Beneath the 9.4" IPS display with 1280 x 800 resolution (the same as the original Tablet S) are a Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core processor clocked at 1.3 GHz, 1 GB of RAM and a storage capacity of either 16 GB, 32 GB or 64 GB. It has the same SD/SDHC card reader as the Tablet S (also SDXC-compatible), which conveniently allows you to load and read content from the memory card, but also increase the overall capacity. A proprietary connector serves as the only link between the Xperia Tablet S and other devices. There's a 3.5 mm headphone jack, a 2 Mpx front-facing webcam and an 8 Mpx camera sensor on the back (no LED flash). It supports Wi-Fi b/g/n and Bluetooth 3.0, and still features the infrared port and universal remote app.
Running the show is Android 4.0.3 Ice Cream Sandwich, along with a number of exclusive Sony applications. Sony has announced an Android 4.1 Jelly Bean update for this autumn.
One of the standout features of the Xperia Tablet S is that it's splashproof. Remember, 'splashproof' isn't the same as 'waterproof', meaning it can take splashes here and there and withstand light rain, but you won't want to leave it in your bathtub.
Sony is selling the 16 GB + Wi-Fi version for £329, the 32 GB + Wi-Fi version for £379 and the 64 GB + Wi-Fi version for £449 and the 16 GB + 3G version for £429.
Design & Handling
Sony has abandoned the asymmetrical shape of the original Tablet S, which among other things gave the impression that it was lighter by distributing the weight to the thicker section of the tablet. Here it's all uniformly distributed, so it seems heavier than the last one did. Visually, it's sort of as though Sony took the first Tablet S and flattened it with a dough roller, but the lines are similar and it still has that "book bent backwards" look.
The frame is still wide, ranging from 20 to 23 mm along the edges, and all buttons and connectors minus the proprietary port are on the lateral edges. Yes, Sony has stuck with its own cable. It's thinner and smaller than last time, but it's still no replacement for MicroUSB. Sigh.
The SD card reader is housed under what feels like a reliable cover and the speakers, as is often the case, are located in one the least practical places possible: at the bottom of the back of the tablet. The grip on the back on the black plastic that bends over from the front have been carried over from the previous Tablet S.
The finishing is much better than on the Tablet S. That, plus the fact that it's dense and compact, makes the Xperia Tablet S a high-quality product, despite the use of plastics.
When Sony first presented the Xperia Tablet S, they let us in on a secret: they told us it's actually the exact same screen as the Tablet S, but with reworked colours and brightness. Judging by our measurements, we couldn't have said it better! So much so that the contrast has hardly budged an inch. It's 734:1, compared to 767:1 on the Tablet S—the difference is negligible. But, just as they said, the brightness has gone up from 350 cd/m² to 400 cd/m².
And you can tell Sony has worked on the colours. The average Delta E, which measures the difference between the intended shades in any given image and the colours displayed onscreen (where the closer to zero the better), is 5.4. That's one of the most respectable Delta Es out there, although the champion is still Apple's iPad, at 2.2. On the Xperia Tablet S, greys and blacks are near-perfect, as is magenta and, to a lesser extent, red, although the other primary colours are less accurate. But there are no major, visible overtones and the colour temperature is stable across the spectrum and also near-perfect, at 6,650 kelvins.
The ghosting time is 22 milliseconds, which is no catastrophe. In fact, it's pretty much average for a tablet. Sony hasn't added any motion interpolation for video, but it did include its special web browsing overlay that helps make scrolling look more precise.
Interface & Navigation
Beyond the basic Android 4 interface, Sony hasn't made any major changes or additions the way Samsung does with TouchWiz. Instead, the Xperia Tablet S has a number of new icons and exclusive apps. There are apps for buying and renting multimedia (Music Unlimited, Video Unlimited, PlayStation Mobile), editing photos (Scrapbook), sharing content (PlayMemories) and using the tablet as a universal remote. And there's a whole system of mini-apps... just like Samsung has!
At all times at the bottom of the screen you have a bar of apps for things like the calendar, web browser, screenshots, calculator and universal remote that also show a thumbnail of the apps. Generally speaking, these mini-apps run more smoothly and easily than the ones on Samsung's Galaxy Tabs.
A few words about the Unlimited and PlayStation apps. Sony launched Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited last year, and since then it has only really made any headway on the music part. The music catalogue has grown and you can listen to samples or subscribe for a sort of Spotify that lets you stream or download full songs.
But Video Unlimited doesn't have much more than the latest features, and it doesn't always have them in High Definition. That's kind of annoying when you consider all the possibilities you have at your fingertips, like sharing video by playing it on Wi-Fi-equipped HD TVs... As for the PlayStation Mobile app, it isn't exactly overflowing with games (as of today there's only one freebie).
