Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet vs Apple iPad Air
Sony is no stranger to making tablets. Its first efforts in the field were somewhat rough around the edges and couldn't make much of an impact on the market, but that didn't stop the Japanese tech giant from launching new, better models. Eventually, the Xperia Tablet Z came to being, met by overly positive feedback after its release, followed by the Xperia Z2 Tablet, which just scored a solid 9 out of 10 in our in-depth review.
So yeah, the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet is undoubtedly a great slate to spend your money on. However, it is far from the only option for those looking for a high-end tablet, and Apple's highly-acclaimed iPad Air is among its toughest competitors. Now it is time to find out which of these two slates is better. Both the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet and the iPad Air have a lot of bang to offer for their money, so the fight is surely going to be an exciting one. Let's dive into it!
We had a good reason to label the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet as an engineering marvel in our in-depth review. It isn't just one of the very few water-resistant tablets on the market. At 15 ounces (426 grams) for the Wi-Fi-only version, Sony's newest slate is the thinnest and lightest 10-incher that we've ever laid our hands on, beating even the feather-light iPad Air in that respect by a considerable margin. It is also the thinnest slate around, with its astoundingly slim waistline of just a quarter of an inch (6.4 millimeters). As a result, the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet is extremely easy to operate, be it in portrait or landscape orientation. And speaking of usability, the sizable side bezels may not look pretty, but they leave welcome room for our thumbs to rest on without touching the screen by accident. One thing we're not happy with, however, is the soft-touch finish on the slate's back. Sure, it provides a lot of grip, but finger traces stick too easily to its surface.
As for the iPad Air, its weight of 16.86 ounces (478 grams) and thickness of 0.3 inches (7.5 millimeters) rank it a step behind the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet. On one hand, figures like these are remarkable for a metal-made tablet of such size, but on the other hand, we have to admit that we find the Xperia Z2 Tablet a tad easier to handle. Still, the iPad Air has its advantages over Sony's slate. One of them is that Apple's fifth generation iPad is the better-looking tablet among the two thanks to its slimmer bezels and gorgeous aluminum shell. What's more, Apple's iPad stands in a league of its own, even ahead of the Xperia Z2 Tablet, with its solid feel and immaculate build quality.
Sony has placed the power and volume keys on the left side of the Xperia Z2 Tablet, which makes them easy to access when needed. On the tablet's top side we have a microSD card slot and a micro USB port, both of which are protected by removable flaps to ensure the water-tightness of the device. And at the bottom we see a rather unpleasant-looking docking port and a 3.5-millimeter headphone jack. The tablet's navigation buttons are built into the Android UI.
The iPad Air has a well-exposed power key on its top side, complemented by volume and mute keys on the right. All provide excellent tactile feedback, as any physical key should. Same can be said about the physical “Home” key below the device's display. Charging the iPad Air is done via Apple's proprietary Lightning port, placed at the bottom side of the tablet. The port itself is designed well, but works only with Apple's own Lightning cable, while the Z2 Tablet is compatible with any generic micro USB cable you have lying around.
The Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet has a 10.1-inch display with a resolution of 1920 by 1200 pixels, which results in a pixel density of 224 pixels per inch. Given the fact that we're handling a tablet positioned in the high-end category, we'd say that the latter figure is rather unimpressive, especially knowing that some slates have already exceeded the 300 ppi mark with their screens. Should that bother you? Well, not much, to be perfectly honest. After all, a ppi figure of this magnitude is sufficient for most user's needs. When the tablet is held at a normal distance from the user's eyes, pixelation is close to unnoticeable. Still, the iPad Air has the upper hand when it comes to pixel count. Its 9.7-inch display has a resolution of 2048 by 1536 pixels, which translates into 264 ppi. Unsurprisingly, the iPad's screen can pump out a slightly more detailed image, but it isn't leading by all that much, at least not on a perceptual level.
Even though both tablets' screens are based on IPS LCD technology, there are some slight visual discrepancies between the two. The Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet has a color temperature that gets closer to the reference mark of 6500 Kelvins, resulting in better representation of whites. On the other hand, Delta E figures are in favor of the iPad Air, which means that Apple's tablet has slightly more accurate colors. We don't mean to say that the slightly more pumped up color representation on the Z2 Tablet's screen is unpleasant. In reality, both screens look great and are ideal for any task from watching photos or videos, or reading lengthy articles on the internet. Now would be a good time to mention that both screens produce a pretty high brightness output. We measured a figure of 417 nits for the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet and 426 for the iPad Air. Both these figures and our real-life tests confirm that the tablets are usable even on a bright sunny day.
