Even back when it was just a sketch we were suitably intrigued by Sony's Tablet S. Then it was the "S1," a name that, indistinct as it was, still had more character and mystery than the unfortunately generic moniker it will ship with. Still, a dull name can't obscure the most distinctive design we've yet seen in an Android Honeycomb slate, an aerofoil-like shape inspired not by a flying machine, but a rather more pedestrian folded magazine.
But, the result is a tablet that's considerably thicker than the current king of the Android hill, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 (not to mention the iPad 2), a chunky design that isn't always as hand-friendly as it looks. Is this the glossy, perfectly-paginated future of tablet design, or is it just a misshapen slate with a broken crease and shattered dreams? Read on to find out.
Note: at this time Sony was able to provide a device with final hardware, not software. So keep in mind this preview covers only the hardware, and that discussions of software and performance are liable to change.
Look and feel
So what about that famous folded design? Well, the first time you pick it up, you'll wonder why all tablets aren't shaped like this. It fits comfortably and securely in either hand, with subtle dimples adding extra grip to what would otherwise be a slick, fingerprint-prone plastic back. If you're the sort who likes to hold a tablet in one hand, portrait-style, whilst tapping away with the other, you'll quickly feel right at home.
The Tablet S is also particularly well-suited to sitting on a desk in landscape, like a little keyboard. Sony thoughtfully attached a pair of rubber nubs on the top and, thanks to the gentle incline of the screen when placed on something flat, it makes for a decent typing surface -- much more so than other tablets that are less inclined to your touch.
But, try to use this slate in any other position and the design becomes something of a hindrance. Sitting on a lap in landscape, for example, we found the incline a bit too steep. Meanwhile, in portrait orientation you'll never manage to get the screen flat -- it's always angled one way or another.
Hold it in both hands and you'll also be struggling. We found the 9.4-inch screen to be a little too wide to comfortably type on with our thumbs. Turn it 90 degrees and it's much easier to opposably tap at the thing, but then the somewhat sharp edges on the skinny side start cutting into your palms. Unless we were sitting with this on a desk, we had a hard time getting comfortable typing on the Tablet S, and while that's a problem that can be assigned to any tablet these days, the asymmetrical styling isn't much help.
Again, all this results in a bit of a chunky girl. At its thinnest, Sony claims it's 0.3 inches (7.62mm) thick, but it of course swells out from there, growing to about 0.8-inches (20.23mm). That means it's even plumper than the Motorola Xoom on one side, but even its thinner end is no more slender than the Tab 10.1 -- unless you count the beveled edge, which we don't.
Its footprint on the other two dimensions is almost identical to the 10.1, measuring 9.5 x 6.8-inches (241 x 173mm). That means it's only a fraction of an inch narrower, despite giving up 0.7 inches on the diagonal of the screen size. Sure, you probably won't miss that extra space, but why settle for less?
Look between the black bars of the bezel and you'll be greeted with a 1,280 x 800 display that Sony says uses the company's TruBlack technology -- already a staple in its Bravia televisions. While such trademarked tech is usually fluff, we must say the results here are quite good. You'll get contrast ratios that hold up from any angle and very accurate color reproduction that surpasses the Tab 10.1. And, yes, the blacks are indeed about as good as you're going to get on an LCD these days -- no concerns about light leakage here.
You will, however, have to worry about getting a case. The surface that covers the screen is rather sadly not Gorilla Glass and, while Sony says there's a protective layer here to keep the display scratch-free, after just one trip into a messenger bag unprotected it came out with a few new fine lines. This is a trip the Corning-clad Galaxy Tab 10.1 has made many, many times before, and it's still looking as good as the day it came out of the box.
The rest of the Tablet S is similarly scratch-prone, with a few fine scuffs appearing on the pimply back, and should you make the mistake of tapping on it you're greeted with a sound that can only be described as hollow. Meanwhile, the sides are made of what can only be called plastic, with a fine matte silver paint job that offers a high-end look, but a low-end feel. This is best demonstrated with the flimsy door that covers the tablet's full SD card reader. But, we must make it very clear that this is not the storage augmentation you might be hoping for.
The tablet cannot directly play media from the SD card; it must first be copied to the internal storage. So, if you had dreams of buying the 16GB version then slapping a cheap 16GB SD card in there to make up the difference, let this be your rude awakening.
Performance and battery life
This is where we need to start the caveats. While the device we were given to review has final hardware -- the same you'll find in the box when this thing starts shipping in mid-September -- the software that's been flashed to it still has some revisions pending. That could certainly have some impacts on the performance and longevity of the thing, so bear that in mind as we say we certainly hope some fixes improve the experience here, because things aren't always seamless.
Like the best of the rest at the moment, the Tablet S runs on NVIDIA's Tegra 2 SoC and so it proves more than adequate at tackling graphics-demanding applications, including HD video and games. Overall, though, we found the tablet to be less than responsive. For example, the screen is a bit sluggish to come on after you've prodded the power button, and the device is often slow to detect rotation. Neither of these things are deal-breakers, but neither do they result in a tablet that feels like a proper screamer. Hopefully a few code tweaks will help here.
