Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 Full Review

 

It has been quite sometime since I got the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 (SM-T705) from Samsung Malaysia. Earlier, I’ve shared some unboxing photos of this device and now it is time for me to say how good (or how bad) this tablet is.

First of all, I am not sure whether to call it a phone or a tablet. So, I will just call it phablet instead.

Before we go further with the review, let us quickly glance through the key features of this device :

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 key features :

  • Exynos 5 Octa-core processor (1.9Ghz Quad-core + 1.3Ghz Quad core).
  • 3GB RAM and 16GB internal storage, with option to add external MicroSD card (up to 128GB).
  • 8.4″ Super AMOLED display – 2560 x 1600 (WQXGA).
  • 8 Megapixel rear camera with LED flash and 2.1 Megapixel front (selfie) camera.
  • Connectivity – 4G LTE, 3G UMTS, 2G GSM, Infrared, Bluetooth, Glonass, GPS, Beidou, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac 2.4G+5GHz, VHT80 MIMO & MHL.
  • Android 4.4.2 Kit Kat out of the box.
  • 4900mAh battery.

Exterior

As I’ve mentioned during my unboxing session, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 has a stunning look which can grab the attention of just anyone when you carry it around. The one that I have is the white version (known as the Dazzling White version). The side bezel is gold in colour. It makes the device look really unique and gorgeous. If you take a look at the back of this device, it is made of a nice beautiful design which still gives a premium look although it is not made of aluminium or glass.

I’ve explained thoroughly about the outlook of Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 in my unboxing article (together with a lot of photos). Feel free to check my Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 unboxing article if you need to have a good idea on how it looks like.

Internal Hardware

When the Samsung Galaxy Tabs S 8.4 was first launched, we thought that it will have a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor. It was a surprise to us when we were told that the Malaysian version is powered by Exynos 5420 Octa-core processor. The internal RAM is 3GB which is a plus point of this device. For me, any Android device should have at least 2GB of RAM so that it doesn’t have any frustrating issues. So a device with 3GB RAM is definitely a bonus if you ask me. However for the amount of features that Samsung has implemented in their user interface, 3GB RAM is not a lot if you utilize all their memory intensive features e.g. playing a video while doing some web surfing at the same time.

Basically the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 is more future proof compared to its competitors because of the update to date hardware that it has. So I believe that the device will be a bang for your buck in the long run (provided that Samsung releases more updates for this device in the future).

Calls & Messaging

Calling and messaging are the two most basic features that any phone has. However, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 doesn’t entirely fall into the phone category. So is the telephony feature still important to you? Is it a must have these features in a tablet? I personally think yes. Whether you use it or not is a different story but there is nothing wrong in having those features there. Who knows, you might have an emergency and they might come handy.

As for the calling capability, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 does its job very well. While I was using some other phones, I tend to get frustrated because most of the phone nowadays are having a very average call quality. I could hardly hear the other person’s voice even when I was in a quiet environment. I couldn’t imagine how will it be if I am in a noisy environment. With Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4, the call quality was fantastic. It was loud and clear. No hiccup found. The other party can also hear my voice very well. However when I am on a VoIP call (e.g. Viber), it looks like the top microphone is used instead of the bottom one but on a normal call, the bottom one is used as how it should actually be. Well, you don’t really see a difference here unless you speak directly towards the microphone. So overall, the call quality is still very good on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 whether it is a normal call or a VoIP call.

By the way, it was a great surprise that I actually used this device as my main phone (I mean PHONE….answering calls etc) for more than a month. That was how satisfied I was with this device. The only problem is, it is too big to carry this device around when you are going to let’s say the grocery store nearby or to a restaurant to have a quick lunch. I definitely don’t want to leave my device on the table. So I have no choice but to keep it inside my bag and miss some calls. I don’t blame the device, it is just that I have too many things in my bag and that blocks the ringing sound.

