Exclusive: Sony 'S1' PlayStation tablet (updated)

Think for a second, what major consumer electronics company doesn't have a tablet to show? Right, Sony. In fact, the rumor womb has been conspicuously barren of salacious Sony tablet tattle ever since Apple's iPad was announced back in 2010. Oh sure, Sony's owned-up to the development of prototypes that fill a "very important position" somewhere in between its own Vaio PC lineup and the Xperia Play byproduct of its Ericsson commingling. But beyond that: zilch, nada... until today.

We have a couple of tablets we'd like to tell you about, starting with a 9.4-inch honeypot of an Android 3.0 tablet. Details of which have been confirmed by two highly trusted and independent sources. Known by its "S1" codename internally, Sony is busy customizing Matias Duarte's Honeycomb interface to its own specification. Although, we're skeptical of Sony's software capabilities, we've been assured that Sony's work is cutting edge stuff created by a talented engineering team spanning Sony's VAIO, Reader, PlayStation, and Sony Ericsson product groups. The team is lead by the VAIO organization but will probably launch as a Sony product without VAIO branding, according to one source. Sony's custom-built transitions and UI elements have created a user experience that rivals and at times improves upon the iPad's renowned experience. The tablet itself, we're told, is 100 percent focused on Qriocity, Sony's music, games, ebooks, and videos on demand service that's just been launched in Europe. It comes preloaded with Sony PS One games, a Bravia Media Remote, and yes, PlayStation integration -- though it's unclear if that'll be limited to Remote Play or if the Android tablet will be PlayStation Suite certified. One source speculates that it could very well get the PlayStation gaming seal of approval by the time it ships -- but that's just an educated guess.

Update: We now have confirmation that the S1 is indeed PlayStation Certified making this a full-blown media and gaming tablet. We've also revised the illustration above to make the top less pronounced.

So what about that curvaceous mockup above? A design described to us as "beautiful, the best thing" one source has ever seen from Sony. Click through the break and we'll explain.

The tablet's "wrap" design is meant to remind the owner of something personal in the way that it mimics an open paperback stuffed into the back pocket, or a magazine folded backward upon itself such that only a single page is visible to read. A design that also gives the tablet's display enough angle to comfortably touch-type when placed on a table. It also makes one-handed operation a bit less taxing on the wrist by shifting the center of gravity to the bulbous edge of the device as in our mock-up above. A trick meant to reduce the torque that makes 10-inch tablets uncomfortable to hold one-handed for an extended length of time (when reading an ebook, for example). So even though the S1 is about the same size and weight as Apple's iPad, we're told that it feels lighter since most of the weight is shifted directly into the user's hand and over the wrist. Naturally, the screen UI rotates allowing for right- or left-handed use and we're told that it's still comfortable to hold in landscape mode where the bulging edge is typically held at the top.

Although the tablet looks like a hollow 9.4-inch capacitive touch panel sporting a 1,280 x 800 pixel resolution from the distance, the space between the front and back wrapped panels is actually stuffed with a battery and circuitry including a Tegra 2 processor. As such, you won't be hanging it from the towel rack. It also features both front- and rear-facing cameras as well as a USB-A port that plays host to USB thumb drives or media devices. The only physical buttons -- volume and on / off -- are located on the edge of each indented side. There's also the possibility that the S1 will feature a "Q" (for Qriocity) button but that decision has not been finalized, according to one of our sources. Oh, and there's an IR port built-in allowing you to control devices other than your Bravia TV. The front face is finished in a high-gloss black that sits flush with the display and continues in one unobstructed sweep to the back of the tablet where a subtle dot matrix texture is applied to enhance the grip. The underside is a matte-silver color creating a nice contrast. All materials, we're told, feel very premium though it's unclear if we're talking plastic, aluminum, or something else.

So, price and ship date? We're told that the target price for the WiFi-only version of the S1 was meant to match the iPad but has recently been bumped to $599 (a $100 premium) with a planned September ship -- a date that has already slipped several times. Of course, any or all of this could change before then, or maybe the whole project gets canned. We don't know. What we can tell you, is that Sony has another Honeycomb tablet in the works which we'll reveal soon enough. Until then, this patent application is a hint of what's to come.