Sony Xperia Tablet Z Review

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Introduction

The Sony Xperia Tablet Z is a super-light device designed to take on the iPad with a quality screen and innovative features – but is the price too high?

But when it comes to tablets, the world of Android is a funny old place.. There have been plenty of pretenders, but not really one that stands out when it comes to market share in the way the iPad does. And it’s a wrong Sony is determined to put right with the Xperia Tablet Z.

Sony has tried before – the Xperia Tablet S, Sony’s most recent foray, was a decent if uninspiring effort. But as with others, it failed to stand out in a world full of challengers. Time for the Sony Xperia Tablet Z to improve on this.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

The first thing we noticed when we took the Sony Xperia Tablet Z out of its box was how beautiful it was. We don’t want to sound gushing, but as gadget lovers, we have unboxed a lot of devices. Yet it’s on only a few occasions that we’ve taken something out of its box and instantly been smitten with it.

We’re thinking of the way we felt with the first iPhone (and the iPhone 4), the Nexus One, the iPad 2 and the HTC One. Certain devices just have the power to evoke a strong reaction that makes you feel instantly transfixed. The Sony Xperia Tablet Z definitely comes under that category.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

And the accessories (like the official case/stand, for example, if you have more money than sense) won’t be available until-mid June. Unsurprisingly, Sony says this is its most pre-ordered tablet yet.

But it won’t come cheap. The 16GB Wi-Fi-only model will set you back £399/US$499.99/AU$539, the 32GB Wi-Fi version costs £449/US$599.99/AU$649 and the 16GB LTE/4G model is priced at £499/AU$679 (US price not currently available).

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

That’s exactly the same as the equivalent iPad 4, and roughly what you’ll pay for a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1. Make no mistake, Sony is making a statement here: "Our products are just as good as Apple’s, so don’t expect them to be cheaper."

Features

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

There are several reasons why we became instant fans. Firstly, looks: the Sony Xperia Tablet Z doesn’t try too hard. There are no uber fancy bells and whistles here. To all intents, it’s a simple black rectangle. But what a rectangle it is. Highly glossy glass on the front made from toughened, scratch-resistant glass.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

It looks (intentionally) like a larger version of Sony’s already stonking Xperia Z phone with one minor difference – the back of the tablet isn’t glass like the phone, but a more matt-style polycarbonate makeup. And aside from the standby and power buttons on the side, there are no others. As per Google’s direction, all navigation is done via the screen’s software buttons.

Then there’s the thickness. Or, rather, the lack of. This is currently the thinnest tablet on the market – and it really shows. If you think the iPad 4 is respectable at 9.4mm (0.37 inches), then you’ll really be blown away at the Sony Xperia Tablet Z’s 6.9mm (0.27 inches).

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

In terms of overall footprint, it’s slightly different, clocking in at 266mm x 172mm (10.5 x 6.8 inches) compared to the Apple offering’s 241.2mm x 185.7mm (9.5 x 7.3 inches). But the other thing you’ll notice is just how light it is.

Weight is one of the tricky ones, with frequent complaints that tablets such as the iPad become too heavy to hold for long periods of time. The iPad 4 tips the scales at 662g (1.46lbs) and even the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 is no feather at 600g (1.32lbs). The Sony Xperia Tablet Z trumps them both at 495g (1.09lbs).

This really is one of those devices you have to experience to appreciate. Pictures and YouTube videos just don’t do it justice.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

Added to that is the fact that the Sony Xperia Tablet Z, like the Sony Xperia Z phone, is water and dust resistant.

This is a tablet you can comfortably take into the bath and not worry about. It’s slightly disconcerting doing so, since every fibre of your being is telling you not to dunk it in the water, but provided you make sure the waterproof plugs are in the sockets, you’ll be fine.

In fact, the only way this doesn’t work is when trying to swipe underwater. The screen registers all kinds of movements, so you have to take it out and dry the screen to really get it to register screen taps. Mind you, if you’re likely to be playing Fruit Ninja underwater, you probably need to have a word with a doctor. For watching movies in the bath or at the bus stop in the rain, you’ll be fine.

If you try and run water on the display, get ready for a panic, as it registers a million taps and opens every app under the sun, making you worry that the tablet has a plug open and water is getting inside. It’s not, stay cool.

