28/05/2012 09:08 | By David Phelan, contributor, MSN Tech & Gadgets

Sony Tablet P review

Sony's latest tablet is supremely portable but its innovative design does hamper its usability.


Sony Tablet P (© Sony)

What is it?
A uniquely shaped Android tablet with two screens that fold together, Sony extras - including PlayStation gaming - and strong styling.

What's great
It's different, neatly designed and highly pocketable, so you really can take it anywhere.

What's not
The screens are odd sizes which limits the effectiveness of some apps and the build quality lacks Sony's customary brio.

The bottom line
An innovative and original tablet with amazing portability and great styling but lacking an ability to work as well as regular tablets.

Main review
Sometimes it can be hard to tell one tablet apart from another. They're all dominated by their screen, are largely rectangular and usually run a version of Android, so it's easy to get them confused.

That is, unless you have the Sony Tablet P, which is utterly different from its rivals thanks to its curious clamshell style. It's a design Sony pioneered in a series of tiny folding laptops called the VAIO P. This tablet replaces the keyboard with a second touchscreen beneath the hinge.

It's hard to overstress the importance of the shape and design with this machine: when it's closed you really can't beat the Tablet P for portability. Just as the Galaxy Note manages to bridge the gap between phone and tablet, so the Tablet P's hinge means it takes up little space but still offers a big display. The home page spread across the two 5.5-inch screens is easily viewable, though not as spacious as a 10-inch tablet.

The default wallpaper is Sony's own and the app icons are also styled by the Japanese manufacturer, so there's a classy, grown-up feel to the tablet's software. The hardware, actually, isn't bad, though there's a slightly less high-end quality to the plastic on the outer casing with its matte silver finish.

Of course, pretty though the home page looks, it's when you open apps that you really get to grips with a tablet. And here the remarkable screen arrangement has mixed results. Starting with that old favourite, Angry Birds, already installed for your convenience. Like many of the programs, it plays on one screen only, so suddenly the real estate is much reduced, looking more like a big smartphone than a fully fledged tablet.

See also - Sony Xperia Tablet S review

Books, on the other hand, have a brilliant and unique feature. The Reader software automatically spins the orientation so you have two tall, thin pages to view at a time. Of course, this is a backlit screen so it's not as easy on the eyes as reading a Kindle, but the joy comes from the hinge - by part folding, you can hold the Tablet P in a book-like position. Much better than other tablets - providing you don't mind thin, tall pages.

This tablet is PlayStation certified, which means that Play Store, as Android Market is now called, has a bunch of games from the first PlayStation available to play. Crash Bandicoot, somewhat inevitably, is on board already and looks good. A virtual joypad appears on the bottom screen, and merely confirms there's a reason no dedicated gaming console has been built with glass, ungiving buttons. It's not bad, but it makes you long for a PS Vita.

There are over 40 apps that are optimised for the Tablet P. This is not a big number but will grow of course. It needs to as not all standard apps look great on the tablet's unique split screens.

The camera is an area where the smaller, chunkier, more, well, camera-sized shape of the Tablet P should excel. It's a five-megapixel model and it's not bad but doesn't compare to the ergonomic convenience of a dedicated snapper or even a smartphone. There was some shutter lag, but results weren't bad.

Battery life was decent, though not exceptional, lasting a good day of average use with no problems. And you can use it on wi-fi or on 3G networks, so it has great usability in lots of locations. A wi-fi only version is also available.

Verdict
This is a refreshingly different tablet with outstanding portability. In the future, there will be flexible, rollable screens which will make it easy to put a full-sized tablet in your pocket. That and flying cars. But for now the closest thing to science fiction is this folding tablet. Unfortunately, in use it's just not as satisfying or enjoyable as a regular big-screen tablet and in some cases the compromises are big. Still, it's a brave attempt to do something new, even if it's not completely successful.

3 stars

Essential info:
Camera: 5MP, no flash
Video: 720p@30fps
Display: twin TFT capacitive LCD touchscreens, each 1024 x 480 pixels, 5.5 inches
Dimensions: 180 x 158 x 14mm open, 180 x 79 x 28mm
Internal memory: 4GB storage, 1GB RAM
Card slot: MicroSD up to 32GB
Colour: silver
Weight: 372g
Touchscreen: yes
Audio playback: 3.5mm ear jack and speaker
Processor: 1GHz dual-core processor
Operating system: Android 3.2 Honeycomb, will upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich
Battery life: 120h
Keyboard: virtual

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