• Ergonomics and design
• Battery life
• Universal Remote Control
• Full sized SD card slot
• Somewhat pricey
• Camera performance
|Jim’s rating: 3 out of 5 (Good)|
|US Price: $349.99 from Amazon.com|
Sony Xperia Tablet S Review
By Jim Miller – The Sony Xperia Tablet S is Sony’s third Android tablet. It’s based on it’s predecessor, the Sony Tablet S, the first tablet to feature a unique magazine-like fold. Sony has built the Xperia Tablet S as an evolution of its former self, based on customer feedback, surveys, and new technology. It’s a splash-proof , high-end tablet that sports a distinctive design which stands out – So what’s it like?
The plastic build of the predecessor Tablet S wasn’t as tough as you would expect a high-end tablet to be. Not that it ever broke, but it would give in ever so slightly and creak when gripped on the back. A lot of tablets do. The new Xperia Tablet S is nothing of the kind. It feels very solid. The hardware is well tucked away within a hard and rigid body. No squeaks or cracks.
You even get the impression that Sony made the Xperia Tablet S splash-proof just to point out how solid it really is. It’s not waterproof though. 
The design is a slimmed down evolution of the first Sony Tablet S, but it is now thinner, lighter, and doesn’t have an equally long and thick magazine-like fold on the back any longer. It has a brushed aluminium back similar to iPad, apart from the black rolled-over fold that covers 1/3 of the back. The brushed aluminium surface makes it feel well against the fingers while simultaneously providing some friction and grip.
Even if this tablet may be better balanced than most other Android tablets, something feels a little different when you hold it at first. But this seems like it’s only down to Sony having weighted the tablet slightly towards the fold so that it can be held in one hand vertically (in portrait mode) while minimizing stress or tensions in the wrist. So if you are used to other tablets, this may just need some quick getting used to at first.
But the rolled-over edge on one side does give it a better grip, both by having the tablet “fold” inside your hand this way instead of the usual square edge of tablets, and also by giving you the edge of that fold to grip with your fingers on the back.
This was particularly noticeable and welcome during gaming where I knew exactly where my hands were positioned while focusing on the game and not looking at where I had placed them. Most other tablets have no such reference points on their back, which means that their reference points are usually just the corners. The black fold also have lots of tiny comfortable grip-dots on the back that adds some grip.
Connectors and Ports
On the left side of Xperia Tablet S you’ll find a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a full-sized SD card expansion slot covered by an attached removable flap. A full-sized SD card slot is always a big bonus for any tablet. Carrying with you photographs, movies, music, and other files you haven’t stored in a cloud becomes a breeze, without the need for a cumbersome sync with a computer. The SD card slot supports: SD, SDHC, and SDHC UHS-I cards.
Over on the right side resides the power button, power light, reset button, and volume rocker. The volume rocker has a small elevated dot on the + side of the button, making it possible to find the button without looking at it while also recognising which side of the volume button is up or down immediately.
At the bottom in the back is the Multi Port proprietary docking /charging port connector, covered by a removable flap. This flap is not hinged or connected like the SD card slot flap, so it could get lost at some point. The docking port can convert to a HDMI port through the included dongle (inclusion might depend on your country), or you can connect it to a USB cable, a wall charger, or one of the docking/stand accessories that Sony has built for it.
The 9.4-inch TFT LCD display has 1280×800 resolution, which is the same resolution that most 10.1-inch tablets use today. Even if doesn’t have the retina display of the 3rd generation iPad, the screen on the Xperia Tablet S have good contrast, text and icons appear sharp, it has very deep blacks, and a good color balance. Everything seems sufficiently crisp.
It has an automatic backlight level setting that you you can adjust through the options.
The stereo speakers are each placed on the left and right at the bottom of the back, protected by a metal mesh grill. I wish they had been been on the front instead, but then the tablet probably wouldn’t have been splash-proof. The speakers point 45 degrees downwards, so that the sound will reflect somewhat back to you if you have a nearby background, like a table.
The sound is very clear, which will make something like voices from GPS navigation or Skype calls come across clearly. But there is no real feeling of bass. So while the sound is very clear, it also sounds thin. But I don’t expect many people to use the speakers to listen to music either. The speakers can be turned up high compared to other tablets, but with the lack of bass, this compensation will not sound well for long, not even while listening to Gangnam Style on Youtube.
The Sony Xperia Tablet S comes with two different connectivity options; Wi-Fi only, or 3G + Wi-Fi. The 3G model will be released at the end of October (in selected countries).
Both models connects to 802.11a/b/g/n networks on both 5GHz, and 2.4GHz bands, with a max speed of 150 Mbps. It also has Bluetooth 3.0.
After the September release, the Xperia Tablet S suffered some Wi-Fi connectivity issues at first, but this was fixed by Sony with a firmware update 2 weeks after the release.
