Sony Xperia Tablet S Review
This is the second time out the gate for the Sony Xperia Tablet S. It originally launched in September, but was quickly pulled from the shelves thanks to a manufacturing fault. That’s unfortunate for Sony, because in the interim the Google Nexus 10, Amazon Kindle Fire HD, iPad 4 and iPad mini have all hit the market.
That gives this refresh of the Sony Tablet S some rather stiff competition. But with a premium build and specs to match, it’s certainly still got a chance.
A striking folded book design ensures that the Sony Xperia Tablet S is eye catching, easily standing out from the hordes of identikit Android tablets. On top of that it’s got a premium finish that brings to mind the build of an iPad more than most other tablets. The end result is that it looks stylish and expensive.
That sense of it being a premium device isn’t just skin deep either. With a 1.3GHz quad-core Tegra 3 processor it should be pretty powerful too. Though it only has 1GB of RAM, and the 1280 x 800, 9.4-inch display isn’t anything to write home about in resolution terms, coming in at just 161 pixels per inch.
That’s a little disappointing, given that the similarly positioned Google Nexus 10 has 2GB of RAM and a 2560 x 1600, 300 ppi display.
Running Android 4.0.3 Ice Cream Sandwich, the Sony Xperia Tablet S isn’t as up to date as it could be, but at least it’s getting an update to the latest major version of Android.
The Sony Xperia Tablet S comes in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB varieties, with the option of Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi and 3G (3G version only currently available in the UK, 64GB version not available in Australia).
The price starts at £329/AU$539/US$399.99 for the 16GB Wi-Fi-only version of the tablet, which puts it roughly in line with the equivalent Google Nexus 10 and significantly cheaper than a 16GB iPad 4.
Prices rise to £379/AU$649/US$499.99 for a 32GB model, which is still a bit cheaper than a 16GB iPad 4, or £449/US599.99 for a 64GB version.
If you’re in the UK and want the 3G version, it currently only seems to be available in 16GB and will set you back £429 (around AU$656/US$691), which again is about £70 cheaper than the equivalent iPad 4.
With only 1GB of RAM, the Sony Xperia Tablet S doesn’t stand up too well to the 2GB of RAM on what’s likely to be one of its biggest rivals – the Google Nexus 10. But it’s not too much of a problem, since 1GB is still the norm, with both the iPad 4 and the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity sporting 1GB of RAM.
Running Android 4.0.3 Ice Cream Sandwich, its operating system feels slightly dated too, though again many other tablets are in the same boat.
Its 1.3GHz quad-core Tegra 3 processor is more competitive at least, since many tablets still rock dual-core processors.
Bluetooth 3.0 and USB 2.0 support are par for the course, but support for SD cards of up to 32GB gives the Sony Xperia Tablet S a selling point over an iPad or Nexus tablet, since neither of those have any expandable storage.
Interestingly it takes SD cards rather than micro SD cards. We’re not sure why that is, particularly since it still only supports cards of up to 32GB, but it’s worth noting.
The Sony Xperia Tablet S is powered by a 6,000mAh battery, which doesn’t sound like much – the Google Nexus 10 rocks a 9,000mAh battery and the iPad 4 comes with an enormous 11,666mAh battery. Despite the relatively small size, Sony reckons that it should last a pretty reasonable 12 hours with ‘standard usage’.
The Sony Xperia Tablet S is undoubtedly a premium device. With a shiny aluminium body and an iconic fold at the top, it really is a looker.
Viewed front-on it doesn’t do quite as much to stand out, because it’s basically just a black rectangle. But the start of the curve is still just visible at the top, making it at least a little different from the norm, while the slightly rounded corners ensure it doesn’t look unattractive.
The front is also totally devoid of buttons, a sight that has started to become commonplace on Android tablets but was definitely the right way to go.
The only things you will find on the front are a black bezel around the edge of the screen, giving you somewhere to put your fingers without obscuring anything, along with a small ‘Sony’ logo at the top-left and a camera lens in the centre of the top edge, capable of taking 1 megapixel photos and shooting videos in 720p.
The 9.4-inch LCD screen is only 1280 x 800, giving it a relatively low pixel density of 161 PPI. It’s certainly not the best screen you’ll ever come across.