However, we do wonder if waterproofing this tablet is anything more than a gimmick. Yes, you can use it in the bath without worrying, or get egg on it while cooking. It makes it feel more rugged, indeed.

But do you need a tablet to do that? Without the covers it might feel like a more slick product, and that’s something we would love to see. It could possibly do away with the angular corners too, which is a real design problem in our eyes.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

We’re not totally sold on the dust resistance either. Yes, it means that dust won’t get in beneath the screen, which used to be one of our main bugbears on devices of old. But the Sony Xperia Tablet Z does have a ridge all the way around the edge that seems to attract lint. You can clear it with a blow or a blast from a vacuum but it’ll just come back. And don’t get us started on fingerprints – this is a magnet for them.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

And the screen is another area you’ll want to know about. We weren’t bowled over by the displays on more recent devices such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 or Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 because of their resolutions.

The trouble is once you’ve experienced a sharpness like Apple’s Retina displays, nothing else can really live up to your expectations. We used an iPad mini recently and it felt almost third world that we were able to spot pixels on websites and ebooks, even if it was less of an issue with photos and videos. The same could be said of Sony’s Xperia Tablet S.

But there are no such issues here. The Sony Xperia Tablet Z sports a Full HD display – 1200 x 1920 pixels spread over its 10.1-inch screen, giving a pixel density of 224ppi.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

It’s not the sharpest out there – that honour is held by the Google Nexus 10 and its staggering 299ppi – but with the Nexus 7‘s more than respectable 216ppi at one end of the scale and the iPad 4′s 264ppi at the other, you get the impression of where the Sony Xperia Tablet Z sits.

We spot pixels for fun and can categorically say that this is a super sharp display that we were more than impressed with. And surprisingly in side by side comparisons, it bested the Google Nexus 10 and was every inch the equal of the iPad 4 – beating the latter when it comes to movie watching simply because it has a more widescreen ratio.

On top of that, Sony’s equipped the Xperia Tablet Z with its Mobile Bravia Engine. A lot of the time this is all smoke and mirrors, using fancy new titles that add little to the experience. Not so much here, though. The Sony Xperia Tablet Z looks absolutely phenomenal, with photos and videos popping out of the screen brilliantly.

Even on just normal tasks, like web browsing, the colour is spot-on. It’s not too bland but also not overly colourful, which is a criticism sometimes levelled at Samsung. Whites look warm on the Sony Xperia Tablet Z, rather than yellow.

There is little here we can criticise, other than the fact that the screen is sometimes too bright. We had the Sony Xperia Tablet Z set to auto-brightness, but found ourselves often having to manually turn it right down to the lowest possible setting. Maybe Sony thinks we’re all half blind, but sometimes less is more.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

One other observation we must point out here is how much better the screen viewing angles are on the Sony Xperia Tablet Z compared to the smartphone equivalent. On the tablet, it’s an LED-backlit LCD panel, while the Xperia Z phone ships with a TFT display.

The phone screen is sharp and bright, but look at it anything other than dead-on and it looks more washed out than an old pair of jeans. You won’t find this on the Tablet Z, where the viewing angles are much better, although the iPad does have a superior contrast ratio based on general usage.

It’s good to see, since this could have been a massive Achilles’ heel, especially because you’d be more likely to share content with friends on a larger screen, watching movies together and so on.

If you’re a fan of movies, a microSD card slot is another big bonus here. Sony has stuck two fingers up at Google and its move to cloud-based alternatives, forcing people into 32GB or less of onboard storage.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

It means that you can buy a 16GB model and easily bump your storage up by an extra 64GB without breaking the bank. It’s a big issue. Google assumes people are happy to stream from the cloud, but bearing in mind the space an OS and bloatware can take up and the fact that you have to install apps onto the internal memory, by the time you’ve added a few big ones like the GTA games, a couple of HD movies and a few songs, your allowance is shot.

And if you’re on a plane or a train and want to stream from your collection of 30,000 tunes, you’re out of luck unless you’ve previously decided which ones to download to the device. That’s why we remain fans of SD card slots, even if you disagree in some of the comments sections.

Powering this beast – and making sure your movies all play without lag or stutter – is a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor with a quad-core 1.5GHz Krait CPU. Add to that 2GB RAM and you’re on fire.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

Some early reports have claimed there is a slight lag on certain tasks such as swiping from screen to screen, though the same posters have added that installing another launcher such as Nova or Apex fixes the issue.

