Sony has really taken great strides to catch up to the quickly maturing Android tablet scene by introducing two tablets to the market. The Sony Tablet S is the first of these devices to hit the shelves, and you can tell that its development team has spent a lot of time attempting to come out with something entirely unique.
That said, my own experiences with this 9.4″ touch screen tablet has been scattered with surprises and setbacks that left me with mixed feelings about the device.
The Sony Tablet S presently runs Android Honeycomb 3.2.1 (release 2) with an expected upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich sometime this Spring.
The Sony Tablet S comes with a 9.4″ touch screen display that features 1280 x 800 resolution on Sony’s TruBlack technology. Sony boasts that the Tablet S has deeper blacks, more vibrant colors, and should look remarkably better than the iPad. While the resolution is certainly higher than the iPad 2, I didn’t really notice much of a difference at all in how well things looked.
One thing I did notice was that the Tablet S isn’t quite as bright as the iPad 2. Leaving settings on auto, it would commonly dim the display to the point where my own reflection was clearer than the content it was attempting to deliver.
The 16:9 aspect ratio was pleasant to see, especially since the device is intended more as a media and gaming platform than anything else.
Steve Thiel, a member of the LockerGnome community, weighed in on the discussion by indicating that the display is actually a high point of the device.
The Sony Tablet S is very different from other tablets currently on the market. By creating a folded design (note: not folding) the tablet feels more like a magazine that has been folded over, creating more of a teardrop shape than that of a traditional flat slated tablet. This is great for making it feel more natural in your hand when reading e-books or playing games for extended periods of time. The downside is that it doesn’t exactly fit in a bag snugly. There is always one bulkier side than the other, and I feel as though it’s going to break some day.
Whoever thought of the proprietary power connection may not have been firing on all cylinders. I realize the iPad uses the Apple dock connector, but to follow suit with a dock connector that is neither sleek nor secure is ill advised at best. The cable wobbles freely when connected, making it extremely easy to disconnect the power connector. In a dock, this works just fine, but I see no reason why this tablet can’t be powered via USB, especially when it has a USB port already in it. Why Sony, why?
The SD card slot is a brilliant addition to the already abundant storage capacity of the device. Unfortunately, it’s only there for file transfers. I’m glad it’s there, but Sony could have done a better job with expansion options (especially since Android is designed to work that way, anyway).
On a high note, I really like the blinking light that lets me know when I need to check messages and/or apps. It blinks blue or green, depending on what’s going on. I like that a lot.
Sony put a lot of work into making the audio on the Tablet S as dramatically different from the iPad 2 as possible. Stereo speakers utilize the Clear Phase and xLoud technologies, which Sony promotes as giving these small speakers a more robust and loud presence.
Unfortunately, they didn’t deliver on the promise of drastic improvement. The volume levels were still significantly lessened, and even low audio vibrated the tablet to the point where it became more of an annoyance than anything.
The microphone is another issue. I attempted to record good, clear audio on several occasions. Unfortunately, the microphone itself sounds more like someone talking through a cup and string than a quality electronic device. Speech recognition, which is baked in to the Android platform, is useless on this device. I’ve tried speaking as clearly as possible in every direction possible, and it still fails to accurately translate what I’m saying. Meanwhile, my old Samsung Captivate was spot-on 90% of the time.
TeamSpeak, GoToMeeting, Evernote, and other applications I attempted to use the microphone and speakers with were met with equally disappointing results. TeamSpeak sounded tinny, and my voice came through more like a bad mobile phone rather than a tablet connected via broadband.
That said, there is something to be said about stereo speakers. In some cases where I used the device in a quiet, closed room, I was impressed at just how good it sounded at various points.
The Sony Tablet S is fitted with the NVIDIA Tegra2 processor. While the Transformer Prime (currently the top pick of the Android tablet world) is rocking the Tegra3, the Tegra2 isn’t a slouch.
I found the majority of my experience to be relatively fluid, though there were times when things would stick and stutter. Switching between panels on the main desktop was quick and snappy, though using the built-in camera application would lock up before and after a photo was taken. I tried Madden NFL 12 to see what gameplay was like, and was disappointed at just how gummy gameplay on the first “PlayStation Certified” tablet really was. Granted, this is an Android app and not an official Sony PlayStation release.
Apps crashed for me a lot. If I wasn’t switching between open apps on the side panel, they would typically crash upon launch. This could be an inherent fault of the app developer, though I experienced more than a few crashes on included Sony software, as well.
Netflix was one of the biggest problems. Not only did Wi-Fi keep disconnecting every time the screen locked (and I did have the option toggled to keep it going 24/7) but the connection as a whole would simply drop without warning in the middle of a video. Meanwhile, other devices connected to the same router maintained a consistent signal throughout the time period.
Battery life on the Sony Tablet S is neither a hit nor a miss. At 8 hours (advertised), it falls just short of the iPad, though there are a number of factors to consider. In my case, I was able to put the tablet to use running TeamSpeak for several hours, play a graphics-intensive game for two hours, and browse the Web for another two hours with another 38% battery life remaining. That’s not terrible at all.
With every shadow, there is a light. Sony put a lot of work into this tablet, and it shows in the extra features. Having a built-in universal IR remote is a great feature while using the tablet from the couch. I was able to change channels, adjust the volume, and even switch between my DVR and Blu-ray player from the tablet itself. Just about everything in my entertainment center can be controlled by the Tablet S. This is a win in my book.
Sony has loaded the Tablet S with media features such as 180-days of free membership to Music Unlimited, giving you access to Sony (and other major studios’) music catalog. You can also take advantage of Sony’s Video Unlimited, which gives you instant access to movie releases. Crackle even offers free full-length movies and TV shows for the Sony Tablet S. I didn’t take advantage of this feature since I have a Netflix account, but I’m glad it’s there.
Fans of the original PlayStation will probably appreciate the ability to run classic PSone and PSP games from the tablet. As the first PlayStation Certified tablet on the market, I’m curious about what Sony has in store in the months and years ahead. Still, it’s no surprise that the maker of the PlayStation would certify its own tablet first. That doesn’t exactly translate to performance.
The Sony Tablet S is DLNA compatible. This means that you can easily share your content with your HDTV without having to install additional hardware. For anyone that knows what this is and how it works, it could be a great benefit. This wasn’t a feature I tested myself as I don’t have that equipment available to me at the present moment.
Sony has promised that the Sony Tablet S would receive an update to ICS sometime this Spring. Whether or not this update improves on some of the issues I’ve experienced has yet to be seen, though I do look forward to being able to experience the latest edition of Android without having to upgrade my hardware.
While there are points where this review may appear to be strikingly negative, there are plenty of points during the process of testing the device that I was very pleasantly surprised. The Android OS has matured very well, and there were features that the current edition of iOS has yet to provide an answer for.
I can see myself putting the Sony Tablet S to good use for the next two years as my primary tablet device, though I see no reason why anyone should jump to switch from iPad at the present moment. Where the Sony Tablet S fails, the Transformer Prime succeeds. Likewise, I doubt any tablet on the market feels quite as good in your hands as this one.