Numbers aside, the resolution is noticeably worse than even the Google Nexus 7, let alone the iPad 4 or Google Nexus 10, while its brightness and contrast isn’t desperately impressive either.
It does at least provide good viewing angles, staying visible from pretty much any position. While the screen never gets all that bright, there is also a useful auto-brightness option, which will dim or brighten the screen automatically based on how bright your surroundings are.
The back sports that stylish black fold at the top while the rest of it is shiny aluminium.
The main 8 megapixel, 1080p camera can be found in the centre of the fold, otherwise the only real feature is a pair of small speakers running along the bottom left and bottom right of the back.
The bottom edge of the Sony Xperia Tablet S houses a ‘multi-port’ that the charger and included USB cable connect to.
There isn’t a dedicated HDMI port, but you can purchase an adaptor that enables you to connect the multi-port via HDMI. There’s a removable cover for the port, and while the cover is on, the Sony Xperia Tablet S is supposedly splash proof, though of course you’d still do well to keep it away from any significant amount of liquid.
The right edge holds the tablet’s only two buttons – a power button at the top (which is also used to sleep and wake the tablet) and a volume rocker just below it. They stick out enough to be easy to press but the curved sides mean that they aren’t prominent enough to spoil the lines.
The left edge has a 3.5mm headphone port at the top and a covered SD card slot slightly further down.
The top edge curves off into the fold on the back, with no ports or buttons to spoil it.
The tablet generally feels good in the hand. Weighing 570g, it’s slightly lighter than some of its rivals (the Google Nexus 10 is 603g while the iPad 4 weighs 652g) and the difference is noticeable.
It makes it light enough to hold comfortably for longer, while still being weighty enough to not feel cheap.
The folded edge on the back does make it ever so slightly top-heavy and unbalanced when held in landscape mode, and as such it’s advisable to hold it with the fold at the bottom – even though that appears to be upside-down.
On the other hand, the fold has a mottled feel to it that both makes it pleasant to hold and leaves it feeling secure in your hand.
Along with the curved edges and relatively light weight of the tablet, this makes it a great device to use for long periods without a stand. Whether you’re watching movies, playing games or web browsing, it provides a pleasant, comfortable experience.
With dimensions of 239.8 x 174.4 x 8.8mm (9.44 x 6.87 x 0.35 inches) the Sony Xperia Tablet S is not the sleekest tablet you’ll ever see, though folded back aside it is quite slim and definitely doesn’t look or feel overly large.
It certainly ticks a lot of boxes, with a premium build, expandable storage (along with up to 64GB onboard), a fast processor and a 3G version available.
On the other hand, the screen is a bit of a disappointment and Android 4.0.3 Ice Cream Sandwich is two iterations behind, but for the £329/AU$539/US$399.99 price tag it has still got a lot going for it.
Interface and performance
The Sony Xperia Tablet S runs Android Ice Cream Sandwich, but Sony has skinned it a little, so there are some differences.
Booting the tablet up takes a fairly lengthy 36 seconds, meaning it’s not that convenient if you just want to quickly check your email or look something up. Once it does boot up, you land on the lock screen, and this at least is pretty standard Ice Cream Sandwich.
There’s the time and date in white writing at the top, and a lock icon at the bottom. Swiping the lock to the right will take you to your home screens, while swiping it left will launch the camera.
Sony has used an abstract wallpaper for the background – the same one it uses on just about all of its phones and tablets, but of course you can change this to anything you want.
The home screens are a little different from what you might have seen on other devices running Ice Cream Sandwich, but they still function in much the same way.
You swipe across the screen to move between pages, of which you’re limited to five in this case. That’s not very many, especially if you plan to use many widgets, but there are other launchers available from Google Play that can extend that number if need be.
Moving between the screens produces a slightly 3D effect, because they rotate a little like a carousel. Gliding across the home screens is slick and responsive with no slow down, and as with any other Android device, each home screen can be filled with apps, folders and widgets.
Tapping an app or folder will open it, and tapping a widget will do, well, whatever the widget does.
The Sony Xperia Tablet S comes with a few widgets already set up. There’s one that displays recent documents, one with social network feeds, one that displays notes from Evernote, one that shows recently read books, one with weather forecasts and a few that try to get you to buy things.
