When it rains, it pours. And I had the opportunity to enjoy a few days with the iPad Air 2 alongside the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5. Both are fantabulous ultrathin 10ish inch tablets… that go about things in different ways. The Samsung does more, way more. But what Apple does, it mostly does better.
On the hardware front, the mobile market leaders have taken divergent approaches. As with most Apple industrial design, the iPad Air 2 takes a minimalist approach with an exceedingly uniform metallic exterior marred by very few sensors and buttons. And while the Apple is unquestionably beautiful, Samsung’s textured plastic back provides a more secure caseless grip and, at least psychologically, feels more rugged… despite the more pronounced seam. Also I have a feeling most won’t be bothered by the SD card door, given its vast and economical utility. Related, no one will fault Samsung for disrupting the back with a camera flash or the bezel with IR emitter. But I imagine the two button anchors on the rear will largely go unused as folks seek out other case/cover solutions than the official Samsung wrap-around, clip-in offering. At the end of the day, both are a pleasure to hold and look sharp.
However, the stunning thinness of these tablets (0.61 – 0.66″) does result is some compromise. First, what sort of battery life improvements could we see from something slightly bulkier… and would it be worth the trade? More concerning, the Galaxy Tab S does away with one of Samsung’s most compelling features in forgoing the screen digitizer, S Pen, and related interaction — something that unequivocally sets many of their tablets and phones apart from the iPad … and most other Androids. Lastly, and possibly also related to tablet thickness and materials, the caseless iPad Air 2 rear very noticeably and annoyingly vibrates when emitting audio while watching video or streaming music.
When it comes to software, most have already chosen sides. Those deep into Apple’s ecosystem will prefer iOS and the iPad Air 2, while those who prefer the greater flexibility of Android, and can tolerate the increased micromanagement that comes with it, should prefer the Galaxy Tab S. Having said that, it’s far, far easier to embrace Google services on Apple devices than vice versa. Beyond general allegiances, Android and the Tab 2 offer support for multiple users and split screen multitasking — valuable features not currently available within iOS. But the split screen can be unpredictable in rendering and support, so it’s not quite the slam dunk it could be. In terms of performance, both feel sprightly and the iPad finally has sufficient memory (2GB) to keep a number of browser tabs running simultaneously … without pausing for a reload.