Sony Tablet S in-depth review -

Look and feel

A stylish, wedge-shaped tablet that looks the business. The dimpled back is great to touch and the tablet sits comfortably in the hand, especially when held in landscape. The 4.7-inch screen is smaller than many rivals, but colourful and razor-sharp

Ease of use

Email and social networking all integrate into the UI, and Sony’s custom tweaks are largely useful additions

Features

The built-in infrared transmitter hooks up to a remote control app, making channel-hopping easier than ever. The option to play PlayStation games is promising, but the idea has yet to be successfully executed

Performance

The Tablet S is largely fast and seamless, although it doesn’t quite have the smoothness of the iPad. Webpages load rapidly and games run just as fast. The five-megapixel camera does nothing to impress

Battery life

The Tablet S is a respectable performer in the battery stakes, and stands up to a day’s occasional use with no complaints

 Sony Tablet S Review -
4

Review by Sunetra Chakravati,2/2/2012 3:14:15 PM

8

out of 10

Performance

10

out of 5

Look and feel

10

out of 5

Ease of use

8

out of 5

Features

10

out of 5

Battery life

Pros:

Good integration of music and video streaming services, great design, strong battery life, built-in TV remote

Cons:

Incomplete apps, poor speakers, mediocre camera, occasional lag on touch-screen, screen smaller than rivals

There’s not a tech niche in the world that Sony hasn’t tried to muscle into – games, TVs, stereos, Mecha-Godzillas… the list goes on. But tablets are a particularly tricky market, with Apple seemingly having sewn it up long ago. That’s not going to stop Sony from having a go, and the Tablet S is the electronics giant’s first attempt to unpick the seams of Apple’s dominance.

Clocking in

The Tablet S runs Android 3.2 Honeycomb, the tablet-specific version of Google’s OS. There’s no official word yet on whether the Tablet S will upgrade to Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich, but chances are relatively good that an update will roll out sooner or later. It hits all the specs you’d expect of a high-end tablet, with a zippy dual-core Cortex A9 Tegra 2 processor and 1GB of RAM. It’s fast and responsive, although it has to be said that the sense of fluidity still lags behind the iPad 2, particularly when you’ve got home screens full of icons or widgets.

The screen is a 9.4-inch, 1280x800 pixel capacitive touch-screen, making it smaller than the 9.7-inch iPad 2 or the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Asus Transformer Prime, both of which sport 10.1-inch screens. So it’s not the biggest kid on the block by any means, but webpages load very quickly indeed on the screen – and, at 161-pixel-per-inch, the Tablet S has actually got a higher resolution than the iPad 2, giving a remarkably sharp image that looks superb, especially when rendering text or playing video. A bog standard five-megapixel rear camera is nothing at all to write home about – but taking photos with a tablet always looks silly, anyway. Battery life is pretty good, especially for the power-heavy Android OS: we found ourselves getting a solid day's worth of occasional use out of a single charge, with occasional video watching and surfing.

Driving a wedge

The wedge-shaped Tablet S is a classy-looking device. Its ‘folded’ appearance resembles a piece of pastry that’s been rolled out and then folded back on itself – only black, silver, and inedible. The dimpled black plastic at the rear of the tablet doesn’t help you hold it so much as provide a little extra tactile sensation when it’s in your hands – it's a little touch that actually goes a long way. The whole case is made of plastic, though, and it’s a little hollow when you tap it. This is a tablet that definitely feels less solid than its competitors.

The grooves that run along the device made it easy to hold. When you’re holding it landscape, your little finger fits into the fold along the back of the device and you feel that little bit more in control. In portrait mode, the tablet is a little less wieldy, and its unusual shape means that it only feels comfortable when held in one hand, not two. The Tablet S feels like a device designed to be held horizontally almost all the time.

But it’s not just about holding, of course. The best thing about the wedge-shaped design is that when laid flat on a table, the screen is tilted to face you. This means you don't have to crane over the tablet when it's on a desk, and that when you’re typing on the ample keyboard, there's none of that irritating rocking that's so common when typing on the iPad and its curved back. The design of this tablet isn’t just superfluous styling: It’s a very elegant solution to a real problem.

This comes at a price. At over 2cm thick at the top of the wedge, the Tablet S is certainly less svelte than rival slates. But it's an appreciable and ergonomic thickness that we think lends the Tablet S considerable style and usability.

Sadly, the Tablet S’s speakers sound tinny and weak: music is best consumed through the headphone jack. An SD card slot on the side lets you easily transfer files from a camera, although annoyingly you can’t use it to expand available memory. Another niggle worth mentioning - if you own a Mac, the Tablet S’s hard disk won’t mount on your desktop. You’ll need to download Android File Transfer to move files around. We also missed an HDMI-out slot, which would have been nice to have given the device’s capable processor. That said, the Tablet S's DLNA ability allowed us to throw anything we wanted to watch straight to our TV without much grief.

Sony styling

Sony’s tweaks to the stock Android Honeycomb user interface are, for the most part, a good thing. It’s tweaked the app menus to make it easier to find what you’re looking for, allowing you to filter apps and to add your own categories, if you’re particularly picky. Of less use is the ‘Favourites’ app, which takes up room on the taskbar and seems largely redundant, as it doesn’t do anything the apps menu doesn’t do already. The basic icons have been skinned for that extra ‘Sony’ vibe – whites, blacks and purples make a strong showing here, and lend the tablet some kind of identity that’s gratifyingly not the utilitarian iOS, or the usual Android mishmash of styles. A row of custom icons just after the Google search icon at the top left adds shortcuts to the internet, email and two more custom Sony apps: a perfectly serviceable Social Feed Reader, and – best of all – the Remote Control app.

Staying in control

Yup, remote control – the Sony Tablet S has a built-in infrared transmitter, and when combined with its app the entire tablet transforms into an oversized universal remote. It’s excellent. Just load up the app, select your TV, Blu-ray player, iPod dock or anything else from the drop-down menu, and you’ll be able to control your TV without even having to reach for the remote. There’s even the option to use gesture controls – so you can swipe magisterially at the screen to switch from Bargain Hunt to the Antiques Roadshow. It’s great fun, works superbly, and is even better if you’re arguing over what to watch in the evening.

The Tablet S comes with access to Sony’s Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited streaming on demand services, via their new Android apps. It’s expected, sure, but it’s still a nice piece of integration. A little icon on the back of the slate indicates that the Tablet S is PlayStation Certified, allowing you to download and play PS1 games on your tablet via the PlayStation Store.

Conclusion

The Sony Tablet S looks and feels great, with an innovative wedge shape that solves one of the biggest design flaws with the tablet form factor. It runs well, and bonuses include a built-in TV remote and potential access to some great music, video and games. But with prices beginning at £399, the Tablet S is still competing directly with the iPad 2. That's a pretty tall order and ultimately the smaller screen, slightly slower performance and incompletely implemented apps don’t quite topple Apple’s slate from its plinth.

Adam White