Sony Xperia Tablet Z
Top notch quality that comes at a price
The Sony Xperia Z and ZL were welcome additions to Android phone landscape. In the sea that is function over form, Sony finally appeared to put real effort into the form aspect. The display on the Z/ZL was particularly stunning, though limited viewing angles keeping it from being flawless. The craftsmanship of the device was excellent, the Sony skin was minimal and clean, and the overall feature set met or exceeded the current set of leading Android phones. Could Sony do the same for tablets with their Xperia Tablet Z?
The Tablet Z is powered by the very capable Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro. A Quad core 1.5ghz processor with 2GB of RAM, the tablet never feels short of power. We don’t spend much (any) time crunching processor numbers, but reviews elsewhere that do that type of thing show impressive results. In most cases the device leads the Nexus 10 and Galaxy Tab, and where it doesn’t it’s quite competitive. In real use, I’ve yet to find the UI or any specific programs to be anything but silky smooth.
As I’d hoped, the build quality and design of the Tablet Z instantly puts head and shoulders above anything else you can find in the Android world. What wasn’t expected was being able to include the iPad in that list. Compared to the Z, the iPad feels both heavy and thick. Of course, the iPad mini did this to the full size iPad as well – so I suspect this distinction won’t last for long with WWDC around the corner. What’s impressive, however, is Sony’s managed to do this without making it feel cheap (yes, I’m looking at you Samsung.) One item they didn’t address, however, was bezel size. The ZL phone continues to be an impressive screen to device ratio, but sadly that did not translate in the Tablet Z form factor.
Sony has spent many marketing dollars throwing both the phone and Tablet Z in water to tout it’s unique waterproof hardware. I don’t know if anybody really cares about this, but in the phone version of the Z I found the port covers to enable for this to be annoying. I’m not particularly interested in popping off the headphone jack cover every time I want to listen to music. The same goes for the charging port. Somehow this doesn’t seem to be as big of an issue on the tablet, however. This might be my specific use case, but it’s not often I plug anything into a tablet. With the inductive charging on the included Tablet Z stand, there’s not even a need to plug in a USB cable. For those considering the purchase of the Tablet Z, however, this should at least be considered as it could prove to be a nuisance.
The display on the Tablet Z is fantastic. What it’s not, however, is as jaw dropping as I find the 441ppi phone variant to be. Given that it’s 1920×1200 resolution is just greater than the phone’s 5″ 1920×1080 display, the lower 225ppi on the tablet is evident. 225ppi comes in lower than current generation iPad tablets (264ppi) and well short of the pin sharp 300ppi Nexus 10. This basically equates to the fact that when I hold the screen close I can see individual pixels. Somehow with a crop of devices where this is largely not possible, I found seeing pixels disappointing. My primary use case for the Z thus far has been watching videos – Netflix/Slingbox/YouTube type viewing. It turns out I don’t typically watch these videos inches from my face, and at a normal distance pixel count is not a problem. I assume this lower pixel count is also the reason it outperforms the field in the processor tests mentioned above. Still, if you’re looking for the sharpest display you can find and pixels is your measuring stick, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
On a positive note, the viewing angle issues that plague the phone are completely absent on the tablet. These viewing angles, the brightness levels, and Bravia Engine 2 enhancements make for rich beautiful images and video playback. Individually, other tablets may best the Tablet Z on a specific technical display item. Overall, it’s as good as any display you can find on a tablet.
Like the Xperia Z phone, the camera disappoints. Hardware-wise it’s a capable 8-MP rear facing camera with a 2MP front facing camera. Both of them work fine, particularly in well lit situations. The problem is other devices simply outperform it. I still find myself laughing in the rare cases I see someone taking photos with the iPad, so I don’t know if camera performance on a tablet is a great concern for anyone. Don’t expect anything special here if it is to you.
The speakers are somewhat oddly positioned in the lower left hand corners where you’d typically hold the tablet. They’re loud enough that you can easily hear the audio while holding it, though it does muffle the sound a bit. Generally speaking the audio playback is loud and clear though not particularly deep or otherwise impressive for music. This seems to be par for the course as tablets go. I’d love to see in the tablet space what the HTC One was able to do for phones with their speaker placement and quality.