We didn’t notice much lag on our unit, and we really rinsed the Sony Xperia Tablet Z as much as we could. Occasionally it would take a couple of taps of the home button to go back to the main screen, but it wasn’t often and it tended to be during CPU-intensive tasks. Either way, if those reports are true for some, it’s to do with Sony’s launcher rather than a hardware issue, so Sony will be able to fix this with an update.

We did notice that the screen isn’t as responsive as we’d have liked. When browsing the web in portrait mode it bounced all over the place at times, and we want something amazing – really amazing – in a tablet that costs this much,

Powering the Sony Xperia Tablet Z you’ll find a 6,000mAh power pack. While huge, it’s not the biggest out there, bearing in mind the iPad 4′s is nearly double the size at 11,560mAh and the Galaxy Note 10.1 offers up 7,000mAh. We’ll go into how it performed in the Battery section of our review.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

Charging is done via a micro USB connection, which means you can use any other chargers you have lying around the house too, though you have to have a wall socket, since it won’t charge off a laptop. Hard luck.

We won’t lie, the act of charging is a pain. For one thing, you have to take the waterproof cover out each time (this is the downside of having a waterproof tablet) – unless you’re using the pricey official dock with charging contacts – and although high quality and secure, we can’t help but wonder how long they will last.

Add to that, this is not a quick charging device. Where you can plug an iPad in for a 10 minute power blast and be confident you’ll gain a bit of juice for a quick jaunt, the Sony Xperia Tablet Z takes forever to charge up. We found it’s definitely an all-night job. Slow doesn’t come close to describing it.

Interface and performance

The Sony Xperia Tablet Z ships with Android Jelly Bean 4.1.2. It’s not the very latest, but there are plans for a prompt bump up to Android 4.2 to bring the Sony Xperia Tablet Z in line with Nexus devices running the very latest software.

We imagine this will happen sooner rather than later since this is Sony’s flagship device, though – as is often the case – the OEM is reluctant to give exact dates for fear of fans going nuts if the deadline slips.

As an Android device that isn’t direct from Google, the Sony Xperia Tablet Z is skinned, but it’s not an oppressive overlay like some.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

We’re fans of Sony’s attempt. While not always the case historically, Sony’s current skins aren’t too intrusive. They’re not overly caked with bloatware – apart from a few questionable additions – and seem to add more functionality than just decoration. Little things such as the small apps that ship on the home screen and enable you to launch mini browsers, TV Remotes, notes, clipping apps and so on are really handy.

In the same way Samsung has been lauded for adding the multi-screen element to the Galaxy line, so Sony should be commended here. We found ourselves regularly using Polaris Office to tap out work notes with a small browser running in the corner for reference, and occasionally firing up the Remote small app to change the TV channel. On a screen of this size, it becomes second nature.

So while we had our reservations on the Xperia Z phone, they went out of the window on the Sony Xperia Tablet Z.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

If you’re used to an Android phone rather than a tablet, you’ll notice things are a little upside-down on the Xperia Z tablet. The notification bar sits at the bottom of the screen, rather than the top. Meanwhile, the app drawer icon is at the top, rather than the bottom, along with a Google quick search bar.

We also like the fact that you can add four small shortcuts to the top of the screen that will be there, no matter what home screen you’re on at the time. Think of the four little icons you used to be able to add next to the Start button on Windows that never went away, and you’ll be about right.

Holding your finger on the screen (or tapping the icon at the top) enables you to add widgets, apps and change wallpapers. You can also choose a different theme. This used to be common on smartphones but has slowly died a death. You can choose a theme and it doesn’t just change the wallpaper, but the lock screen and even menu colours. There isn’t an ability to download third-party options, but Sony provides you with a theme for many moods… even if they do seem all very similar.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

Sony also adds some widgets out of the box that you can choose to keep or delete from your home screens. Some, such as the music shortcuts, are great, but others are just included to encourage you to buy Sony’s wares.

One thing we do miss is the lack of shortcut toggles in the notification bar. For example, being able to turn Wi-Fi on and off without going through menus is a real blessing that you only notice by its absence, and maybe we’ve been spoilt by the Nexus 7 and Samsung Galaxy S4.