Aside from the ones that just advertise stuff, it’s a pretty good selection, but there’s no requirement to keep any of them if you don’t find them useful.
At the bottom left of each screen you get the three main software buttons – back, home and recent apps.
These will probably be familiar from other Android devices, but the back button takes you back to the previous screen, the home button dumps you on the home screens and the recent apps button brings up a display of any apps you’ve used recently and enables you to tap on one to open it (often taking you straight back to where you were in it). Alternatively you can swipe across an app to remove it from the list.
Having these buttons on the left of the screen rather than in the centre takes a bit of getting used to, but once you do it doesn’t pose a problem.
At the bottom-right of each screen, the time, battery level and any active connections are displayed. Just to the left of them you can see thumbnails for any recent notifications, so for example if you’ve got a Facebook message an ‘f’ symbol will be displayed.
Tapping anywhere in this area brings up the notifications screen, which shows your notifications in detail and enables you to tap on them to open them when applicable. It also displays the date and has an icon that takes you to the main settings screen.
Where things really start to differ from the norm is in the bottom centre of the screen. Here you’ll find two more icons. The first one launches a remote control for use with other Sony devices, such as TVs and Blu-ray players.
Unfortunately it only works with Sony devices, and even then not all of them – for example the Playstation 3 is incompatible – so its usefulness is limited.
Next to that there’s a mini-apps icon, which brings up a small selection of apps that launch in a little box on top of whatever you’ve currently got open. The selection includes things such as a calculator, note pad, timer and – most usefully of all – a web browser.
This is a really great idea that we’d love to see on more tablets. Being able to look something up online without leaving the app you’re in is a simple but important feature.
Unfortunately, although these mini apps can be repositioned, they can’t be resized, meaning you can’t really use them at the same time as doing other things. For example, you can’t watch a video while browsing the web because the web browser is large enough to obscure part of the video.
That’s a shame, and is obviously the next step, but it still adds an extra level of convenience to using your tablet.
At the top-left of each home screen there’s a Google search bar, which can be used to perform text and voice searches of the internet or the tablet itself. These work reasonably well, but in terms of searching the tablet, it’s generally easier just to look through the applications list for what you want.
To the right of that there are icons to launch the web browser, email, camera and settings. We suppose this is the Sony Xperia Tablet S’s take on a dock, but it’s not as convenient as docked apps on other Android tablets.
The icons are small, the positioning is different and you can’t change what icons it lists. So for example even if you have no interest in using the camera on your tablet, it will still have pride of place on every home screen.
At the top-right of each home screen there’s another new addition – Guest Mode. This enables you to set up multiple user profiles and even limit access to specific apps on them. It’s a useful feature, though it’s worth noting that any tablet running Android 4.2 has a very similar feature built in anyway.
It’s actually more useful than this too, since you can select a user from the lock screen, whereas on the Sony Xperia Tablet S it always defaults to the main user and you then switch it to another user from the home screen, giving you less privacy if you just want to use the tablet as a shared device.
It also doesn’t set up apps differently for each user; for example if a secondary user is granted access to the email app it will still be logged in to the main user’s account. It didn’t always work very well either. Sometimes trying to launch a different user area just brought up a message asking us to try again later.
Finally at the far-right there’s a button to launch the app drawer, and nothing has been changed here at all. You swipe horizontally across the screen to scroll through your apps and widgets, while icons at the top-right enable you to configure how you want to sort them (either alphabetically or by newest first). You can also get to Google Play from here.
You long-press an app or widget to place it on a home screen, and in the case of apps you can also delete them by long-pressing and then dragging them to the bin icon.
Once on a home screen, apps can be dragged and dropped on top of each other to create folders, while long-pressing a home screen enables you to change the wallpaper.
Part of the general operation of the Sony Xperia Tablet S is of course using the keyboard, and Sony has put its own one on the device, rather than using the standard Android one. It’s not too different, though.
It’s well sized both in portrait and landscape, it seems very accurate and there’s no lag on button presses so mistakes are minimal, though we did notice that it occasionally missed the first letter in words.
It brings up word suggestions as you type, and tapping on any of them will complete the word, but it doesn’t auto-correct mistakes, and although it makes a tapping sound when you press a button there isn’t any haptic feedback, so it’s a little limited.
