Apart from the two 5.5'', 1024 x 480 pixel screens, each one of which is powered by a resistive IPS display, the Tablet P has much the same basic spec as its brother in arms the Tablet S. The two devices share the same 1 GHz dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 processor and a gigabyte of RAM. They both have a micro USB port, but a super-easy DLNA interface replaces the need for an HDMI output. The Tablet S' SD card reader has made way for a microSD card slot on the P, which has the two same cameras: 2 Megapixels at the front and 5 Megapixels at the back.
The other big difference is hidden behind the lower display: the shell can be removed to reach the battery, which which can then be changed, which is excellent news. That's also where the microSD card slot is, which allows users to add up to 32 GB of extra storage space.
The new Sony Tablet P is available either with just WiFi (the version we're looking at here) and 4 GB of storage, or with both WiFi and 3G and 8 GB of storage. Both it and the Tablet S are set to get an upgrade to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich within a few weeks.
Build Quality and Design
We can't help but notice the similarities between the Tablet P and another Sony product that was a long way from meeting universal acclaim: the Vaio P netbook (ah, the clue's in the name!) It too had a clamshell form factor that went against the grain. All told, the Tablet P does the same thing. It's certainly the only folding tablet we only know but that's no bad thing.
A cover on the side protects the micro-USB port. It's a shame that Sony hasn't managed to thin out the frame around each of the displays, because at 26 mm, using it with two hands becomes difficult, especially when you're using the virtual keyboard (for more on that, see the inset).
Like the Tablet S before it, the Tablet P is mostly composed of decent quality plastics. That said, it didn't take long before the outside shell began to show signs of wear and tear with visible scratches. There's no need to force it open: it flips open simply and quickly. Usefully, a green LED below the bottom screen flashes to warn of incoming messages.
Underneath, two relatively well-hidden buttons allow you to remove the cover and gain access to the battery. Given its size, the Tablet P can easily slide into the pocket of a jacket, but the extra weight means you'll probably want to make sure it's a fairly tough jacket.
It will also fit into the pocket of an ordinary pair of jeans (you can forget about it you prefer skinnies ...) but remember to take it out before you sit down if you don't want to end up with a bruise on your thigh.
The Tablet P is small enough already, but could well be the first of many, even slimmer tablets, as Asus has been able to show us with the EeePad Transformer and EeePad Transformer Prime.
By using two IPS displays, Sony has made sure content is highly visible and easy to read. The main display, at the top, is slightly better than the one at the bottom, scoring around 15% more for contrast and brightness.
The average contrast ratio is 775:1, equivalent to the performance of the first iPad.
We measured a colour temperature of 7322 K, but didn't notice a particularly blue tinge. The horizontal viewing angles are nice and wide, but the narrower vertical viewing angles can adjust the perception of certain shades if you tilt the screen in one direction or the other. The deltaE score, which measures how accurately colours are reproduced and should be as close to zero as possible and definitely below four, reaches an average of 8.6 here; only red and cyan are acceptable, with big problems with other colours.
An average brightness of 372 cd/m² (falling to just over 300 cd/m² on the lower display), and a decent contrast ratio, mean that the Tablet P is usable both indoors and outdoors without having to squint.
If you're worried about how fluidly it can render movements, then you might be reassured to hear the ghosting time of 23 ms is helped along by an extra black frame inserted every three frames, which is enough to make video roll along smoothly.
Interface and navigation
For Sony, tablets like this Tablet P or the earlier Tablet S are at the heart of the so-called multi-screens strategy it's pinning its hopes on. Content is king, and Sony hardware, whether it's a tablet, a TV, a PlayStation or an Xperia smartphone are just different ways of getting at it.
So it's no surprise that Sony's customised version of Android pushes you towards content, although it isn't as fully-developed as other manufacturer software like HTC Sense or Samsung TouchWiz, which almost entirely replace Android.
The look and feel is typical Sony, all clean lines and dark colours with white and gold highlights, mapping perfectly with the company's visual identity. That's true right down to the icons, including for the usual Android apps, which match those found on the firm's other devices.
Just like the Tablet S, the Tablet P has some exclusive Sony content, including Personal Space, a gigabyte of free online storage, and the Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited stores where users can download, and in the case of films and TV series, rent, content for their tablet. The PlayStation Store offers games ported from the firm's console, two of which are included for free. An app called VideoChat Plugged can be used for video calls over Skype, and works excellently if you have a Sony TV with a Skype webcam. Finally, DLNA makes it easy to stream content to or from the tablet via WiFi.