It’s not a massive hardship, since you just have to press the notification bar to bring up your notifications, then tap the settings icon. That in turn, opens up a smaller settings menu with toggles for various functions.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

But there’s no way to turn Bluetooth on and off here – you have to go into the full settings menu, which isn’t particularly well thought out. It’s a bit annoying, though can easily be fixed by adding a toggles widget downloaded from the Play Store (Sony doesn’t provide its own on the Tablet Z, in the way it does with the smartphone equivalent Xperia Z, which is a curious omission).

As we noted earlier, we found the OS to be snappy and quick. We had no complaints, despite reports elsewhere on the web. We surmise that others were using earlier review models, whereas ours was a final retail unit.

The included keyboard is one of the best we’ve ever used on a tablet. We’re big fans of Sony’s offering, and it’s clear that Sony has really put some effort into getting it right.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

As with all modern equivalents from Samsung, HTC and even Google, the keyboard supports both touch typing and swiping from key to key as it guesses your words. We normally download SwiftKey onto all new devices, but it’s testament to how good this offering is that here we didn’t feel the need to bother at all.

Apps are accessed either via the app drawer or shortcuts on the home screen. This is the default behaviour of Android – download an app and you get a shortcut on your home screen automatically, unless you remove it or turn the setting off in the Google Play store.

Within the app drawer they’re sorted in order of installation, though you can change this to another setting – such as alphabetical – if you prefer.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

Sony’s also added a couple of tweaks to the lock screen, which made for a more pleasurable experience. For example, if you set a passcode you can choose to press the standby button to have the screen turn off but not ask you for the passcode for a pre-determined amount of time.

It makes life so much easier if you pick the Sony Xperia Tablet Z up every 10 minutes to do something without having to unlock it each and every time, but still if it’s in your bag for an hour and some young ruffian dips their fingers in and helps themselves, they won’t be able to use it.

Another little tweak we liked was the ability to unlock the screen by double-tapping it. It seems like such a simple idea, but it makes life easier if the Sony Xperia Tablet Z is just sitting on a desk next to you and you want to see something without having to go through the act of picking it up, positioning your hands around it and pressing the button.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

Booting the Sony Xperia Tablet Z up from scratch isn’t a long, drawn-out affair – it all depends how much you have onboard to load up, but we found that 25 to 30 seconds or so was the average from cold boot to being fully able to go.

Apple has the edge on tablets when it comes to newbies for the simple reason that iOS is such an easy operating system to learn. But Android really is closing the gap. While we wouldn’t give our 66-year-old father a Sony Xperia Tablet Z for fear of causing a breakdown, if you have even the slightest bit of nous when it comes to using a tablet or slate, you’ll find the Sony Xperia Tablet Z highly intuitive and friendly.

Browser

Surfing the web is likely to be what you’ll use the Sony Xperia Tablet Z for most often.

We’ve played with a few tablets in the last month and we found the iPad mini comfortable to hold but the resolution didn’t live up to our (maybe far too high) standards, whereas the iPad 4 corrected the display issue, but brought about early arthritis from holding it.

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10.1 was a nice compromise in terms of weight and screen size, but again, the resolution of text on websites just left a yukky taste in the mouth. The Nexus 7 managed to offset that, but despite its portability, the screen felt a little small at times, with constant zooming in on sites.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

Honestly, you’d think we were hard to please.

The Sony Xperia Tablet Z is the first tablet we’ve used that makes web browsing a real pleasure, ticking all of the above boxes. Almost.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

You see, it excels in some ways. It’s light to hold, the screen is razor sharp and it’s ultra-portable. But it falls down on the basic principle of web browsing. Loading pages is not particularly fun.

The Sony Xperia Tablet Z is an Android device, and therefore ships with Google’s own browser, Chrome. It’s now out of Beta and has replaced the stock Android browser we used to get as standard. And while we’ve praised Chrome on lots of other devices for being super snappy and able to sync bookmarks easily and so on, here on the Sony Xperia Tablet Z it sucks.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

It’s not that it can’t load web pages properly or that things don’t look right. Our issue was that it’s too sluggish. We’d try to swipe up and notice we couldn’t because a page was still loading, where other browsers would still enable us to pan around in the interim. And this happened on loads of websites. We found it slowed us down, and that is not something we’re fans of.