There is a voice option if you prefer, and that generally proved pretty accurate, but it would often take a few seconds to interpret and input your words, so it’s not really any faster. All in all it’s a mediocre keyboard, adequate certainly but nothing special.
However, there are dozens of alternative keyboards available on Google Play if you don’t get on with it, and with the exception of haptic feedback (which is a hardware feature) they should be able to add everything that’s missing from this.
The only part of the interface left to look at is the settings screen, and there’s not a lot to say about that because it’s the normal Android one.
There are various sound, display, storage and security options, such as brightness, whether or not to auto-rotate the screen, and activating a pin or password on the lock screen.
Additionally, you can view details on the battery performance, set up and sync email accounts and more. It’s all clearly labelled and well organised, so it’s easy to navigate even if this is your first Android device.
All in all the Sony Xperia Tablet S is pretty easy to get around. The changes Sony has made to the Android interface give it a bit of a learning curve for anyone who already knows Android, since certain icons aren’t where you’d expect. But once you get used to it, it’s fine.
It performs well on home screens too, gliding around them with ease, and even when multitasking it doesn’t seem to struggle.
The new features are a mixed bag – not being able to change the dock icons is a shame, and the keyboard isn’t the best we’ve seen, but mini apps is a great idea, the guest user mode is a bit glitchy but potentially useful, and if you’ve got a Sony TV the remote could come in handy.
The Sony Xperia Tablet S comes with dual band Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n internet. There’s also a more expensive version available that comes with 3G too.
It isn’t quite as snappy as we’d like for web browsing, – the top half of a page will often load almost instantly, but we found that sometimes we had to wait a good few seconds before the bottom half would load.
It also seemed inconsistent about whether to display full desktop pages or mobile versions of sites.
Once a page has loaded it’s not too bad, there’s rarely any lag when scrolling, though if you scroll too fast the browser takes a second to catch up with you, displaying empty white space in the interim.
You can pinch or double-tap to zoom and the screen is big enough that you won’t need to do too much zooming, thankfully, but text isn’t as crisp as we’d like, which can make it unpleasant to read from for long periods.
On the plus side, text reflow is supported, so at least pages will generally fit the screen.
The Sony Xperia Tablet S comes with the standard Android browser, which is easy to use even if you’re new to it. There are tabs along the top of the screen, and you can tap on the plus symbol to open a new one or the cross to close one.
Below that there’s the address bar, which can also be used to search Google, and to the left of that are a refresh page button and forwards and backwards buttons, which scroll back through previous pages.
To the right of the address bar there’s a star symbol that can be tapped to bookmark the current page. To the right of that there’s a magnifying glass, which brings up the keyboard, ready to enter text in the search bar (though tapping in the address bar achieves the same thing). When on the text entry screen the magnifying glass changes into a microphone, enabling you to speak instead of type, if you’d prefer.
At the far right of the screen there’s a button that takes you to your bookmarks. These are displayed as thumbnails and you simply tap one to open it. There are also tabs at the top of this screen that enable you to view your history and any pages that you’ve saved for offline reading.
At the top right of a browser page you’ll find a drop down menu with options for new tabs, incognito tabs, the ability to share a page or save it for offline reading and access to the browser settings screen.
Additionally you can open the page in the mini-browser from here. That’s the browser that pops up on top of whatever else you’re doing – letting you multitask to some extent.
Essentially it’s the same as the main browser, but you only have one tab and can’t access your bookmarks or any other options. It’s a nice idea, since it enables you to bring up the browser without coming out of other apps, but because it can’t be resized it can get in the way a bit.
It’s a competent browser, with many of the limitations stemming from the resolution and performance of the tablet rather than the browser itself, and unlike many newer tablets, the Sony Xperia Tablet S has Flash support.
All that said, there are plenty of other browsers available from Google Play, and the Sony Xperia Tablet S even comes with another browser too – specifically Google Chrome.
In a lot of ways this is a better browser, but it’s definitely not intended as the tablet’s main browser, as evidenced by the fact that the other browser has a permanent place on the dock and is used for the mini-browser.
With their investments in TVs, music and video games, Sony has always been a company that values media, and that is evident in the Sony Xperia Tablet S.
