Has Apple lived up to its own hype with its new flagship device?
Sony Xperia Tablet S review
What is it?
The Sony Xperia Tablet S is a top of the line Android tablet from Sony with strong media playing skills.
Lightweight with a great screen - it looks great, out of the box.
Clunky web browsing.
The bottom line:
Sony style, Sony build quality and Sony movie skills in a package which only loses out against the new iPad which has a superior spec for the same price tag.
Sony Xperia Tablet S: Review
Sony has learned much from the dominance of the iPad and the failings of rival tablets. The Sony Tablet S uses brushed aluminum for the back of the body and matt black for the front. The only way you’ll notice it’s not an iPad or rival Android tablet is the Sony logo at the top left of the display and the slight bulge at the back which lifts the tablet slightly when placed face down. The Sony Tablet S is very light and has a marginally smaller screen than rivals at 9.4 inches but the chances are, you won’t notice the difference.
The splashproof credentials ring true, though there’s a hand note asking you to seal the SD card and charge socket before, presumably, stepping out into the rain. Overall, the design is understated and classic if not entirely original. In the world of Android tablets, however, it’s as close to the build quality of an iPad as you’ll be able to find anywhere in 2012.
The headphone socket is conveniently located at the top left of the tablet and the SD card socket is a welcome addition over an iPad. It not only means you can cheaply boost your storage but importing your camera photos or even your digital music library is simple and very quick.
Sony Xperia Tablet S: Display
The display is the standout feature on the Sony Tablet S - it beats Android tablet rivals by offering richer and deeper colours and only falls behind the benchmark by which all others are now judged - an iPad with Retina Display technology.
HD movies really shine and browsing photos bring out the best of high resolution image and home videos. Importantly, viewing movies in a low brightness setting still gives you a very good picture and although we expected good movie playback skills, it’s good to see that Sony has realised that, for many people, the Sony Tablet S will be used as a portable TV on the home and on-the-go.
See also: Sony Xperia Tablet Z review
The other bonus is that the display is very fast thanks and manages to keep up with all gestures with ease. There’s a slight annoyance factor that the smart screen attracts fingerprints at every turn but there’s a wide enough frame to hold when viewing movies.
Sony Xperia Tablet S: Usability
In terms of operating system, there’s Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich out of the box which isn’t the latest ‘Jelly Bean’ variant of the Google interface but it works well alongside custom Sony apps.
The music and TV streaming options aren’t unique in the world of tablets but they’re easy and enjoyable on the Sony Tablet S. If your smart or connected TV or hi-fi has a DLNA badge on the box, you’ll be able to throw a picture to your TV in seconds and use the Sony Tablet S as a remote. DLNA is a universal format so your compatible products won’t have to be Sony branded to work. The simplicity is the key here - record home videos on the Sony Tablet S and getting them on your TV doesn’t require you to use a PC or leave the sofa. For more technologically minded types, you can manage and stream music and movies stored on a PC if you wish.
Outside of the operating system, the new Google Music is every inch the match for iTunes and created an impressive jukebox of purchased music. The choice of movie rentals and purchases from Sony’s own Video Unlimited service or Google is great, though the Android version of Netflix is flawless and ultimately what the Sony Xperia Tablet S is designed for.
There’s not a ultra high-end processor for games and that’s because Sony knows you’ll be watching and web browsing for the majority of your time. The web browsing experience isn’t great - pages stutter and slowly load at times. Downloading another free browser addresses the problem but for a machine with a great display and response time, it’s slightly disappointing to think the software can’t match it.
User profiles allow different members of the family to log-in, so Christmas lists and 18 rated movies can be kept behind a password protected gate if you wish. The installed apps allow you to explore magazines, Google Maps, games, books and eBay instantly though they’ll all need to be updated to the latest versions. Sony’s Reader app is here too, based around Sony’s own Kindle rival that has struggled against the Amazon gadget in recent years. If you don’t own a Kindle and the Kindle app isn’t for you, it’s another option with a decent selection of books but its future looks uncertain.
Sony Xperia Tablet S: Performance
The Sony Tablet S is all about the great display. The processor is capable if not suited for high-end gaming and the 16GB of storage suggests you’re going to be using the tablet at home where you can stream music and movies through services like Spotify or Netflix without physically downloading them.
The SD card slot does allow you to boost storage cheaply and effectively through the kind of memory card your camera uses but that’s kind of missing the point. Sony want you to use the Sony Tablet S as a home hub, controlling your music and movies and even replacing the remote control for your TV - yes, it can even do that too.
The performance against price issue is where the Sony Tablet S begins to lose points. At £399, it’s level with an iPad with faster processor and a better screen. In the land of Android tablets, it’s the king but, really, it’s a market that Sony has entered in the only way it knows how - by offering a great screen for movies and nothing truly game changing.
Battery life is impressive as are the front and rear cameras, allowing HD video capture and clear Skype chats. We’re not sold on the need for splash proof skills though the Sony Tablet S does everything we require of it aside from flawless web browsing.
Sony Xperia Tablet S: Verdict
A capable Android tablet that uses Sony design style to woo onlookers alongside a great screen and clever movie and music streaming options. It’s lightweight with great battery life, capable of a full day of use but if faces the heavy competition of the new iPad with its stunning Retina Display. The Sony Tablet S might be the best all-round Android tablet you can buy, in 2012, that’s still not enough to convince us that it’s better than a new iPad for the same price tag...
Sony Xperia Tablet S: Available now - £399 (16GB)