However, it’s not all gloom here. We downloaded several other browsers (the UC Browser HD offering was our favourite) and it went from being something that made us sigh to something that lit up our faces. This is nothing to do with the processor, but is solely a software-related issue, so replacing the browser fixed it immediately.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

Likewise, we expect a future Chrome update to make this problem go away. As such, we wouldn’t discourage you from buying the Sony Xperia Tablet Z for this reason alone.

One other omission is flash. Regular readers will know we bring this up on most reviews. Yes, we know Google has dropped it and Adobe no longer supports it on Android and yes, we know the world is moving on. But when you do a lot of browsing, which you will on a tablet, you’ll inevitably land on a huge number of websites that still require it. Even the BBC tells you that it’s needed on certain pages to this very day.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

All is not lost, because you can still load Flash onto your tablet manually (via sideloading – Google is your friend here) but it’s another job, and while not particularly complex, if you’re not too tech-savvy you may get confused.

When pages do load, they look great zoomed out or in. Tap to zoom works brilliantly, although we couldn’t find a way to get text reflow to kick in. Loading times vary, depending on your browser.

We loaded TechRadar (which is content heavy on the desktop version) and it took a crazy long 13 seconds to load up over a strong, corporate Wi-Fi connection. Normally, we’d be able to start zipping about after a second or two, but remember that problem we just mentioned with Chrome? So we had to wait the full 13 seconds. Not fun. At all.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

But then we tried the same test with UC HD and the entire site loaded in just under six seconds. We were panning around after three. If this isn’t encouragement for Google to sort Chrome out, we don’t know what is.

Unfortunately, there is one strength Google has that other browsers don’t, and that’s the ability to sync your bookmarks and web usage across other devices on Chrome.

If you have loads, you’ll find it a right chore adding them one by one to a new browser. Which means that you save hair loss by gaining speed when loading pages, then lose the same amount of hair having to waste time messing around with adding bookmarks. Boo hiss.

Movies, music and books

Tablets are very much media consumption devices, so you need to be sure when you buy one that movies, videos and books are all things that you’ll be able to view on yours comfortably.

That’s not an issue we really needed to worry about with the Sony Xperia Tablet Z. We’ve already mentioned that screen, and we won’t bother repeating ourselves, other than to say it’s amazing with that Mobile Bravia engine included.

The inbuilt ‘Movies’ app (the video player) is pretty good – it uses GraceNote to find information and work out what is a TV show and what’s, well, not on the device. However, there are a lot better apps out there that can do the same thing, and they can remember where you left off when you were watching a video.

If you’ve got a lot of video files, the Xperia Tablet Z makes it hard to remember which one you were watching last, which takes a large amount of gloss off the video player.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

This being an Android device, newcomers may find it slightly confusing that there isn’t just one store for everything as there is with iTunes for the iPad. For example, Google gives you its options, while Sony does the same, and then there’s the third-party ones you can add on top of that.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

We see this with Video, for example. Google Play has its own video store that’s fairly well stocked as it tries its damnedest to take on Apple. But Sony also has its own Video Unlimited store, which you’re invited to try out too.

We were fairly impressed with Sony’s offering, but we’d expect to be, since one of the biggest entertainment companies in the world should have a good stock of movies in its digital coffers. We tried a few random searches and it didn’t let us down. Prices seemed fairly on a par with what you’ll get elsewhere – around £12 (around US$18/AU$19) to buy a movie or £3.50 (around US$5.30/AU$5.50) to rent it.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

In fact, the only thing we weren’t keen on was the size of the movies. This is a Full HD display with a beautiful screen. It’s screaming out for HD in every possible way. Yet all the movies we looked at on the Video Unlimited app (including the new releases) had only SD versions, with no option to download HD. The full desktop site on our PC does offer HD downloads.

Bearing in mind the movie is likely to download to the internal memory, perhaps this is a deliberate decision (on average, the SD movies were 1.5GB each, so an HD version would be enormous) but it did leave us feeling a bit short-changed. That’s not to say SD films look bad – thanks to that Bravia engine, they actually surpassed our expectations, but that’s not the point.