For one thing, it supports a decent amount of different file types, specifically MP3, WAV, eAAC+, MP4, H.264 and H.263, with plug-ins available from Google Play for most unsupported files.
Almost every Android tablet comes with access to Google Play, which in itself is easy to use and home to thousands of movies and books, as well as media player apps, but Sony has packed its tablet with a few extras to make media consumption even easier.
There are a selection of pre-loaded movie and video apps on the Sony Xperia Tablet S. First up there’s Crackle, which has a selection of streaming movies and shows.
It requires an internet connection to use and most of the movies are either quite old or things you probably won’t have heard of – while many of the shows are actually web series, rather than TV shows. But there are some gems on there, and it’s all free.
Crackle is available from Google Play anyway, so it’s not really a selling point, but it’s a decent app so it’s nice to have it on there when you first start the tablet up.
Next up there’s Movies, which is Sony’s video player. It displays thumbnails for all your videos and also has options for wirelessly streaming videos to other devices or accessing media stored on other devices.
Tapping on a video brings up information on it (assuming the player can find any), while playing it gives you the standard pause, jump forward and jump backwards controls.
There’s also a drop-down menu that enables you to share the video to Facebook and the like or send it to other devices on your network.
Finally there are a few sound settings, including xLOUD, which boosts the volume through the internal speaker, and a toggle that attempts to imitate surround sound.
xLOUD works well, getting the tablet up to a decent volume for watching movies on. We’re not quite so convinced by the imitation surround sound – it seemed to sort of work, but obviously it’s never going to come close to a genuine surround sound setup.
The Sony Xperia Tablet S also comes with Video Unlimited, which is Sony’s own video store, enabling you to both rent and purchase films and TV shows.
It’s got an OK selection, with some quite recent stuff on there and prices that are fairly comparable to those on Google Play. It does a good job of bulking up the total selection of films you have access to as well, though Google Play will still likely be your first stop.
Additionally there are a trio of Google video apps. Specifically, these are YouTube – which gives you easy access to YouTube’s entire library – and Play Movies and TV, which will play any video files saved to the tablet, and is also where you access any titles that you’ve rented or bought from Google Play.
It’s a very straightforward player with minimal settings to tweak. It doesn’t seem to have direct access to xLOUD, but you can toggle it on or off from the main tablet settings screen.
The third Google video app is Movie Studio, which enables you to create and edit video projects, using the camera to film footage, then editing it together and adding music and images.
As video editors go it’s very basic, and not really as easy to use as a desktop application, but for simple things such as adding music to a video, it gets the job done.
Outside of apps you can also connect the Sony Xperia Tablet S to TVs and monitors via HDMI, enabling you to watch things on a bigger screen. But you will need to get a multi-port adaptor, since it doesn’t have a dedicated HDMI port.
The Sony Xperia Tablet S has an almost overwhelming amount of video apps and options, and the end result is that it’s a very competent player.
The screen is a good size for watching things, the tablet is comfortable to hold for long periods and there’s plenty of storage capacity since you can buy up to a 64GB version and also supplement that with an SD card.
The only real failing is in the resolution, which just isn’t great, and the contrast between colours isn’t that deep either. Things are still perfectly watchable on it, and after a while you may not even really notice – as long as you avoid using a tablet with a better screen – but it still detracts from an otherwise impressive package.
Music, on the other hand, is handled almost perfectly. The screen of course isn’t an issue here, and the large storage capacity is still a boon. As with video, there is a selection of music apps installed out of the box.
There’s Walkman, which is Sony’s music player, and is fairly comprehensive. You can sort your music by track, album or artist and create playlists.
There’s also an option called SensMe, which creates playlists around a mood or style of your choice, for example you can ask for ‘energetic’ or ‘emotional’ music.
There are also a bunch of sound options. xLOUD makes an appearance, boosting the volume without distorting it, and as with the video player, you can also ask it to imitate surround sound (with similarly mixed results).
Plus there’s a built-in equaliser, which you can tweak to your hearts’ content or just set to a number of presets, such as ‘rock’ or ‘pop’. With all these options, it’s one of the better players we’ve come across on a mobile device.
