Introduction and Specifications, Pricing and Availability
To be brutally honest, I haven't touched a single Sony smart device until the Xperia Tablet S. The last Sony phone I even used was an old Sony Ericsson flip phone from many moons ago. In a world completely dominated by the likes of Apple and Samsung, Sony can get lost in the white noise.
Over the few years, Sony has lost their edge in the smartphone market, especially after they had a huge run with Ericsson - but between then and now, not so much. Sony have enjoyed decades as the undisputed Japanese electronics leader, but that shine has slowly been fading over the years.
The Xperia Tablet S actually launched nearly six months ago now, but was pulled from retail shelves after a manufacturing fault was discovered. This didn't fare well for Sony, as the competition fired multiple rounds, launching the Nexus 10, fourth-generation iPad, iPad mini and many more slates.
Can the Xperia Tablet S change things around for the tablet line at least? Let's take a look at the XPERIA Tablet S' specifications.
Luckily the XPERIA Tablet S sports some decent specs, which we're greeted by with NVIDIA's Tegra 3 quad-core processor, cranking along at 1.3GHz, 1GB of RAM and a 9.4-inch display with a 1280x800-pixel screen - this gives us 161 pixels per inch. On the software side of things, we have Android 4.0.3 Ice Cream Sandwich - not Jelly Bean like most of the other tablet splashing down right now, but it's not terribly disappointing, either.
The Tablet S comes in three sizes, 16GB, 32GB and 64GB but features expandable storage by an SD card slot - and this isn't any normal microSD card slot, but a full-sized SD card slot. A strange addition in this microSD card slot world.
As for pricing, Newegg sell the 16GB, 32GB and 64GB Xperia Tablet S for $399, $499 and $599 respectively. This isn't too bad, but when you consider it against the Nexus 10 and fourth-generation iPad, it's not that great. The fourth-gen iPad is $100 more at every size point, and the iPad mini is $329. If we take a look on the Android side of things, the Nexus 10 is $399 for the 16GB version, and $499 for the 32GB Nexus 10.
So, Sony is sitting in the middle here - offering their tablet with older software than the Nexus 10 features, but with expandable storage. Availability wise, you should be able to get the Tablet S at most electronics stores, with Newegg offering free shipping on the above prices.
Unboxing & Look and Feel
The start-up animation on the Tablet S is very cool, so it has a nice first impression feel left on me.
Above, we have a shot of the box - I haven't taken shots of the rest of the box as Sony haven't displayed anything worth looking at on the sides of the Tablet S' box.
Next up we have the included cables, which we can see on the right includes the proprietary - and annoying - cable used for syncing and charging.
Lastly, an up close shot of the AC adapter.
The look and feel of Sony's Xperia Tablet S is actually quite surprising - and it truly stands out from virtually every other tablet on the market with its folded book design.
The folded design of the Tablet S, it really is a striking design and it's great to see Sony doing something different in the tablet space.
Sony have opted for a proprietary power and syncing cable, which is an annoyance. I always prefer micro USB as it's easier to charge my many smart devices from the one standard USB cable.
Now let's take a look around the Tablet S itself.
We'll start at the bottom, where we have some very capable stereo speakers on the Tablet S. As you can see here, there are some raised stands on the bottom of the tablet which may not look like much, but they lift the Tablet S up just a few millimeters - enough for the sound to travel out from under the speakers when the Tablet S is laid down on a flat surface.
Here we have the right side of the device, where we find the power button, the volume rocker - which sports a raised tab so you know where the 'volume up' button is - and it comes in handy! Just above the power button, to the upper left, is an activity LED which will flash on when the Tablet S is on charge.
On the left side of the Tablet S, we have the headphone jack and SD card slot. The folded book design plays well with the slots on both sides of the Tablet S, something I came to really enjoy. It's not something you'd look at and think 'oh, well that's going to be great to hold', because it doesn't. But after using the Tablet S for a week or so for this review, I actually loved the folded book design.
It works well as you can have your hand gripped over the top of the tablet, and my relatively average sized hands can grab the underside of the folded back. It acts like a carrying method for the Tablet S and I loved it. I found myself carrying it like that more than once, and it was quite handy.
Display & Speaker Quality
Normally this is where our 'Features' page would be, but we're going to do a bit of evolving of our smart device reviews over the coming weeks and months. The display and speakers are one of the more important aspects of a tablet, so we'll give them their own section to breathe from now on.
Sony have chosen to give their Tablet S a decent 1280x800 TFT LCD, this gives it a nice sharp image, but it doesn't compare with the Retina displays in Apple's iPad, nor does it come close to ASUS' Full HD-based tablets like the Transformer Pad Infinity.
This doesn't make it bad, but if you're like me and use enough of these devices, it's something you instantly notice. The display to look at, aesthetically, is great - a nice black border around the tablet with the 'SONY' logo in the top left.
Moving onto speakers, the Sony Tablet S sports two down-firing speakers on its back, and they provide some decent audio for a tablet. They won't replace your normal speakers, but they get the job done. I thought they would've been louder, but you can't ask for everything, right?
I mostly tested YouTube videos - movie trailers, some of suspicious0bservers videos (he does some great science/space videos) which is mainly just voice - and the Tablet S provided some nice, clear audio. It definitely didn't come close to Samsung's offerings with their Galaxy Tab 8.9 tablet, but it was impressive nonetheless.
Sony's Tablet S does have one trick up its sleeve, and that my friends, is Guest Mode. Guest Mode is something that Jelly Bean introduced, but Sony is doing it themselves on Ice Cream Sandwich. This is such a much-needed feature, as I will have my tablets on the kitchen counter, or in my office, and if someone pops in and needs to check something, they can - all without cracking their way into my precious and sometimes sensitive data - or they want to change my Facebook status and have a laugh... not anymore!
