Ratings in depth

Design 5/5
features 4/5
Performance 5/5
Usability 4/5
Value 4/5

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.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 and 10.5
Both tablets can be held in one hand, but the larger model is designed for using with both hands in landscape mode

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 323ppi on 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.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 and 10.5 review
Samsung will be hoping that the new tablets have enough to take on the iPad at the top end of the market

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?

Key features

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.

Multi-faceted

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.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 and 10.5 review
You can run a selected number of apps side-by-side using Multi Window, if you really want to

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.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 and 10.5 review
You get some nice free gifts and bundled apps included with your purchase of a Tab S

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.