Sony has also included its Music Unlimited service. Unlike Video Unlimited this isn’t a store so much as a subscription-based music streaming service along the lines of Spotify. It has a similar number of tracks and a similar price tag, but you can’t use it without a subscription, so it won’t be useful for everyone.
The only other music app on the Sony Xperia Tablet S is Google’s Play Music. This is a fairly basic player in most ways, and is available on most Android devices. But it’s still worth a mention, because it enables you to upload 20,000 tracks to the cloud and then stream them through the app (or on a PC or Mac) absolutely free of charge.
Obviously you need an internet connection for this, but it’s incredibly useful, particularly if you want to save space on your tablet.
As with videos, there are also plenty of other music players available to download from Google Play.
Thanks to Sony’s comprehensive Walkman player, the decent internal speakers, streaming music from Play Music and the potentially large amount of internal storage available, the Sony Xperia Tablet S is brilliant as a music player.
There’s not quite so much to talk about for books. A tablet will never be as good for reading as a dedicated e-reader, but that hasn’t stopped Sony from trying to make it as compelling as possible by putting its own Reader app on it.
It’s a standard e-reader, with built-in access to Sony’s own bookstore and a library of any books you’ve purchased from there available to read. As with most such things, it doesn’t seem to want to play nice with e-books purchased elsewhere, though.
The Sony Xperia Tablet S also comes with Google’s Play Books app. It’s a similar idea, with an attractive layout and pleasing page turn animations when reading.
Additionally, Zinio has been included, which gives you access to a magazine store. There’s quite a lot on there, including things from other countries, so there’s a good amount to choose from.
The prices are also generally lower than a physical magazine, and you can either buy individual issues or subscriptions.
While books generally fare better on proper e-readers, thanks to their e-ink screens and longer battery lives, the larger, colour screen of a tablet works a lot better for magazines, so Zinio is an app that might get a lot of use – even if you already have a Kindle or other e-reader.
You can also get apps for Kindle and other e-readers from Google Play, but again they’ll never be as good as the real thing. That’s highlighted even more on the Sony Xperia Tablet S, where the fairly low resolution screen means that text is not as sharp as we’d like.
Though there are a lot of books and readers available for it we wouldn’t fancy using it to read for a long stretch of time.
Ultimately the Sony Xperia Tablet S is superb for music. In fact we really have no complaints at all in that area. Expandable storage and Sony’s Walkman app combine to make it better than the Google Nexus 10, or most other Android tablets. We’d even give it the edge over the iPad 4 as a music player.
It’s pretty good for video too, with a load of apps and options, good speakers and expandable storage.
The screen could be better, which holds it back from being in quite the same league as the iPad 4 for video, though it still holds its own against many Android tablets. The screen again becomes a problem for books and magazines, and aside from Sony’s own Reader app, it does little to stand out from the crowd in that area.
Apps and games
Google Play is the place to go for most apps and games, but before you do that it’s worth checking out what’s already on the Sony Xperia Tablet S, since Sony has packed it with a generous number of apps.
Many of these are media-related and have already been covered in detail on the previous page of this Sony Xperia Tablet S review, but there are a few others that we’d be remiss not to highlight.
For one thing it comes with OfficeSuite, which isn’t actually as comprehensive as the name suggests, since it doesn’t enable you to create or edit documents.
It does enable you to view them, and does a decent job of that, locating files anywhere on your tablet or external storage and enabling you to view a word count for them.
There’s also Scrapbook, which enables you to saves images, web content, maps and more to a page and then share it.
Then there’s Socialife, which creates a combined feed from social networks, YouTube and any news sources that you’re interested in. It’s attractive enough, but social network updates can easily get lost among news stories if you use the combined view.
None of the miscellaneous Sony apps come close to being essential, and as a result it doesn’t really stand out from the crowd in terms of apps.
Of course there’s also basic stuff such as a calendar, a calculator and various Google apps such as Maps, Gallery and Navigation, all of which work well enough and all of which are instantly familiar coming from any other Android device, so we won’t dwell on them.
There are hundreds of thousands of other apps available from Google Play, so you should be able to find pretty much anything you might want, especially since it’s quick and easy to navigate.
If you use any other Android devices you can also ask the Sony Xperia Tablet S to sync apps with your Google account, in which case it will download any apps you already own, saving you the effort of manually doing it.
