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Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 vs iPad Air 2: How do they compare?

iPad Air 2 or Samsung Galaxy Tab S 2? Which slim tablet is the best? We compare the specs

2014 was a busy year for Samsung’s tablet department and while the TabPRO series missed the mark, the Tab S line impressed us enough to label it as a true iPad rival. It’s now got a sequel, the Galaxy Tab S2 comes in two sizes, 9.7-inch and 8-inch, and features an iPad-baiting 4:3 display.

But which is the best? One runs Android, and of course the iPad Air 2 runs iOS, and there are other differences you should make a note of too.

We’ve taken a look at the specs sheets to see how Samsung and Apple match up.

Watch our Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 hands-on video

Related: Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 review | Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8 review

Samsung goes 4:3

Samsung’s biggest change for its flagship tablet line this year is the switch to a 4:3 aspect ratio, that puts it even more in line with the iPad Air 2. Apple’s slates have always used this display set-up, but Samsung has tended to stick with the more traditional 16:10 aspect ratio.

4:3 isn’t completely unknown in the Android space though, as last year’s Nexus 9 went in that direction.

We’ve been long time fans of the 4:3 aspect ratio; it’s perfect for reading, browsing the web, looking at photos and playing games. It might not handle video quite as well as 16:10 widescreens – you’ll have to put up with some black bars above and below your video – but that’s a price we’re willing to pay for the generally better for daily use.

Aspect ratio is one thing, but for a screen to be really great it needs to pack plenty of pixels.

Last year’s Samsung Tab S had a stunning display. The use of a Super AMOLED screen and a 2,560 x 1,600 resolution combined to give accurate detail and fantastic colour reproduction. We weren’t quite so impressed with Samsung’s Adaptive Display technology as this tended to over-saturate images to an annoying degree. But, it could be turned off.

This time around Samsung has stuck with Super AMOLED, though the switch to 4:3 has seen a resolution drop to 2048 x 1536. That drop is minimal though, and we expect this to be one of the finest displays on an Android tablet.

There’s also been a change of screen sizes for the Tab S, with the 10.5-inch version being scrapped and replaced by an iPad Air 2 matching 9.7-inch size. If you’re looking for a more compact tablet, there’s an 8-inch version too that packs the same resolution.

Apple has constantly kitted the iPad range out with impressive displays since its inception and the iPad Air 2 is, not surprisingly, the best yet. While the resolution, 2048 x 1536, and the IPS LCD screen type are both unchanged from the first iPad Air, the move to a laminated display reduces reflectivity noticeably and makes using it outside on a sunny at least marginally bearable.

Related: Everything you need to know about the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3

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These are two of the thinnest slates around

Just like phones, tablets are constantly in a race to get thinner, and lighter, with every new release. And going by the initial specs, it seems like Samsung is well and truly winning the race. The Galaxy Tab S2 comes in at a ridiculously slim 5.6mm, making it thinner than both the iPad Air 2 (6.1mm) and fellow Android dieter the Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet (6.1mm).

Now, we have started to find that these thinner tablets are getting a little hard to hold so it’ll be interesting to see how the Galaxy Tab S2 feels in-hand.

Samsung’s latest 9.7-inch tablet also undercuts the iPad Air 2 in weight, tipping the scales at a mere 389g (392g for the LTE variant). That’s not to say the iPad is heavy, because at 437g (444g, LTE) it’s still the perfect device for chucking in a backpack. Carefully, of course.

Related: iPhone 6 vs Samsung Galaxy S6

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Plenty of power under the hood

As usual, Samsung has packed its flagship tablet with plenty of power. Both the smaller 8-inch and the larger 9.7-inch version ship with Quad 1.9GHz and Quad 1.3GHz octacore processors paired with a beefy 3GB RAM, which should make for a fantastically smooth experience both for general use and multitasking. Rumours point to this processor being the Exynos 5433 used in the Galaxy Note 4 from late 2014, rather than the speedier Exynos 7420 from the Galaxy S6.