Before I forget, take note that you might have problem placing the earpiece exactly towards your ears. I had that problem too because the device is quite big and I can’t really estimate the exact location of the earpiece when placing it on my ear to answer a call. At first I thought that the device had a problem because I couldn’t hear the other party very well. After some time, I realised the actual issue and to fix it, I placed my finger above the earpiece when answering a call. When my finger touches my ear, I know that I’ve placed the earpiece exactly on my ear. Well, once you are used to it, then you won’t have this problem anymore. You will not even need to use your finger  as an indicator to place the earpiece correctly on your ear.

Display

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 is using an 8.4 inch Super AMOLED display. The screen resolution is 2560 x 1600 (WQXGA). Everything looks good on the Tab S 8.4’s display. Images are crisp and vivid. Generally I am not happy with the overly saturated display on any AMOLED display, especially when viewing some images because those images looks very nice on a normal IPS display but when I view it on an AMOLED display, the images look so ugly.

I also faced the same issue on this device but it was still much acceptable compared to some of the previous Samsung devices that I’ve used, thanks to Adaptive Display and Reading Mode features that the Tab S 8.4 has. Looks like Samsung has took the over-saturation issue seriously and did their best trying to fix it although it is not fixed entirely.

I am a person who have the habit of using my devices at night when all the lights are off and the room is extremely dark. When I did this on some previous Samsung devices, the display will still be extremely bright and I will strain my eyes a lot. If I continue looking at the screen, there will be tears on my eyes or I will start squinting my eyes. On the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4, I no longer have this problem. The display is more eye friendly during the dark. I also realised that you can now further reduce the brightness up to -5 on this device, which I didn’t see on the previous Samsung devices that I’ve used.

There was one issue that I had with the display of the Tab S 8.4 just because of the thin bezels on the side. I have no place to hold at the side and whenever I am typing, my skin tends to touch the display because the bezels are just too thin. At first, I thought that the display is not working well after I see that my touches were occasionally not recognized while I was typing something. Only much later I realised that it was because my skin were already touching the sides. However, this is a sacrifice that you need to bear with if you need a beautiful and good looking tablet. If I compare this Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4’s design with its elder brother, Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0’s design, I will definitely go for the Tab S 8.4 because it is really so gorgeous. However, the Note 8.0 has some place to hold at the sides. So that is where you need to decide – design or usability.

Audio & Video Playback

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 has stereo speakers which are located at the top left and bottom left of the device. The volume is quite loud and you are definitely not going to miss any calls that easily when your phone rings (unless you chuck it in a bag similar to mine). Even while listening to music or watching video, the sound is quite loud but in a noisy environment, it may still not be sufficient.

If you are listening to music, there are some equalizer related settings that you can play with if you are using Play Music. There are ample music players in Google Play as well. Music quality on headphone was good but if you need a much better experience, I suggest you to invest on another good handsfree/ headphone.

As for video, I was able to play up to 2K videos smoothly via YouTube. There was no option to play 4K videos via the default YouTube app. So I tried going to the web browser to play the 4K video and it stuttered very badly. I even tried playing a 4K video that I’ve captured using another device but the video did not play (I could only listen to the audio).

Camera – Photo & Video.

Before I explain further about this, I need to say that there is no tablet in the world which have great camera capabilities (at least for now). People don’t really use their tablet to capture great shots. It is more for a casual photo shoot which is for you to share among your friends or upload to Facebook.

The camera quality of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 is okay. It is average and nothing much to say about it. It takes decent photos / videos but you can’t use it if you want to get into serious photography.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 is able to capture photos up to 8 Megapixel and videos up to 1080p at 30fps. If you need to take some low-light shots, the LED flash comes handy. The front camera has a 2.1 Megapixel lens and it take decent selfies. There are some options to download additional modes such as sport shot etc. However, they are too basic and compared to my Samsung digital camera, there are a lot of modes which are not available on this Tab S 8.4.

For photos, you can take single shot, burst shots and HDR photos. It is possible to apply some photo effects too (similar to Instagram). There is also an option to download more effects if the pre-downloaded ones are not impressive enough. There are a lot of effects available for download and although most of them are available for free, there are some effects that you need to buy for RM 3.26.

There is a remote viewfinder feature where you can use a display of another device to view and capture shots. For this, you must be connected to Wi-Fi. The camera button can also be set to either zoom, photo capturing or video capturing. This might be useful to some of us who are used to pressing shutter keys when taking photos / videos.