It’s a testament to the power of the Mobile Bravia 2 screen that despite the lower pixel count, it looks as good, if not sharper, than the Google Nexus 10 in side by side tests. It shows that resolution doesn’t always matter if it’s not processed properly.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

If you want to get music, again, you can do it via Google or Sony by default (not forgetting you can also download a third-party offering such as Amazon MP3). Sony’s offering is slightly different in that it doesn’t offer a music store but a music service.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

The Sony Xperia Tablet Z is merely another device on which you can listen to your Music Unlimited subscription, which enables you to stream unlimited tunes to your tablet in the same way you can with Spotify or other services. At £9.99 (around US$15/AU$15.70) per month, it’s on a par with others and will suit some users, depending on their preference of rent or ownership.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

It’s also worth noting that you can mirror a lot of your media to your TV, if it’s a smart TV. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be a Sony TV (we managed fine with a 2012 Samsung smart TV). Sony calls it ‘throwing’ rather than mirroring but regardless of semantics, we found it worked very well… as long as you’re one of the few with an internet-enabled TV. And one of the fewer to actually connect it up.

However, if you want to ‘throw’ stuff from, say, the YouTube app, you’ll have to download a third-party solution, because it only works with natively held videos, photos and music. And mirroring the actual screen is a minefield on a non-Sony device. This is where we miss the Apple TV and iOS’s ability to just work.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

If you decide to stick to listening to music on your Sony Xperia Tablet Z because you don’t want to ‘throw’ or you have an older television, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. In our review of the Xperia Z phone, we noted that the speaker was very tinny, but the performance of the Walkman software, via headphones, gave us one of the best audio experiences we’ve ever had on a smartphone.

The Sony Xperia Tablet Z goes one better. That’s because not only do you get that amazing audio via headphones (and incidentally, when streaming audio via Bluetooth) but the inbuilt speakers have a 3D surround sound mode.

Don’t get too excited – it won’t rival the cinema experience, and nor does it give the bass of HTC’s BoomSound on the HTC One – but it’s very, very impressive for a tablet and makes watching and listening to media a real pleasure.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

If you’re a reading fiend, then you have loads of options – Google offers you magazine subscriptions via its app, with most of the big titles in there. And as for books, you’re spoilt for choice.

Google Books is on there, enabling you to browse millions of titles and even download free samples to see if you like them. It works similarly to the Amazon Kindle app, which does the same thing and can be downloaded free from Google Play. Between these two behemoths, you’ll find there’s no shortage of reading material.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

What makes the Sony Xperia Tablet Z great here is that it’s easy to hold because of its weight. So, while you’ll probably put it in some kind of stand when watching a movie, you’re likely to want to hold it when reading.

And where the iPad and Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 get heavy, you’ll at least be able to put the Sony Xperia Tablet Z down when you want, not when you’re forced to through exhaustion. On the downside, the Sony Xperia Tablet Z can feel a bit awkward after a while because of those square corners. We urge you to try before you buy, because it all depends on how you hold your tablet.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

It’s also worth noting that Sony continues the trend introduced by HTC and Samsung and includes an IR blaster for controlling your TV, home cinema and cable boxes.

The software supplied was easy to set up, and we found ourselves controlling a Virgin Media TiVo box, Samsung smart TV and LG home cinema system within minutes. Again, early reviews pointed at problems. We had none ourselves and we were using three different brands – none of which were Sony.

Apps, games and battery

Apps and games

Android almost begs you to dive into the Google Play store and start downloading – but remember, apps will be saved to the internal memory, rather than your memory card, so keep an eye on HD games and so on or you’ll fill it up rather quickly if you elect for the 16GB model.

Google Play is so well stocked, it’s untrue. It’ll always be jostling with Apple’s App Store, but the fact of the matter is that anything you find on iOS’s offering, you’re likely to find on Google’s too. If it’s not the same app, then it’ll be an equivalent. Or several. And it’s growing every day. Once you set yourself up with a Google account, away you go. Although there’s not as many tablet-optimised apps for the Android platform, preferring to just scale up the phone versions.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

On top of this, Sony also provides access to its PlayStation Mobile Network, which means you can sign in and download games. But they’re kept within the PSM app. So we downloaded Lemmings (big YAY for the old school) but then found we couldn’t put a shortcut on the home screen because we had to go through the PSM app to load it.

