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Sony Xperia Tablet Z review
6.9mm. That is how thick the Xperia Tablet Z is. And it is the same thickness everywhere. The iPhone 5 is 7.6mm by comparison while the iPad Mini is 7.9mm thick. This is a seriously thin tablet. Unbelievably thin.
All this means that the Xperia Tablet Z is over 100g lighter than a Nexus 10 and more than 150g lighter than an iPad 4. It is also around 2mm thinner than the Nexus 10 and 2.5mm thinner than the iPad. These amazing statistics define the experience of using the Xperia Tablet Z. It makes every other 10" tablet feel big, heavy, clunky and annoying. Taking it out of its box, you have to wonder if something this seemingly impossibly light and thin can actually be any good. Can Sony have put enough technology inside this slim square to make it a viable prospect?
No doubt, Sony's new design language helps when packaging the Tablet Z. Its square lines give a reasonable volume compared to a more curved device and I think it looks fantastic, especially in white. You can just see the white frame peering back at you as you take in the expanse of glass on the front of the Z. It is a wide tablet this, wider than most of its Android brethren, but even this extra girth is well hidden by the fairly featureless casing. It is so uniform that I often found myself holding the Z the "wrong way up" and wouldn't notice for hours on end. Sometimes not until I wondered why the Sony logo had disappeared!
There has been no skimping on Sony's part when it comes to expansion and connectivity. You might imagine that something this slim would struggle to pack in many ports, but if you peel back the various covers around the edges, a pleasant surprise awaits. The bottom houses a Micro SD expansion slot and the SIM card slot should you order the 4G version. There is also the micro USB charging port down there behind another port cover. How delightful that Sony went with standard connections for everything. And that charging port supports MHL and OTG connections, allowing you to easily connect it up to a TV or expand storage further with a USB storage device. On the left there is a standard headphone jack, again behind a port cover whilst on the top of the device is an IR port for controlling your TV or other IR controlled devices.
So what is it with all these port covers? Well, the Xperia Tablet Z is IP57 rated meaning it is dust proof and water proof. The port covers help ensure that water will not damage your precious tablet. And yes, you can take the Z into the bath and use it safe in the knowledge that the tablet will survive without a wrinkle. We only ask that you don't use the front facing camera while having your soak.
Sony have also managed to squeeze a decent set of stereo speakers into the Z. They are cleverly located at the bottom of the tablet with two output holes for each speaker. Of course, the speakers openings don't affect the IP57 rating as they are sealed from the inside and whilst not being the loudest speakers you will ever come across, they are more than passable and add to the Z's credentials as a media device.
One of the first things I needed to check out for myself was whether the tablet creaked and flexed. It is thin enough that along with its plastic construction, there is could be cause for concern. I don't know what Sony have done, but I am pleased to report that the Z is solid as a rock with not a hint of flex at all. The way the plastic backing is mounted onto the shell does cause some minor flexing of that thin plastic back, but it feels like it is just a cover over a much more solid frame. I never worried about having to treat the Z like a delicate flower. The port covers on the Z are also pretty sturdy. I gave them all a good pull and twist with no damage, so its IP57 rating wont be easy to defeat.
Any good tablet needs to have a great screen and Sony have not skimped with the Z. It packs a lovely 1920x1200 pixel screen which is bright, colourful and responsive. Sony also provide their Bravia engine enhancements here, but that only seems to be useful when watching videos and looking at pictures. Either way, this screen may not be able to compete on pixel density and sharpness against the Nexus 10 and the retina iPad, but it can hold its own in every other way and seems plenty sharp enough. The only downside here is that there is no Gorilla Glass protection. There is some scratch resistance and Sony provides a factory fitted shatter proof screen protector, but even this has issues as it picks up smudges and fingerprints at an alarming rate. Combine that with its high reflectivity and it is less than ideal so I plucked up the courage and removed the screen protector. A definite improvement in reflectiveness resulted but it is still a bit of a fingerprint magnet.
This is all well and good, but does this tablet perform? The short answer is yes, it performs extremely well. The long answer is more complex. It contains a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro quad core CPU running at 1.5GHz, an APQ8064 to be precise. This is a processor which has now been superseded but it is still a real powerhouse and has no problem running everything you can throw at it including high end 3D games. The 2Gb of RAM contributes to super smooth multi-tasking and an overall pleasurable experience.
