Saturday, September 17, 2011

Sony Tablet S. My Review.

Sony took their time entering the Android tablet race.  At first glance their patience was not wasted.  This Sony S Wi-Fi Tablet (16GB)  has some clever features and an original look that makes it stand out from the pack.

Mine arrived the 14th of September. Well packaged.  The box includes a Quick Start Guide,  A pictoral guide to the power switch, unlocking the screen, calling up the onscreen keyboard, signing in for the first time, and swiping between home pages. The AC adapter appears straight from one of Sony's laptops with a long AC cord, a power brick, and a long cord from the brick to the proprietary charge point on the bottom edge of the S. I'm not a fan of the dock connection used, as it is snaps in and is a challenge to get out.   You also get a wrist lanyard, but there was no USB/syncing cable in the box.  Lastly there was all the usual boilerplate of warnings, licenses, and disclaimers.

Hardware features:
 - Universal IR remote/transmitter
 - Battery Type : Li-Ion 5000mAh
       + Battery Life when browsing web with Wi-Fi - 6.2 hours
       + Battery charge time - 5.0 hours.
 - Camera : Front – 0.3 Megapixel Rear – 5.0 Megapixel
 - Bluetooth version 2.1 +
 - Wi-Fi : IEEE802.11b/g/n
 - Full-size SD Card slot
 - TruBlack 1280 x 800 9.4" screen.
 - Internal, Monaural microphone
 - Internal, Stereo speakers
 - Dimensions: 9.5" x 6.87" x 0.82" (thick end), and 1.29375 lbs (by my scale, no SD card inserted).
 - User manual available here: PDF Link
Left Edge
Right Edge
SDHC & microUSB port

A bit smaller than the 10.1 tablets out there, it looks like Sony didn't want to have to compete for 10.1 inch screens in case this tablet was a hit. Their 9.4" screen is still 16:10 wide screen rather than 4:3 like the iPad.  It is better for movie playback and any other wide-screen media (like PlayStation games). I personally like the size. Lighter than the iPad2 and Samsung Galaxy 10.1 tablet I have, the weight plus the shape makes it almost delightful to hold.  Sony also looks to have considered ergonomics in their design, and I'm very appreciative. None of the large tablets I've reviewed so far have been easy to hold up long enough to watch a movie or read a book. They tend to cramp the hand that holds them by the edge. It's not natural or comfortable.  I've suggested adding a handle mount to the center back.  Sony may have a better solution though, and it comes from a simple redistribution of weight.  I have the thick end at about 55% of the weight and the thin end 45%.  The wedge shape makes it obvious how to hold the S for best results as well.  The back also has a texture and a friction coating to eliminate any slipperyness.
Video Frame
Media capability seems to be thorough. The TruBlack screen is beautiful.  Mine has played WMV, MP4, M4V, 3GP video files with no problem.  Other formats/codecs are playable with downloadable apps.  MP3, WMA (including WMA lossless), FLAC, OGG, WAV, MID, XMF music files played with no trouble.  Sony has also thrown in access to it's own Entertainment Network.  There are apps for Video Unlimited and Music Unlimited. Plus the Crackle app where you can view full-length Hollywood movies and TV series for free and on demand.  Finish it off with the Reader™ Store from Sony for ebooks galore.
YouTube App
Camera: The 5.0 megapixel rear camera doesn't include a flash.  It takes sunlight or photo lights indoors to coax a good picture from it, but it can be done.  Like all my other tablets with cameras you shouldn't consider the cameras on the S a replacement for even an inexpensive pocket camera. The S's cameras are better than those on my iPad2, but about the same as what came on any of my other tablets. Below are samples from my yard taken with the rear camera.  The front camera is best used for video chat.
Build quality is typical Sony.  This tablet is light but solid. No flex or squeaks in use. The rear surface has a texture to it that is less slippery than most. Ports and buttons hide inside the crease on the sides, and visually keep the look clean.  They are a bit more challenging to press or plug into though, although not enough to be an ongoing challenge.   The screen appears to roll right around to the back surface.  A nice affect.  The edge is undercut and gives the appearance that this tablet is thinner than an iPad from the front.  Under a flap on the left edge there is a micro-USB and full-sized SDHC card slot.  You'll also find the headphone jack on the left.  There are speaker vents on both edges. There is also a reset hole, which I've had to stick a paper clip into once so far.
Applications Screen
Apps: The included app assortment is impressive.  Most of my android tablets have had less than one page worth of apps to start with. There looks to be 45 or so apps on the S.  You can sort them newest first, A-Z, or a custom way. The downside?  The remaining memory space is only about 9gb.  So much for thinking I could get six or seven 2gb movies on board.  There were a few music, photo, and video samples included though. Roughly 430mb's worth.  When you get tired of those you can move them to your PC to clear up some of that used storage space.
AC Charger Connection Point

Problems?   Sony's Music and Video stores aren't ready at the time of this post.  The screen won't rotate with the thick (heavier) end down. I've also had off and on WiFi connectability problems.  The AC charger is a lump to deal with. No USB cable included. Crash Bandicoot keeps dying on me (OK, my fault not the S's), and yet I'm spending more time than usual enjoying this tablet.
Crash Bandicoot

Conclusions?  At the same prices as the WiFi iPad gen2s, Sony's Tablet S is the best shot I've tested yet to directly steal some sales from Apple. It has a great screen, clever physical design, great media support, Built-in DLNA capability, and a great size/weight. Add PlayStation game playing as well.  Easier to hang on to than any of my other tablets too. Battery life is a little short compared to most of the 10.1s and the iPad.  It's a first generation tablet though, and probably compares better to the iPad-1. With that iPad selling for $399 or less, Sony has this tablet just a little too highly priced.  I saved 10% on mine with a coupon code (now expired) and thought $450 was a fair price for it.  Look for discounts.  If you can save anything off the current MSRP then get one.  I'm keeping mine.


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  1. Wow already have the S? did you get a beta version or something? can you compare it to the Acer Iconia A100? im either gonna get that or the transformer next week.

  2. I didn't expect it to ship early, but JR had them and shipped mine the day after I preordered it. I have both the A100 and the S, and am having trouble deciding between the two. The A100 is running android 3.2. The S is on 3.1. The S's screen is larger, but not as portable as the A100. The S has a better quality screen than the A100 though. Comparible in view angles but better black levels on the S than the Transformer. Far more ports on the Transformer though.

    If you want large and don't need ports, I'd get the S. If you want something you can pocket (large pockets) then the A100 is a great value.