Interface and functionality
Android 4.4.2 KitKat, in a form customized by Sony, of course, runs on the Xperia Z2 Tablet, while the iPad Air relies on Apple's iOS 7.1 operating system. There's quite a lot that sets these two platforms apart. On one hand, Android is well-known for being highly customizable, and sure enough, the appearance of the Z2 Tablet's UI can be personalized with widgets, live wallpapers, and a number of themes. iOS, on the other hand, is simpler to use and much less cluttered, with a cleaner presentation and subtle translucency effects seen throughout. Both systems have their strengths and weaknesses, and while some might like the versatility of Android, others might be happier with the straight-forward approach employed by iOS.
Sony's custom Android UI builds on top of the stock layout of the platform, so the app drawer, notifications panel, and other UI elements are located exactly where an experienced user would expect them to be. Visually, the interface is consistent, with the same design language applied to menus and stock applications. Among the benefits you get with Sony's interface is the set of Small Apps, which let you multitask by having one or several of these hovering in a window above the UI. The solution isn't new, but it works pretty well and we don't mind having it at our disposal. You get just a few Small Apps loaded out of the box, but additional ones are available for download.
As for the iPad Air, if you've ever used an iOS device before, then you'll be feeling right at home the very instant you turn the device on. And if you're a newbie, you should be able to get the hang of it in no time – that's the beauty of Apple's mobile platform. As simple as the UI layout may seem, you do get a handful of useful features, such as the built-in navigation gestures for minimizing and switching between apps, as well as the Control Center panel, which lets you quickly launch specific tools or toggle various settings on or off.
Processor and memory
Kudos to Sony for stuffing the Xperia Z2 Tablet with one of the best silicons that Qualcomm has to offer – the Snapdragon 801, model MSM8974-AB. This quad-core beast of a SoC can sprint at speeds of up to 2.3 GHz and has no problems with handling anything from heavy web-browsing, 3D games, or decoding Full HD resolution movies. What's more, there's a whopping 3GB of RAM inside the slate, which explains why multitasking on the Xperia Z2 Tablet is silky-smooth.
There's an Apple-designed A7 chip with 64-bit architecture inside the iPad Air. On paper, the SoC may seem somewhat inferior to the Snapdragon 801, with its lower clock speed and the less RAM at its disposal, but things sure don't look that way in reality. Quite the opposite - the iPad Air just flies with all tasks, including the processor-intensive ones like 3D gaming. In fact, we find it slightly more responsive than Sony's slate while navigating through the UI. All in all, neither the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet nor the iPad Air would disappoint anyone with their flawless performance.
The Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet packs 16GB of on-board storage, and if that seems insufficient for your needs, you have the option to add up to 128 gigs extra with the help of a microSD card. The iPad, on the other hand, doesn't let us expand its physical storage. That is a bummer, especially when the 32-, 64-, and 128-gigabyte iPad Air models respectively cost $100, $200, and $300 more than the 16GB one.
Internet browser and connectivity
Chrome is the default browser found on the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet and it gets its job done flawlessly. Web sites load quickly and navigation is very smooth even when we have a heavy web page opened. Since this is a tablet we're handling, we're not surprised to see the browser's enabled support for tabbed browsing, letting us quickly switch between opened tabs. Speaking of which, Chrome has the wonderful feature of synchronizing bookmarks and other data between devices. Even tabs we have opened on a laptop computer can be retrieved from Chrome running on the Z2 Tablet.
Similarly, Safari running on the iPad Air delivers lightning-fast performance. Having multiple tabs is also an option, and browsing data is synchronized with the cloud so that it is available to other iOS devices that the user is logged in on.
Connectivity-wise, the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet has both a Wi-Fi-only version and a 3G/4G LTE variant. Cellular data aside, both share the same set of connectivity interfaces, including Wi-Fi b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0, A-GPS, and NFC. The iPad Air is available in Wi-Fi-only form, and for those who need cellular data, there's an LTE model available as well. A notable difference between the two iPad Air models is that GPS is only available on the latter, while the former relies solely on Apple's location services, which can't offer the same level of preciseness. NFC is absent from the iPad Air, as is the case with all of Apple's current gadgets. What's present, on the other hand, is Bluetooth 4.0, dual-channel Wi-Fi with MIMO antennas, and Apple's awesome AirDrop feature, which lets us quickly and easily share files between nearby iOS devices.
Taking photos is not among the top uses for a tablet, but at this point in time, a high-end model is expected to pack a good snapper. On the back of the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet we find an 8MP Exmor R camera, while the iPad Air sports an iSight camera with 5 megapixels of resolution. Sadly, neither of the two cams has an LED light, so good indoor and low-light shots might be tricky to pull off.
