Sony Tablet S Review

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Introduction and Design
Introduction:

Hiding in the shadows, Sony has been reserved in fully committing themselves into the Android tablet scene, but it seems as though they’ve been doing their homework while the competition brought forth its offerings. In this new venture, they simply decided on keeping every aspect in-house to have better control and say in what they want with their first Honeycomb tablet. And of course, they seemingly managed to turn some heads as news of the Sony S1 Tablet started to arise alongside its brother in the S2. Known now as the Sony Tablet S, this Honeycomb flavored tablet has a unique spin on the whole tablet design – while throwing in some differentials such as PlayStation Certification and the tight integration with some of Sony’s services. Starting off at $500 for the 16GB model, it obviously seems very reasonable, but it’s going to take more to stand head above water in a sea of crowded tablets.

The package contains:

  • Sony Tablet S
  • Lanyard Strap
  • Wall Charger
  • Quick Start Guide


Design:

Rather than finding a typical looking tablet, the Sony Tablet S is one of the more ingenious looking tablets of late thanks to its ergonomically correct and unique design approach. Resembling the look of a magazine that’s folded over, we’re astounded from the beginning by the very different approach it takes with the entire form factor. Naturally, it doesn’t try to be the thinnest, as it gradually gets larger towards the back, but we’re taken by surprise by its remarkably lightweight feel  (21.09 oz), which is mainly attributed by its glossy plastic exterior. However, it easily is dirtied up by the usual smudges and other nasty baddies. Nevertheless, we really need to commend Sony for crafting something that’s so different from the usual crop – and it helps when it feels solid all around!



Equally as attractive, the 9.4” TruBlack display of the Sony Tablet S is astoundingly brilliant in output as it incorporates the same technology found with Sony’s Bravia television sets. Naturally, blacks are deep in tone to make us sometimes question where the black bezel of the tablet start and end. Moreover, its cooler looking color production manages to keep things looking nice and vivid – without appearing too oversaturated like Super AMOLED Plus. On the other hand, its 1280 x 800 resolution is more than adequate in producing enough detail with most things. Yeah, it sports an impressive design, but its display is able to captivate us in a similar fashion.


Unlike some other manufacturers, Sony’s engineers must’ve meticulously thought out everything about the tablet beforehand – like its physical buttons. Specifically, both the volume controls and power button, which have a good feel and responsiveness, are actually placed on the tablet’s recessed right edge at an angle. With its placement, they don’t get in the way of our palms as we hold the tablet in landscape. Additionally, there’s a green colored LED built into the surface of the right edge that lights up when notifications are received.


On the left edge, we only find its 3.5mm headset jack, with the microUSB port and full sized SD card slot hidden behind a plastic flap. With the microUSB port, it’s worth noting that it offers USB hosting support to accept peripherals like a memory stick, mouse, keyboard, or a game pad – though, you’ll need to purchase an adapter to get them connected.

Lined along the bottom left edge of the tablet, we find its proprietary charging port, which doesn’t leave us much confidence since the connector to charge it on the wall charger seems flimsy in construction.



Above the display, a front-facing VGA camera Is perched squarely in the middle to offer easy self-portraits and the option to do video chat. Meanwhile, there’s a 5-megapixel auto-focus camerain the rear – however, it’s sorely missing a flash of some sort. Finally, there are left and right speaker grills poking on both edges of the tablet to offer support for stereo sound.





Interface:

Internally, the Sony Tablet S sports the same kind of hardware found with its brethren – like its dual-core 1GHz NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor coupled with 1GB of RAM. Of course, it operates at a good pace with most basic tasks, but things take a sharp decline as we experience an unprecedented amount of choppiness when processor intensive live wallpapers are activated. Still, it exhibits some fluid looking visuals with its operation when static wallpapers are used instead. Shocking us for the first time, we’re amazed that we’re no longer presented with choppy movements when navigating its homescreen in portrait, which seems to be addressed with Android 3.2 Honeycomb. Sure it has some slowdown, but we’re not all that heartbroken since it moves at a reasonable pace for the most part.

Out of the box, the tablet is loaded with Android 3.1 Honeycomb, but a software update quickly brings it up to version 3.2. With that, the first thing we notice is the improved operation in portrait with the homescreen. In addition, non-optimized tablet apps are able to scale properly to fit the real estate of the display. For the most part, Sony has kept a faithful stock Honeycomb experience, which is riddled with the usual high level of personalization, but we fully enjoy the subtle customizations that we find.