As for video capturing, there is nothing much to explain. The Tab S 8..4 take decent basic videos. If you need to take a fast motion video, there is also an option for it. One kind advice from me, please do not ever turn on the video stabilization mode. It will really screw up your video because the video stutters a lot when video stabilization mode is on. I thought that it was meant to stabilize shaking but unfortunately it makes shaking worse. I think this issue is related to the software. Hopefully Samsung fix this problem in their next software update.

Battery Life

The battery capacity of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 is 4900 mAh. It is slightly lower than my previous Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 which has 5500 mAh. When I started using the Tab S 8.4, I was thinking how can 4900 mAh battery be sufficient for an 8.4″ device? After using it for some time, I agree that I’ve underestimated the capability of this device when it comes to battery life.

Based on my usage, which is mostly on the internet side e.g. WhatsApp, emails, Facebook, web surfing etc, the battery can last more than a day (about 1 day 5 hours). There were in some occasions where the battery lasted for nearly 2 days (to be exact, about 1 day 17 hours). So overall I am happy with the battery capacity of this device. Samsung has really optimized the software and with continuous push email (7 emails), WhatsApp, Faceook, Twitter and occasional web surfing, the battery lasted long enough to make sure that I don’t run around looking for a power point.

The device will usually be connected to Wi-Fi as well as data plan. When I am at home or at office, it is connected to Wi-Fi. When I am outside, it is connected to my data plan. This device supports 4G LTE. So surfing internet was possible from just anywhere. Internet speed went up to 30Mbps on 4G LTE.

As I was also using this device as my phone, I made some calls and receiced calls too but they were not that much. At one occasion, I got a chance to make continuous call. The battery dropped from 86% to 42% for that 4 hours of call.

Before I forget, I must mention that when I first got this device, the battery life was so awful. I charged it full before going to bed and when I wake up the next morning, the phone’s battery was completely out (that was within 6 hours). So I charged again to 100% but the battery went down again, very quickly. I also realised that the device got so hot even while I was not using it. At first, I thought that the device was faulty but look like it is just a minor software bug which is very common on Android devices.

So don’t get panic if you have the same issue. All you need to do is go to your settings, tap on the applications tab and swipe right from ‘downloaded’ to ‘all’. Go all the way to Google Play Services. Once you click on it, clear the cache and then tap on ‘uninstall updates’. After you have done that, you just need to reinstall the Google Play Services update by going to Google Play store. The  problem should be fixed.

Other Features & Overall Performance

As you all know generally on how Android is, I am not going to get into detail and make you feel bored. I will just touch on some key features and how I felt about the device overall.

I’ve tried playing some high graphics game (not Angry Birds of course) and it was smooth on this device. The Mali-T628MP6 GPU was able to handle it very well. I didn’t see any lags while playing the game but I wonder how will it be on the Snapdragon processor with Adreno 330 GPU because as you all know, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 is available in 2 different version. One is using the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor (not available in Malaysia) and the other one is using Exynos 5420 processor as I’ve mentioned in the beginning of this article.

IR (infrared) – this feature is something that you will hardly find on smartphones nowadays, probably because it is an obsolete feature (kind of). I am not sure why Samsung has decided to implement IR into the Tab S 8.4. However, I am not complaining because although it is not really useful for  me, I am sure there are people who will appreciate this.

Well, with the IR function, you will not be able to replace your remote control with your Tab but it is just as a backup if you couldn’t find your remote and you need to change the channel of your TV or turn it off.

You can use the IR to control your TV, Astro, air-cond and many other home appliances which has an IR port. You need to use the ‘Peel’ software which is pre-installed into your device and do some set-up before you are able to control the other device.

I realised that after sometime, it doesn’t work and I need to reset the IR via Peel app to get it working again. It can sometimes be quite annoying, especially after you’ve done a lot of customization. But as I’ve said earlier, it is not to replace your current remote control. So you should not depend too much on it.