Though Sony hasn’t bundled any games with the Xperia Tablet S, it also hasn’t forgotten about them. It comes with links to its games blog, web-based storefronts for Gameloft’s games and a link to download the WildTangent app, which enables you to rent games.
Shortly after setting the tablet up it will also prompt you to download PlayStation Mobile. We’re not sure why it couldn’t have just come pre-installed, but once you do install it you’ll have access to a selection of games that can’t be found on Google Play, because they’re only available for Sony devices.
Don’t let the PlayStation name fool you, though – there aren’t any full console quality games available here, but there are some quite fun time-sinks. That is if you’re willing to part with a few pounds to buy them.
You’ll still want to head to Google Play to find most of the biggest and best games, and with the power of a quad-core Tegra 3 processor, the Sony Xperia Tablet S handles most of them with ease.
We tried a few different graphically intensive games on it, and for the most part it provided a pretty flawless experience. The only time we ran into any trouble was during a particularly manic encounter in Dead Trigger, when the frame rate noticeably dropped. But this only happened once.
Otherwise it’s a solid gaming tablet, and with PlayStation mobile support there’s always a chance that it could get some impressive exclusives in the future.
The expandable storage means you can download a lot of large games without worrying about space, too. It’s definitely one of the best Android tablets for gaming, and right now there’s a lot more available than for any Windows tablet.
But it still can’t compete with the iPad, which has a massive lead in both quality and quantity of available games.
The Sony Xperia Tablet S has an 8 megapixel main camera and a 1 megapixel front-facing camera. Given the reasonably high megapixel count, we were expecting solid performance from it, but were left disappointed.
The biggest problem isn’t the quality of the pictures, it’s the fact that the camera would regularly crash. This generally happened when launching it or switching between pictures and videos. We’re not sure if this is a widespread issue or just a problem with our review unit, but it happened often enough to become seriously annoying.
Once you actually start taking pictures, things improve a little. There’s no flash, but there are a handful of options to tweak, such as white balance, exposure and focus mode (it defaults to continuous auto focus, but you can switch to touch focus or auto if you’d prefer).
There is also a panorama mode and a few different scene modes, such as landscape and sports. It’s hardly the most comprehensive set of options we’ve seen on a mobile or tablet camera, but given that a tablet is likely to be a secondary camera at most, it should more than suffice.
Image quality is a bit of let down considering the megapixel count – the results weren’t really any better than those produced by 5 megapixel snappers such as the one on the Google Nexus 10. On the other hand, many tablets only have 5 megapixel cameras, so it still holds its own.
The Sony Xperia Tablet S’s camera produces OK images, but everything other than the immediate foreground tends to be a little low on detail.
Landscape mode helps a little, but even then the background is far from crisp.
Sports mode lessens blur on fast moving objects but fails to totally eliminate it.
Close ups aren’t as sharp as we’d like.
The camera does a decent job of indoor shots as long as they’re reasonably well lit, but as with everything else, the backgrounds lack detail.
The Sony Xperia Tablet S handles panoramas as well as most of the competition, though processing them takes a good 30 seconds, so they’re not exactly fast.
The Sony Xperia Tablet S has a Full HD 1080p video camera that can shoot at 30fps, but despite that we weren’t very impressed with it.
First off, being part of the main camera app it’s subject to the same crashes we experienced when taking photos.
There also aren’t many settings to tweak here – you can change the exposure and white balance or add a time lapse interval, but that’s all.
It handles fast moving objects reasonably well (particularly considering there aren’t any ‘action’ or ‘sport’ scene modes). However, there isn’t much detail, and even a little bit of camera shake causes it to lose focus.
Results when indoors are similar to when outdoors – OK but low on detail. Moving while filming is a non-starter thanks to how quick it is to lose focus, though at least it refocuses quickly too.
The Sony Xperia Tablet S comes with a 6,000mAh lithium ion battery. 6,000mAh isn’t really very much; the Google Nexus 10 has a considerably larger 9,000mAh battery, while the iPad 4 has an almost twice as big 11,666mAh battery.
