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Sony Tablet S review

What Mobile
November 21, 2011

It’s unusual for Sony to arrive late to the party when new technology is concerned. Blu-ray and 3D TV saw Sony on the starting line and the Sony Reader arrived years before the Amazon research and development lab put the Kindle on the drawing board.
The Tablet S is the first tablet from Sony and it’s two years behind the iPad and lags further behind rival Android tablets. Playing the waiting game, Sony has looked at the tablet market and taken a novel approach by announcing the Tablet S and a dual screen, foldable tablet, simply called Tablet P.

The first thing you’ll notice about the Tablet S is the wedge on the back, designed to offer a better grip and a better viewing angle when placing the Tablet S flat on a desk. It’s a simple design tweak that makes the Tablet S stand out from fellow commuter tablets on the train or at the office, and it works brilliantly. Hold the Tablet S vertically and it feels like a folded magazine and natural in the hand. It weighs 600g, which makes it identical to the iPad 2.

Sony Tablet S: Style and design

The overall style and design of the Tablet S is in line with the sleek, premium Sony Vaio laptop range. It’s the best looking Android tablet around and a quick fumble around the Tablet S reveals the recessed power button and volume controls. There’s an SD card socket but – a rarity for a Sony product – no Memory Stick Duo slot, which features on most Sony cameras and laptops. It’s a slick tablet and, arguably, the first of a next generation of Android tablets that offers clear
gains over the iPad 2.

The first thing you’ll notice about the Tablet S is the 9.4-inch screen – it’s a 1200 x 800 resolution touchscreen, with Sony tech like TruBlack in the background. Cutting the jargon, it’s simply the best screen you can hold in your hands. Running 1080p HD trailers against the same files on iPad 2 and noticing the difference, the Tablet S delivers deeper black and brighter colours. Motion is steady and the image the sharpest we’ve seen on a tablet. Only familiar tablet issues, such as fingerprints on the screen, get in the way of a cinema experience. For the traveller interested primarily in films on the go, it’s hard to fault the Tablet S. The Video Unlimited service works well and the overall navigation is clear and simple.

TV and films on Tablet S can also be sent instantly to DLNA-enabled TVs and you can do the same with DLNA-compatible hi-fis and your music. The Tablet S also allows control of non-Sony Blu-ray players and TVs, if you fancy having a giant, next-generation remote control as the centrepiece of your coffee table. There’s a green alert light that flashes consistently (unless you work out how disable it), which can be a distraction if the Tablet S is living on your coffee table, but that’s a minor niggle with an otherwise slick system.

Sony Tablet S: Operating system

The Tablet S runs Android 3.2 – otherwise known as Honeycomb – and comes in 16GB or 32GB sizes, and Wi-Fi or 3G variants, with the 16GB Wi-Fi-only version weighing in at £399. Inside, there’s 1GB of RAM and a 1GHz dual-core Tegra 2 processor, which keeps things moving at speed. During a week of testing, we never managed to make the Tablet S break a sweat, even when downloading the most demanding games from Android Market.

The Android 3.2 operating system is complemented by Sony’s own library for photos and videos. The 5-megapixel rear-facing cameras deliver decent results for still photos and acceptable video, while the VGA front-facing camera matches iPad 2.
Aside from the slick Sony tweaks to the OS, there’s the exclusive PlayStation Suite, allowing you to buy classic PlayStation games in an identical way to the download service featured on the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play phone. The familiar PlayStation D-Pad and buttons pop up on the side of the screen as translucent controls, while the game action takes centre stage. In practise it takes a while to get used to after playing games specifically designed for tablets, and not all games hold up to the crisp Tablet S display but it is a bonus for gamers as Sony expands the library of classics. You get classic platformer Crash Bandicoot and Pinball Heroes already installed.

You’ll also get access to Sony’s Spotify-style music subscription service for £9.99 a month. It features nine million tracks and there’s a similar service for video, if you aren’t already locked-in to the habit of iTunes or Spotify on your other devices.

Sony Tablet S: Web browsing

After a week of using the Tablet S for work and play, it delivers the goods and feels every inch the match for the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. One key difference for us, however, was the wedge. On the go, we browsed vertically as if reading a magazine, despite using rival tablets in the opposite way for the past couple of years. Ultimately, it seemed to lend itself to the way we’re used to browsing on phones, but will come down to personal choice. Using the wedge to lift the viewing angle when placed on a desk is so helpful, it’s surprising tablet makers decided to battle for the thinnest spec, rather than thinking of practical benefits like this. In short, the browsing experience is fast and practical on the go and will happily run in the background while music or films are on the agenda.

Sony has added on-screen quick launch buttons at the top-right of the screen, so you can launch Chrome or your email account in seconds. It’s a clever shortcut and one that we found ourselves using again and again. The onscreen keyboard is clear and responsive. As an Android keyboard, it’s hard to see how it could be improved, although – as ever – typing on giant-sized tablet keys takes time to get used to and will never be as quick as on your phone.

Sony Tablet S Vs iPad 2 and Galaxy Tab

Sony has finally delivered a slick Android tablet and the wait has allowed Sony to see what users really want and to deliver the kind of screen performance desired from a tablet. The Tablet S is a kind of multimedia tablet – it’s the best for film, games and music. The web browsing and email functions are largely similar to Android-based rivals and, because of this, don’t offer the familiar all-encompassing simplicity of Apple’s iOS. Looking purely at the achievement of what Sony has managed in two years may look similar to the steps made by rivals, but the TV link and Honeycomb design tweaks are nice touches. The PlayStation Suite and additional Sony apps are great bonuses too.  Sony has created the most usable Android tablet and the best looking tablet on the market. Sure, the Tablet S isn’t a revelation, but as an Android device, it’s the new hero in town and will give floating voters an important decision to make when looking at the Tablet S and iPad 2 side-by-side. Are you addicted to the simplicity of Apple and iOS or do you want a more accomplished entertainment hub, which in tech terms, outperforms all rivals?

Verdict

The greatest Android tablet is a must for Android users and home entertainment purists. You won’t see a sharper screen or a better looking Android tablet. Whether you simply must have a Sony tablet or want to create the heart of your home hub, the Tablet S has the rare ability to turn heads on the train.

What Mobile Test Verdict: 4/5

PERFORMANCE   5/5
FEATURES     4/5
USABILITY     4/5

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