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Sony has a new flagship tablet to fight the iPad Air 2

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2014 was an odd year for Sony. Can you think of another company that released five flagship products in a single year? We're talking the Xperia Z2, the Z3, the Z3 Compact, the Z2 Tablet, the Z3 Tablet Compact. That's an awful lot of Z's. At MWC in Barcelona, it's leaving its flagship phones be, and bringing a new full-sized tablet -- the Xperia Z4 Tablet -- and the mid-range Xperia M4 Aqua.

The Xperia Z4 Tablet is the first "iPad Air competitor" from Sony in a year, and while it may look similar to the Z2 Tablet it replaces, a lot has changed. Almost everything about the Z4 is improved over its predecessor. It's like someone at Sony hammered the "+" button in their industrial design app to create a new spec sheet. Everything is bigger, better, brighter. Let's get the key specs out of the way:

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet vs. Z2 Tablet
Spec Xperia Z2 Tablet Xperia Z4 Tablet
Processor Quad-core Snapdragon 801 Octa-core Snapdragon 810
Display / resolution 10.1-inch 1,920 x 1,200 10.1-inch 2,560 x 1,600 (2K)
Cameras 8.1MP rear/2.1MP front 8.1MP rear/5.1MP front
Battery life 6,000mAh ("13 hours video playback") 6,000mAh ("17 hours video playback")
Weight 439g 389g

Okay, so not everything is bigger: The Z4 has slimmed down to an iPad Air 2-matching 6.1mm, and also weighs 389g (393g for the LTE version), which happens to neatly undercut the Air 2 and other competitors. Sony's also gotten rid of one design issue with past Xperias: the cap on the charging port. This cap was a previous requirement for the Xperia's famed water/dust-resistance rating, and even though it was never more than a minor annoyance, Sony says it's managed to go capless while keeping the certification. The final, welcome addition to the spec sheet is Android 5.0 Lollipop.

Sony Xperia Z4 tablet dock

Sony will also sell (for an unspecified amount) a keyboard dock that turns the Z4 into a mini laptop of sorts. It pairs over Bluetooth and setup was simple enough, but it feels like Sony missed an opportunity to cram extra functionality or an external battery into the accessory. Navigating Android with a keyboard isn't exactly ideal, either, but Sony has at least created a mini launcher and added a few shortcuts to the top row of the keyboard. Either way, it seems functional enough in a pinch, but it's unlikely to have Lenovo, Microsoft and the rest of the convertible crowd quaking in their boots.

The Xperia Z4 Tablet hasn't been priced yet, but it's likely to start somewhere close to $499 (see update at the bottom of this article) for the 32GB WiFi model -- roughly in line with the Xperia Z2 Tablet it replaces and the iPad Air 2 it's hoping to dethrone. It'll be available this spring.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

The second device Sony is showing off is the Xperia M4 Aqua, and it's unlikely to turn many heads. It looks a lot like Sony's Z3 and Z3 Compact, and that's not such a bad thing -- we love the Z3 Compact. Okay, in place of the Z3's metal, there's a plastic band surrounding the device, but it still feels very much like a premium device. It's got a passable 5-inch 720p display, an octa-core Snapdragon 615 processor, LTE, 8GB of storage (expandable with microSD) and a 13-megapixel rear camera with a wide f/2.0 aperture. Sony is making a big deal about that camera, and it certainly took adequate photos in the brightly lit room we tested it in, but it didn't blow us away in the brief time we spent with it.

Sony Xperia M4 Aqua

Like the Xperia Z4 Tablet, the M4 Aqua is waterproof with no cap over the charging port, and runs Android 5.0. Unlike the Z4 Tablet, we actually have a price for the phone: €299 ($335). At that price, it's facing tough competition, especially from Motorola, whose Moto G has a similar spec sheet and an equally premium feel, but sells for just €179 ($200). Sure, the M4 has more RAM and a faster processor, but the average joe just looking at the display and feel of the device isn't going to see much difference. Regardless of its value, it's launching this spring in "80 countries worldwide," although we've been unable to confirm if the US is one of those countries.

Update: That may have been wishful thinking on the Xperia Z4 Tablet price estimate. European prices have started to trickle out from Sony's regional stores, and we're looking at a way higher "prices start from" point of £499 / €559. That means you can probably expect the US price to be more like $599... Sure, it's well-built, but that seems like a super tough sell for Sony. And it was so promising. If our editorial standards allowed me to throw a row of sadface emojis in here I totally would. Just imagine it, for me?

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