Samsung introduces the Galaxy Tab S, a high-end tablet with a vivid AMOLED screen

Although the Galaxy S line of smartphones has been a massive commercial success, Samsung’s various tablets have never really caught on in the same way. That might be changing: Samsung plans to announce its new flagship tablet at an event in New York on Thursday. The Galaxy Tab S comes in two new models, both of which are skinny high-end tablets meant to compete directly with Apple’s(s appl) iPad Air and iPad Mini with retina display in terms of price and features.

One of the Galaxy Tab S models comes with a portrait-oriented 8.4-inch screen and the other uses a larger, landscape-oriented 10.5-inch version. The small Galaxy Tab S is $400 and the bigger one costs $500. Aside from the screen size, button orientation, and price, the two devices are identical: Both are powered by a Samsung-designed Exynos 5 Octa octo-core chip, pack 16GB of built-in storage with a microSD expansion slot, and have 3GB of RAM. Both Tab S tablets come with a fingerprint reader, like the Galaxy S5. The Tab S also comes with an 8-megapixel camera, which isn’t as nice as the shooters on flagship handsets, but will be fine for a tablet.


The big draw for the new Tab S slates is the screen. Both the 8.4-inch and the 10.5-inch versions come with a 2560 x 1600 AMOLED screen with skinny bezels. Yes, this means the bigger one packs fewer pixels per inch compared to the smaller version, but in practice it’s hard to tell the difference. The AMOLED screen is constantly adjusted for saturation and sharpness depending on ambient light, a feature Samsung calls Adaptive Display.

Aside from the Galaxy Tab 7.7, a minor device released in 2011, Samsung hasn’t put its Super AMOLED display tech in tablets even though the bright, saturated colors generated by those displays have been one of the main selling points for Samsung’s handsets that use AMOLED screens. Previously, Samsung used TFT screens on its high-end tablets.

The main feature missing from the Tab S is any support for Samsung’s S-Pen. That feature will remain on the Galaxy Tab Note line, which lacks the AMOLED display — although it has the same 2560 x 1600 resolution — and is more expensive than the Tab S line. So even though Samsung is going to position these tablets as its “flagship” devices, there will still be a current line of tablets with more features and a higher price.

The Tab S is running Android 4.4 KitKat, the current major version of Google’s(s goog) operating system. But there’s also a good number of features built into Samsung’s user interface: The fingerprint scanner will be used to issue payments through PayPal(s ebay), for instance. There’s also a included feature called SideSync, which allows people who also own a Galaxy S5 to receive calls and texts on their Tab S; similar to Continuity, a feature Apple announced last week at WWDC.

Based on a brief hands on session, I was impressed by the Tab S. Both tablets are extremely skinny and light, the performance is snappy, and Samsung’s add-ons to Android have gotten to the point where they’re an added benefit, as opposed to cruft to remove. However, at $400 and $500, these devices are more expensive than the Nexus line and cost the same as the current market leader, Apple’s iPad.

Is that beautiful screen and Samsung’s added features enough to justify the price? We’ll let you know when we put one through its paces.