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Tablet Faceoff: iPad Mini with Retina Display vs. Galaxy Tab S 8.4

Daniel Howley
Technology Reporter
Yahoo Tech
August 15, 2014

If you’re looking for a midsize tablet, you probably know that the iPad mini with Retina display reigns supreme. But Samsung wants to replace Apple’s tablet in your heart with its new Galaxy Tab S 8.4.

And with an incredibly colorful display, luxe design, and a boatload of special features, the Tab S 8.4 has a lot going for it. And, by total coincidence — yeah, right — the Tab S sells for $399, just like the iPad mini.

That said, there’s a reason Apple’s more diminutive slate is one of the most popular tablets you can buy. From its sleek, industrial design to the massive number of iPad-specific apps available, the iPad mini is an impressive piece of technology.

So which of these two tablets should you call your own? Let’s find out.

Round 1: Design and size

iPad mini and Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4
iPad mini and Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4

After years of building mediocre tablets, Samsung has finally created a genuinely attractive one. It’s exceedingly thin and light but still has a solid, premium feel. My Tab S came with a “Dazzling White” paint job and featured a bronze trim around its edges, which gave it a surprisingly luxurious look.

However, the Tab S, like all of Samsung’s devices, is made of plastic, which detracts from its otherwise haute styling. Still, it does keep the tablet relatively lightweight.

In fact, at 10.4 ounces, the Galaxy Tab S is lighter than the 11.6-ounce iPad mini, despite the fact that the Samsung has a larger display, 8.4 inches compared with the iPad’s 7.9 inches.

Edge of Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 and iPad mini
Edge of Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 and iPad mini

The iPad mini with Retina display may have the same look and feel as the original iPad mini, but it’s as beautiful as ever. The slate’s metal-and-glass industrial design is sleek and sexy, and it has the same polished chamfered edges and less-is-more styling that make the iPhone so gorgeous.

The iPad mini uses the same 4:3 screen aspect ratio as all of Apple’s tablets, which means its display is more square than the Galaxy Tab S’s, which sports a 16:10 aspect ratio. The 8.4 × 4.9 × 0.26-inch Tab S is taller, though more slender, than the 7.9 × 5.3 × 0.29-inch iPad mini.

WINNER: iPad Mini with Retina display 

Round 2: Display quality

iPad mini and Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 displays
iPad mini and Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 displays

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S’s most noteworthy feature is its display. Not only is the tablet’s 8.9-inch screen larger than the iPad mini with Retina’s 7.9-inch display, but it also offers a higher pixel resolution of 2560 × 1600, versus the iPad’s 2048 × 1536. Photos, videos, and websites will look a bit sharper on the Tab S than on the iPad.

In addition to its clarity, the Tab S’s display shows the brightest, most vibrant colors I’ve ever seen on a tablet. Put the Tab S next to the iPad mini, and the difference will blow you away. Everything just looks more inviting on the Tab S.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 and iPad mini screens
Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 and iPad mini screens

But there’s a catch. Though colors look more vivid on the Tab S, they’re also incredibly exaggerated. While looking at a 1080p photo of a grassy field, greens on the Tab S looked almost neon. When viewed on the iPad, the same field looked more natural.

In fact, most colors viewed on the iPad mini came closer to their real-life counterparts than those viewed on the Tab S.

I preferred the Galaxy Tab S’s display to the iPad mini’s, as it was larger and significantly brighter. And though some colors were exaggerated, the majority of the time, they looked fantastic.

WINNER: Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4

Round 3: Software and apps

Samsung Galaxy Tab and iPad mini home screens
Samsung Galaxy Tab and iPad mini home screens

The Galaxy Tab S 8.4 runs Android KitKat, the latest version of Google’s mobile operating system (OS), with Samsung’s TouchWiz design interface. TouchWiz is an Android “skin” that adds additional features and design flourishes to Google’s OS.

The Tab S features two main home screens, with the option to add up to three more. Each of the screens can be customized with apps, app folders, and widgets — small versions of apps that you can interact with.

Samsung Galaxy Tab widgets
Samsung Galaxy Tab widgets

Unfortunately, the Tab S’s interface feels cluttered and overwhelming out of the box. The myriad apps and widgets presented on screen will likely confuse many first-time users. What’s more, there are precious few Android apps that are optimized to work with the Tab S’s display. Even major apps like Facebook and Twitter look stretched and distorted.

Music apps on Samsung Galaxy Tab and iPad mini
Music apps on Samsung Galaxy Tab and iPad mini

The iPad mini with Retina display runs on Apple’s iOS 7, which feels far more streamlined than TouchWiz. Better still, the there are lots of iOS apps that have been optimized for the iPad mini’s Retina display, ensuring that they not only look clean, but fit the screen properly as well.

WINNER: iPad mini with Retina display

Round 4: Performance
Both the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.5 and the iPad mini with Retina display pack impressive performance. The slates feature top-of-the-line processors that ensure that apps open quickly and that playing games like Leo’s Fortune is buttery smooth.

