Sony Tablet P: Second Opinion

Welcome to Second Opinion, a semi-regular post where Giz AU offers its own perspective of a gadget the US guys have already reviewed. Today, Sony's taco-shaped Tablet P goes under the review-o-scope.

Why It Matters

Sony hasn't been anywhere near as prolific in the Android tablet space as many other tech companies -- Samsung being the most obvious saturator of that space -- but the one thing you could never accuse Sony of is being boring with its tablet designs. The Tablet S had that unique semi-teardrop shape, and the promise of the Tablet P was that you could fit it in your pocket. That's a genuinely different selling proposition to the rest of the tablet space, so when US Giz reviewer Brent Rose described it as "A Whole Lotta Terrible In Your Pocket", my interest was piqued. Is it really that bad?

What We Like

During the whole fracas between Apple and Samsung, more than a few commentators noted that there's really only one way to build a tablet -- a big, black rectangle. The Tablet P shows it's possible to approach the problem in a different way, and it's a way that does afford the unit a greater degree of portability than competing tablets. To throw a totally personal anecdote into the mix, my wife's recently been shopping for a new handbag with a view to it being tablet friendly. It turns out that there are precious few handbags that'll accommodate 10 inches of tablet screen comfortably -- but almost any of them could fit the Tablet P.

Sony's own apps, on the whole, do work acceptably well within the split screen. The fact that it's PlayStation certified is a plus -- albeit a plus that Sony's taking its precious time to make into a really compelling sales point. Sony's also in an interesting position in the tablet space in that it owns a lot of subsidiary businesses that can serve content to the Tablet P; whereas the likes of Apple and Samsung have to license externally, Sony's got its own in-house movie studios and record company. This gives Sony the kind of synergy with its apps that's sorely lacking in many other Android devices, and the Tablet P does a good job integrating Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited.

The battery is removable. I've never been that personally fussed on that feature -- one that the P shares with Toshiba's AT100 tablet -- but some people get very hot under the collar about fixed batteries.

It will fit into a pocket, albeit only a larger cargo pants pocket. There's an obvious point of comparison with the Samsung Galaxy Note here in terms of larger screen displays, although the Tablet P doesn't make phone calls or come with a stylus.

What We Don't Like

The real problem with the Tablet P isn't the split screen so much; that I quickly got used to. Frankly, anyone buying a Tablet P is going to know that the screen is split from the moment they walk into the store or peruse it online. It's a compromise made so that the thing can fold in half, and if you're happy with that -- then you're happy with it!

The problem with the split screen isn't the break in visual real estate as much as it is in the lack of overall optimisation for all applications you might load onto it. A quick switch to flick video across both screens, expand games out, or make everything consistent and predictable would solve the Tablet P's biggest problem in a stroke.

Instead, what you're left with is a confusing guessing game. Sony's own apps work reasonably well across most screens, but any third-party apps that might spread across both use only the top or only the bottom screen. Some apps start in the top screen and then confusingly move to the bottom one. Sometimes apps will rotate on command, and sometimes they won't. This quickly becomes intensely frustrating.

The Tablet P is Playstation certified, but as yet Sony's not done enough to push out new PlayStation games to its certified devices. I didn't mind playing Crash Bandicoot on the Tablet P, but I enlisted the aid of Kotaku editor Mark, whose immediate reaction was that "this is one crazy-looking device" before coming to the conclusion that the touch controls weren't precise enough and would be markedly better if they were on the side bezel of the tablet rather than in the middle where the touchscreen lies. He's right, but then the Tablet P wouldn't be able to shut properly.

Verdict

I'm not as harshly inclined towards the Tablet P as Brent was, but I'm not rushing out to buy one either. What Sony clearly really needed to do here was take a leaf out of Amazon's book. The Kindle Fire isn't the greatest Android tablet out there -- indeed, it's running a version of Android that's functionally obsolete. That doesn't matter, because Amazon's spent the time and money to wrap the Kindle Fire around a range of services and a consistent enough UI that the end user never notices.

That's not the case with the Tablet P, but it could perhaps be for a Tablet P-1. If Sony made (a wholly theoretical) Tablet P-1 an Android tablet in name but its own critter on the surface, so that every single app used both screens, it'd go a long way to resolving the Tablet P's inconsistent interface and make sense of the concession that having a hinge in the middle of the screen creates.

It hasn't for this generation of the product, and, being Sony, there's no guarantee we'll even see a Tablet P successor. The Tablet P thus sits as a fascinating experiment that hopefully somebody will pick up and run with properly. Half-working still means it's less than optimally functional half of the time.

Sony Tablet P Specs

OS: Android 3.2.1 Screen: dual 5.5-inch TFT LCD Processor / RAM: 1GHz dual-core Tegra 2 / 1GB Storage: 4GB + 2GB (expandable via microSD) Camera: 5MP rear, 0.3MP front Weight: 369g Battery: Li-Ion 3080mAh Price: $729 RRP in Australia.

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