Apple’s iPad Air 5 arrives just in time to challenge Samsung’s refreshed tablet lineup, including the Galaxy Tab S8. The mid-tier tablets from both companies look almost identical to last year’s models, but a couple of changes inside both make a significant difference.
The iPad Air 5 added Apple’s M1 chip and optional 5G, previously exclusive features to the iPad Pro line. The Galaxy Tab S8 moves to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chip and Samsung includes the new-and-improved, low-latency S Pen in the box.
While iPad may as well be synonymous with the word tablet for many people, don’t overlook the Galaxy Tab S8. These are easily two of the best tablets available today, so let’s look at which one is right for you.
iPad Air 5 vs. Galaxy Tab S8: price and value
The iPad Air still starts at $599 with 64GB of storage. Upgrading to 256GB of storage raises the price to $749. Adding a 5G cellular radio to either model bumps the price up by $130.
The Galaxy Tab S8 saw a slight price hike from its predecessor, moving to $699 for the 128GB base model, up from $649. For another $80, you can double your storage to 256GB. A cellular model of the Galaxy Tab S8 is coming soon, according to Samsung, but there’s no sign of it yet.
Samsung sweetens the deal a bit by including the updated S Pen with the Galaxy Tab S8. Getting the comparable Apple Pencil for your iPad Air 5 would set you back another $129. Granted, this is only relevant if you want to use a stylus with your tablet, but it’s worth noting.
If you can stick to the base model iPad Air 5, it is the better value, but most users are going to want that storage upgrade as 64GB can vanish in a flash. At that point, the base Galaxy Tab S8 with 128GB of storage, and the included S Pen, for $699 wins.
iPad Air 5 vs. Galaxy Tab S8: design
The iPad Air 5 and Galaxy Tab S8 have one thing in common, both are virtually unchanged from the design of their predecessors. This isn’t a criticism in either case as both tablets offer a stylish aluminum finish; they’re also thin, light and comfortable to use.
For the iPad Air 5, the now-familiar squared-off look that permeates Apple’s modern lineup is present. While I like the look of it on the iPhone 13, I think it fits the tablet even better as the larger size makes the hard-edged design more pleasant to hold. The bezels are still a touch larger than is necessary, but it does prevent you from accidentally touching the screen. Around the edges of the tablet, you have a power button, volume up and down, and a USB-C port.
The Galaxy Tab S8 nearly matches the iPad as a study in minimalism with a slightly more rounded rectangular frame, but it adds a couple of touches to avoid the completely blank slate look. The most notable is the black glossy area on the back of the tablet that is also the magnetic charging dock for the S Pen, which flows directly into the rear cameras. A more subtle touch is an outlined border hugging the left and right sides of the tablet on the back that wraps towards the front. It mirrors iPad Air exactly with its port and buttons around the outside.
Both tablets also rely on a fingerprint sensor in the power button for biometric login, which is too bad because facial recognition is ideal for a tablet.
At 10 x 6.5 x 0.25 inches and 1.1 pounds, the Galaxy Tab S8 is slightly larger and heavier than the iPad Air 5 (9.7 x 7 x 0.24 inches, 1 pound), but it’s nothing to sway a purchasing decision.
There’s no clear design winner between these two. The large thin glass and aluminum slate limits the opportunities for getting too wild with design and both of these tablets settled into a very similar look and feel.
iPad Air 5 vs. Galaxy Tab S8: display
The iPad Air 5 features a 10.9-inch, Liquid Retina IPS display with a resolution of 2,360 x 1,640 pixels. The Tab S8 has a slightly larger 11-inch LED display with a 2,560 x 1,600-pixel resolution and it boasts an adaptive 120Hz refresh rate.
Both tablets miss out on the top-tier tech from their respective companies with the iPad Air 5 missing out on ProMotion and mini-LED, while the Tab S8 lacks the renowned AMOLED of the Tab S8+ and S8 Ultra. With that said, both delivered pretty solid results in our testing.