Sony Tablet S
Apple iPad 2
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1
RIM BlackBerry PlayBook
Samsung Galaxy Tab
When it comes to longevity the thing does a reasonably stout job of putting up with our battery torture test, lasting roughly eight and a half hours with a movie looping and WiFi on. That doesn't match the 10-hour mark put up by the Tab 10.1 or the even greater performance of the iPad 2, but it's enough to ensure that you won't have to worry about running for the plug.
And that's a good thing, because the plug here is a big, fiddly thing with two plastic tabs and four metal connectors. Those connectors are obviously meant to make life easy for the upcoming dock, but if you don't pay up for that accessory prepare to ask yourself why Sony didn't opt for something a little more standard here.
Again, Sony was quite clear that the stuff running on here is not final, so we're going to consider this more of an overview than any sort of judgement. We will of course come back with a full review in due time.
For now, the tablet is running Android Honeycomb 3.1, as you'd expect, and doing a reasonably good job of it. Sony being Sony, the Tablet S will offer a number of custom apps, starting with a Chumby emulation that can be run manually or set to go off automatically whenever the wedge is docked. It can also be used as a sort of remote control thanks to the integrated IR emitter and remote control software. There will be easy DLNA sharing, compatibility with the company's newly unified Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited services, a pair of custom keyboards with word prediction (one with a number pad) and a bunch of other odds and ends that, by and large, have cool purple icons.
The most exciting addition in the software front, without a doubt, is the inclusion of the PlayStation Suite. PlayStation Certification makes the Tablet S the first tablet capable of playing PlayStation and PSP games via the included emulator (Crash Bandicoot and Pinball Heroes are included), and this is definitely an area where the thing can stand ahead of the competition. However, it's disappointing that the company didn't take advantage of this situation by throwing some real gaming controls on here (that chubby binder edge has plenty of room for L1, L2, R1 and R2 -- if not more), and of course the PlayStation Suite continues to have a hugely disappointing selection of games. But, perhaps that'll change in the weeks between now and the release.
We're still not ready to give up our cameras and start capturing social events with slate devices such as this one, but should you find yourself at a birthday party with only a Tablet S, rest assured that those annual wishes will look decent. The five megapixel shooter on the back captures bright, clear (if a bit washed out) images that are reasonably presentable. Video, too, looked more than adequate, but came through largely without the accompaniment of audio -- despite recording on a rather noisy Manhattan street. We'll put that one down to software, too.
As this is not final software we simply can't draw a definitive conclusion of the whole package. But, looking at the hardware alone, it's hard to not smile at the Sony Tablet S. In a world of interchangeable rectangular slabs of glass (and patent litigation to match) it's genuinely pleasing to see something so different. The problem is, it's just different -- not necessarily better. Yes, the wedge works in some situations, but it's unhelpful in others. Instead of a confident step forward in tablet design it's more of a hop to the side with a little twist.
Beyond that, the flimsy feel of the device just doesn't inspire confidence about the thing's durability, and the few scuffs on our screen -- though small -- are disconcerting given the existence of technology that makes displays seemingly impervious to attack. Especially given the price here: $499 for the 16GB model or $599 for 32GB, both shipping in a few weeks.
So, as with all Honeycomb tablets, it basically comes down to whether this one is clearly better than the identically priced Galaxy Tab 10.1. While we'll withhold our definitive judgement until we get final software, we will say say what we've seen so far is not clearly better -- even if it is clearly different.
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Sony Announces Market Launch of Sony Tablet
Two Optimally Designed Android™ Devices Deliver Portability, Easy Handling and an Immersive Entertainment Experience
SAN DIEGO, August 31, 2011 -- Sony today announced the market launch of its first two Sony Tablet™ devices. The Android-powered Sony Tablet S and Sony Tablet P devices combine unique hardware, content and network services with seamless usability to create a world of engaging networked entertainment experiences.
Available for pre-sale today and on shelves next month, the Sony Tablet S device is optimized for rich media entertainment on its 9.4-inch touchscreen display. With a powerful NVIDIA® Tegra™ 2 mobile processor, the Sony Tablet S device lets you enjoy the web as well as your favorite content and applications on its large, high-resolution screen. Weighing in at just about 1.33 lbs., its unique asymmetric design allows for hours of comfortable use and built-in Wi-Fi® compatibility means Internet connectivity virtually anywhere there's a hotspot.
Available later this year, the Sony Tablet P device is ideal for mobile communication and entertainment. With its innovative folding design, two 5.5-inch displays and weight at about 0.83 lbs., it can easily fit into a pocket, purse or backpack. It features the same NVIDIA® Tegra™ 2 mobile processor and is both Wi-Fi compatible and 4G capable exclusively on AT&T's mobile broadband network,1 offering users access to digital content including videos, games, and e-mail, while on the go, nearly anytime.
Both devices run on Android, Android 3.1 on Sony Tablet S devices2 and Sony Tablet P devices will be equipped with Android 3.2 by the time they ship. Both models feature front and rear facing cameras that allow for video recording and capturing still images. The devices also support micro USB interface and SD card.
