Samsung is taking another big swing at the tablet market with the launch of the Galaxy Tab S, just as many consumers are questioning whether they need a tablet at all.
The popularity of the big-screened phones, including Samsung's Galaxy Note line, have slowed tablet sales growth to a snail's pace. Analysts at IDC slashed their growth projection for the tablet market in 2014 to 19.4 percent from 23 percent. Meanwhile, the market for high-power, highly portable devices is about to get even tighter, according to a Gartner report Monday that says the PC market is set to grow this year, thanks in part to super-portable computers such as the MacBook Air, Dell Ultrabook and Microsoft Surface.
That leaves the Galaxy Tab S in a tricky spot. Which is too bad, because in many ways this tablet, which comes with a 10.5-inch or and 8.4-inch screen, is the best in its class. There are few flaws in the design of the Galaxy Tab S, which sports the same dimpled polycarbonate back as the Galaxy S5. (Samsung provided a review unit to The Washington Post.) The most striking part of the tablet is its screen, which delivers the crisp, almost oversaturated images we've come to associate with Samsung screens, which makes watching video on the tablet a wonderful experience. Plus, the bright screen doesn't drain the tablet's battery. I managed to get about two days of normal use out of the tablet, which is about on par with similar iPad use.
In many ways, Samsung's smaller tablet actually outshines its iPad counterpart. It's lean, thin body is proportioned like a smartphone, which makes it easy for those who have Samsung smartphones to mirror their phone's display to the tablet. It also has proportions that are a little more palm-friendly than the iPad Mini. And it sports a fingerprint scanner that you can choose to use to unlock the device and authenticate purchases made over PayPal. You can't remove the battery -- that thinness is a trade-off for something! -- but the tablet does have a MicroSD card slot, so you don't have to worry about overflowing the memory.
While the hardware is pretty good, on the software front, the Galaxy Tab S could use a little work.
Again, there are some standout features. For example, the Galaxy Tab S is compatible with Knox, Samsung's security software, which lets users separate their work data from their personal data. That should be a great selling point for business, and perhaps government offices, that are looking for devices that employees can tote with them. Users can also run multiple apps at once, offering multi-tasking options that Apple doesn't.
But for all the power in the tablet, the software still hiccuped when running multiple apps -- something that's a bit disappointing given that it packs a very high-powered processor. (An Exynos 5 Octa chip, for those who want to know.) Part of this may be because of the animation-heavy Samsung proprietary apps that come with the tablet, such as the Milk streaming-music app and Papergarden magazine reader. Still, the software problems aren't enough to outweigh the overall quality of the tablets.
In fact, in many ways, these are the tablets that we've been waiting for from Samsung. The problem for the company is that it may not be enough for it to win the tablet market.
Samsung is steadily grabbing a larger portion of the world's consumer electronics market. But it's seeing the most success with lower-end phones and tablets that simply don't make as much money, and analysts predict that the company will report its fourth-straight quarter of sliding profits this week.
These high-end tablets do have the chops to put some pressure on iPads and trump the Google Android landscape, but they may not be drool-worthy enough to produce much-needed mega-sales for Samsung.