Just like last year's model (and all of Samsung's other recent tablets), the Galaxy Tab S2 packs in an 8-megapixel rear camera and a 2.1MP front-facing shooter. While it won't outclass the more powerful 16MP cameras on Samsung's recent batch of phones (which are pretty much the best smartphone cameras outside of the iPhone), the Tab S2 manages to take sharp, colorful pictures fairly quickly. It won't ever be a primary shooter, but it's ideal if you're stuck somewhere with just the tablet and no access to your phone. The Tab S2's camera isn't just for taking pictures, either -- it can shoot up to QHD video (2,560 x 1,440 resolution), although really you're better off sticking with the more widely accepted 1080p video. Again, you probably won't be using the Tab S2 much for video, but it still manages to take some decent-looking footage.
Aside from the faster Exynos 5433 octa-core processor (consisting of a quad-core 1.9GHz chip and a quad-core 1.3GHz chip), the Tab S2 keeps the same 3GB of RAM as its predecessor. It's plenty fast -- I never had any issues with slowdown while playing videos, juggling several apps or playing games -- but it didn't feel significantly faster than the last model. It also comes with 32GB of storage, which you can expand with SD cards as large as 128GB.
The big issue for Samsung is that the original Tab S was simply too good; any attempt at an upgrade would have to be wildly better to get noticed. But that's tough when we've basically reached a point of diminishing returns with mobile hardware. The chips everyone used last year for high-end devices are still "good enough" for most tasks today.
Curiously, the Tab S2 also has a significantly smaller battery than last year's model -- the 9.7-inch version we tested packs in a 5,870mAh cell, compared to 7,900mAh on last year's device. That's a real shame, since the long battery life of the original Tab S was one of the things we liked most about it. In our test, which consists of looping an HD video at 50 percent screen brightness, the Tab S2 lasted around seven and a half hours -- a steep drop from 12.5 hours on the previous model.
Samsung's dogged pursuit at building the thinnest and lightest tablet ever was likely the big reason we lost so much battery life. And honestly, I question if it was even worth it. Last year's model was already impressively thin and light. Is it really worth losing almost half of its productive battery life just for a minor thickness and weight spec win? I can't imagine anyone would think so, unless you're a Korean electronics company that desperately wants to one-up your big-name American competitor.
Let's face it: You don't really have many high-end Android tablet options. But what's truly strange about the Tab S2 is that its greatest competitor in the Android arena is likely the original Tab S (above), which you can find used or refurbished for around $300 online (for the 10-inch model). Its screen is just as gorgeous as the Tab S2's, and the widescreen format will be better-suited to movie watching. The Tab S is also especially tempting if battery life is important to you (and why wouldn't it be?).
Amazon's refreshed Fire HD tablets are also good options at about half the price. They, too, are impressively thin, and there are plenty of more vibrant color options than the Tab S2. But while you'll get plenty of Amazon content integration in those, remember you won't get full access to the Google Play app store.
But of course, the iPad Air 2 is what you'll likely be judging the Tab S2 against when you're looking for a new tablet. And if you're eyeing the 8-inch Tab S2, the new iPad Mini 4 is worth considering as well: It offers basically the same specs as last year's iPad Air 2, except in a smaller form factor. While the Tab S2 is slightly thinner and lighter, Apple's tablets win out due to their better battery life (around 12 hours), and stronger library of tablet apps (that's one area where Android may never catch up with Apple). Honestly, if you're tempted by Apple's slates, they're likely the better choice for you. The Tab S2 is very good at being an Android tablet, but you'll need to be fully committed to Android to make it worthwhile.
Leave it to Samsung to ruin one of its best products. The original Tab S had plenty going for it -- except few people bought it. That's one reason Samsung might have chosen to make its new model more iPad-like. But by focusing on the spec race with Apple, instead of what's actually best for consumers, Samsung ended up sacrificing one of its best features: long runtime. To its credit, Samsung is positioning the Tab S2 as a device that lives in your home, so it might not need a dozen hours of battery life. But really, that just feels like an excuse.