Sony Tablet S Review

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.

Display

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.

Design

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.

Audio

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.

Performance

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

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.

Other Features

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

Article Written by

Ryan Matthew Pierson has worked as a broadcaster, writer, and producer for media outlets ranging from local radio stations to internationally syndicated programs. His experience includes every aspect of media production. He has over a decade of experience in terrestrial radio, Internet multimedia, and commercial video production.

  • http://twitter.com/metzy75 Ian Metz

    Why did you choose the Sony tablet over the transformer prime?

    • http://twitter.com/MattRyan Matt Ryan

      Availability. The Sony Tablet was available and on sale at the time. Transformer Prime, not so much.

      • http://twitter.com/TheRealGowtham Gowtham Jeno

        Hey I have the sony tablet s can you recommend me some apps ?

  • http://twitter.com/Genford Tim Genford Jensen

    Android all the way, just not with sony :(

    • http://twitter.com/MattRyan Matt Ryan

      I would recommend the Transformer Prime over the Sony Tablet, for sure.

  • Timour Omar Rashed

    As soon as i heard the word Android, I was wondering if you experienced fatal crashes especially with multitasking as most of my friends who own Android devices complain from constant crashes. However you raises a very good point, it could be the fault of the developer (Sony developed or otherwise)

    I was not happy to hear that the performance was not up to par and you experienced choppiness in the video, can you determine if it is due to the GPU or CPU lagging? 

    • http://twitter.com/MattRyan Matt Ryan

      I’m actually unsure where the problem is. I would lean towards CPU as I would be surprised if Sony built a tablet and promoted it as a gaming device without equipping it with a capable GPU. Graphics don’t lag as much as application functions.

      • Timour Omar Rashed

        Yeah i guess that makes sense, Android aside Sony does make decent graphical devices. Concerning the USB port you said you can’t charge the tablet through it but if you connect a USB charger for another device, will it charge the second device or does it only have enough power to utilize a flash drive to copy data from it?

  • Timour Omar Rashed

    As soon as i heard the word Android, I was wondering if you experienced fatal crashes especially with multitasking as most of my friends who own Android devices complain from constant crashes. However you raises a very good point, it could be the fault of the developer (Sony developed or otherwise)

    I was not happy to hear that the performance was not up to par and you experienced choppiness in the video, can you determine if it is due to the GPU or CPU lagging? 

  • Bobby Godette

    This is why I chose the Transformer tf101 over the sony and several
    other tablets with the “same specs”. Even though most of them have the
    Tegra 2 processor, they do NOT have the same performance and experience.
    It’s more than just the Tegra 2, it’s the motherboard, RAM, and
    firmware they use in addition to the manufacturer.

    Bottom line, my Android Transformer TF101 with the “same specs” could run circles around this tablet.

    • Harmony

      would you give the same recommendation for the Asus Transformer Prime?  I’m waiting to get a tablet until I find the best one for me.  The two in the running have been Samsung tab and the Sony S, but now I hear the Asus is a great little tablet also.

  • http://twitter.com/ddublee ddublee

    I heard that the stuttering issues are fixed with the HoneyComb 3.2 update.. Matt do you have any experience updating?

  • http://twitter.com/josush Josu

    i can recommend the original ASUS eeepad transformer tf101 with no problem, 8 month now and 0 issues, no lag or multitasking problems

  • http://twitter.com/josush Josu

    i can recommend the original ASUS eeepad transformer tf101 with no problem, 8 month now and 0 issues, no lag or multitasking problems

  • Acashmoney89

    Slow?? Mine works just fine when running multiple apps.

  • Asim Qureshi

    Hello Matt, I am new to the world of tablets and ipads but it looks that I desperately need one as I want to be able to read my digital newspaper in my bed just before going to bed. Now I have seen your review of Sony Tablet S and I am totally side tracked thus I need your input. The impression I got from your review was that you have reservations about the Sony product but you like aspects about it. If I want to use my Tablet for reading the books and newspaper and ebaying and amazoning then which tablet I should have for the purpose. Is it Sony, Samsung or Apples’s ipad. You will have to help me to decide it. I will be using the Wi-Fi in the house for picking up the internet. I await your reply eagerly