Sony Tablet devices are also distinguished by four key features that set them apart from any other tablets on the market. These include: optimally designed hardware and software, a "swift and smooth" experience, network entertainment services and cross-device functionality.
"These devices truly represent the best of everything Sony has to offer," said Mike Lucas, senior vice president of Sony Electronics' Networked Technology and Services Division. "From hardware to software and services, Sony Tablet devices embody all our innovations rolled into one."
Optimally Designed Hardware and Software
Unlike other tablet devices, Sony Tablet S device has an ergonomic, asymmetric design which allows it to be easily held or carried for long periods of time. The unique form factor shifts the device's weight closer to your palm, making it feel lighter and more comfortable while reading an e-book or watching a video. The screen is sloped when placed on a flat surface, enhancing visibility and making typing more comfortable. Placing a Sony Tablet S device onto a specialized charging cradle (sold separately) converts the device into a digital photo frame, a digital clock that displays customizable information or chumby with access to over 1,500 fun and entertaining apps.
Software taking advantage of the unprecedented design of the Sony Tablet P device allows its dual screens to be used for different functions simultaneously such as playing video on one screen while using the other as a controller or reading email on one screen while using the other as a virtual keyboard. The displays can also be combined to form a single large screen for Internet browsing and more. By holding the device vertically, you can also read eBooks much in the same manner you would a physical book.
Both Sony Tablet devices are equipped with Sony's TruBlack™ displays which reduce reflection and glare from sunlight or fluorescent light for high-contrast visibility both indoors and out.
Swift and Smooth Experience
A combination of Sony technologies, Quick view and Quick touch, allow for faster loading of web pages, a highly responsive and fluid touch screen as well as an exceptionally intuitive user interface. The large keys of the virtual keyboard take full advantage of screen real estate while automatically adjusting to the task at hand. A numeric keypad pops up when inputting passwords and word suggestions or auto word complete make email and texting a breeze.
Both Sony Tablet devices come complete with access to a full suite of Sony's network entertainment services.
• Sony Entertainment Network services: Video Unlimited is your ticket to the latest releases from every major movie studio to rent or own. A pre-open campaign for the Sony Tablet devices will be offered at device launch with limited content and more content will continue to be released over time. Music Unlimited, available in October, offers instant access to a global catalog of over 10 million songs from every major record label (numbers vary by country). Simply sync to the cloud and enjoy the music you love on Sony Tablet devices or any other Internet-enabled Sony device. A six month trial basic membership from Music Unlimited and a free movie download from Video Unlimited come with the purchase of each device.
• PlayStation® Certified: Sony Tablet devices are the first PlayStation® Certified tablets that provide out-of-the-box gaming with included favorites "Crash Bandicoot" and "Pinball Heroes."
• Reader™ Store: Access bestsellers, new releases, classics, magazines and more from more than 2.5 million titles at Reader™ Store by Sony. The store's intuitive reading interface is ideal for on-the-go reading, allowing book lovers to set bookmarks, make highlights and adjust font sizes as they read. A free eBook download is included with the purchase of the device.
• Personal Space™ by Sony: This free service allows you to easily share pictures and videos captured on Sony Tablet devices. You can also access albums that were previously uploaded from other devices.
Video, music, games and other content can be directly accessed by way of the "Favorites" menu without the need to re-launch any of the respective applications.
Cross Device Connectivity
Control your home entertainment system and enjoy content in new ways. With Sony Tablet devices, you can "throw" personal pictures and video to DLNA compatible televisions such as BRAVIA® HDTVs with the touch of a button. You can also throw music to compatible wireless speakers such as Sony's HomeShare™ speakers. The Sony Tablet S device, which is equipped with infrared technology, can act as a remote control for multiple home entertainment components such as TVs, Blu-ray Disc™ players, cable and satellite boxes, and more. The built-in Universal remote not only controls your Sony products, but other brands as well. Sony Tablet S device is the world's first Android Tablet running Honeycomb with a built in A/V remote control. Both Sony Tablet devices are compatible with the Media Remote™ app which allows you to control Sony devices, including BRAVIA televisions, through Wi-Fi® technology.
Wide Range of Applications
A variety of applications add to the entertainment options. With access to the Android Market™, you can browse thousands of useful time-saving and fun apps. Sony Tablet devices also provide instant access to Google™ mobile services and applications, including 3D maps and easy web search with Google Voice Search. To make app discovery even easier, Sony offers its Select App site which highlights new and unique Android applications in a number of categories, recommended for Sony Tablet devices. Recommended applications will be spotlighted at launch with more to come in the following weeks and months.
Accessories, Pricing, Availability
A range of optional accessories includes a cradle, AC adapter, LCD screen protector, carrying case and USB adaptor cable for Sony Tablet S devices, and a rechargeable battery pack, AC adapter, LCD screen protector, carrying case and detachable panels for Sony Tablet P devices. A Bluetooth keyboard is also available for both models.
The Sony Tablet S device is available in both a 16GB and 32 GB version and will be sold at Sony Stores including online and other authorized retailers nationwide for about $499 and $599, respectively. For more information, please visit www.sony.com/tablet or check out www.sony.com/tabletvideo for a video unboxing.