The iPad Air 5 managed to reproduce 79.2% of the DCI-P3 color spectrum, which bests the Tab S8 (71.6%) in its Natural color setting, but the Tab S8 has an ace up its sleeve with the Vivid color setting that boosts it to 111.8%. The Tab S8 also offers more accurate color accuracy in that mode with a 0.25 Delta-E score (lower is better), compared to 0.29 for the iPad Air 5.
Apple wins some points back with its 485 nits of brightness versus 463 nits for the Galaxy Tab S8. This is a negligible difference; both are bright enough to hold up well – even in direct sunlight.
This is another pretty easy win for the Galaxy Tab S8; the 120Hz refresh rate, richer color spectrum and superior color accuracy are enough to carry it over the finish line first.
Winner: Galaxy Tab S8
iPad Air 5 vs. Galaxy Tab S8: Keyboard and stylus
We already mentioned that the Galaxy Tab S8 comes with the new S Pen that features reduced latency. Combined with the display’s 120Hz refresh rate, the stylus makes for a seamless digital writing experience. The Apple Pencil (2nd Generation) offers a similarly lag-free experience, but you have to shell out $129.
We haven’t had a chance to review the Book Cover Keyboard for the Galaxy Tab S8 yet, but the $139 keyboard and cover gives you some protection and early reviews report a solid typing experience. The iPad Air 5 uses the same Magic Keyboard as its predecessor and the iPad Pro 11-inch. It delivers that remarkable floating stand design for improved ergonomics typing on the keyboard, but it’s thick and heavy. At $299, it’s a tough sell to pair with your $599 tablet.
The Galaxy Tab S8 is the winner here again, in part, due to the value proposition. You get a very similar stylus experience for free and adding the Book Cover Keyboard puts you just $10 over the cost of adding the stylus alone to the iPad Air 5. If you are looking to use the iPad Air 5 as a laptop replacement that will only rarely be used as a true tablet, then the Magic Keyboard is undeniably the better keyboard, but at that point, you should consider a MacBook Air (M1, 2020).
Winner: Galaxy Tab S8
iPad Air 5 vs. Galaxy Tab S8: performance
If you’ve been paying any attention to phones or tablets in the last few years, you’ll know that Samsung doesn’t have a prayer here, but what the heck, let’s let them duke it out and see how it goes.
The iPad Air 5 introduces Apple’s M1-chip, basically the same chip found in the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro 13-inch. This includes an 8-core CPU and 8-Core GPU along with Apple’s Neural Engine technology. The iPad Air 5 is blisteringly fast, offering killer performance that far exceeds a tablet’s demands, especially a sub-$600 slate.
The Galaxy Tab S8 is no slouch; it features the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chip with 8GB of RAM. Can it keep up with the iPad Air 5? Absolutely not. Can it keep up with literally any game, app or task that you will throw at it? A resounding yes. However, the win, lose, or draw face-off format doesn’t allow for “Both are quite good; don’t worry about it,” so let’s take a closer look at how each one stacks up in our benchmark testing.
In the Geekbench 5 overall performance test, the iPad Air 5 scored a resounding win with 7,151, just shy of the iPad Pro 11-inch (7,293). The Galaxy Tab S8 wanted to bust out its go-to karaoke favorite, “Living on a Prayer,” but it didn’t make it halfway there with a score of 3,228. Our Adobe Premiere Rush test that has the tablets convert a 4K video to 1080p went similarly with the iPad Air 5 finishing in 22 seconds compared to 48 seconds for the Galaxy Tab S8.
The Galaxy Tab S8 delivers plenty of performance, but the iPad Air 5 completely blows it out of the water with laptop-level benchmark results befitting its M1 chip.
Winner: iPad Air 5
iPad Air 5 vs. Galaxy Tab S8: battery life
While Apple made strides to improve battery life in the iPhone 13, it seems satisfied to stay at right around 10 hours with the iPad. The iPad Air 5 is no exception. It came in at 10 hours and 9 minutes in our Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves the tablet continuously surfing the web on Wi-Fi with the display set to 150 nits of brightness.