The device I used was the 32Gb model, providing plenty of internal storage for all your videos and music along with lots of apps and games. Should that not be enough, there is always the micro SD card slot which can accept cards up to 64Gb in size. There is also a 16Gb variant available which is the one I would buy, saving enough money for a high capacity storage card and a MHL cable too.
Should you be so inclined, you can use the 8.1 megapixel camera on the back of the Z to snap pictures whilst out and about. Personally, I would keep that kind of activity behind closed doors - it is not a good look! Nonetheless, it is there and it is of passable quality. It is not great, and not a patch on any phone I would carry with me these days, but it is reasonable. Of more use is the 2.2 megapixel front facing camera which is of good quality and very nice to use for video calling.
Such a slim and light tablet must have some compromises and that hits hardest when we start to discuss battery life. The Z includes a 6000mAH battery which is quite a bit smaller than that in the Nexus 10 for example. So how does it perform? Well, slightly better than you might expect. In use, I consistently got around seven and a half hours of continuous use. That was always over a couple of days too, so included some standby time and is a very acceptable result. It may not be the best, but it is good. Annoyingly, Sony ship a charger that whilst outputting more power than the typical phone charger, still isn't powerful enough. It takes nearly five hours to charge the Z and it is awkward to use while charging.
Enough about the hardware, what about the software? The Xperia Tablet Z comes with Android 4.1 and Sony's custom skin which is actually very attractive and useful. It starts with Sony's font which is clean and smooth. It is not better than Roboto, but it is nice in its own right.
The home screen is rather excellent. It uses the Android tablet layout with the soft buttons in the bottom left corner and the clock and notification drawer available from the bottom right. Sony have provided a nice simple range of themes with wallpapers designed to show off their great screen.
There are lots of nice features from the way that Sony has customised how you organise your home screens to having quick shortcuts - a bit like an omni-present dock - which is actually across the top next to the persistent search box and can fit four apps.
The app drawer can be organised as you would like including putting apps into folders which is a neat touch. Apps can also be organised alphabetically or by recent downloads. Why that isn't part of stock Android is beyond me.
Sony have quick apps, like many tablet skins do. Just tap a little icon at the bottom of the screen and the options appear. You can choose to add widgets from any app here too which is genuinely useful. Next to that icon is a quick shortcut to Sony's IR app allowing you to use the IR port included on the Z. Any app can go in this position which is another useful touch. Talking of that IR app, it works well and is easy to setup with details for your TV and set top box. Of course, it can also learn the correct signals for any device not in Sony's database.
The settings are lightly skinned. There are various power save options including a stamina mode which does seem to have a small impact on battery. Like most of these things, battery life isn't massively impacted, only slightly. A really useful option is the ability to show the battery percentage in the notifications area, whilst another which is my personal favourite is the ability to unlock the device with a double tap on the screen! Very cool.
Sony provide a wide range of apps on the Tablet Z. They have their own music and video stores along with their own Playstation games store of course, and great integration with your PS3 controller of course! These are the same as those available on the Xperia Z phone which Paul detailed at length in his review.
So where does all this leave us? Quite simply with the best 10" Android tablet available in our opinion. It is light and slim, delightful to hold and use and has a quality feel. It is fast and responsive with a lovely screen and a decent skin on top of Android. Sony provide useful built in apps and a good range of connectivity. The stereo speakers are a nice touch and the IP57 rating may well be appealing to you.
There are two big stumbling blocks. The first is in the software. It runs an old version of Android and Sony do not have the greatest record when it comes to updates. The biggest issue is the price. Remember, this is a tablet with a slightly older CPU, and a screen that is lovely but a little behind the curve in terms of resolution. Is this tablet worth £399 for the 16Gb version when the Nexus 10 is £319? Can it compete with the iPad and its retina screen and amazing app selection at the same price? It is a bit of a sticking point. The £449 version with 32Gb of storage certainly isn't worth the money and the £499 version which includes 16Gb of memory and 4G connectivity is also dubious.
Ultimately, it is just a little too expensive. Its size and weight are not worth the premium and there are new super high resolution tablets with much faster internals coming from the likes of Asus and HP very soon. I love 10" tablets. I love the Sony Xperia Tablet Z. But I just can't bring myself to buy one.
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