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Samsung Galaxy Tab S: One big blemish mars great Android tablet

Galen Gruman | July 16, 2014
A great screen and an elegant casing are sullied by a fingerprint sensor that barely works

Samsung's been on a downslide lately when it comes to its hardware designs. The nice-looking Galaxy S 4 was followed by the plasticky Galaxy S5, and while the various Galaxy Note and Galaxy Tab tablets have not been ugly, neither have they been pretty. Samsung's last high-profile tablet, the 12-inch Galaxy Note Pro, turned out to be an awkward device that no one talks about any more.

So it was a nice surprise to get my hands on Samsung's new Galaxy Tab S. The admittedly iPad-like casing is very attractive, adding up to the first elegant Android tablet. (The HTC One achieved elegance for Android smartphones a year ago.) The screen is simply gorgeous, dispelling my fears that its amped-up, "Miami Vice"-like colors would feel unnatural. Even the tiny speakers have rich sound.

A useless fingerprint sensor

With one big exception, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S is the ideal Android tablet today. That exception is its fingerprint sensor, which works terribly. Apple's iPhone 5s Touch ID fingerprint sensor shows how such technology should work: You rest your finger briefly on a sensor pad to unlock the device or authorize a transaction. You can also teach it to use more than one finger.

Unfortunately, Samsung rushed its fingerprint-sensing effort in an obvious attempt to clone an Apple feature without doing it right. Remember those PCs a decade ago that had a sensor bar you could slide your finger across to unlock them? That's how the Galaxy Tab S's fingerprint sensor works: You slide your finger across the Home button. (And it recognizes only one finger.)

But that old-school technology almost never reads the fingerprint, rendering the feature useless on the Galaxy Tab S. You'll need to keep using a manually entered password — sadly, a faster method. By contrast, the iPhone 5s's fingerprint sensor is so fast and accurate that you'll likely forget your password with repeated use.

A beautifully intense screen

Samsung has long tended to oversaturate its screens' colors, creating a cartoonish color palette that draws your gaze but can feel unnatural. The Galaxy Tab S amps up that already aggressive palette, but somehow it doesn't feel garish. Instead, it feels vibrant and intense in an appealing way.

But the rest of Samsung's claims about its SuperAMOLED screens' superiority versus the iPad's are untrue. First, the Galaxy Tab S has a decidedly bluish color cast, so text is a bit harder to read than on the iPad's true-white display. Of course, that bluish tinge amps up the overall color palette, so a Galaxy Tab S's games and photos feel more intense than on an iPad. The iPad's screen is better for reading, while the Galaxy Tab S's display is more suited for graphical apps.


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