Sony claims you’ll get 12 hours out of it before it’ll need a charge with ‘standard usage’. Unfortunately our idea of standard usage seems different to Sony’s. Sure, if you have the screen off and don’t interact with it the tablet will last for days, but as soon as you start using it the battery begins to plummet.
As with most tablets, the screen seems to be the biggest drain, since listening to music with the screen off saw quite a slow drain (around 4% an hour). On the other hand, spending about 15 minutes shooting videos and taking photos drained the battery by 10%.
We ran our standard battery test on it (playing a ninety minute video when the device is fully charged, on full screen brightness, connected to Wi-Fi and sending push notifications from email accounts and social networks).
By the end of the video the battery had dropped to 62%, which is a huge drop, particularly considering that the screen doesn’t get all that bright to begin with, so you may well even want it at full brightness.
The Sony Xperia Tablet S’s battery life really did disappoint us. We weren’t thrilled by the battery in the Google Nexus 10, but even that outperformed this, while the likes of the Google Nexus 7 and the iPad 4 both blow it out of the water.
Hands on gallery
The Sony Xperia Tablet S does so many things right but many other things wrong. As a portable music player it’s almost unrivalled, it’s pretty good for video too in a lot of ways, but the poor screen resolution holds it back from being brilliant.
The build quality is great; it’s got a powerful 1.3GHz quad-core processor and the inclusion of an SD card slot helps set it apart from the iPad 4 and the Nexus range. But the battery life is terrible and the camera is glitchy, plus it’s a bit of a disappointment even when it does work.
All in all it’s a tablet of two halves, and some of its missteps are forgivable given the fairly reasonable price tag of £329/AU$539/US$399.99 for the 16GB Wi-Fi version. But others are harder to overlook.
The music playing capabilities of the Sony Xperia Tablet S are enormously impressive. With multiple players included, good speakers, xLOUD technology to further increase the volume, a built-in equaliser, expandable storage and free cloud storage thanks to Play Music, it really is one of the best tablets there is for music.
The good speakers, expandable storage and xLOUD technology also make video fairly good, while the powerful processor ensures it’s generally a very smooth performer. The build quality is among the best you’ll find in Android land, though still beaten by most Apple products.
The mini-apps that Sony has included are a great idea too, and they’re something you won’t currently see on any other manufacturers’ tablets.
The battery is far and away the biggest problem with the Sony Xperia Tablet S. For music it’s not too bad, but for video, gaming or even just web browsing it drains pretty quickly. We’re not sure what Sony was thinking putting such a small battery in a high powered, large screened device, since ultimately it’s just not up to scratch.
The screen is lower resolution than we’d like. It’s not terrible, but neither is it as good as many similarly priced tablets. The Google Nexus 10 and iPad 4 are known for their screen quality, but even the iPad mini, which was somewhat lambasted for its resolution, has slightly more pixels-per-inch.
Moving away from pixels, the Sony Xperia Tablet S also doesn’t have a very impressive contrast, with colours often being a little muted. The camera was worryingly glitchy and not brilliant in any case. This isn’t such an issue because the camera isn’t a big selling point of tablets, but it’s still a shame.
It’s unfortunate for Sony that it was unable to properly launch the Sony Xperia Tablet S back in September as it had intended. Back then it wouldn’t have been compared to the Google Nexus 10 or the iPad 4, and we would have looked on it more favourably as a result. But it really struggles against this recent competition.
It’s not a bad tablet by any means, in fact for certain users – those who plan to use it heavily for music in particular – it’s still well worth considering. The expandable storage and mini-apps also help set it apart from many of its main competitors, and if you want a premium build quality but don’t want to buy Apple, then, again, the Sony Xperia Tablet S is well worth a look.
The screen isn’t quite as good as we’d like, but it’s far from terrible. It’s running a slightly dated version of Android and the camera is a little glitchy, but none of these are huge problems. The main issue is the battery, which just can’t be overlooked, whatever you plan to use the tablet for. You’ll be charging it a lot.
If you can live with that then this is a powerful, versatile tablet with a lot of storage, optional 3G in the UK, a great build quality, some inspired software and a competitive price tag. We just wouldn’t blame you if the battery was a deal breaker.
The Sony Xperia Tablet S is a few tweaks away from competing with the best. It does so much right, but a few too many things wrong.
By James Rogerson, TechRadar