On the homescreen, there are some tiny icons positioned in the upper left that give us quick access to the web browser, email, remote control, and Sony eReader app. Furthermore, there’s this “Favorites” icon near the app panel icon that transplants us into this cool looking paneled interface with grids that aggregate some of the specified favorite content of the tablet. Lastly, the app panel also receives a major makeover as it employs this shimmering light theme with its grid-like formation. All in all, we’re enamored by the additional customizations that Sony has done on top of stock Honeycomb. It’s not in your face like Sense or TouchWiz, but rather, it’s subtle enough to add some luster to an already shining experience.



Organizer and Messaging:

With the core organizer apps, Sony didn’t do anything drastic with their layouts or presentations – and instead, they basically kept the stock approach. For things like the calculator and calendar, they look and operate as they normally do on any Honeycomb device, but the desk clock app has a slight minimalistic and Metro-ish appearance.



Using either email or Gmail apps, they’re arranged in the same familiar two-panel layout as before – giving as a peek to our inbox on the left, while content is displayed on the right. Setup is always a breeze since it mainly requires our email address and password to set up generic account properly. In some instances though, it may require additional information to completely set up.

Gone is the stock Honeycomb keyboard, which we’re normally accustomed to using, and instead, we find Sony’s own home brewed option. Seeing that the Sony Tablet S sports a smaller sized display versus its larger 10.1” counterparts, the layout of its keyboard is  reduced – thus, scrunching up the already tiny looking buttons.



Unfortunately, it’s not as responsive as we’d like, as it has some difficulty in keeping up with our rate. Not only that, but our overall speed is reduced because we need to access a different layout to input numbers and punctuations. Interestingly, there’s a different layout that adds a keypad on the right side whenever we input text into password fields. Lastly, the portrait option is easy to use despite the slow response, since our thumbs are able to encompass the entire layout with very little travel.



Camera:

Turning our eyes to the camera app, it’s sporting Sony’s concoction, which so happens to minimize the viewfinder while adding this film reel for recent snapshots. On the right, there’s a large sized shutter key and toggle switch for the front-facing camera. Meanwhile, the left edge hosts a whole set of other icons that allow us to change the exposure, resolution, white balance, scene mode, and focus mode. Sure there are plenty of options available with it, but it’s slim in terms of manual options.


Sporting a 5-megapixel auto-focus snapper in the rear, the Sony Tablet S manages to capture some average looking shots that are more than acceptable to the eyes. Specifically, close-up details are rather soft in outdoor conditions, with colors appearing to be on the neutral side. Thankfully, it seems to handle macro shots with ease thanks to its sharp focus. However, indoor shots tend to come out a little bit overexposed – with low lighting shots riddled with graininess and fuzzy looks. Of course, it could’ve been countered with a flash of some sort, but it’s strangely missing with this one.



By now, we’ve been spoiled by 1080p video recording, but sadly so, we’re only given 720p with the Sony Tablet S. Again, details are on the soft side, but it manages to still come off appealing with its natural color production, continuous auto-focus, and smooth capture rate of 30 frames per second. Horrifically though, our ears are left recovering after hearing some of its squeaky and echo filled audio recording. It could’ve been great, but our ringing ears are telling us otherwise.

Sony Tablet S Sample Video:



Sony Tablet S Indoor Sample Video:



Multimedia:

In addition to finding the already illustrious looking stock Honeycomb music player, Sony throws in its very own, which is arguably the best we’ve seen thus far on anything! Yes, it’s a bold statement, but it goes beyond just giving us a beautiful looking presentation as there are a lot of interaction and personalization offered by it. When browsing through albums, we get this cool looking 3D album cover interface where we’re able to move and pick up albums and place them anywhere on screen.

Once a selection is made, it displays the normal things we find – such as the album cover and on-screen controls. However, we utterly adore the eye-candy filled visualizations that are available with its selection – with one of them displaying the lyrics as a song is being played. Lastly, there are preset equalizer settings and manual ones to better adapt to the genre of music we’re playing. In terms of audio quality with its two rear speakers, they’re strong in output, but crackle at the loudest volume.



