AnandTech recently reviewed the new high-end Galaxy Tab S 8.4- and 10.5-inch tablets from Samsung (NASDAQOTH:SSNLF). These designs are intended to have leading-edge weight and thickness, coupled with superb display quality. Judging from the $399 and $499 starting prices for the 8.4- and 10.5-inch models, respectively, it seems that Samsung intends to go right after Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) flagship iPad products. Will Samsung succeed?

Apples to apples, how do these tablets compare?
While the specifications on paper would suggest that the Samsung devices are more "premium" (the Samsung tablets have three times the memory, allegedly higher quality displays, and are thinner), it's interesting to read what AnandTech had to say about those tablets.

The iPad Air and mini with Retina Display offered significantly better processor (both CPU and graphics) performance against the Exynos 5 Octa found inside both Samsung tablets. Furthermore, though Samsung won three out of the five display tests that Anand performed, the iPad Air came out out ahead in two (which isn't bad for a nearly year-old product against Samsung's freshest device).

The Samsung devices really came out ahead in movie playback battery life (a strength of the AMOLED displays) and in Wi-Fi performance (thanks to support for top-of-the-line 2-stream 802.11ac Wi-Fi). Samsung also put a fingerprint scanner on the Tab S.

Game changer? Probably not
From a hardware perspective, there are gives and takes between the iPads and the Galaxy Tab S models, but they both seem to be high-quality devices (although spec junkies would probably be inclined to the Galaxy Tab S devices). The key factors beyond pure hardware specifications that will decide the "winner" are likely to be the following:

  • Brand strength. As popular as Samsung's Galaxy S products are worldwide, Apple's iPad and iPhone are nothing short of iconic, which will certainly help Apple keep existing customers and attract new ones.
  • Software ecosystem. Though Samsung's gig is to put the fastest, highest-end hardware into its devices, Apple tends to try to differentiate as much as possible through software (since this is research and development-intensive, but hardware margin friendly). While many technology enthusiasts like bleeding-edge hardware, the average user cares more about the software and app ecosystem.

Fundamentally, even though the Galaxy Tab S products are very nice pieces of hardware that improve meaningfully on the Galaxy Tab Pro tablets that came before them, nothing has changed. It is unlikely that a user who would normally buy Apple would be swayed by the Galaxy Tab S, while a user who already would have bought a Samsung will still buy the Samsung.

Foolish takeaway
With Samsung having put its cards on the table for this round, it's up to Apple to respond with a next-generation pair of iPad Air/iPad mini with Retina Display devices. While touch ID is almost a given for these iPads, it'll be interesting to see what else Apple improves as it goes head-to-head with Samsung's finest.