There was a time, from around September last year until recently, where I really probably wouldn't have recommended anyone buy a top of the line Android tablet. The iPad Air 2 is a brilliant device, and aggressively priced from $549, to the point where it bested the $599 Xperia Z2 Tablet and $699 Samsung Galaxy Tab S. But, with the launch of two new variants of each of these big-screen Android tabs, the tablets have turned.
Of course, you can take this with a massive grain of salt; it's my (reasonably well qualified) opinion. There's a new iPad Pro from Apple on the horizon that will probably be the best and most useful tablet for what a tablet is for (for most people) — that is, enjoying movies and TV shows streamed and downloaded, the occasional bit of long-email writing, occasional scribbling of notes or artistic scrawls.
But if you like Android, there are two new tablets that deserve your attention, and they're more exciting and more powerful and more refined than anything that has come before them. Both of these are on my desk at the moment, and I really can't pick which is my favourite.
The Xperia Z4 Tablet is the new, updated version of Sony's Z2 Tablet. It doesn't change too much — a new processor, a slightly thinner and lighter design. It features an 10.1-inch, IPS 2560×1600 screen with 299 pixels per inch, a octa-core 64-bit 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor, 3GB of RAM and a massive 6000mAh battery to keep it ticking over all day. It’s also IP68 certified for dust- and water-resistance. You’ll be able to immerse it in up to 1.5 metres of water for up to 30 minutes without issue.
Crucially, that screen is the brightest ever on an Android tablet, and the Z4 is — bar one device you'll meet below — the lightest and slimmest Android tablet on the market. Sony promises up to 17 hours of battery from the Z4T, and it's unique in offering a IP68 dust/waterproof rating, just about the best that you can expect from any non-ruggedised mobile device.
But it's the accessories that will make the Z4 Tablet great; Sony is bundling a $299 black BKB50 Bluetooth keyboard with launch stocks of the Z4 Tablet, and that makes it incredibly good value. There's a black or white Style Cover too if you don't want the extra bulk of the keyboard case. Even without any of those goodies, it's still an incredibly thin waterproof slate with a big, detailed, super-bright display.
Sony's Xperia Z4 Tablet is available for $799 as a Wi-Fi-only 32GB variant in black or white (later this month), or for $888 outright now as a 4G-enabled nanoSIM-toting monster exclusively via Telstra and exclusively in a black finish.
Samsung’s previous Galaxy Tab S was built around a stunningly thin design and incredibly detailed Super AMOLED display, and that trend continues with the new Galaxy Tab S2. The Tab S2 will come in two sizes, just like the tablet it’s replacing: a smaller 8-inch model, and the full-size 9.7-inch version (a tad smaller than the 10.5-inch screen on the original Tab S). The screen was the main selling point on the first Tab S, and things are looking similar this time around: 2048×1536 Super AMOLED, which will hopefully translate to another jaw-droppingly-good display.
4G support is also built into the SIM-enabled variants, supporting real-world download speeds of up to 200Mbps on compatible networks. Two colours will be available, and all the major telcos and big-box tablets will be carrying the new tablets. In Australia, we’ll be getting the SM-T815Y and SM-T810Y models for LTE/Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi-only respectively.
Under the hood, things are more or less what you’d expect: Samsung's home-grown Exynos 5433 octa-core processor, with one quad-core processor clocked at 1.9GHz and one at 1.3GHz. There’s 3GB of RAM, 32GB of internal memory, and a microSD slot for expansion. Software-wise, you can expect the not-quite-latest 5.0 version of Android, with Samsung’s TouchWiz skin on top. The metallic rear casing of the tablet is much cleaner than the previous quilted-design Tab S, too.
Both the 8- and 9.7-inch Galaxy Tab S2 tablets are available in Australia today; they're available for $499 and $599 starting prices respectively, although LTE mobile connectivity drives up the price — the 8-inch Tab S2 with LTE is $649 and the 9.7-inch is $749.
Which Is Better?
The difference between the 9.7-inch Galaxy Tab S2 and the 10.1-inch Xperia Z4 Tablet is miniscule for real world users. The Tab S2 has a 5870mAh internal rechargeable battery; the Z4 Tablet has 6000mAh. Samsung promises up to 14 hours, Sony promises up to 17 hours — but anecdotally, I've had roughly equal light-duty battery life in early testing. The Z4T's Xperia home screen is pretty straightforward, Samsung's TouchWiz is slightly less so — but those extra features might be appealing to you.
Both have Android 5.0.2 Lollipop on board, but not the latest 5.1.1 we're seeing on Samsung's and Sony's own current flagship smartphones (the Galaxy Note 5 and Xperia Z5, for those playing at home). One has a 9.7-inch AMOLED screen — amazing black levels, beautiful colours — and one has a 10.1-inch IPS LCD — incredibly bright and with an excellent colour gamut.
There's no denying the fact that the Xperia Z4 Tablet has more processing power. It runs the current performance king system-on-chip, Qualcomm's Snapdragon 810 — in all its power-hungry, heat-producing glory. But there's something to be said for the Tab S2's beautiful Super AMOLED screen and metallic body, as well as the fact that it's very slightly thinner. I think for productivity, with the bundled keyboard case you get, the Z4 wins out, but for everyday carry, I'd pick the Tab S2.
Honestly, I really can't pick between the two; they're both great. And, in comparison, my iPad Air 2 is looking long in the tooth.