The base configurations of the Tab S and iPad mini offer 16 GB of storage, which isn’t a whole lot of space when you consider that you’ll likely be saving photos, music, and movies on these tablets.

Galaxy Tab S's microSD slot
Galaxy Tab S's microSD slot

Fortunately, the Tab S includes a microSD card slot that can support cards with up to 128 GB of memory, so you can bring every single episode of Game of Thrones with you wherever you go.

Apple tablets don’t have card slots.

Battery life for the Galaxy Tab S and iPad mini wasn’t much of an issue, as both tablets easily lasted all day without needing a charge. Samsung and Apple claim their respective tablets will give you as much as 10 hours of Internet surfing, though those seem to be ambitious estimates.

WINNER: Tie

Round 4: Cameras

iPad mini and Samsung Galaxy Tab S cameras
iPad mini and Samsung Galaxy Tab S cameras

The Samsung Tab S 8.4 features an 8-megapixel (MP) rear camera, while the iPad mini gets a 5 MP shooter. As we’ve pointed out before, though, a higher megapixel count doesn’t necessarily make a camera better than one with a lesser number of megapixels.

Photos shot with iPad mini and Samsung Galaxy Tab S
Photos shot with iPad mini and Samsung Galaxy Tab S

Shots taken of New York’s Bryant Park with both the Tab S and the iPad mini offered amazing detail, but colors in the iPad’s photos were more representative of what I saw in real life. The Tab S’s camera, meanwhile, produced colors that were a tad duller than they actually looked.

Selfies shot with iPad mini and Samsung Galaxy Tab S
Selfies shot with iPad mini and Samsung Galaxy Tab S

If you want your tablet to be able to take quality selfies, you’ll be happy to know that both the Tab S and iPad mini are up to the challenge. Of the two, though, we preferred the iPad mini’s front camera, as it, once again, captured more realistic colors.

WINNER: iPad mini with Retina display

Round 5: Special features
Samsung’s M.O. is to load its devices with as many features as it can, and that’s no different on the Galaxy Tab S 8.4. This tablet comes loaded with a fingerprint sensor for unlocking the slate and making PayPal payments, similar to the one found on the Galaxy S5; as well as Samsung’s Multi Window mode and SideSync 3.0.

Multi Window mode on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S
Multi Window mode on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S

Multi Window mode lets you open two apps on screen at the same time, including two instances of the native Samsung browser or Chrome. It’s a great feature, and one that multitaskers will appreciate.

The Tab S’s SideSync 3.0 function allows you to connect your smartphone with the tablet via Wi-Fi Direct, creating a mirror image of your phone on the tablet’s display. From here you can interact with your handset as if you were holding it. For example, you can browse the Web and make phone calls without having to grab your phone.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S SideSync function
Samsung Galaxy Tab S SideSync function

True, it’s the ultimate tool for people too lazy to get their phone from the other room, but it’s also pretty cool. Unfortunately, SideSync works only with certain Samsung devices.

The iPad mini doesn’t offer much in terms of special features. The slate’s coolest feature is its Siri digital assistant, which can do everything from post to Facebook or Twitter to book a table via the OpenTable app.

iPad mini's Siri feature
iPad mini's Siri feature

But the Tab S, which runs on Google’s Android, gets the search giant’s Google Now, app, which puts Siri to shame.

WINNER: Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4

Bonus Round: Accessories
If you’re buying a tablet, chances are you’re also going to buy a case for it. The Galaxy Tab S 8.4’s rear panel sports two tabs that connect to one of Samsung’s Book Covers. The case, which doubles as a stand, completely wraps around the tablet, protecting both its back cover and display. Samsung also touts Belkin’s wired keyboard as an optional accessory.

The iPad mini is one of the most ubiquitous tablets on the planet, which means there are a nearly endless number of accessories for the slate. That includes everything from Apple’s own Smart Cases to any one of the available third-party Bluetooth keyboards on the market.

True, the Tab S 8.4 is compatible with nearly any Bluetooth-capable accessory, but there are more accessories designed specifically for the iPad.

WINNER: iPad mini with Retina display

Conclusions

iPad mini with Retina display
iPad mini with Retina display

It’s a close contest, but the iPad mini beats the Galaxy Tab S 8.4 as the best mini tablet. Not only does the iPad sport a superior design and a more fluid interface, but it also supports a larger apps library and a wider array of accessories. The Tab S, on the other hand, offers a gorgeous, though exaggerated display, and is dripping with special features including the capability to truly multitask.

If you’re dead set on buying a midsized Android tablet, the Tab S is easily the best on the market. But if you’re looking for the all-around best slate, the iPad mini with Retina display is the way to go.

What’s more, Apple is rumored to be making some big announcements surrounding the iPad mini and Air in the coming months. The best midsized tablet on the block may get even better.

Email Daniel at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley or on Google+ here.