Blink an eye and you will see a new android device being released in the market. Be it the smartphones or the tablets, every manufacturer, big or small, is out to try his luck. Sadly, most of the android devices (specially the tablets) all look similar. Hardly anyone has bothered to experiment with the design and differentiating from competition. This is where Sony’s first ever Android tablet strikes gold. Sony Tablet S comes with a wedge shape design which is unconventional, and yet ergonomic. But then Sony is late into the party. Will that affect in any way? Or their first offering has enough meat to discount the delay? We shall find that out today.
As I mentioned before, Sony Tablet S comes with a wedge shape design which resembles a folded magazine. This is unconventional but not revolutionary. Small time players like Notion Ink have tried this design before without much success. Personally, I loved the design. It definitely feels a lot easier to hold this 9.4″ tablet in one hand as compared to conventional tablets of similar size. The idea behind the asymmetric design is to distribute the weight across the tablet in such a way that the center of gravity is shifted providing sense of stability and lightness. This makes gaming and typing on Tablet S a breeze.
Sony has sacrificed the thickness for ergonomic design and ease of use. While the tablet looks great and feels extremely light to hold, the plastic used feels equally cheap. I was never confident while holding the tablet in one hand, with a fear that even a small drop can be fatal for the device. That defeats the purpose of having an ergonomic design.
What’s inside that plastic is surely better & pretty impressive. Sony Tablet S is powered by a dual-core Tegra 2 processor overclocked at 1GHz & 1GB RAM. The 9.4 inches TFT display is pleasing to the eyes and has a resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels. The capacitive touch screen works great as you would expect. Sony Tablet S comes with dual cameras, a 5MP rear camera which is capable of recording 720p HD videos and a 0.3MP front camera for video calling.
Buttons & Ports
As with other android tablets, Sony Tablet S has no buttons for navigation. It does have power and volume control buttons. Standard ports like 3.5mm audio jack and a special compartment which houses a microUSB port along with an SD card expansion slot. Sadly, both of them are used only for data transfer. The charging happens through a proprietary port and requires a laptop sized charger!
Sony Tablet S comes with Android Honeycomb OS. The day I received the review unit, Sony had rolled out Android 3.2.1 OTA update. The Android 4.0 (Ice-cream sandwich) update is expected “soon“. Honeycomb by itself offers decent browsing and better multitasking experience. The customizations offered in terms of widgets and live wallpapers are impressive as well. But it is miles behind when compared to Ice-cream sandwich.
There is a dearth of quality android apps when it comes to tablets. Sony has tried to circumvent this by having their own android app store, called SelectApp. This works out of the browser and gets pretty slow to start with. In SelectApp, Sony provides suggestions for android apps specifically designed for tablets. This is also where users will get to know about any impending software updates and news in general.
Remote Control & DLNA
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Sony Tablet S comes with an IR port and a remote control app. Just like any universal remote, this app comes preloaded with settings and configurations of thousands of devices from hundreds of manufacturers. Within minutes, I was able to set up the remote control app to work with my Samsung LED TV, my Sony Blu-Ray player and my Sony Home Theater system. Though my DTH wasn’t listed, I was able to set it up within 5 minutes. And boy! didn’t I enjoy changing the TV channels right on the tablet as I played Riptide GP! Magic!
Sony believes that the HDMI port is a thing of past and hence Tablet S comes with DLNA throw feature which lets you play any video from the tablet to a compatible device on the same WiFi network. And yeah, it works the other way around as well!
Playstation Certified Games
Sony Tablet S is one of the first Playstation certified tablets (Sony Tablet P is another). The feature as of now might not sound too tempting, but it surely has a great potential. Sony Tablet S comes pre-loaded with classic Playstation games like Crash Bandicoot & Pinball Heroes. For now, the selection of games (free or paid) is pretty minimal, but if at all Sony manages to bring even a fraction of their huge PSP/PS2/PS3 games collection, it’ll be a boon for gamers. Though the graphics of Crash was less than ordinary, the tablet gaming experience was compelling.
Another thing which won my heart was the virtual keyboard on Tablet S. Sony has replaced android honeycomb’s default keyboard with their own layout design. Not just the spacing between the keys, the fact that the keyboard is smart enough to know and adjust to the current screen is commendable.
Now that we have covered most of the important features of Sony Tablet S, let’s sum up the tablet performance in real time use. The user experience was pretty mixed during the course of my week long usage. Good things first! Media playback experience was splendid, web browsing experience was top notch, multitasking experience was slick, e-Book reading experience was awesome (thanks to wedge shape design), DLNA & remote control were truly unique and the gaming experience was amongst the best I’ve seen on tablets.
Along the way there were some minor niggles which kept bothering me. Transition from landscape to portrait mode (and vice versa) is always associated with a lag. Though android tablets are always known to be laggy, Sony Tablet S makes enough effort to make the lag obvious, so much so that when you are playing a song and change the tablet orientation, the song stops for a second and resumes. As much as I love the rendering of web pages, pinch to zoom was painstakingly slow on the default browser and WiFi kept dropping off frequently without a reason.
Sony Tablet S comes with a 5000 mAh battery. Unlike other android tablets, Tablet S fares pretty well in the battery department. With continuous usage of tablet for browsing, music/video play and gaming, I got just above 7 hours of battery on single charge. On a less ambitious usage, the battery life extended beyond 10 hours. Sadly though, the big laptop style charger doesn’t necessarily quicken the time to charge the tablet.
So, how good is Sony Tablet S? How does it fare against other android tablets like Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 or Acer Iconia Tab A200? Well, I found Sony Tablet S to perform much better when compared to Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. The navigation is smoother, design is better, gaming is cooler and has some unique features like IR remote control.
But then, at $499 (INR 29990), Sony Tablet S is competing with the likes of Apple iPad 2 and should have had ‘premium’ written all over it. Sadly, the cheap plasticky feel makes some people questions its price point. With an impending Android 4.0 upgrade, we can expect Sony to iron out some of the blemishes with respect to the software and the UI. Till then, I’d sit on the fence and let you decide if the positives over-rule the negatives, specially at the current price-points.
- Wedge shaped folded magazine style design
- Playstation certified games
- IR universal remote control & DLNA
- TruBlack display & responsive touchscreen
- SD card slot is still a plus (though it’s just for data transfer)
- Fast & slick user experience
- Cheap build quality
- Laggy UI at times (while changing orientation & browser pinch-to-zoom)
- Proprietary charging port & Bulky charger
- Below-par camera performance
- Frequent WiFi drops
Disclosure: The review unit was provided by Sony.