Guest Mode opens up the Tablet S to be more of a social device, without another user messing around with your data or settings. Guest Mode should be a standard feature on tablets, so Sony is definitely thinking in the right direction here.
You can lock the Tablet S down, allowing guests access to limited applications - or you can let them loose by allowing unlimited applications to be used. This is a good way to give them access to just Facebook, YouTube and Chrome for example - keeping all of your apps out of their prying eyes.
Better yet, you can even set a code, so that guests require a code to be entered in before it unlocked Guest Mode. There's an option for no unlock code, too, if you trust those who will use your tablet.
The above image is what my guest account looked like, allowing just Google Chrome and Play Music.
Sony also include a bunch of stock apps, with Crackle, File Transfer, Music Unlimited, Reader by Sony, Media Remote, Remote Control, OfficeSuite, Evernote, Socialife, Sony Select, Video Unlimited, Translate, WALKMAN and Xperia Link. These apps, I personally don't use whatsoever, but if you're a user of these apps, or of Sony's services, they're all there waiting for you.
OfficeSuite, Evernote, Socialife, Sony Select Games and some news are all kept on the desktop - which slow the tablet down. These widgets are what annoyed me on Samsung's Galaxy Note 10.1, and they're one of the first things I remove when using any tablet.
I'm a huge fan of SwiftKey, but the included keyboard that Sony provides with the Tablet S isn't too bad at all. The keys are set apart nicely, and they have a nice 'clicking' sound when they're tapped, too.
I talked about mixing up the Mobile Devices reviews, so we're going to introduce some benchmarks now. I've decided to go with Kishonti Informatic's popular GLBenchmark - using their Egypt 2.1 Classic Offscreen benchmark. Being an offscreen benchmark, it runs the test at 1080p, so no matter what device we review, it gives us a nice even result to work with.
We also used GLBenchmark's Fill rate test, as well as their Battery test. We also used Aurora Softworks' Quadrant Professional, running their Full Benchmark and its total score results.
As we can see in GLBenchmark's Egypt 2.1 Classic test, the Tablet S performs a little better than the cheaper Nexus 7, but gets demolished by the Nexus 4 smartphone.
Moving onto the Fill rate test, the Tablet S loses to the Nexus 7 and Nexus 10. We see the Nexus 4 pull away by a large margin here, nearly doubling the other two devices.
Moving onto Quadrant Professional we see some more devices thrown into the mix from our previous reviews, where the Tablet S sits just in front of the Nexus 7, and far out in front of the Galaxy Tab 8.9 4G from Samsung. The Nexus 4 stomps all over it again, and ASUS' Transformer Pad Infinity just rubs the Tablet S' nose in it.
The Tablet S has to win at something, right? Well, when it comes to battery life - the Tablet S has it in spades thanks to its bigger form factor and included 6,000mAh battery. The Tablet S is miles ahead in terms of battery life, with GLBenchmark's Battery test showing 5.15 hours of life, compared to the Nexus 4 and Nexus 7 which saw 2.2 and 3.17 hours, respectively.
Thanks to the NVIDIA Tegra 3 SoC cranking along inside, the Tablet S is no performance slouch. Pure hardware specifications are only one side of the story, as the software side of things needs to be improved. Shipping with just Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich is, while better than shipping with an older version, not anywhere near as good as Android 4.1 or 4.2 Jelly Bean.
So while the hardware inside may be a Tegra 3 SoC, it doesn't feel anywhere near as smooth as the cheaper Nexus 7 tablet from ASUS and Google. This is thanks to the Tablet S not including Jelly Bean and its performance-enhancing Project Butter.
Finishing up our look at the performance of the Tablet S, we'll take a look at its camera's abilities. First up we have a few shots I took with the Tablet S.
Let's test out the Tablet S' panorama abilities, I took two shots in this mode which both came out well.
Below, we have some video samples.
I don't like taking videos with a tablet, but the Tablet S is like most tablets taking video - mediocre. It's not the best, and it's not absolute crap, either.
Sony's Tablet S is a good tablet, but it is far from great. It looks great, it feels great, but as with most companies, they ruin it by not giving me, you and the rest of the consumers out there the pure Android experience.
I've got a feeling I'm going to write nearly the same "Final Thoughts" on virtually all smart devices I review until we get more of the pure Android experience, but this is what I want to bring my readers - the complete and utter truth, from my personal experiences with these devices.
Sony and the rest of the companies out there should be offering a ROM with stock Android on it. I've said this previously, and I think going into this year, these companies are going to need to start thinking long and hard about it. We're going to be looking at Google pushing their Nexus platform with Motorola by their side and it's not going to be much fun for companies like Sony.
Pushing that to the side, should you get the Tablet S? Well, let's ask you a few questions. Do you already have a tablet? If not, then this is a formidable tablet for you. Do you already have a tablet? One of the first-generation Android tablets? This again makes the Tablet S a good recommendation. Do you have a current tablet, something like the iPad or Nexus 7? No, definitely not. The Tablet S doesn't compete.
Then, we get into pricing: at between $399-$599, the Tablet S is on the expensive side. Google's Nexus 10 is the same price at the same 16GB and 32GB variants, which makes the Tablet S impossible to recommend.
I feel like Sony - and everyone else - needs to stand out from the rest. Don't just think of aesthetics, because that's half the tale. They need to do something different, but I don't know what that is apart from offering stock Android ROM's, as discussed above. The tablet world is a very big one, but it seems that there's not many apart from Google and Apple who are taking it really serious right now.
These tablets coming out feel like these companies are thinking "here's a tablet for now, buy this one, while we work on another tablet you'll want in six months' time". Rinse, repeat. Consumerism at its best, folks.
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