packed with options for more advanced users and yet straightforward enough to dive straight in if you're an Android or tablet novice.
Whether the 8.4-inch or 10.5-inch model is right for you depends of course on what you intend to do with it.
Personally, it's the 7 to 8 inch models that have always made most sense to me, but if you want to sacrifice some portability for a bigger view of the web and your TV shows then that's up to you.
Keyboard docks are on the way, though the Android tablet accessory market has never taken off in the same way as the iPad one has.
Samsung has decided to ape Apple's smart cover magnets with what it calls "Simple Clickers" — buttons in the back of the Tab S that make attaching and aligning accessories much more straightforward.
In testing, these were attached very well - if anything, a little too stiffly - but give the aftermarket the chance to really claim something is for the Tab S range, rather than general sizes.
The clasp holes do make the back of the Tab S look a bit odd, but at least they hold the smart covers and keyboard docks in place really well.
If Samsung wants these tablets to take off, the quality of the accessories could be crucial — it's another area where the iPad is strong.
The smaller model is likely to have more mass market appeal, as Apple has found. The slim build and light weight of both tablets makes a big difference, meaning you can use them for longer slumped on the sofa or lying in bed without bringing on pain in your joints.
8.4 inches doesn't feel much different to the 7-inch Nexus 7 or 7.9-inch iPad mini, though if you have small hands then it might be more of an issue.
In terms of actual storage to play with (something Samsung has traditionally had a bit of a problem with), of the 16GB of storage on these models you'll only get around 9GB to play around with, which can easily be taken up with some big games and movies.
You'll probably want to make use of the microSD slot, which can accept cards up to 128GB in size. You get a charger in your nicely designed Galaxy Tab S box but there's no set of headphones unfortunately.
Camera and samples
If you absolutely must take photos with your tablet, the Tab S will cover the basics and very little else. Images are pretty grainy and noisy in all but the most perfect lighting conditions, and video recording is only just about acceptable too.
Fine for quick snaps and social networks then, but if you're going to get serious you'll still need a smartphone or a dedicated camera.
Taking photos was a sluggish experience, with the autofocus taking its leisurely time to kick into action and the results ending up pretty underwhelming. That said, 8MP is enough for plenty of detail, and some of the shots I captured ending up looking pretty good.
Maybe an overcast day in Manchester doesn't play to the strengths of the Tab S camera.
As you would expect, Samsung has its own camera app running alongside the stock one provided by Google, and as usual it's packed with modes and options to have a mess around with. I'm not sure anyone is going to bother with them most of the time, but if you need them, they're here.
They cover HDR, portrait modes and action shots where several images are automatically combined. There's also a dual camera mode where you can use the front and back camera simultaneously and add a few whimsical picture effects on top.
Most of us only need a mobile camera for taking pictures of the kids and the pets and each other, and this is about the level of the Tab S.
Don't pack it into your rucksack thinking you're going to capture some breathtaking shots of the Lake District, unless you're an absolute genius with Photoshop.
There is an LED flash around the back, something you don't often get with a tablet, which actually makes a substantial improvement on certain shots.
One feature of Samsung's camera app I do like is the one-touch button for video recording. It makes much more sense than the convoluted method used to switch modes on the stock app. Previewing the last photo taken is a little more straightforward too.
The 2.1MP camera around the front isn't particularly impressive. It'll do for your video chats, but perhaps it's a sign that we should all be taking fewer selfies and doing something more productive instead.
Media playback is one of the areas where the Tab S really excels, thanks mainly to the gorgeous screen that we've already referred to.
Settle down to a high-definition YouTube clip or two and the display really shines in its crispness, vibrancy and colour. I could probably have stayed watching House of Cards all day if I didn't have a review to write.
The speakers on either side of the Tab S do a decent job of pumping out your music and movie audio. They won't win any industry awards in the near future for deep, rich bass but they created a better sound than I expected considering the svelte design of the tablet.
If you're watching a film in a hotel room or listening to your tunes in the park then they're fine.
The sound they produce doesn't have much body or depth to it, probably much like the speakers integrated in your laptop.
They're fine for movie dialogue and with good performance at high volume, but you're going to miss a bass line or two when you switch over to your music streaming service of choice.
The usual Samsung apps for music and video are here of course. If you haven't come across them before then they're functional apps that essentially let you browse through media file thumbnails on your device and then play them.
