When Sony Mobile introduced Xperia Z smartphone, their first smartphone after divorce with Ericsson, it became sure that they meant business. Beautifully designed, thin, water and dust resistant, the first one to offer 1080p screen on many markets, it was a pleasant surprise and a true flagship, something we didn’t see from Sony for quite some time. During MWC in Barcelona, we were introduced to Sony Xperia Tablet Z, the first tablet from Sony Mobile communication, who shares a lot of features with a smartphone. We liked the look and the feel, but were a bit worried that Sony will be late to realize this tablet, and that competition will be stronger. Some four months later, we got us a review unit to play with.
Tablet on steroids
If you ever saw Sony Xperia Z, just one glance will confirm that these two are twins. Xperia Tablet Z is impossibly thin, a full millimeter thinner than already thin Xperia Z smartphone, which is a feat by itself. That is one of the reasons why it feels, well, gracious is probably the best expression. Another reason to feel this way is its weights, which is less than 500g, making it very enjoyable to carry around and use even for a long time.
Almost everything else we liked on the phone is here - Omni balance design, slightly curved edges made of matte material for secure grip, metal power button to use and abuse, water and dust resistance. As expected, notification light is placed near the power button, and we liked it very much. If Sony would only introduce an option to change the notification light intensity according to ambient light, it would be perfect, for now it glows too much in the pitch dark.
Several things are changed for better, showing that somebody at Sony spent some time to think how to improve whole experience. For example, the back panel is made of reinforced glass fiber, it is matte and soft to touch, and while it shows a fingerprint or two, it is much more resistant than glossy glass on the back of Xperia Z phone.
One of the biggest additions is introducing 3 more speakers, resulting in quadraphonic speaker setup. They are concentrated around bottom corners if you are holding tablet in landscape, which is not the best position as we covered them with our hand. While watching movies, we found that it is best to turn tablet for 180 degrees; that will help to have better sound.
Same as on the phone, all ports are covered with flaps to ensure water resistance. Bottom side is home for micro SD, micro SIM and charging port, only headphone output is placed on the left side. It is a good bet that you will grow tired of continuous opening of the charging port (micro USB BTW, not a proprietary port), but there is a remedy, nearby are contact pins for charging dock. Best part of water resistance is that you don’t need to be so careful around Xperia Z tablet; you can use it in the rain, in a kitchen, or to have a close-up of those incredible waves on the beach.
One of the rare hardware additions to the Xperia Z smartphone is IR Sensor placed on the top edge. This is a move some other competitors already made, both in smartphone and tablet products, but we feel that Sony here did better execution. Using Media Remote (can be a small app, but more on that latter), you can control almost any device in the house which has an IR remote controller. If it is a Bravia device connected to the same network it will be recognized automatically. If not, you will need to select brand and type of device. After that Sony shines as it will offer you many different presets, as manufacturers sometimes change IR codes. No other manufacturer went into so many details, and we must commend Sony for effort in this regard.
Last thing to change is introduction of 8 Mpix sensor as main camera instead of 13 Mpix found on smartphone counterpart. Same as there, camera lens are on the level with device body, a nice touch and probably the reason why they used lower resolution sensor - bigger one simple won’t fit in slimmer body. Whatever the reason, we won’t complain about the choice, as we also believe that tablet is not the right device for taking pictures so we are not that much interested in this particular department. Camera app has many options, like HDR or superior auto, but too much blurring in attempt to remove noise kills all the details and produce pictures of lower quality, which is a pity with a sensor as good as this one. However, Sony did successfully cured same situation with a single camera firmware on Xperia Z phone, and we are really hoping that this will be implemented on Xperia Tablet Z ASAP.
Unlike camera, SOC (System on Chip) didn’t change from Xperia Z Phone. Qualcomm previous generation flagship is accompanied with same GPU and represents the powerhouse of the system. Combine this with 2 GB of RAM, 16 GB of storage expandable with micro SD card and up to LTE data transfer and it will sum up to very impressive tablet. We would prefer to see a bit faster CPU and GPU, but on the other hand even this combination is enough to overrun everything competition has to offer at the moment. Same as on the phone, Wi-Fi has weak reception, and sometimes drops a perfectly good connection. This problem is solved somewhat after several firmware updates, but not exterminated completely. Let’s hope there will be an update soon, both for a tablet and a phone.