While the Tab S has more raw power than the iPad Air 2, Apple’s tablets are fantastic at using their internals to great effect. The A8X chip tucked inside that aluminium chassis and 2GB RAM pack enough power for serious gaming, having plenty of apps open and during our time with the tablet we haven’t ever had to suffer from slow-down of any sort.

We’ll have to wait until we’ve had a good chance to put the Galaxy Tab S2 through its paces to be able to say for sure how well it performs, but we’re expecting great things.

Related: iPad Air 3

Extras galore

While the Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge ditched the universally loved microSD slot, we’re thankful it was kept around for the Tab S2. That lets you increase the base 32GB or 64GB storage to 128GB GB. Perfect for media hoarders like us.

Typically, there’s no expandable storage in the iPad Air 2. And for some reason Apple is still trying to push the 16GB version, which we’d highly recommend ignoring. The 64GB and 128GB capacities are far more useful, especially as HD movies and graphically intensive apps eat through that space very quickly.

Related: Best Android tablets

ipad air 2

Both tablets pack fingerprint scanners, placed inside the physical home buttons, for easy unlocking and password ditching. Apple’s TouchID is the king in this field as it’s responsive and tends to the most reliable. Last year’s Galaxy Tab had an awful fingerprint reader, but the new model takes the same scanner that you’ll find on the S6 and S6 Edge+ so it’lll function much better.

Apple Pay is enabled on the iPad Air 2 for online shopping through supported apps, but we’re not sure yet whether the Tab S 2 will include the upcoming Samsung Pay service in some manner.

In terms of operating systems it’s fairly obvious. The iPad Air 2 ships with iOS 8, while it’ll be upgraded to iOS 9 upon release later in the year. If you’re plucky, you can even take the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system for a spin now with the public beta.

iOS 9 is a big step-forward for the iPad, finally bringing some vital features like split-screen multitasking, keyboard shortcuts and video minimising to the device.

Samsung’s Tabs have had these features for a while, built directly in to the TouchWiz skin which tops Android 5.0 Lollipop. We’re sure there’ll be an Android M update at some point, though probably not for a while after release.

Will they go the distance?

Interestingly, instead of increasing the battery capacity for the Tab S2 Samsung has actually trimmed it back. That’s not normally a good sign and we were less than impressed by the amount of juice held by the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge.

The 9.7-incher has seen a dramatic reduction from 7,900 mAh to 5,870 mAh (ouch), while the smaller one has dropped from 4,900 mAh to 4,000 mAh. They’re pretty big dips and while it’s great to have a slimmer device we really don’t want to be charging our tablet every day. But, we’ll have to see how these tabs manage the juice when we get our review units in.

iPad Air 2

We’ve been constantly impressed by the battery on the iPad Air 2, it can easily make it through multiple days of extended use without hitting the red. You can also leave it unattended for an extended period of time without any noticeable battery loss.

Super-sized snappers

Even though the tech has been slowly getting better, we’re still not completely sure who uses these tablets are they’re primary way of taking photos. But, it doesn’t look like they’ll be going anywhere soon.

Related: Samsung Galaxy S6 tips and tricks
apple ipad air 2

To be fair, Apple has at least equipped the iPad Air 2 with some clever camera internals. It’ll take shots at 8MP, with the results packing accurate colours and plenty of vibrancy. It’ll record video at 1080p and there’s a neat slow-mo mode.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S 2 again packs an 8MP sensor on the rear, which can capture footage at 2560×1440 at 30fps.

Early Verdict

Samsung’s latest Galaxy Tab S is its most iPad like yet, mostly because of the switch to the 4:3 aspect ratio. That’s a positive in our eyes, especially as the size worked so well with the Nexus 9. Browsing, gaming, reading and working are better, though video does take a small hit.

Our excitement continues with the power under the hood, the Super AMOLED display and slim form factor, though we’re a little apprehensive about those small batteries. Will this thing last? Or was battery life sacrificed for to keep it as slim as possible? We’ll have to wait and see.

But, it does seem that the iPad Air 2 will once again have a strong Android competitor hoping to take its king of tablets crown.

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