Again, there’s an alternative Sony inspired video gallery available with the tablet, which incorporates the same 3D stacking interaction like the music player. Sadly, the tablet struggles to play our test movie trailer encoded in MPEG-4 1920 x 1080 resolution. Nonetheless, it’s better able to play videos in lower quality, like 720p ones, with relative ease thanks to its flowing movement and brilliant looks.


Available on most Honeycomb tablets, the Sony Tablet S unfortunately omits any hard-wired video-out connection, but thankfully enough, there’s always DLNA as an alternative. With most of the multimedia centric apps, like the picture and video galleries, there’s a button that quickly enables us to share content with compatible devices wirelessly. Though nice, it still would’ve been an icing on the cake to find some sort of quick and easy video-out function.


For its entire multimedia centric prowess, the tablet is one of the few to be blessed with the ubiquitous “PlayStation Certified” branding, which allows it to play original PlayStation games with its emulation software. Not surprisingly, Crash Bandicoot is preloaded to give us a sampling, but we’re not too keen on using its on-screen controls – it simply doesn’t offer the responsiveness we’d like. Fortunately, you can remedy the situation by connecting a game pad thanks to its support for USB hosting. Additionally, Pinball Heroes is preloaded on the tablet as well.


Packing an IR blaster under the hood, the tablet is essentially a working universal remote with the aid of the remote control app. Not only does it work with Sony branded TVs, but we’re able to easily setup other brands and devices as well – like our DVD player and DVR box. Definitely not something you see often integrated with a tablet, it’s undoubtedly yet another sweet offering that complements the already awesome experience.


Available in 16GB and 32GB capacities, our 16GB model actually offers less than 9GB of internal storage – with another 4GB strictly reserved for apps. Well, there’s always the full-sized SD card slot to increase its capacity if it’s simply not enough for your needs.

Internet and Connectivity:

Relying on a Wi-Fi connection, complex web pages like ours are able to load up in a short amount of time – even allowing us to start interacting with the site the moment content begins to appear. Overall the web browsing experience is pretty good thanks to its smooth navigational controls and kinetic scrolling. And of course, Flash support is there in full form to provide us that near desktop-like experience. All in all, it runs moderately fine like most of the Honeycomb tablets out there.


Currently, the Sony Tablet S is only available in Wi-Fi form, but it’s reported that future versions will gain cellular connectivity. In our experience, it’s able to solidly connect to a nearby Wi-Fi hotspot with no apparent issues with signal strength or fluctuations. Also, it features other connectivity options like Bluetooth 2.1 and aGPS. As we mentioned already, it offers USB hosting support with its microUSB port, which allows us to connect USB peripherals to it.



Performance:

Packing a 5,000 mAh battery inside its plastic shell, it’s indeed smaller compared to some of the competition, but in our experience, it’s able to offer us at least a solid one-day of normal usage. Setting it to automatic brightness and using it primarily for web surfing and checking emails, we’re left at the 25% mark by the end of our day. Frankly, it’s indeed ample enough for most people, but it’s still going to be something you’ll need to charge on a nightly basis.

Conclusion:

When we see so many tablet makers cranking out the same looking designs, we’re happy to find the Sony Tablet S standing out from the crop – and especially more with its hip looks. Besides that one instant distinguishable feature, we’re mightily impressed in Sony’s work with their very first Honeycomb flavored tablet as it combines a healthy set of multimedia and gaming centric qualities. In addition, the platform retains all the lovable aspects we love about Honeycomb’s rich personalization, but Sony goes gone beyond the call of duty by adding a layer of tantalizing perfection with its subtle customizations and multimedia apps. For $500, it’s easily a hands-down winner thanks to its carefully prepared dish of delectable features and killer looks. Easily considered to be a great living room companion, the Sony Tablet S is remarkably one that you’ll want to keep an eye out for if you’re in the market.

Software version of the reviewed unit:
Android version:  3.2
Kernel version: 2.6.36.3
Build number: 1.10.001100001

Sony Tablet S Video Review:





Pros

  • Very different looking design
  • Sharp looking TruBlack display
  • Eye-catching multimedia customizations
  • PlayStation Certified
  • Built-in remote control

Cons

  • No HDMI-out
  • Slow response with its keyboard
  • Struggles to play 1080p videos

PhoneArena Rating:

8.0

User Rating:

9.0
1 Reviews

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