10.1 inch display have a bit wider bezels than we expected, but also sports 1900x1200 resolution, enough to host standard 1080p resolution together with UI navigation keys. Similar to the situation on a smartphone, quality of the screen is a bit of mixed bag. Sharpness is great, color accuracy is solid as well as brightness, and contrast is very good. Biggest problem lies in poor viewing angles, color temperature is changing a lot during change of viewing angles. During testing, we received firmware update which did wonders in that regard similarly to Xperia Z smartphone update earlier. While we can’t say that problem is completely solved (it probably never will be due the nature of the screen) situation is improved so much that only the most demanding users will have a problem using this tablet.
|Sony Xperia Tablet Z SGP321|
|Processor||Qualcomm quadcore Krait 1.5 GHz|
|Memory||2 GB RAM, internally available 14.5 GB, total 16GB, microSD|
|Display||5'', 1920x1080 pix, TFT capacitive, glass resistant to scratch and shatter|
|Interfaces||microUSB, Bluetooth 4.0, WiFi n, DC HSDPA, GPS, LTE, MHL|
|Camera||Back: Sony BSI 8,1 MP with autofocus and LED flash; Front: 2,2 MP|
|Battery||Li- Ion 6000 mAh|
|OS||Android OS 4.1.2|
|Dimensions||172 x 66 x 6.9 mm|
However, strength of this tablet doesn’t rely only on specs or impressive design and water resistance. Software, as many times before is the key. Unlike Samsung with their latest Galaxy S4 who added so many new features that it will take you a month to learn and master, Xperia Z added few, but well useful and sometimes familiar from Windows.
For example, if you want to unlock the tablet while it is in standby, it is enough just to double tap the screen, no need to fish for the power button. Home screen is full of novelties (at least in Android world). If you check the upper part of the screen, you will see the implementation of a taskbar, where instead of start button you have search box and voice search shortcut, both of them permanent. Next four are customizable and removable, but important thing is that they will stay available whole time you spend in launcher, but not so in App drawer.
Navigation buttons for UI are moved to the lower left side so you can use them single handedly. At the middle of the bottom side are two interesting buttons, where first one pops up a toolbar, and second one act as another shortcut to wanted app. Default settings is to display small Apps, which can come very handy and is form of multitasking. If you are not familiar with the expression, small Apps are collection of apps designed to execute in its own small window on top of the others, which you can freely move around. They are more than handy, when you are checking a website and need a calculator, or watching a video and want to take notes. Or you are doing whatever, and just want to change boring TV channel, Remote app is a click away. Toolbar can be configured to display not only apps but also widgets if you prefer them, and unlike upper shortcuts, it is available all the time, be it in launcher, app drawer or specific app.
Keyboard deserves praise by itself. All the usual stuff like multi-language support with dictionaries and learning modes, excellent swipe support already made Xperia keyboard one of the best out there. On Xperia Tablet Z it is improved as it have two modes of operation, a standard one goes from side to side, very useful when you want to type by both hands and tablet is on the table. Second layout has all the keys moved to the right, much easier and faster when typing by just one hand (sorry lefties, no support for you for now).
Many other Xperia goodies are shared with smartphone counterpart like Bravia Engine 2 which should bring more life to dull pictures, but most of the time we turned it off, as it make colors to artificial. Similar can be said for Clear Phase, xLoud and S-Force Front Surround 3D, meant to improve listening experience. We didn’t like how much they changed sound, and with exception of xLoud we turned them off. Excellent Gallery is back in the game, with smooth transitions and awesome preview mode. Walkman is basically the same as on Xperia Z, but still great, with lyrics, cover data and other info syncing with Sony servers. Theming is available, and once you make your choice from 7 available themes, they will change Homepage and Lockscreen wallpapers, Icon style in settings department and colors of Sony native apps and widgets. More on that in our review of Xperia Z smartphone here.
Battery life is about average, which is not a small feat when we know what drains it. It is high resolution display, WiFi, 3G/LTE, 4 speakers, quad core processor, and lots of memory... List goes on. Still, even under heaviest usage, we were able to complete full work day on single charge. Even without stamina mode, battery life in suspend mode excels - a week is easy achievable. Sometimes, you need to pay what you eat, and in this case it is charging the battery - it is best to do this overnight as it takes about 7 hours to charge. That or you can buy stronger charger then week 850mAh which Sony packed with tablet.
Good and not so good
Let’s first start with the bad part. Xperia Tablet Z shares a lot of common hardware with its older brother, Xperia Z smartphone. On the bad side that means quiet speakers (at least we got 3 more), and screen with smaller viewing angles. Unfortunately, list doesn’t stop there as all the software bugs Xperia Z introduced (and most of them cured after series of updates) are presented in Tablet variant several months later. We are talking about poor signal and Wi-Fi disconnecting as well as bad pictures post-processing which brings shame to a very good camera. This wouldn’t be that much disappointing if same bugs were not noticed and addressed for months back on smartphone. We are sure that software update will solve this, but we are not happy that this didn’t already happen. And BTW, not that it matters that much, but Tablet is still on Android 4.1.2 more than half of the year after 4.2 is introduced.
Other than that, Xperia Tablet Z is probably the sleekest looking Android tablet out there. It is extraordinary slim and light, and at the same time water resistant. Operations are as fast and smooth as it is to be expected from the flagship. Sony apps are really nice, most of them much better than competitors. By introducing several new features like toolbar and taskbar, as well as improving already known strengths like small Apps, Sony proved that they will continue to upgrade existing experience.
All in all, Sony Xperia Tablet Z is a great Android tablet, but with few software problems here and there. While we are sure it will all be sorted out in a month or two, who knows what will competition offer at that time. That’s why it will be awarded with a lower rank badge - without bugs it would be Editor’s Choice, no doubt about it.