There is a 1-megapixel (1296×808) webcam in the front, located in the middle on top. It seems no better or worse than the average 1MP webcam. On the back is the 8-megapixel (3264×2448) camera, which supports 1080p video. Tablet cameras have always offered poor images, and the Xperia Tablet S isn’t much better than other tablets in that respect. These photo and video functions can be used in an emergency, but having a full 8-megapixel sensor, while this is much more than the average tablet, that itself doesn’t add to the quality of the images. But the images are low on image noise and turn out clear, with depth of field with a decent color contrast. In addition, you can geotag your photos with the GPS, which can the be viewed later on a map or Sony’s Globe View.
The video have a tendency to turn out noisy without depth of field, with a unstable autofocus. Perhaps a firmware update later on will improve on this. Until then, any modern camera will perform better. The microphone though, is very good.
The hardware delivers a solid performance, as you would expect from Sony.
Like with all Tegra 3 processors, the Tegra 3 processor at the heart of the Xperia Tablet S is fast, responsive, and particularly suited to HD games. It launches apps quickly, runs them smoothly, and handles HD video well.
Sony’s Xperia Tablet S runs on Android 4.0.3 Ice Cream Sandwich with Sony’s own skin. Unlike other tablet manufacturers that put their own company’s skin over the original OS, Sony has only added features to the Android 4.0.3, without taking anything away. Sony has officially announced a Android 4.1 Jelly Bean update for this tablet, but have yet to announce a date.
One highlight here is the different profiles you can create through Guest Mode if you want to share your tablet with other, yet control their access to things like Google Play store or your media.
It’s also PlayStation Certified, so theoretically any Sony PlayStation Mobile game will work on it too.
Sony Xperia Tablet S comes with 27 pre-installed apps, which is a lot. Some of these app stand out more than others.
Universal Remote Control
Sony has equipped the Xperia Tablet S with a IR-blaster and universal remote control app that is proving very popular. In addition to controlling every aspect of your TV, DVD player, Xbox, Blue-ray, DVR, stereo, etc., it can also be set up to do multiple things at once, like starting several devices in a particular order of your choice through the macros feature. It didn’t take long to learn how to use it, and it’s easy to set up new devices.
After selecting device category, you select the company brand, and the app will run through the options for you.
The controls look like buttons on a regular remote, so that makes it relatively intuitive.
It took me just under 5 minutes setting up my TV, DVR, and Blu-ray. You can also customize the button layout.
If you simply want to teach the Xperia Tablet S one remote control command, you simply push that button on your regular remote control while pointing towards the Xperia Tablet S and then assign whatever button you want for it.
This app works as a very visual guide to browsing what is on TV. Strangely enough, it’s not pre-installed.
After you chose up to 50 channels, Watch Now will display everything that’s on those channels as you flick through the channels through the app. You can even set it up so that it will change to that channel on your TV automatically. Over time, it will also learn from your behavior, and suggest shows for you.
The Remote Control and Watch Now apps work very well together.
Another highlight is the Small Apps feature. It will let you run two apps at once, side by side, or on top of what you were running already, like browser, remote, or other apps.
Sony has also stuffed the Xperia Tablet S with lot’s of other apps both for productivity and entertainment. Video Unlimited, Music Unlimited, and Sony Reader apps gives you access to Sony’s large content ecosystem. Similar apps are in place for playing and accessing contend stored on board or on your SD card. You also have full access to Google Play and all the apps there.
The 6000 mAh battery performed surprisingly well during testing. From mixed use with video, games, and the Wi-Fi on, it kept going for 9 hours 47 minutes. That’s just as good as the current iPad. The figure is pretty decent. If used frugally, it will be able to squeeze out over 11 hours of use on one charge.
If you consider buying a Sony Xperia Tablet S, there are two things worth considering.
Buying a 3G model might not be necessary with the incredibly easy Bluetooth tethering setup the Xperia Tablet S has. Connecting the tablet to your smartphone is very easy through the interface Sony has made. And there’s no need for cables because of the Bluetooth.
Secondly, the additional cost of buying a 32GB or 64GB model over the 16GB model is pretty steep in any country. But with the Xperia Tablet S having a SD card slot, expanding the storage with a SD card instead becomes much cheaper.
Verdict & Rating
It all depends on your perspective. In a hardware-specs-to-price ratio, it will seem a little too pricey. But I feel the real value in the Sony Xperia Tablet S lies more in all the work Sony has put into the features. There isn’t much wrong with this tablet, apart from some of the photographic features. That drags down the rating a little. Hopefully Sony will improve the camera with a software update later on. The price Sony is asking for a tablet with a 1280×800 display drags down the rating further. The price should have been lower to achieve higher rating, or the resolution should have been higher. These are the only aspects that drags it down I find.
Xperia is now becoming Sony’s “Xperience” entertainment line, while the Vaio product line becomes the business and productivity line. As an Android tablet geared towards entertainment it offers an attractive package. The upcoming Android 4.1 Jelly Bean update will make this tablet even faster and better. And you are paying for quality, the Sony ecosystem integration, and customer service with software upgrades even a year after purchase, too. Whether that justifies the premium price becomes a personal choice.
1) Sony released a press release on October 5, warning that some limited models may not meet their splash-proof specification, and they decided to halt sales temporarily because of it. 100,000 units shipped had been shipped by then. Read more on BBC.
However, Sony addressed the issue and re-released the Xperia Tablet S anew in November. No further faults had been found