The Galaxy Tab S8 blows this result away. With the display set to the same 60Hz as the iPad, it lasted 12 hours and 59 minutes. Even jumping up to its adaptive 120Hz refresh rate, the Tab S8 still wins handily at 12 hours and 53 minutes.
While 10 hours is enough battery life to get through even a heavy day of usage, you can’t dismiss a battery life advantage of nearly three hours.
Winner: Galaxy Tab S8
iPad Air 5 vs. Galaxy Tab S8: cameras
For most tablet users, the front-facing camera is the most important for video calling and both tablets added some significant updates there. However, I won’t skip the rear cameras for those who do choose to snap some photos with the rear cameras on their tablet.
Front cameras first, the iPad Air 5 features a 12MP front-facing camera that gets the Center Stage tech that originated on the iPad Pro, which will track you and keep you centered during a call. The tablet’s camera produces sharp and colorful images, and handles low-light reasonably well. The Galaxy Tab S8 will sound like a carbon copy with a 12MP front-facing camera that adds an auto-framing feature that keeps you centered during a call — hmm, where have I heard that before? Regardless it also produces sharp images that should hold up under reasonable lighting conditions.
Turning to the back of these tablets, the Galaxy Tab S8 gains the edge with a 13MP wide-angle and 6MP ultra-wide lens. Neither will hold a candle to anything you’ll find on a modern flagship (or even mid-tier) phone, but if you are in a pinch and need to use it they will suffice. The same can be said of the iPad Air 5’s 12MP wide-angle camera, but it does lose that ultra-wide that is found on the S8 and the iPad Pro models.
The Galaxy Tab S8 has a slight lead here with its ultra-wide, but ultimately for most people’s tablet usage, this is a draw.
iPad Air 5 vs. Galaxy Tab S8: software
This is another walk-off home run for the iPad Air 5. The Galaxy Tab S8 has to look forward to next season and hope that management (a.k.a. Android) sets it up with a better lineup.
iPad OS is better adapted to the tablet form factor than Android and that’s just where the disparities start. Android tablets are ignored as a platform by far too many developers, which doesn’t matter if you are looking for a content consumption device, or something just to run a core group of apps and games, but if you want to use your tablet for more, the iPad Air 5 is the easy choice.
There is some reason for hope on the Android side with Android 12 delivering a more tailored experience for tablets and foldables. However, it’s still in early days and we need to see developer uptake before we’ll believe the platform is turning around.
The iPad also has the edge in software support with roughly six years. However, that’s a far less significant difference than it used to be as the Galaxy Tab S8 will receive four years of major OS and security updates.
Winner: iPad Air 5
iPad Air 5 vs. Galaxy Tab S8: Which should you buy?
It was a close-fought battle between these two, with the iPad Air 5 coming home with two category wins, but the Galaxy Tab S8 claims victory with three. However, the total wins alone don’t tell the whole story, so let’s take a look at the specific victories for each tablet to help you pick the right one for your use case.
The Galaxy Tab S8 crushed the iPad Air 5 on battery life, offers a superior display and a better overall keyboard and stylus combo. The first two make the Galaxy Tab S8 an easy recommendation for anyone predominantly using the tablet to watch videos. It’s also worth noting if you are a traveler that needs to get by without regularly charging, an extra three hours of battery life is huge. The bundled S Pen may go unused or it could unlock the tablet as your note-taking or sketching device of choice. Samsung’s more affordable keyboard case also gets you a lighter laptop replacement for over $100 less than the iPad Air 5 and Magic Keyboard.
Turning to the iPad Air 5, while it may have only won two categories, they are significant. More than doubling the performance of the Galaxy Tab S8 is an impressive feat and affirms that this tablet is going to be fast enough for anything you need for years to come, but the software component is the most important. If you want to explore what can be done with a tablet or always have access to the latest apps and games, iPad OS is easily the better choice. Apple has proven its commitment to tablets over the years, and Google is just finally showing a glimmer of interest again.