Sony Tablet S
Review Sony may be late to the Android tablet party but it has turned up with something rather unusual and hopefully different enough from the iPad to not suffer the attentions of Apple’s hyperactive legal department.
A slice of Honeycomb: Sony's Tablet S
Called the Tablet S, the Nvidia Tegra 2 bits and pieces inside may be as common as muck but the exterior design is certainly unique. Most obviously the screen size is a rather unusual at 9.4in, while the body has the profile of a door wedge.
The design suggests landscape rather than portrait viewing on tabletops
Being twice as thick at the back – where it’s about 20mm taller than the front – doesn’t make it any less easy to hold, but it does mean you can lay it on a table and still see what’s on the screen without having to crane over it, thanks to the angle.
The 5Mp camera is at the top in the centre
At the rear is a pair of slightly rubberised feet. They don’t stick out far enough to be a nuisance, just enough to add another degree to the screen angle and stop it sliding about if you use it one-handed on a polished surface.
The bulbous shape does make it extremely comfortable to hold one-handed as an e-book reader – the rounded end sitting easily but still securely against the palm. With 360-degree rotation on offer, both the right-handed and southpaws are catered for.
Arguably the best screen you'll find on an Android tablet
While smaller than the 10.1in norm, the touch display still notches up the 1280 x 800 resolution, resulting in a higher pixel density that makes everything look very sharp and crisp. It’s a very good screen in other ways too. Thanks to the IPS technology, it has excellent viewing angles and it’s very bright and vivid. Is it the best Android tablet screen to date? Yes, and by some margin.
The Gorilla Glass screen aside, physically, the S feels just a little cheap given its all-plastic body but the use of lightweight materials has kept the weight down to an impressive 598g, 3g less than the iPad 2. The only part of the body that may suffer from abuse is the tethered plastic door that covers the micro USB port and SD card slot.
Indeed, the storage expansion port takes the full-size SD cards rather micro versions, which is a good thing but there’s no HDMI port which is a very bad thing. Sony does give you integrated DLNA but that’s available through Market apps like Skifta anyway and no matter how good the implementation it’s no replacement for being able to mirror the display onto your telly over a cable. That said, if your telly supports it, the Tablet S has DLNA functionality to allow you to 'throw' your content onto a bigger screen.
A full-sized USB 2.0 port would have been a nice touch too and while not universal on the competition – both the Acer Iconia A500 and Toshiba AT100 have one but neither the Motorola Xoom and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 do – they are very handy, so I count this as a mark against. The power supply isn’t the most stylish of things either. The actual unit is a small brick-and-tail affair just like a cheap netbook’s while the connector looks like an enlarged version of the old Sony Ericsson FastPort.
Like most Honeycomb tablets, you can’t charge the S through it’s micro USB 2.0 port. And if you want to transfer files you'll need the SGP-UC1 adapter cable. Sony has given Honeycomb a light re-skinning to make everything resemble Sony Ericsson’s Xperia devices and you’ll hear no complaints about that from me, because I rather like the Xperia theme. The home screen also features a rather subtle twist by letting you add four app icons to the bar at the top of the screen which houses the Google search icons.
As for the on-board software, the interesting additions are the Music and Video Unlimited services that use Sony’s Qriocity back-end and which come with six months free membership. There’s also full Playstation certification but the PS Store is very poorly stocked at the moment. With a nod towards its home entertainment hardware portfolio, Sony has installed an infra-red remote control transmitter in the S so you can use the it to operate your telly, hi-fi or Blu-ray player.
The pre-loaded control settings worked a treat with my Bravia telly and Virgin cable box. The swipe-to-change-the-volume-and-channel feature is sure to go down well at dinner parties too. Yet with an S in hand, not fitting an IR receiver to the Playstation 3 starts to look an even dafter move by Sony. I know you can buy third-party Bluetooth-IR adapter dongles but that’s an inelegant solution.
Remote control app functions
Rip open your S and inside you will find an Audience earSmart A1026 voice processor which is designed to improve voice quality in noisy environments. It works too, judging by my experience making a Skype call on the S, with her indoors telling me I sounded much clearer on the Sony than on my Desire HD.
Another area where the Sony Tablet S trumps the opposition – be it Android or iOS – is with its 5Mp camera. By some way it’s the best I’ve ever encountered on a tablet, and that includes the Galaxy Tab 10.1. The end results are very crisp and colourful. The same is true of the front-facing snapper. It may only be a 0.3Mp device but it’s brighter and sharper than anything else I’ve see on a tablet.
AnTuTu benchmark results puts the Tablet S on a par with the Xoom
As for battery life, the 5000mAh cell on the Tablet S managed to deliver 6hrs 45mins when looping 720p video. While not in the same league as the Apple iPad 2 or Motorola Xoom, it isn’t all that awful either.
Sony has never been a discount brand, so expect to pay £399 for the Wi-Fi 16GB version, a good £70 more than you can now find Motorola’s Xoom for. To be fair, the Xoom can’t work as an IR remote, isn’t as light or as funky to look at and doesn’t come with the Sony’s media and gaming opportunities.
A neat design and a superb screen, but missing a few tricks
Sony is to be congratulated for the innovative design, light weight and excellent screen of the Tablet S. And while it can share and display content on other devices using DLNA, this networking option is notoriously picky and relies on there being compatible kit available. For me, you can't beat the no-nonsense connectivity of an HDMI port or full-size USB 2.0 socket, and so I'm left feeling Sony deserves a bit of kick for not fitting them when the bulbous rear of the Tablet S clearly has the space. ®
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