Last year's Sony Tablet S wasn't perfect, but it was refreshing. It was a sign that Sony could still innovate and that it wasn't afraid to try something different. The new Xperia S tablet is an improvement in every way, but it's still hung up on those same Sony snags.
What Is It?
The Xperia Tablet S is Sony's attempt at an ergonomic tablet with a 9.4-inch screen and Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich).
Who's it For?
People who want to use a full-sized tablet as if it's a one-handed ereader.
Last year's Tablet S was a big wedge made of creaky plastic. This year, Sony added an all-metal back and flattened it down while keeping the metaphor of a folded-over magazine.
The old design was actually nicer to hold. Hooking your fingertips into this model's back fold isn't comfortable or secure, but it does feel better than most 10-inch tablets. It's more portable than the older Tablet S.
The Best Part
It comes with an IR blaster — one of our favourite tablet features — and you can create macros for it! Customise a "movie mode" and hit one button to fire up your TV, Blu-ray, receiver and stereo. It's a really good idea.
Powering up the tablet is so slow you often wonder whether or not you hit the button hard enough. It couldn't stay connected to several different Wi-Fi networks to save its life. It comes with lots of pre-installed bloatware. The hardware is nice, but as usual for Sony this would be a really good machine if the software wasn't so bad.
This Is Weird...
Sony has added a group of "small apps". You pull one up and move it around on top of whatever you're already looking at. (Samsung did the same thing in the Note Tablet). It's supposed to be a multitasking aid, but we didn't find it all that convenient.
- The Tegra 3 processor (an upgrade from last year's Tegra 2) powers through some serious HD games really well. Within Sony's customised skin, things get slow and jerky — it points a damning finger at Sony's software.
- The power and volume buttons are well-defined, and the onboard speakers have plenty of kick.
- The original Tablet S felt like a cheap toy; but this feels like a well-made machine. It's eye-catching in a good way. There's no "give" to it anywhere. It's splashproof too.
- Two port covers make it splashproof. The one that covers the charging port is completely removable. You are unquestionably going to lose it.
- It has a full-sized SD card slot for some serious memory expansion or for quickly viewing photos when you're on the go. Another great feature.
- A micro-HDMI port sends video directly to your TV.
- The only software addition that Sony got right is Guest Mode, which basically makes it safer to let your kids or friends use the tablet by giving them access to only the apps you specify.
- You can get a flat keyboard cover as an optional accessory, similar to Microsoft Surface. It looks really nice. It's completely horrible. There is no tactile feedback on the keys whatsoever, so you'll miss heaps of keystrokes. You can type much faster and with more accuracy with the on-screen keyboard, which isn't even very good. The tablet barely stays connected to the keyboard. It costs $129. You should not buy it.
- Another absurd accessory is the $129 docking stand. It puts your tablet on a pedestal so... I don't really know why. I guess to make it better for watching movies? It looks like a lamp stand. Save your money.
- Excellent battery life. It would get many days on standby and plenty of time gaming and streaming.
- It comes in three storage sizes: 16GB, 32GB and 64GB. Just get the smallest and throw in an SD card for more space.
Should You Buy It?
Good hardware is nothing without solid software these days. We can't recommend the Xperia Tablet S until Sony gets the software right — especially the Wi-Fi issues. This could be such a capable and fantastic device, but it had its brains scrambled at birth. Sony should just get out of its own way, do less, and let Android and the hardware speak for itself.
Sony Xperia Tablet S specs
• Network: Wi-Fi • OS: Android 4.0 • CPU: 1.4GHz quad-core Tegra 3 processor • Screen: 9.4-inch 1280x800 LCD • RAM: 1GB • Storage: 16GB, 32GB, 64GB (all expandable with microSD) • Camera: 8MP rear / 1MP front • Battery: 6000mAh Li-Ion • Price: $539-$649 RRP in Australia