From what I see, the IR function will be more a tool to make pranks on people than serving its actual purpose. Some people can’t even imagine a phone having this function. So let’s say they are watching TV and you suddenly turn it off. Everyone will be looking at the remote which is lying untouched on the coffee table and wondering how did the TV shut down on its own. They might not even know that you are the one who did that prank.

My friend use to do this a lot. He goes to a restaurant and turn off the TV while everyone is watching football. Luckily nobody found out that he was the culprit behind this. Imagine if he get caught, the angry football fans will make him a tandoori chicken and hang him next to the TV. So that basically explains on how the IR feature is being used. It can be useful but for most of us, it is not actually serving the actual purpose. However I definitely appreciate that feature. Something is better than nothing.

Fingerprint sensor – This is another interesting feature which you will find at the home button of Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4. This feature can be used to lock your device or to verify your Samsung account. So instead of setting up a password, you can just swipe your thumb or finger that you’ve registered and you are good to go.

I tried this feature and it worked like a charm. There are several occasions where the device will not recognize your swipe. Usually it is because you did not swipe your finger correctly, it was too fast or too slow. By the way, what happens if you’ve injured your thumb and will not be able to swipe your fingerprint? Don’t worry because you can set an alternate password which can be used during the time where fingerprint scanning is not possible.

Users – This feature is found under the settings as well and with this, you can add multiple profiles. If your device is being used by more than one person, then you can add separate profiles so that each person can customize the device as how they like without affecting your customization. They can have their own Google settings such as their own emails set up and when you log in to your profile, you are not going to see their emails. It is basically like the multiple accounts in Windows computer.

As for the profiles, you can set a normal profile or a restricted profile. A restricted profile only allow users to have limited access to apps and content.

By the way, there is also a ‘kids mode’ in this device which will be very useful if you have kids using your device. You can let them do anything with the tablet under ‘kids mode’ and it is not going to screw up your normal profile settings.

Multi window – another interesting feature which lets you do two things at a time. Via this feature, you can do some minor multi-tasking on your device. This will not be as how you do on your computer but it is definitely a useful feature. Let’s say you are watching an interesting movie and you suddenly receive an urgent email, instead of pausing the movie to reply that email, you can continue watching that movie and while watching it, just open another window to reply your email.

How to make use of this feature? It is very simple. In the midst of doing something, just swipe the screen from the right corner. You will see a tab appearing at the right. Just select any app that you want to use and it will be opened on a different window. Pretty simple right?

How To Insert Your SIM card & MicroSD card? – inserting the SIM card and Micro SD card can be a little complicated on this device. If you do it the wrong way, you might end up spoiling the pin inside the slot.

To insert the SIM / Micro SD card, you need to make sure that the chip of the card is facing the back (not towards the screen). To open the flip, make sure you don’t pull out the flip. Just lift it a bit using your fingernails and turn it to the side (towards the back of the device).

To insert the SIM card, it will be a difficult task. You might need to have long fingernail. Otherwise you are going to put too much of pressure to the gap where your SIM goes in. Just slot in the SIM and use your fingernail to push it inside until you hear it clicking. There is a spring inside and it will pop out if your card is not inserted properly.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 is using a Micro SIM. It is not recommended to use a SIM adapter because I’ve seen a lot of cases where the SIM card is stucked inside because of the adapter. Well, since this device is already using a Micro SIM, you are likely to use an adapter only if your SIM card is a nano SIM.

Missing Notification LED – This is one thing that I really feel this device should have. I have this feature on all my other phones and I also don’t like to always press the home or power button on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 to check if I’ve received any messages. There are some third party apps which enables the blink on the touch key LED when there is a new message or email etc. However, it will not be the same as having a notification LED which has different colours to indicate different notifications.

Final Words @ Conclusion

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 is a great device. It is well designed and meant to be premium. It has everything that you need and you will hardly have any room for complaint. The price of this device is RM1699 and for that price, I think that the device does its job very well.

I recommend this device to those who need a good tablet which is not too big and not too small. However, if you are going to use it primarily as a phone, you may need to think twice. You can still use it as a phone but you have to consider the hassle of carrying it around and answering calls etc which I’ve mentioned above.