It’s not a major inconvenience, but it has a sniff of control to it in the same way we’re used to with Apple and its modus operandi. Android users like to be in the driving seat, which is why many use the platform, so this didn’t sit too well with us. But it’s a minor quibble.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

You can also sideload apps from other app stores if you choose to download them. Bear in mind that Google warns you about installing apk files from others because it can’t police where they’ve come from. Traditionally, this is where you’re likely to find some nasties lurking, but if they’re from reputable app vendors (such as Amazon, for example), you should be OK.

We installed the Amazon app store out of curiosity and immediately bagged the Catch Phrase app. Small things really do amuse small minds. By the way, if you’re thinking of doing the same, it’s really hard compared to the old TV show.

Battery life

Considering the Sony Xperia Tablet Z has a smaller 6,000mAh battery, we weren’t holding out much hope for it. But we were pleasantly surprised in general use.

The first palpitation came when we unplugged the unit and noticed it went down from 100% to 99% in less than two minutes without being used. But after that, it stabilised well.

With the screen on auto brightness, we watched three 30-minute episodes of The Inbetweeners, browsed the web for about 30 minutes, streamed four songs and one four minute video to our TV and played a little bit of Solitaire for 10 minutes or so.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

After all that activity, the battery was down to 70%. When the screen is on playing video, the battery loses juice slowly. When the screen is on for browsing, it seems to eat through battery life quicker.

In standby, the battery went down about 2% an hour when not in use, but the Sony Xperia Tablet Z has one great trick up its sleeve – Stamina Mode. We first saw this on the Xperia Z phone, but it really comes into its own on the Tablet Z.

Stamina Mode works similarly to Juice Defender – a third party app. It disables the Wi-Fi and 3G radios when the screen is off, then turns them back on immediately when you turn the screen on again. You can select various apps to ‘whitelist’ and that then enables them to carry on carte blanche.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

It’s not ideal on a smartphone because you’ll then have to whitelist loads of apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, which kinda renders it useless, but you can get away with not whitelisting anything on a tablet and find the experience isn’t diluted too much.

In fact, we enabled Stamina Mode, put the Sony Xperia Tablet Z in a bag and forgot about it. When we took the tablet out eight hours later, it was only down from 100% to 98%, which is a phenomenal result.

We imagine fitting a larger battery would have eaten into the size and weight plus points, but it’s not going to last as long as some of the competition – for instance, the iPad will outdo it on battery life, as well as myriad other devices. It’s a mid-range competitor that you’ll probably want to charge every day or two, and there are some tablets out there which can boast better performance than that.

Camera

If you’re reading this section because you plan on buying the Sony Xperia Tablet Z to use as a camera, then we really can’t say anything. There are no words. Other than to warn you that you will look like a moron holding this up in the air as if it’s a Pentax camera.

Bear in mind, too, that taking photos outdoors on the Sony Xperia Tablet Z isn’t ideal in any way, because the glossy screen reflects sunlight and makes it difficult to view in bright, outdoor light.

The camera on the back is a respectable 8.1MP job, with another 2.2MP unit on the front.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

We say "respectable" because it does the job well, but this is by no means a camera replacement. If it were, Sony would have included a flash. Which it doesn’t. In fact, what it has done is bundle the software we got on the Xperia Z phone, made it work with a mediocre camera unit on the tablet, applied a bit of sticky tape and sent the Sony Xperia Tablet Z on its merry way.

The software that came as standard on the Xperia Z phone was pretty good – especially the Auto Plus mode, which works out your scene and what you’re looking at, and changes the settings all by itself.

But as with the phone, the tablet makes pictures look great as you’re looking through the viewfinder, then they go a bit wrong as they save, gaining noise and so on.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

The unit gives a real plethora of scene modes – everything from obvious ones such as Beach to Pet for when you want to Instagram your dog, and Gourmet, which presumably is aimed at those who love to partake in the ‘tweetwhatyoueat’ hashtag (it’s not cool, guys. Seriously, if you’re using a tablet to take pictures of food then you’re doing life wrong).

Shooting in anything but amazing light yields pretty poor results, as does shooting in the dark, since you have no help in the form of a flash or LED light.

If you have any sense, you’ll stick to using the front camera for Skype video calls and put the rest down to experience. That works well enough as advertised.

YouTube : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-a1AA0egX_4

The Sony Xperia Tablet Z is also adept at shooting Full HD video (1080p at 30fps) on both the front and back cameras. Again, you’ll need perfect lighting here and a memory card, because those files are huge.

