One of the only notable ruggedised tablets in its class, the Samsung Tab Active 2 pairs a hardy design with S Pen functionality and cellular connectivity.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab Active 2 has a removable back, a rarity in this day and age, followed by a protective outer cover that adds improved impact protection and better grip than the slick plastic finish of the tablet itself.
This should come as no surprise considering the term ‘ruggedised’ is involved, but as 8-inch slates go, the Active 2 is decidedly chunky. Despite this, it’s still narrow enough to clutch comfortably in one hand and light enough to wield for extended periods of time.
While the pogo pin connector on the side of the Active 2 will likely see far less use outside of the business market, the tablet also packs in a headphone jack and USB-C port along its bottom edge. In addition, it features hardware controls, not just along the side for power and volume, but beneath the display as well.
The 8-inch 16:10 panel on the Active 2 is perfectly usable but it’s far below what I would expect for a £400+ tablet in 2018, even one that focuses its efforts on ruggedised protection above all else.
For starters, the screen sports an underwhelming WXGA (1280×800) resolution, meaning sub-Full HD visuals are the best it can muster. Thankfully, it’s a wonderfully bright screen with next to zero issues when viewed in well-lit outdoor environments (boasting a maximum brightness that approaches 500nits). Despite this, there’s no HDR functionality.
Samsung’s preference for AMOLED panels is another plus, with great contrast and punchy colours too, provided you’re not looking for accuracy from the viewing experience.
Like the tablet itself, the S Pen is water resistant (something Samsung first implemented with the ill-fated Galaxy Note 7) and like the stylus experience on other recent S Pen-capable Samsung slates, it supports up to 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity.
The stylus offers a pleasing level of drag and resistance across the Active 2’s screen, with a hard 0.7mm nib. However, it doesn’t offer a particularly deep drawing experience, with no tilt detection or the option to shade at an extreme angle, as with the Apple Pencil.
Instead, the power of the stylus is best unlocked by robust third-party illustration apps or as a tool for annotating screenshots or accepting handwriting in place of Samsung’s native software keyboard.
Samsung’s own Exynos 7870 processor offers decidedly disappointing performance, offering functional day-to-day usage that’s all too easy to bog down after enough app jumping or when diving into more intensive tasks like gaming.
It’s perfectly happy streaming from the likes of YouTube and Netflix, while most tasks, such as web browsing, navigation and email, won’t prove all that troublesome either. However, the somewhat underwhelming 3GB of RAM is also a likely contributor to any lag that does crop up after a while.
Samsung Experience 9.5 overlay sidesteps most of the user-side shortcomings that running an older version of Android would present.
It deviates from stock Android by some margin but shouldn’t prove all that difficult to get to grips with. It’s designed to allow the easy location of the apps you may be hunting for and there’s a level of light customisation to behaviours and aesthetics if you so want.
Native split-screen multitasking is appreciated on the Active 2’s relatively large screen too, even if the likelihood of performance issues creeps up when using the feature.
There are also some tablet and stylus-specific inclusions that are well implemented. Daily Board can be toggled from the quick settings menu and throws up photos, weather and calendar information onto the Tab Active 2’s screen whenever it’s charging and idle.
S Pen users, meanwhile, will appreciate Air Command, which is activated when the nib of the S Pen is held just above the surface of the screen. It acts as an ever-present toolbox that lets you jump to one of a number of forms of writing or note-taking, and what’s more, it allows for additional shortcuts too.
One of the biggest strengths of almost any S Pen-driven device is the inclusion of Off-screen Memo. It grants tablets like the Active 2 the immediacy of physical pen and paper, letting you jot down a quick monochromatic note or doodle without having to fully wake the slate up. Once done, your scrawls are then automatically saved to the Samsung Notes apps.