Review: Sony Tablet S

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The tablet space is really heating up with market leader, Apple’s iPad set to face some fierce competition in the near future. Having iOS, Android and Windows 8 to choose from, consumers are ultimately the winners from increased choice.

Hardware

While a lot of tablets fall prey to being iPad copies, Sony should actually be commended for having something that looks different. The unique wedge shaped design is angled for easy typing when placed on a flat surface, while still presenting a readable angle.

The 9.4" screen runs a nice 1280×800 resolution, meaning the aspect ration is 16:10. This is an aspect ratio that really works, being a nice middle ground between the long and thin 16:9 and short and fat 4:3. In portrait orientation, it really does feel like the size of a digital A4 page and the curved edge fits well in the hand.

One of the challenges with this design is its ability, or lack of, to be positioned in a laptop-style orientation. You’ll struggle to find a case to solve this issue, instead you’ll need to opt for an optional stand and keyboard for an additional charge.

On the positives, the industrial design is solid and well made. The 10-point capacitive touch display is your entry point into a fast and responsive device. This is likely due to the combination of a NVIDIA Tegra 2 GPU with Dual Core ARM Cortex-A9 CPU and 1GB RAM.

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In terms of connectivity the Sony Tablet S features a micro-USB port and SD Card slot hidden behind a neat cover in the left side of the device. Cameras are now a checkbox item on tablets and the Tablet S delivers on both front and rear cameras.
The front is a disappointingly standard VGA quality, but Sony are hardly alone here. The rear is a 5.0 megapixel camera that captures unimpressive photos and videos. Chances are you’ll likely have a better camera in your pocket than the one included here.

Regardless of how good a tablet is, its only as good as its battery life. The Tablet S hides a 5000mAh lithium ion battery inside which Sony says will get you through a full 8hrs work day, based on standard usage. In reality, this was pretty close to the mark. It’s great to see the historical 20-30% inflated quoted battery figures disappearing and a much more realistic figure listed.

 

Software

The Sony Tablet S currently runs Google Android 3.2.1 and while Sony have committed to upgrading all tablet devices to 4.0, there’s no timeframe available for Australia. The exact same device in the US has had Ice Cream Sandwich since April.

Naturally being a Google tablet it excels at Gmail and YouTube, but suffers from old references to Google Market, instead of the newly branded Google Play. The Tablet S also comes with Navigation, Maps, UStream, Zinio, Evernote, Foursquare and Crackle pre-installed.

Entertainment
One of the benefits of being Sony is that launching a tablet means you can leverage other parts of your business as a point of difference. Both Video Unlimited and Music Unlimited services that you may know from the PS3 are available on the Tablet S.

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Gaming
Sony’s other big strength is the PlayStation brand, the Tablet S is PlayStation Certified which means you can install PS1 games on the device. Crash Bandicoot and Pinball Heroes are included out of the box. Despite having a Tegra2 graphics processor, gaming on the Tablet S feels a lot more like a mobile PS1 than a portable PS3.

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Luckily these aren’t the only games available on the Tablet S, you can access HD games by hitting the Gameloft HD Games icon. This launches the Gameloft site that allows you to trial RF 2011 HD, NOVA2, Asphalt6 and Green Farm to really get a sense of what that Tegra 2 chip is capable of.

The only problem is, this process is incredibly clumsy. You will have to enter settings and enable to installation of non-market apps before the install will work. This is incredibly unintuitive for a shortcut that comes pre-installed, users should be able to click and go, not have to configure settings. After downloading and installing Asphalt 6, when running the game, an additional 576MB had to be downloaded before the game will start.

If you have the patience and data, then the process does actually result in impressive gameplay.

Remote Control
Its amazing that this is the first tablet I’ve used that contains an IR blaster to control your devices. Positioned at the top of the tablet, a pin-hole sized IR port transmits signals to your TV and devices. We often talk about device convergence, well, the Sony Tablet S does the role of a multi-function TV remote.

Setup is easy if you have a device on their supported hardware list, especially if you have a Sony TV or blu-ray player. If your device (like TiVo) isn’t on the list, the tablet can learn IR functions by pointing your remote at the IR port and following the wizard.

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Price & availability

Sony’s Tablet S comes in 3 models, the SGPT111 costs A$429 (16GB WiFi-only), the SGPT112 costs A$499 (32GB WiFi-only) and the SGPT113 which costs A$599 (32GB 3G/WiFi).

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Overall

The unique design is a welcome change from the standard iPad clones, however the software often lets device what really is good hardware. Apps are often only available in landscape mode, despite the focus for the Tablet is being on its in-hand feel in portrait mode.

Sure there’s no Retina display, but this is a Sony product, which means they’re no slouch when it comes to industrial design. If you use Google services, or you’re a fan of Android, then this is a solid tablet. This is a tablet that will only get better with time. Its disappointing to see that it doesn’t already ship with Ice Cream Sandwich, but for now we’ll trust that its not far away.

The fact that the starting price for the Sony Tablet S and the iPad starting price are exactly the same is not an accident. At this price point Sony are positioning it as a head-to-head competitor, which means we need to look at the Tablet S in that light.

For those who are tied to Google services, or use an Android phone, it’d be a great addition to your mobile lineup of gadgets. For someone fresh to the tablet market, I’d still have to recommend the market leader, the iPad 3.

More information available @ http://www.sony.com.au/productcategory/sony-tablet

  • http://twitter.com/MarrkDaviid Mark

    I love the IR remote feature, I found Crash Bandicoot to be a little tedious on the device though, and I don’t like the charging brick. At least ICS is available for this device, whereas the Galaxy Tab 10.1 etc are still waiting for the update to become available.

  • http://techAU.tv techau

    I agree, the speed at which ICS has been deployed to Android devices has been disappointing. This isn’t Google’s fault, but rather the fault of hardware manufacturers. It’s not entirely surprising given there’s no revenue motivation for them doing so.