Tablets: Samsung, Sony in hot pursuit of iPad Air

The gold trim of the Samsung Tab S makes it the real head-turner among the tablet forerunners. (Supplied)

The gold trim of the Samsung Tab S makes it the real head-turner among the tablet forerunners. (Supplied)

The tablet market may have cooled down, but that hasn’t stopped Samsung and Sony from heating up their challenge to the iPad Air.

Few would argue against a statement that the iPad remains the benchmark for tablet design and efficiency. However, that is not the same as saying it remains the best tablet choice for any consumer.

Both Samsung and Sony have released tablets that redefine the very idea of a “benchmark” in this sector. The newly unveiled Samsung Tab S 10.5 and the recently released Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet are things of beauty, smudged only by their price tags.

The incredible lightness of being a tablet in a world beyond the iPad Air is summed up in three numbers: the Samsung device weighs in at 467g, and the Sony at 439g. The iPad Air, regarded as absurdly light when it was launched, weighs 469g in its lightest variation.

The iPad remains the benchmark for tablet design and efficiency. (Supplied)

That’s not a huge difference, but it tells you something about the delight of holding any of these devices in your hands – they almost disappear into thin air.

Talking of thin, the ridiculously slim iPad Air’s 7.5mm is thoroughly ridiculed by the tablets-come-lately. The Tab S has a 6.6mm profile, while the Z2 Tablet takes the bragging rights with a shocking 6.4mm. To put that in perspective, there is not a major brand smartphone in the world that is as thin as that.

Defined by their displays 
Battery life is also a potential differentiator: Sony again takes the line honours with a claimed 50 days standby time. That may sound absurd, but similar claims on their flagship smartphones have stood up to the bottom drawer test; they had held most of their charge after being left in a drawer for a month. Standard usage time is 13 hours, from a 6 000mAh battery. Samsung claims up to 11 hours of multimedia use off its 7 900mAh battery, while the iPad Air’s 8 820mAh battery only delivers 10 hours multimedia use.

The smaller battery is obviously also the key to Sony’s slimline body, but clearly it has achieved efficiencies in power use that counter the lower capacity.

Ultimately, however, these devices are defined by the quality of their displays. At 9.7”, the iPad Air has the smallest screen, with the Sony Z2 Tablet a little bigger at 10.1” and the Samsung Tab S maxing out at 10.5”. Here is how they stack up in screen resolution: 
iPad Air: 1 536 x 2 048 pixels, 264 pixel per inch (ppi) 
Sony Z2 Tablet: 1 200 x 1 920 pixels, 224 ppi 
Samsung Tab S 10.5: 1 600 x 2 560 pixels, 288 ppi

Do the numbers really matter here? Indeed they do. The screen technology also helps, of course, so with the added injection of “Super AMOLED”, the Tab S dazzles. The Air and Z2 tablet, as one might expect, are dazzling in their own rights, respectively with retina display and Triluminos TFT capacitive touchscreen. No user of these will be disappointed with screen quality. However, Samsung has set a new benchmark with the rich, satisfying colour of the Tab S display.

Not to be outdone, Sony has maintained its edge in build quality, at least as far as protection from the elements is concerned. It remains the tablet leader in waterproof technology, with IP55/58 certifications, which means it can survive being dropped in the bath, as well as a minor dust storm.

Sony has maintained its edge in build quality – it can survive being dropped in the bath, as well as a minor dust storm. (Supplied)

The gold trim of the Samsung Tab S, on the other hand, is the real head-turner of this bunch, and prompts a closer and longer look – which ultimately could win the day for Samsung. On looks and specs alone, it’s a tough choice between the Samsung and Sony devices. On operating system and ecosystem, Apple remains the most streamlined option.

Anyone buying on price will probably be surprised to find the iPad Air comes with the lowest recommended retail price, starting at around R6 500. If you shop around hard, you could potentially find the Sony Z2 Tablet at the same price, but most outlets have it from R8 500 to R11 500. The Samsung Tab S 10.5 may be tops in display, but it is also tops in price, recommended at around R11 500, although spotted as low as R8 300.

Clearly, none of these tablets will shift the market or bring a new generation of users on board. But for the demanding user with a wallet to support those demanding habits, these are all spectacular choices. –

 Arthur Goldstuck is the founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Follow him on Twitter @art2gee.



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