Itching to pick up a new tablet for the summer? Good call. But the big question remains: Which one?
The good news is there are some spectacular touchscreen tablets available today, including the iPad Air and iPad mini, the Samsung Galaxy Note family with stylus pen integration, Google’s own Nexus tabs, Kindle Fire HDX and Sony’s waterproof Xperia Z2, to name a few.
Each one has its own merits, so it can be tough to decide which one is for you – though decisions are often based on criteria like brand trust, tablet size, price and operating system preference.
To make matters more confusing, two new tablets are now available Samsung Galaxy Tab and Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3.
I’ve had some hands-on time with both, so here’s a closer look at each. On which one you should buy, be sure to read the summary section at the end.
Galaxy Tab S
Samsung’s most impressive tablets to date, these 8.4 – or 10.5-inch Android-powered tablets offer a number of impressive features – beginning with a Super AMOLED screen that delivers exceptional color, contrast and clarity.
For techies who like to know resolution details, the WQXGA screen boasts 2560 x 1600 pixels – with a widescreen 16:10 aspect ratio – and delivers more than 90 percent of Adobe RGB color coverage. Add a extraordinary 100,000:1 contrast ratio for super deep blacks and whiter whites, and you can’t take your eyes off the screen. I flipped through a few videos, photos and websites and truly this screen is remarkable.
Because the Super AMOLED screen doesn’t require a backlight, the Galaxy Tab S consumes less energy than comparable LCD displays – resulting in long battery life, says Samsung (the 10.5-inch model boasts a beefy 7,900-mAh-battery). Note: I didn’t get a chance to test the battery life yet.
Powered by a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 2.3GHz processor, Samsung’s thinnest and lightest tablet is just 6.6-millimeters thin and weighs just 294 grams (8.4-inch) 465 grams (10.5-inch) for the Wi-Fi versions (slightly more for Wi-Fi and cellular LTE).
In true Samsung fashion, there’s also some preloaded content and access to more. This includes Papergarden, Samsung’s magazine service; Galaxy Gifts, with a number of apps for work or play; Marvel Comics (with access to more than 15,000 Marvel Comics through a free 3-month trial to Marvel Unlimited); a free book every month via Kindle for Samsung; and other downloadable content available through Google Play, in a partnership with Samsung.
Similar to other Galaxy tablets, you can do two things at once with the split-screen view (each app occupying one half of the screen, or by utilizing the picture-in-picture option to watch a video while doing something else on the majority of the screen. Like the Galaxy Tab 4, this new tablet includes a Kid’s Mode, with its own dedicated interface and kid-friendly apps.
Finally, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S offers a few different configurations: Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi and LTE, 16 or 32GB of storage (along with a microSD slot that can take cards up to 128GB) and a couple of different colors including Titanium Bronze or Dazzling White. All models include Android 4.4 KitKat, 3GB of system memory (RAM), two cameras, fingerprint scanner, WiFi Direct and GPS, and support for Galaxy Gear Fit and the Gear 2 smart watch.
Available for preorder now but not at retail until mid-July, the 8.4-inch tablet starts at $399.99 and the 10.5-inch model starts at $499.99.
Surface Pro 3
If you can’t decide between a tablet and a laptop, the Surface Pro 3 is likely your best bet.
Truly bridging the two form factors, Microsoft’s third-generation product is a powerful, 12-inch Windows 8.1 Pro tablet that supports multiple magnetic covers with an integrated keyboard and trackpad.
In other words, you can use this puppy from 9 to 5 when you need to get work done, or from 5 to 9, if you want to rip off the keyboard and use the massive tablet for videos, games, ebooks, and more.
Even with the added horsepower – a fourth-generation Intel Core i3, i5 or i7 processor and multiple RAM (up to 8GB) and storage options (up to 512GB) — the Surface Pro 3 is just 0.36 inches thin (30 percent thinner than an 11-inch MacBook Air) and weighs 1.76 pounds. Battery life lasts up to nine hours, says Microsoft, though I wasn’t able to get more than 7.5 hours in my testing for just web browsing and reading email.
As with the Samsung model, the Surface Pro 3’s ClearType screen is outstanding. The 2160 x 1440 resolution (2K) display has a 3:2 aspect ratio with multitouch input, allowing you to swipe, pinch and drag (and on the trackpad, too).
Like previous models, there’s also a kickstand in the back to prop up the tablet – but now you can choose the angle instead of Microsoft deciding the desired height for you.
There’s also a new, thicker and aluminum Surface Pen with a button on the end you can press to launch OneNote; the new stylus offers multiple pressure points, therefor the harder you press on the HD screen the thicker the line will be.
Unlike most other tablets, the Surface Pro 3 offers a full-size USB 3.0 port, microSD card reader (now behind the kickstand) and a Mini DisplayPort to connect to a larger monitor, television or projector. The tablet’s speakers include Dolby Audio enhanced sound.
Microsoft also upped the cameras, now featuring two 5-megapixel cameras capable of capturing 1080p HD video.
The new Surface Pro 3 starts at $799 (64GB, Core i3), and prices go all the way up to $1,949 (512GB, Core i7).
While both of these tablets excel in similar areas – a gorgeous screen, think and light body and ample battery life – they are quite different in its feature set, size and price point.
Therefore, deciding between the two boils down to you own unique needs and budget.
Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S, for example, is Android-based – with support for nearly 1.2 million apps from the Google Play Store – and measures 8.4- or 10.5-inches. Prices start at a modest $399 for the smaller model.
Surface Pro 3, on the other hand, has more power, a larger 12-inch screen and runs Windows 8.1 Pro with support for Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, etc.) and other productivity tools. Snap on the magnetic keyboard and flip open the kickstand and it’s a tablet. Starting at $799, prices are twice that of the entry-level Galaxy Tab S.
Both of these tablets are very solid picks – even though I’ve spent more time with the Surface Pro 3 than the Galaxy Tab S — but there isn’t a clear “winner” as they serve two very different audiences.