It's a similar story with 1080p video recording. Like other Engadget reviewers who've tested recent Samsung tablets, I found my sample footage to be pretty smooth, though the occasional gust of wind put a damper on the audio quality. Even then, the tablet picked up on a wide range of noises -- sirens, traffic, people talking nearby -- without any of those elements sounding distorted.
Performance and battery life
Whichever screen size you get, the Galaxy Tab S has the same specs: three gigs of RAM, and an eight-core Exynos 5 Octa chip, the same one found inside certain versions of the Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 and Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition. In case you haven't been keeping up with our Samsung tablet reviews, here's what you need to know: The Exynos 5 actually includes two quad-core processors, only one of which is active at a given time. These include a 1.9GHz chip for heavier-duty tasks, and a lower-powered 1.3GHz one for the more menial stuff. The idea is to extend battery life by using the more powerful cores only when necessary (but to still have them ready to go when you need the extra horsepower).
To scan the benchmark table above, you'd assume the Galaxy Tab S performs roughly in line with other top-of-the-line tablets, including the Sony Xperia Z2 and, of course, the 2014 Note 10.1, which uses the same chipset. What the numbers don't capture, though, is how uneven the performance can be. What's most frustrating is that while the tablets excel at the hard stuff, like rendering graphically detailed games, they stumble over the little things. Though neither of my two test units ever crashed or froze on me, I routinely observed a slight delay when launching apps or tapping a text field and waiting for the onscreen keyboard to come up. Meanwhile, though, Need for Speed: Most Wanted ran smoothly -- and looked fantastic on that 2,560 x 1,600 Super AMOLED screen, to boot. I also had no problems with Multi Window Mode; I was able to quickly set up two side-by-side windows, as well as swap in new apps when necessary.
All told, the performance here isn't bad by any means; it's just not as brisk as I expected it to be, given the way the chip was designed. I'm inclined to say that Samsung can address some of this low-level sluggishness with a firmware update. That said, Brad described similar performance hiccups when he reviewed the 2014 Note 10.1 last fall, which means Samsung has already had plenty of time to work out some of the kinks with its Exynos 5 chip. I still believe Sammy could improve the performance via a software update. It just doesn't bode well that the chip's performance hasn't changed in the months since it debuted: Has Samsung been listening to us?
If it's any consolation, the as-yet-unreleased LTE models are supposed to use a Snapdragon 800 chip instead of the Exynos 5, so maybe performance will be snappier there.
According to the product pages on Samsung's website, the 10-inch model's 7,900mAh battery can last through up to 12 hours of video playback. Ditto for the 8-incher: It, too, is rated for 12 hours, despite having a smaller, 4,900mAh cell. As it turns out, the Galaxy Tab S performs even better than advertised. The 8-inch tablet managed a solid 12 hours and 22 minutes of video playback, while the 10-incher made it to exactly 12.5 hours. Mind you, that was with the screen brightness fixed at 50 percent and WiFi on, but not connected; surely, if we allowed the brightness to dip even lower, we could have squeezed out more runtime. Should you need more juice, by the way, you can enable "Ultra power-saving mode," which turns the screen to black-and-white and only enables certain key apps. Basically: For emergency use only.
Configuration options and the competition
The Galaxy Tab S is up for pre-order now, starting at $400 for the 8-inch version and $500 for the 10-incher. Both start with 16GB of built-in storage, though Samsung will also be selling 32GB models in select countries. Meanwhile, that LTE model I mentioned is coming later this year, and is expected to sell on all the major US carriers: AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile. No word on how long you'll have to wait for that, though.
All told, as you can see, it's a solid choice, with hardly any flaws to speak of. That said, we can think of a few other tablets you should be considering. If you're dead-set on something running Android, the Sony Xperia Z2 ($500-plus) is even thinner and lighter than the Galaxy Tab S, not to mention waterproof. Then again, it suffers from relatively short battery life and a super-glossy, lower-res screen (not that 1,920 x 1,200 resolution is "low," per se). Meanwhile, you might also consider Samsung's Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 ($750 for 32GB) and the Note 10.1 2014 Edition ($550-plus). Neither is as thin or light as the Galaxy Tab S, but they have 2,560 x 1,600 screens and support pressure-sensitive pen input -- the one thing the GTab S doesn't offer.
It's also worth noting that Google's 2-year-old Nexus 10 is still around for a reasonable $399. Having been out for two years, it's overdue for a refresh, and a replacement could be coming soon, though its 2,560 x 1,600 screen makes it relevant even today. Across the aisle, there's Microsoft's Surface 2, starting at $449. It's a handsome device, and the built-in kickstand is a convenient feature you won't find on any of these other tablets. That said, if I had to choose, I'd still pick the Galaxy Tab S, as it's thinner, lighter and cheaper, with a better screen and a bigger app selection.
Finally, the elephant in the room: the iPad. If you prefer Android, you may as well skip this section -- we think you'll be very happy with the Galaxy Tab S. If you're OS-agnostic, though, the Galaxy Tab S takes on the iPad Air and Retina display iPad mini nearly spec for spec, with the GTab winning out in thinness, lightness and screen resolution. The prices are basically the same too, with the 8-incher starting at $399 and the bigger model going for $499. The one thing you might want to consider is that tablet-app selection is still better on iOS. That said, both are excellent products; start by picking the OS you like best and go from there.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S is good. Really good. With long battery life, a stunning screen and an especially thin and light design, it earns its place as our new favorite Android tablet. My main hang-up is that the performance doesn't always feel as brisk as it should (the forthcoming LTE edition uses a different chip, and has the potential to be faster, but it's unreasonable to ask someone to pay extra for the kind of performance they should have gotten on the WiFi-only models). In addition, the fingerprint scanner, though nice to have, can be temperamental -- so much so that I've more than once locked myself out of my own tablet. Finally, Samsung's Magazine UX feels a bit overbearing, mostly because you don't get the option of uninstalling it.
It doesn't look like that UI is going anywhere, but I do believe Samsung can address those minor performance issues via a software update. And even if it doesn't, this is still an excellent piece of kit. If I may, I'd offer the same advice I would to prospective iPad buyers: Unless you want the extra screen real estate for watching movies, just buy the 8-inch version. It's cheaper, with a crisper screen, identical camera and just as much horsepower as the bigger model. Either way, you can't go wrong.