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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 vs iPad mini with Retina display: Apple and Samsung's mini tablets go head to head

Samsung today unveiled its Galaxy Tab S 8.4, a compact Android 4.4 KitKat tablet with an 8.4in screen. Here we compare the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 and key rival the Apple iPad mini 2 (aka Apple iPad mini with Retina display) to find out whether Apple or Samsung makes the best compact tablet.

Note that in this article we are merely comparing the specs of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 and iPad mini 2.

Apple's iPad mini 2 is already on sale in the UK, priced from £319 for the base model with 16GB of storage to £659 for the 128GB model with 4G connectivity.

Samsung's Galaxy Tab S 8.4 will go on sale in the UK on 4 July, costing £349 with 16GB of storage, or £449 with 4G LTE connectivity. A 32GB model will also be available.

We had to double-check our facts before typing this: the Apple iPad mini 2 is cheaper than the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4. Yes, more expensive versions of the iPad mini 2 are available, but at their comparable points - 16GB with and without 4G connectivity - the iPad comes in £30 cheaper. Of course, whereas the iPad mini will retain its price until the next version is unveiled by Apple, Samsung's Galaxy Tab S 8.4 will quickly fall in price - even by its 4 July launch it could well be available at a lower price than the iPad mini, if the Samsung Galaxy S5 that appeared £50 below its RRP and is now available £100 below that price is anything to go by. Also see:best tablets 2014.

Apple's iPad mini 2 is available in Space Grey and Silver, while the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.4 will come in Titanium Bronze and Dazzling White.

Despite featuring a larger 8.4in screen, Samsung's Galaxy Tab S 8.4 is the more compact tablet, both thinner and lighter than the 7.9in-screen iPad mini 2. It's just 6.6mm thick and 294g (298g with 4G) to the iPad's 7.5mm and 331g. The iPad mini 2 is also wider, at 134.7mm versus the Tab's 125.6mm, but the Galaxy tablet is taller, at 212.8mm versus the iPad's 200mm.

Apple is well known for the quality of its amazing Retina displays, the idea behind which is that they are sufficiently high-res that the human eye is unable to distinguish between individual pixels and there is no need to go any higher. Actually, LG proved at its recent LG G3 launch that we can tell the difference, and its Quad HD screen is more true to life than anything we've seen from Apple.

But back to Apple and Samsung. Apple has fitted its iPad mini 2 with a 7.9in IPS multitouch panel with 2048x1536 pixels, which equates to a pixel density of 326ppi. Samsung instead plumps for a Super AMOLED panel in its Galaxy Tab S 8.4, but it's both larger and higher in resolution: 8.4in, 2560x1600, 359ppi.

It's difficult to compare the performance of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 and Apple iPad mini with Retina display without getting them into our lab and running some benchmarks, particularly given the fact the two are running different operating systems.

Whereas the iPad mini 2 is fitted with the 1.3GHz Apple A7 chip, the same 64-bit chip with motion co-processor featured in the iPhone 5s and Apple iPad Air, Samsung has fitted its own Eynos Octa-core chip, which pairs four 1.9GHz cores with four 1.3GHz cores. Samsung also supplies 3GB of memory to the iPad mini's 1GB. Note that this does not necessarily mean the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 will be faster - software plays a huge part in performance.

Apple might win on the storage front in terms of how much usable storage is available out of the box, but Samsung's Galaxy Tab S 8.4 features a microSDXC slot that lets you add cards up to 128GB in capacity. And we're pretty sure it won't cost you £240 to buy a 128GB memory card, which is the price difference between Apple's 16- and 128GB iPad minis. Indeed, you'll find one as cheap as £50 over at Amazon.

Both iPad mini 2 and Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 feature Bluetooth 4.0, 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi with MIMO and GPS, and are available in versions with 4G LTE connectivity. The Samsung also supports IR and Wi-Fi Direct but, more importantly, uses the industry-standard micro-USB port for charging or connecting to a PC; Apple uses its proprietary Lightning port. Plus, the Galaxy Tab S has a fingerprint scanner.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab's cameras offer more megapixels both front and back, although we're unlikely to make use of either tablet's 5- (Apple) and 8Mp (Samsung) rear cameras. Even if they do both support full-HD video recording at 30fps, and the Galaxy Tab benefits from an LED flash. Let's face it, we'd look pretty stupid.

More likely is we might want to use the front-facing camera for video chat - probably Skype on the Tab, and both that and FaceTime on the iPad. Here the Samsung's camera is slightly better on paper, at 2.1Mp versus the iPad's 1.2Mp iSight camera. Of course, neither will take mind-blowing photos, and both will do the job.

Right now the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 runs Android 4.4 KitKat and the iPad mini 2 runs iOS 7. Both will be upgraded when the next versions of each platform are released - Android possibly later this month at Google I/O and iOS 8 is expected in September.

The software each tablet runs is likely to be the most important factor in which device you choose to buy, so it makes no sense to brush over it here.

We can't properly measure battery life until we have the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 in our lab. All we know is that it's fitted with a 4,900mAh battery. Meanwhile, Apple claims that its iPad mini 2 will last 10 hours of web browsing.

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