We found that videos shot in decent light still looked quite grainy, and going between really strong light to poor light didn’t seem to be something it could cope that well with. On top of that, there’s no real depth of field – stand a fair distance away from your subject and it looks on the screen as though you’re staring into its mouth.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

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The Sony Xperia Tablet Z’s front-facing camera is passable, but a smile makes things look better.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

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Even under bright studio lights, the shot looks grainy.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

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But you can add some pointless effects to hide that.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

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Under bright spotlights photos look OK when small, but not blown up.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

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In poor light, they’re not brilliant.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

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And without a flash, there’s no hope in darkness.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

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Pet mode doesn’t make that much difference. Our pooch still looks cute.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

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Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

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Changing the scene mode makes colours slightly change, but doesn’t make much difference overall.

Hands on gallery

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

Official gallery

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

Verdict

There is no doubt here that Sony is coming out fighting with the Xperia Tablet Z, laying down the tablet gauntlet to the Apple iPad 4 and Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 and other Galaxy tablets.

It may have been biding its time, coming up with more mediocre devices in recent years to establish a footing, but Sony is really pitching a brilliant device here.

There are features on the Sony Xperia Tablet Z that you’ll find nowhere else, such as the waterproofing – and even if you never have any intention of watching Columbo in the shower, we always like to see innovation. Being able to connect a PS3 controller to it makes it an ace gaming device too.

Indeed, Sony just needs to make sure there are enough of these things to go around, and early indications are it’s not managing too well.

We liked

The Sony Xperia Tablet Z is one of the most beautiful tablets we have ever seen, and the fact that it’s so light is even better. We can’t overstate how far ahead the design of the Xperia Tablet Z is thanks to the weight… so many Android 10-inch tablets have failed simply because we can’t hold them for long enough. The corners are a little angular, which can affect your grip, but it’s not terrible.

The screen is sharp and vibrant, and Sony has really worked hard at adding to Android without overpowering the operating system – by including things such as helpful lock screen tweaks, themes, small apps, shortcut icons and packaging DLNA up (renaming it ‘throwing’) to make it user-friendly.

Things like the microSD card slot are really winning as well, and we love the way that Sony has made everything so easy to find on the tablet (after getting acclimatised to the way the user interface works).

We disliked

But while the design is beautiful and there is little weight, you may find it uncomfortable to hold at times due to the square corners.

And this is the biggest fingerprint magnet we have ever seen. Sony also needs to work at dimming the screen brightness, because Auto acts as though it’s on steroids. The video player could do with a spot of work and if you’re being pedantic, the lightweight plastic back don’t really make you feel like you’re holding a £500 device.

That price is high, no doubt. It’s on a par with the iPad 4, which is already at the sharp end of what people are willing to pay for a high-end tablet. It’s weight is a big positive for the device, but the lack of said mass does make it hard to shell out so much for it, oddly.

Other concerns such as the web browsing and older Jelly Bean software are things that may niggle at first, but can be sorted out through updates, which we imagine will happen soon.

Final verdict

We couldn’t wait to get our greasy mitts on the Sony Xperia Tablet Z, having been teased ever since it was unveiled. But we didn’t go into it blindly – so often, we’ve waited for the next big thing, only to feel that sense of ‘meh’ almost immediately. We never felt that with the Sony Xperia Tablet Z.

Yes it’s pricey, but this is a premium product that screams Sony. It speaks volumes that we really had to work hard to find downsides and cons to stick in the above ‘We disliked’ section to make this a balanced review – the majority of the ‘bad’ things were just average performance, although we would have loved a larger battery if physics could be re-written and it could be done without adding weight.

The screen response could definitely be improved, and the plastic back adds an element of flex that’s unappealing. Again, we recognise that this is due to the lack of weight, but it still grates.

You could save money and have a crisper screen with the Google Nexus 10, but you’ll lose TV control support and gain a lot of weight – it’s a much chunkier device, and that really matters with tablets these days.

The Sony Xperia Tablet Z is a triumph, a tablet that genuinely deserves consideration when you’re in the market for a new top-end gadget. If you’re against the iPad for any reason, or even just agnostic over your OS, the Sony has taken the best of Android and fused it with its own innovation to make a device that delights in more ways than we can count.

By Phil Lavelle, TechRadar


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