Computing

Sony Xperia Tablet S Hands-On: Few Quirks, Solid Improvements

It has been exactly a year since the original Sony Tablet S debuted. It was unique and a lot better than the Tablet P, but it didn’t win many hearts. Sony’s new Tablet S comes with the Xperia moniker and improves on its predecessor.

The Xperia Tablet S is a 9.4-inch Android tablet running Ice Cream Sandwich. It has 1280×800 resolution, which has become the standard of Android tablets. The IPS screen looks brighter and crisper than last year’s version, and it has an anti-fingerprint coating. It also has Opticontrast technology last seen on the company’s LCD TVs.

Opticontrast means that less light will be reflected off the surface of the tablet — thanks to the fact that the glass is bonded directly to the LCD — meaning that more light will be kept inside the tablet so you can see it better. That hopefully means deeper contrast and deeper blacks on the panel and less glare in brightly lit areas.

A built-in IR blaster controls home entertainment devices, which is one of my must-have features on a tablet. Sony takes it up a notch by giving you the ability to program IR blaster macros. For example, you could just hit “Gaming Mode” to fire up your TV, gaming system and receiver, and it puts all the inputs where they need to be. Really slick.

On the inside, a quad-core Tegra 3 is now running the show, which is good since last year’s model had some serious lag issues. It has a full-sized SD card slot (nice for viewing pics from your digital camera) and port that can be used to connect to USB or HDMI (with a dongle). It has an 8MP camera on the back and a 1MP camera on the front. It also supports DLNA for beaming your media to other devices.

The biggest improvement is the build quality. We liked the shape of last year’s model, but it bent and creaked like very cheap plastic. This year’s Tablet S has a metal back, which feels much, much stronger, but remains even lighter than an iPad 2 (which is lighter than the current gen iPad). Sony has retained the metaphor of the folded-over magazine, but now it’s more flat. This will make it fit in a bag much better, but it may have lost some of the ergonomic charm of the original. Probably a good trade for most people.

It feels nicely balanced when holding it with one hand. The speakers have been moved to the bottom of the device now (in landscape mode), which may help prevent muffling, although we prefer the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1′s placement of the speakers on the front of the device. The speakers have virtual 3D, which sound pretty good. The tablet is also now water repellent to the IPX 4 standard.

We didn’t get too much time to play with the software, but the good news is that everything seemed to move quickly and smoothly. Sony has made some tweaks to Ice Cream Sandwich; most noticeably there is a quick launcher in the upper-left corner, where you can put four of your chosen shortcuts. There are also a bunch of “small apps”, which include miniature versions of a browser, Facebook, YouTube and calculator apps, plus some free-standing widgets. We’ll reserve judgement until further testing. The Xperia Tablet S also comes with Sony Music Unlimited, which now offers offline storage.

There will be a bunch of accessories available too. One is a stand that comes with three full-sized USB ports and an HDMI port. There’s also a smart case with a built-in keyboard for around $100, but my pre-production unit had issues that resulted in lots of double-pressing. Hopefully they’ll work the bugs out before it comes to market.

All in all, Sony has made significant improvements to what was an already good tablet. Is it good enough to be the best? We’re yet to do a full review, but we think the potential is there. The Xperia Tablet S will be available on September 7 and come in three sizes: 16GB for $US400 (which is $US100 cheaper than last year’s 16GB model), 32GB for $US500 and 64GB for $US600.

That release timeline holds true for Australia, but Sony won’t give up local pricing details just yet. We’ll update this as soon as we have them.