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Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 Reviewed: The Ultimate Android Tablet

·Technology Editor

When it comes to tablets, Apple’s iPads reign supreme. They’re the most popular such machines in the world, the ones to which all others are compared.

So now here comes Samsung with two new tablets of its own: the 9.7-inch and 8-inch Galaxy Tab S2 ($499 and $399, respectively). Sporting gorgeous screens, powerful processors, and sleek new designs, they’re going head-to-head with Apple’s current iPad Air and iPad mini models.

And in that competition, Samsung’s tablets come out looking pretty darned good.

Stylishly slim

Samsung has done a lot to improve the look and feel of its smartphones of late, and now the company has turned its attention toward its tablets.

The Galaxy Tabs are the sleekest, most attractive slates Samsung has ever produced. Their clean, flat design gives them a more premium feel than last year’s Galaxy Tab S (not to mention the vast majority of other Android tablets on the market).

Unlike the metal-and-glass iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3, the Tabs come wrapped in plastic bodies over metal frames. They still feel incredibly solid. They’re available in black, white, and gold cases with chamfered edges.

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It’s true that the Tab S2 looks a lot like the iPad up front — just as the Galaxy S6 looks like the iPhone. Around back, though, the Tab S2 is all Samsung. Depending on the color you get, the Tab S2 comes with either a soft touch or hard rear panel. Of the two, I preferred the hard panel, as the soft touch back was a fingerprint magnet.

Measuring 9.3 by 7.7 by 0.22 inches and weighing 0.86 pounds, the 9.7-inch Tab S2 is both thinner and lighter than the iPad Air 2 (9.4 by 6.6 by 0.24 inches and 0.96 pounds).  

The 8-inch Tab S2 holds a similar size and weight advantage over the iPad mini 3, measuring just 0.22 inches thick and weighing 0.58 pounds compared with the mini 3’s 0.29 inches and 0.73 pounds.

Gorgeous displays

To say that screens on Samsung’s new Galaxy Tabs are beautiful is an understatement. These bright, colorful panels are the best you’ll find on a tablet.

Images and movies looked incredibly sharp on both the 9.7-inch and 8-inch Tab’s 2048-by-1536 high-resolution displays. Between the two, though, I overwhelmingly preferred using the 8-inch Tab S2. 

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Its screen size simply felt better when reading comics, playing games, browsing the Web, and watching Netflix.

The 8-inch Tab S2 is also more conducive to travel, as it fits easily into small bags and is easier to use in a crowded bus or plane. The 9.7-inch Tab S2, however, is a good size for using on your couch at home — which, coincidentally, is where most people use their tablets.

More multitasking

Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S2 runs on a modified version of Google’s Android Lollipop operating system. By and large, the software is exactly the same as the software found in Samsung’s Galaxy S6 and Galaxy Note5.

The biggest thing Samsung is pushing with the Tab S2’s software is its multitasking capabilities. There are two ways to take advantage of them on the Tab S2: Minimize the screen to about a quarter of its normal size, or run two apps side-by-side.

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To minimize apps, you pull down from the top of the screen. You interact with minimized apps the same way you do with full-size apps, but when they are minimized, you can move them wherever you want around the screen.

You can minimize up to five apps at a time, so you could theoretically browse your email, the Web, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter at the same time. (You might wonder why you’d want to do all that at the same time, but all that really matters is that you can.)

The more reasonable way to multitask with the Tab S2 is Multi Window mode, which lets you run two apps side by side at the same time — making it easier to to do things like copying and pasting images from the Tab S2’s Gallery app to email.

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Unfortunately, a number of apps won’t support multitasking. Sure, apps like Twitter and Facebook do, but beyond those and Google’s stock apps, few others will.

Unfortunately for Samsung, Apple will soon offer similar multitasking capabilities with iOS 9. Called Split View, the new feature (which will be exclusive to the iPad Air 2) will allow you to use to apps side by side at the same time, just as in Multi Window mode.

Apple is also adding a picture-in-picture mode to iOS 9, so you’ll be able to do things like watch videos and browse the Web or watch TV and live tweet at the same time from the same device.

Multimedia masters

Samsung knows you use your tablet in front of your TV, so the company is making it easier to stream content from your tablet to that boob tube and vice versa.

Quick Connect lets you mirror your Tab S2’s screen on any Wi-Fi connected TV, as long as both the tablet and your television are on the same network. That’s pretty convenient if you have a movie saved to your Tab S2 and want to watch it on your big-screen TV.

The only problem is that your video’s image quality is dependent on your Wi-Fi network. So if that network is running slow, your movie will look grainy.

While streaming content from your tablet to your TV is nice, I was far more interested in streaming video from my TV to my tablet. In Samsung’s implementation, you can actually turn off your TV’s screen and keep streaming content. 

So if you’re going to bed but don’t want to miss the last few minutes of your favorite show, you can start streaming it to the Tab S2 and head to your bedroom without missing a second.

Still, as with streaming content from your tablet to your TV, streaming content from your TV to the Tab S2 is dependent on your Wi-Fi connection.

Tablet racing

To make sure all of that multitasking and media connectivity runs as smoothly as possible, Samsung has equipped both Galaxy Tab S2s with 8-core processors and 3GB of RAM.

By Samsung’s own admission, the first-generation Galaxy Tab S was a poor performer when it came to multitasking. This time around, the tablet is exceptionally fast. I didn’t notice a hint of slowdown while using Multi Window mode. I did, however, see some lag when I had five apps open in minimized windows.

Inside, the Tab S2 comes with 32GB of storage; a 64GB version of the Tab S2 will be available as a Best Buy exclusive. If that’s not enough space for all of your pictures and videos, the Tab S2 also includes a microSD card slot that can expand the tablet’s storage by an extra 128GB.

App problems

From its design to its performance, the Galaxy Tab S2 is the total package. But as with its predecessors, there’s one place where the tablet falls flat: apps. You see, Android doesn’t have nearly the amount of tablet-specific apps as iOS. Instead, many Android tablet apps are just stretched out versions of Android’s smartphone apps.

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As a result, apps like Facebook and Twitter don’t look nearly as good on the Galaxy Tab S2 as they do on the iPad. Thankfully, Android developers have begun optimizing their apps for tablets, ensuring they look just as good on the Tab S2 as on the iPad.

Still, you may find that your favorite apps look awful on the tablet, which is incredibly annoying.

Should you buy?

Both models of the Galaxy Tab S2 are impressive. Of the two, I’m partial to the 8-inch Tab because its size is perfect for what I like to do with a tablet, like reading comics and watching movies.

The question now is, should you buy a Tab S2 instead of the iPad?

If you’re already an Apple user, the answer is probably no. The Tab S2 doesn’t offer enough reason to switch over to Android. Sure it has a more attractive screen than the iPad, but that isn’t nearly enough to completely switch from Apple’s iOS ecosystem to Android’s.

On the other hand, if you’re not embedded in Apple technology already and you want a tablet, you should definitely be looking at the Galaxy Tab S2. It’s beautiful, offers a bounty of great features, and is a multitasking master.

Email Daniel at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley or on Google+.