I really love Sony for trying something truly different. Between this foldable tablet and their indescribably shaped (but very palmable) Tablet S they are genuinely trying to differentiate through hardware. But enough congratulations, how good is it?
I only had a very short time to play with the Sony Tablet P, and I was warned that it was a prototype and that the software was very much unfinished. Fair enough. It’s a small tablet that folds in half to get even smaller. It’ll be launching later this year as an AT&T exclusive in the US — Sony Australia said we won’t see it locally until next year. There’s only one model, it runs Android 3.2 and it has both Wi-Fi and 4G.
The best thing about the Sony Tablet P is its portability. It folds in half and can easily fit in most coat pockets. If you hate carrying a bag around (like me), this is a big plus. The hinge that splits the clamshell is sturdy. I mean it feels like it could stop a bullet, which is great. It weighs only 370g, which is featherweight for a tablet.
Sony has preloaded a fair amount of exclusive apps to utilise the dual-screen design. Some of these implementations are very good (and just, you know, logical) like text messaging with the keyboard taking up the bottom screen and the text on top. The PlayStation app* takes advantage of the dual-screens, too, putting controls on the lower screen while the upper screen becomes your “TV”. The email app and a few others are good, too.
Unfortunately, most of my praise ends there. Opening the tablet up you’re met with a strange, square-shaped screen with a very thick, black line in the middle (the bezel where the hinge is). It’s not something you can ignore. The size and shape really isn’t optimal for anything. Holding the Tablet P vertically should feel a bit like reading a book, but the ebook app makes the text just a hair too small when you have a page on each screen. In other apps, things simply get lost in the chasm between the screens. The worst implementation of all was the app for watching movies, where it put the movie on the top screen and the player controls on the bottom. Seriously? Do you really think I need the entire bottom screen for Play/Fast Forward/Rewind? I do not. But I’m relegated to watching a tiny movie nonetheless. Which, on the other hand, might still be preferable to watching The Thin Red Line with a thick black line bifurcating the action.
What stings even more is that the apps that will actually leverage this dual-screen setup are going to be extremely limited. There are the ones Sony made in-house and… well, right now that’s about it. Sony plans to release APIs to the world, but traditionally endeavours like that have failed miserably. It’s been hard enough to get developers to adapt their apps for Honeycomb because they just aren’t seeing the demand yet. Does Sony really think that this odd, niche tablet within the Honeycomb ecosystem is going to somehow incentivize developers more than Honeycomb as a whole? Does not compute. It also uses the same cheap, soft glass as the the Sony Tablet S, which, as we mentioned in that review is waaaay not good enough.
Anyway, like I said, my time with this thing was limited and the software wasn’t finished (nor will it be until later this year), so don’t let this be a final judgment. I really wanted to like this device, and as I say, I salute Sony for thinking out of the box. That said, I think they need to go back to the drawing board. This form-factor, ultimately, doesn’t have much more of a prayer than the ill-fated Kyocera Echo or Toshiba Libretto did. The giant gap in the middle needs to go away, and it needs to be a more landscape form-factor (4:3 at the very least). Let this one incubate a bit longer, Sony. You’re close, but you’re not nearly close enough.
*This tablet and the Sony Tablet P are the first two tablets to be PlayStation Certified.