The Xperia ships with Android 4.1.2. This is short of the latest version of Android at 4.2. Normally, that wouldn’t be disconcerting. However, Sony has yet to fulfill its promise on the phone side to update to 4.2 so who knows what proper expectations on the tablet side should be.
Sony does bundle a number of it’s own apps that prove to be quite useful. These items include:
Probably the most compelling piece of software is the remote control software in combination with the IR blaster and the SideView software below. Sony’s remote software is easy to setup, and seems to work with any device you might have in your house. This is an improvement over say the Samsung Galaxy S4’s remote software which seem to be limited to a smaller device list.
SideView is a television guide companion that has promising value. You start the software by giving it your local cable provider, your favorite channels, and specific items of interest. SideView then scrolls through thumbnails of shows currently on that match your preferenes. You can flick a given show toward your TV, and in combination with the IR blaster it will change the channel as needed. It also has a very easy to use full program guide for more traditional content browsing. There are hooks into social apps for sharing and further preference learning, making it a very easy and useful viewing companion.
The Walkman software is Sony’s own version of Google Music. In general, it’s the same features in a cleaner more elegant package. If you have another Sony device, it does allow you to easily ‘throw’ the songs for external playback.
Again, Sony has provided Android functionality with a nicer UX than what you’d get by default. You also get playback via the Sony Bravia 2 engine that makes photos and video come to life.
Have a Sony phone? You can use Xperia link to connect the two devices. Once connected, text messaging, internet sharing, and call information will appear on your tablet. It’s a nice feature – having the ability to receive and send texts as you’re watching a show is a nice touch.
Looking for yet another way to rent or purchase Music? Sony has you covered with their own services.
Water and dust resistant, the tablet has an ‘IP57’ certification giving at a level of durability not present elsewhere. Oddly enough, the screen does not appear to be Gorilla Glass – Sony has mentioned using tempered glass with equivalent scratch resistance, but also sells screen protectors for the device. The device promises to be waterproof at depths up to 3 feet for up to 30 minutes.
The Xperia Tablet Z packs a 6,000mAh battery despite its thin form factor. Once again, the reviews mentioned above have all sorts of tests to compare it competitors. It seems to compare favorably to the field. In my real world usage tests, I’ve been able to get over 8 hours of video playback before needing to recharge it. The ‘stamina mode,’ which limits connectivity when in standby, is extremely effective as well. By all accounts, battery life seems to be as good as you can find on the Android side.
The most notable accessory is the charging dock. Not only does it include inductive charging so you don’t have to worry about wires, but it also has a sturdy kick stand that allows you to position the stand at a wide range of angles. Other accessories include an NFC connectable speaker, leather carrying case in a choice of colors, and a Sony OEM screen protector.
The real knock on the Xperia Tablet Z is going to come down to value. At $499 for the 16gb model, the tablet sits a full hundred dollars above the Nexus 10. Given the higher pixel density and stock Android base, the Nexus 10 is awfully attractive. Furthermore, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1, though a bit older, remains an attractive device at $329. Of course, throw in the iPad at an equal $499, and the Tablet Z becomes a hard sell given Android’s limited tablet ecosystem. Of course, there is value in the craftsman ship of the device, but be sure that’s important to you before you consider the tablet Z.
In an Android world that’s largely been driven by race to the bottom pricing, Sony has delivered a premium tablet experience that the landscape has been missing. It’s the first time I’ve seen a tablet that not only looks as attractive as an Apple product, but also has all the features and capabilities of anything available on the Android side. Extra features like the IR blaster, NFC, Sony Bravia 2 Engine, and water/dust proof certifications does add some significant bells and whistles. In the end, the quality comes at a price. If build quality isn’t of principle concern, take a look at the Nexus 10 which is a fantastic device in its own right. However, if you want the best device money can buy in the world of Android – look no further than the Sony Xperia Tablet Z.