Sony has made some real progress on the universal remote function. Using it via the dedicated app and infrared port, in less than five minutes we were able to control a Sony TV, a Samsung TV/monitor hybrid, a Numericable set-top box and a mini-home cinema system from an obscure brand.
It's easy as pie: you select the product type and brand and then navigate between the different remote controls until you find the one with the right signal. This is a real plus, and it works to a T.
Another excellent thing about the Xperia Tablet S is that you can create sessions for different people. That way everyone in the family can share it and personalise it. For example, you can make the primary account accessible only via a password and then add 4 other accounts for your kids, friends or house guests.
And creating new accounts just takes a second. You simply name the session and then select the apps you want that account to have (the corresponding widgets are then added automatically). Before Sony, Hannspree was the only company that attempted this on a tablet, and we liked the idea even back then.
Each account can be given its own wallpaper, and it's both easy and elegant to navigate between accounts. This should be a big selling point for parents.
While the Xperia Tablet S runs and navigates smoothly across the board, it isn't quite as fast as the Google/Asus Nexus 7. As the hardware is pretty similar on both devices, I'd say once we get the Jelly Bean update this will become equally as smooth-running as the Nexus 7.
Let's talk about the whole splashproof thing for a second. We tested it by leaving the slate under a running faucet for several minutes at a time, and despite all the little spaces you see between the sections of the body, the Xperia Tablet S never hit the slightest snag. It sure has trouble recognising touch commands, but the water beads up well on the screen and falls off right away. But under a light drizzle you should be able to use the touchscreen with no problems.
The Xperia Tablet S is one of the best tablets for web browsing right now. The biggest reason behind this is an invisible browser overlay that Sony has included that anticipates your actions in a matter of micro-seconds in order to speed up your activities. From scrolling and zooming to loading web pages, speed and fluidity are the keywords in the Xperia Tablet S's online experience. On the other hand, the 1280 x 800 resolution isn't optimal for legible rendering on web pages with fine print. The Acer Iconia Tab A700, Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700 and Apple iPad all have higher resolutions on similar screen sizes.
Photos and movies can be read using the Android Gallery app and audio files are read on the dedicated music app. The movies app acts as a sort of aggregator for video files located on the tablet, imported from elsewhere, or rented or purchased from Sony Video Unlimited or Google Play Store. The Xperia Tablet S doesn't support very many formats, but it does all the biggest ones (H.264, Mpeg-4, MP4) and, with its Nvidia Tegra 3, can play 1080p without a hitch. However, high quality files (60 to 90 Mbps) do get choppy at times.
For video games you can choose from the Google Play Store, Nvidia TegraZone (which has games optimised for the Tegra 3 processor) and the PlayStation Mobile app. The only problem with PlayStation Mobile is that, for now, it's empty... But in the meantime you can find all kinds of games on Play Store and TegraZone.
The 8 Megapixel camera sensor simply can't compete with the other tablets in this price range. And it doesn't compare to the latest iPad, either. It produces drearily dull photos with a testy focus. It's a last-resort kind of camera.
The headphone output, however, is good, precise and dynamic. The volume is average, but it never produces the slightest distortion. The speakers, on the other hand, are of such low quality that it almost sounds more like noise than sound, thanks to a hearty dose of saturation.
Another advantage with this tablet 'update' is the battery life. The first Tablet S had average battery life for its time, with 7 to 8 hours. Now that's gone up to about 9 hours and 45 minutes with continuous video playback. With more varied usage (Internet, e-mails, video, Bluetooth, games) you can easily get over 10 hours out of it and sometimes even 11 if you play only smaller games like Angry Birds. All in all, the Xperia Tablet S has just about average battery life.
However, while it takes only three and a half hours to charge, it only charges via the AC adapter.
- Good overall responsiveness
- User sessions/accounts (excellent idea)
- Universal remote mode
- Sony's additions (mini-apps & interface)
- SD/SDXC memory card reader
- Battery life
- Cool-looking design, but not the most practical for handling
- Proprietary connector
- Video Unlimited: little choice and not much HD
- Sony may have gone overboard on the exclusive apps: 12
- Bad camera sensor
This is a good improvement on the Sony Tablet S. It may not be a mind-blowing update, but the universal remote mode and user sessions are a real plus. It's too bad there's so little content available on Video Unlimited and PlayStation Mobile. Not many of the first Tablet S's shortcomings have been corrected here, but Sony has compensated that by developing its strengths. The Xperia Tablet S is a good buy.