Together with the My Files app they make accessing content quick and easy, and certainly more straightforward than it is on stock Android where photos and videos are jumbled together into one app.
A lock screen widget is included for the music player but oddly there's no home screen widget. The video player offers a clever picture-in-picture option so you can keep your eyes on Family Guy while checking Twitter or tapping out an email. As for how useful this actually is in practice, see my earlier thoughts on multi-tasking.
Gaming performance is smooth and lag-free, whether you're working your way through a run-of-the-mill puzzler or tackling something a bit more strenuous.
Again, the Tab S display really shines with the most visually intense games — a quick 10 minutes on Asphalt 8 flew by and only knocked down the battery level 3% (and that's with Wi-Fi and sync on in the background).
Get a good quality game or high-definition movie up on the Tab S and you soon forget about its shortcomings.
So where does the Tab S fit in with the smorgasbord of similar tablets on the market at the moment, so how does the Tab S compete in terms of specs and price?
iPad Air and Mini
With Samsung targeting the iPads directly and few other premium Android tablets to speak of, it makes sense to start with Apple's tablets.
For my money, these Tab S models have a better screen, but they lack the overall aesthetic appeal of Apple's metal unibody creations. The Samsung devices are thinner and lighter, but not to an extent that it makes much difference.
Android and iOS each have their own strengths, but right now it's the Apple OS that feels like a better fit on a tablet — and that's coming from someone who uses an iPad mini and a Nexus 7 on a regular basis. At this stage the iPads have better software and better accessories, but that's not to say the Tab S is a failure.
Samsung has got closer to the iPads than I thought it ever would, and if you're a real lover of Android then it makes sense to choose one of the Tab S models rather than an iPad.
The Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet
The Z2 Tablet may be a touch more austere in the looks department than the Tab S, but it has a more streamlined version of Android and boasts some useful extra features, such as a waterproof body.
It manages to be thinner than the Tab S slabs, though the display, impressive as it is, doesn't quite reach the heights of what Samsung has put together.
There's no smaller Z2 Tablet of course, so we're only really comparing it with the 10.5-inch version of the Tab S. The Tab S has the better display and more power behind it, so unless you particularly need a waterproof tablet or like Sony's take on Android then I'd recommend picking up a Tab S.
Google's Nexus line-up has been a huge blessing for lovers of stock Android: excellent hardware at a decent price without any software bloat. The Nexus 7 isn't as pretty as the 8.4-inch Tab S, but it's a whole lot cheaper, to the tune of £120 less for the 16GB model.
It's that price vs quality balance that you're going to have to consider when you weigh up the Tab S against virtually any other Android tablet.
The Nexus 7 can run Netflix just as well as the Samsung device, but it won't look as good. If you want the best Android slate that money can buy, the Tab S is it. If you'd rather save some money, have a look elsewhere.
Having spent plenty of time with both variations of the Tab S, it has to be said that these are great devices — from the eye-catching screen to the raw power under the hood, Samsung couldn't have done much better with what could be a final attempt to compete with Apple at the top-end of the market.
If this doesn't make a dent in the iPad sales figures perhaps nothing will.
There are still question marks over Android which aren't all Samsung's fault. With the release of Android L in the autumn some of these problems might be ironed out, but when the Tab S will get Samsung's version of the new operating system is anyone's guess.
The exterior design of the Tab S is nothing to write home about but it's thin and it's light and that counts for a lot when it comes to tablets. It helps the frame get out of the way of the screen, which is the real winner here. It's the best screen I've seen on a tablet and the Retina iPads are the only ones that really come close.
That fabulous display is backed up by plenty of grunt and a battery that ensures you can keep going for a day or two. There's a case to be made that 7-8 inches is the sweet spot for a small tablet, but at least the Tab S offers two choices to buyers.
Android still has the air of a square peg in a round hole when it comes to tablets. It's by no means a disaster, and it's improving all the time, but the OS and its apps don't look as comfortable as they do on smaller 4 and 5-inch screens.
On top of that a lot of the extras that Samsung throws into the mix feel gimmicky and unnecessary, though you can largely avoid them.
The plastic backing and faux-chrome rim will certainly not be to everyone's tastes, but that aside this is a tablet with very few negatives.
The differing portrait and landscape button configurations kept confusing me durin