Sony has loaded the Xperia Z2 Tablet with plenty of camera-centric bells and whistles, including its Intelligent Auto Mode, which automatically takes care of the scene settings for you, and a Manual Mode, which gives you better control over the camera's adjustments. We also find HDR, Background Defocus, and Timeshift Burst effects, which are loaded onto the Xperia Z2 smartphone as well. As a whole, the camera user interface is simple to use, and the camera shortcut on the lock screen is a welcome feature. In contrast, the stock Camera app in iOS has very little to offer in terms of settings and modes. HDR is the only advanced feature we're given access to. On the other hand, the camera app loads more quickly and can take photos at a more rapid pace.
You might be surprised by this, but the 5MP photos shot with the iPad Air are about as good as those 8MP ones taken using the Z2 Tablet. In fact, several of the iSight camera's images you'll find below have better, more natural detail, while Sony's slate tends to distort fine details to some extent by artificially boosting the image's contrast and sharpness. On the downside, the iPad's photos have a higher presence of digital noise. At the end of the day, we'd call this a tie.
Both tablets can record 1080p videos, and the image quality is very good for something shot with a tablet. Still, the Z2 Tablet has the upper hand. Sound in its videos is loud, clear, and natural, while the iPad Air's sound is below par.
The built-in loudspeakers on the iPad Air are pretty good, outputting quality sound at a decent volume level, but due to their placement at the slate's bottom, the emitted sound is slightly muffled and the stereo effect is harder to hear. That's one of the reasons why we'd rather have the front-facing stereo speakers on the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet any day. Not only do they sound better than the iPad's, but their positioning creates a pleasant stereo effect while watching videos and listening to music.
While we're at it, the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet comes with the Walkman audio player that's also found on all recent Sony slates and handsets. It is probably one of the best music players you'd get on an Android device out of the box, with its beautifully designed user interface and rich feature set. Furthermore, if you own a pair of Sony MDR-NC31EM headphones, the Z2 Tablet will let you enjoy clearer sound through its built-in active noise cancellation. On the iPad Air we see a music player that is more bland in appearance, but it gets the job done well with its intuitive and easy to use interface. iTunes Radio, Apple's audio streaming service, comes built-in.
A perk that's growing in popularity among smartphones and tablets is the embedded IR blaster. The Z2 Tablet has one, allowing it to control TVs and set-top boxes remotely. Apple's iPad Air, on the other hand, lacks this feature.
Both tablets are well suitable for watching videos and even full-length movies thanks to their high-quality displays. The video player on the Xperia Z2 Tablet, in particular, supports all popular media formats at Full HD resolution, along with their accompanying subtitle files. The iPad Air, on the other hand, might require you to convert some of your existing video files before they can be played on it. What's more, moving videos from a computer onto the Z2 Tablet is simply a copy-paste affair, wile the iPad may require software like iTunes for the same job.
The downside of having an ultra-slim tablet is that there's not a whole lot of room inside of it for a larger battery to fit in. This is why we find a rather smallish for a 10-incher, 6000mAh cell inside the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet. According to Sony, it should be able to provide up to 10 hours of video playback on a single charge. We ran our custom battery benchmark on it, however, and the tablet died in 6 hours and 55 minutes. In comparison, the Apple iPad Air packs a battery with a capacity of 8820mAh, which is enough to keep the tablet going through a full day of active usage. It took 8 hours and 38 minutes for our synthetic battery benchmark to drain the tablet's cell out of juice.
It goes without saying that a buyer spending $500 or more on a tablet would expect getting something worthy in return. And that is indeed what you'll get should you choose to own Sony's new tablet. It wows you with its lightweight, ultra-thin construction the very instant you pick it up, the stereo speakers it is outfitted with make your movies much more enjoyable to watch, and the microSD card slot ensures that adding extra gigs of storage is easy as pie.
Yet ultimately, is the Z2 Tablet better than the iPad Air? Well, we wouldn't say so, although we wouldn't call it inferior either. It is just that Apple's tablet is still the better-looking slate thanks to its premium metallic construction. Plus, with an iPad Air you'll be enjoying superior battery life and your eyes will be treated to a display with higher color fidelity.
On a hardware level, the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet may seem like the more powerful device among the two as it is powered by one of Qualcomm's fastest SoCs, namely the Snapdragon 801. Clock rate figures and number of cores, however, suddenly lose much of their significance once you take the iPad Air for a spin and experience its almost unbeatable responsiveness. To sum it all up, both tablets are on the same level when it comes to performance, and the future-proof hardware they pack ensures that they'll serve you well for years to come.
At the end of the day, both the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet and the iPad Air are well worthy of your attention should you be on the looks for a high-end tablet. Whichever you invest your money in, it will be money well spent.