We feared the tablet would be a little uncomfortable with those sheer corners and razor-thin 6.9mm profile, but the lightness ensures that it's perfectly comfortable to hold in both landscape and portrait
Sony is hitting its stride with its Xperia hardware design. While we initially feared the Xperia Tablet Z would prove uncomfortable with those sheer corners and razor-thin 6.9mm profile, the lightness actually ensures that it's perfectly comfortable to hold in both landscape and portrait. Each of the edges is coated in the same glossy black plastic as the front of the tablet, while the back goes for a matte finish -- one that gave a bit of grip for our fingertips to hold on to.
Aside from some Xperia branding in the center, and a symbol to represent the device's NFC credentials, there's only an 8.1-megapixel camera to break up the back, located in the top-right corner. The secondary front-facing 2.2-megapixel camera is centered above the screen and both use Sony's Exmor R sensors -- marked improvements over Sony's previous tablets.
Another upgrade from its Android tablet predecessors is the display. It may have the same 10.1-inch size, but it's now capable of 1080p playback. The official resolution (1,920 x 1,200) affords a little extra space for the on-screen Android soft keys. There's a pretty substantial inch-wide bezel around the display, but this enables you to hold onto the tablet without inadvertently nudging the touchscreen. In fact, from the front, at least, it bears a passing resemblance to BlackBerry's PlayBook.
There are also stereo speakers split across both of the lower corners, so the four outlets are almost exactly where your palms will cup the device. If you're worried that would affect audio playback, you'd be right, although the unfortunately tinny, treble-heavy playback means music actually sounded better with our hands filtering it. Maybe we've been spoiled by the mobile audio skills of the HTC One, but on a tablet, we had hoped for a lot better.
Despite its claim to be the world's thinnest and lightest tablet, the Z is still surprisingly solid. We're relieved to say that Sony has improved on the early preview models we toyed with at MWC, nixing an awkward creak we found while handling it. Additionally, the company's engineering team fixed a screen that previously looked distorted if you applied pressure to the display. Suffice to say, we experienced neither of those issues with our retail sample.
Despite its claim to be the world's thinnest and lightest tablet, the Z is still surprisingly solid.
Even with the slim silhouette, the Xperia Tablet Z still manages to house everything you'd expect in a 2013 Android tablet. Alongside 16GB of storage, there's memory expansion through microSD, FM radio, Bluetooth 4.0, WiFi, an infrared blaster and HDMI through a MHL-compatible micro-USB port. That blaster, which resides along the center of the top edge, means the tablet can double up as a multi-talented remote.
Along the left edge, there's a port for headphones (with a water-protective cover), volume rocker and Sony's talismanic power button. It's still machined aluminum, although it wobbles around a little more than it does on the related smartphones. There's also a notification light that resides here, which will broadcast whether your tablet is charging or when there are new emails and other social notables. If you prefer to avoid blinking lights, you can also turn it off inside the Display tab of the Settings menu. There are two more protective cover flaps for microSD and micro-USB along the bottom side and these covers are identical to the ones found on the Xperia Z. While sturdy enough, we do have concerns with their longevity -- they're a necessity for the water and dust resistance. In our not-so-scientific testing, the IPX5/7-qualified tablet held up fine against our hose-down and a few dunks into a nearby sink. We just have to reiterate -- check that you've closed all those port covers.
Sony's new tablet display might not be the highest resolution we've seen, but it's perfectly suited for 1080p video playback, swiping through photos and browsing the internet. This pixel count places it squarely between the 1,280 x 800 Galaxy Note 10.1 and the 2,560 x 1,600 Nexus 10, both from Samsung. Having spent plenty of time with the iPad's differently proportioned screen, we reckon the Xperia Z's widescreen ratio is the better option in many scenarios. As well as acting as a more suitable canvas for movies, internet browsing while in vertical orientation offers a lot more scroll room -- useful for news sites with ever-updating content.
Sony's thinned its tablet screen tech, removing a layer of air to keep the touch panel closer to the surface while reducing reflection. This is also what ensures the screen remains black (and almost the same shade as the tablet) when switched off. Size aside, the panel appears to be a different caliber to the one found in the Xperia Z smartphone, with a high level of off-angle visibility and little to no color undulation either -- two major complaints we had with Sony's smartphone flagship. However, we tended to crank up the brightness setting to the higher levels while in use. A layer of tempered glass, while perhaps not our preferred choice, didn't pick up a scratch during our week of testing.
We'll keep it brief here. Tablets are rarely gifted with the greatest camera sensors because, well, they're tablets. Sony at least went as far as to include one of its Exmor R 8-megapixel camera units, but performance is still average. We were a little disappointed with the noise on several shots, perhaps, in part, because faults are more easily visible on a screen with the resolution to show you the whole shot. There's no flash to assist in darker settings, but automatic white balance does a decent job of ensuring colors look correct, while Sony's customizable camera app UI is easy to configure with the settings you need.