At the same time, the Tablet P also does without one of the Tablet S' biggest innovations, an infra-red transmitter allowing it to function as a universal remote control for other devices.
Within the software itself, we had largely the same reaction as we did to the Tablet P's larger, non-folding cousin: the interface is smooth, but there are still a few hiccups when moving from one homescreen to another or using the multitasking window. It's a matter of milliseconds, and has a negligible impact on actually using the product, but still a little disappointing when you know there's a dual-core processor in there. Android is to blame, but it seems that version 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich, has smoothed out most of these problems.
The relationship between the two halves of the display is handled perfectly, both in terms of resizing content to fit and moving from one to the other. Whether or not you like having a gap between the two halves is ultimately a matter of taste. Sony claims to be working on an even slimmer hinge, but short of an OLED screen that folds in two, we're not sure how much further you can go in getting rid of the hinge if you want a clamshell design.
Because of the two displays that the hardware has to handle, browsing the web is slightly less impressive than on the Tablet S. Then again, Sony's previous tablet is still the only one we've tried which can rival the experience provided by the Apple iPad 2 running iOS 5 thanks to proprietary technology from Sony.
Pages are easy to read on the two 5.5'' screens, and we hardly ever had to zoom in to see what we wanted. When we did need to zoom, it was mostly to reach a tiny link, something that would affect any tablet, and Sony's software ensured that the resizing was fast and accurate.
Out of the box, the video player is only compatible with the formats supported by Android 3.2, meaning you access MP4, MPEG-4 and H.264 videos up to 720p. As with most Android products, that means you'll have to download a whole range of third-party apps like moboPlayer, DicePlayer and MX-Player to add support for other formats.
Video is played on the upper screen, with the controls at the bottom. Sony has redesigned the Android player with is own applications.
Video games are one of the few apps that you can use on either one screen or two, although the latter approach is to be approached with caution because the rather odd upscaling doesn't leave them looking very good.
Even a must-have game like ShadowGun is hard to play in double-screen mode because the majority of the controls disappear out of view and you can't force them on to the bottom half of the display, which is much better in terms of usability.
It seems that only the games sold in the PlayStation Store have been designed to work properly on the Tablet P, with the controls at the bottom and the game above. The older PlayStation games also show fewer signs of ageing when displayed at 5.5'' rather than 10.1'' on the Tablet S.
You should only rely on the 5 Megapixel camera at the back if you don't have access to either a real digital camera or a recent smartphone. The photos it takes look reddy, the focus is far from perfect and the amount of detail can't match other tablets with 5 Megapixel cameras.
The disappointing amount of detail is even more of a problem for video, where the lack of fluidity is also prohibitive.
If you're making a tablet that's more portable than the competition, then it's only normal to give it a battery that lasts longer, right? Wrong ... Sony has only included a 3080 mAh battery, which on paper is a little stingy given that it has not one but two good quality screens to power, each with impressive brightness.
It lasted around 5 hours 30 minutes while playing video, and more mixed usage, including games, web browsing and other tasks only extended that by around half an hour. Power management is also a little touchy, with as much as twenty or thirty minutes' difference from one charge cycle to the other, especially if you turn off WiFi.
That's all pretty disappointing for a tablet that's small enough to be much more portable than the majority of its rivals, some of which can keep going for up to nine hours. Even Sony's own Tablet S can manage eight hours.
It's worth pointing out that rather unusually, recharging the battery is twice as fast when the tablet is switched off. A full recharge takes over five hours if the Tablet P is switched on, so if you're in a hurry, there's an easy solution ...
- Original clamshell design makes it more portable than other 10'' tablets
- Two good-quality IPS touchscreen displays
- Compatible with other devices via Sony's simplified DLNA system
- Enjoyable web experience
- Removable battery
- Not actually that compact
- Poor battery life
- Low quality camera
- Display across two screens could be improved
The new Sony Tablet P is more attractive than its forerunner the Tablet S because of its portable clamshell form factor. It's a definite design success for Sony and proof that the world of tablets isn't as boring as it might first appear. It's just a shame that the battery life, portability and the double-screen interface aren't up to our expectations, because the Tablet P has some real strengths.