Announced at IFA 2012, the Xperia Tablet S is the first tablet from Sony under the Xperia branding that's also used for its smartphone portfolio (with the most recent addition being the recently announced Xperia Z full HD screen mobile phone).
However, this is not the first Sony tablet; we've seen the Sony Tablet S in October 2011 and the Tablet P in March last year. Both tablets are designed to stand out from the crowded tablet market with their unique designs; the Tablet S has a unique fold design that helps in the usability and handling of the tablet while the Tablet P adopts a clamshell form factor that combines two 5.5-inch screens.
No prizes for guessing which form factor and predecessor the Sony Xperia Tablet S hails from. Despite its similar appearance to the original Tablet S, the Xperia Tablet S boasts notable new features to stay relevant. Before we dive into the review, here's a quick look at its specs: -
Key Highlights of the Sony Xperia Tablet S (3G)
The front face of the tablet looks similar to the original Tablet S, with the 9.4-inch display surrounded by a rather thick black bezel. The extra space could be better used to increase the screen size to perhaps 9.7 inches across, but we feel Sony wants to minimize the possibility of Apple hurling lawsuits at it for infringing on its design patents. For some users, especially those with larger hands, the added bezel space comes in handy for better handling of the device while in active use since you're unlikely to touch the active portion of the screen.
The unique fold design at the back of the tablet finds its way back onto the Xperia Tablet S, although the curve and thickness is less pronounced. As a result, the display is no longer elevated to the extent where viewing angle and typing experience was supposedly better as was advertised on the old Tablet S. The curved edge still maintains the dotted texture, which helps to provide a better grip of the table in portrait mode.Overall, the handling of the Xperia Tablet S is good due to its rather lightweight form factor (585g) and its slimmer fold design. Here's the comparison with other tablets of its class:
Sony kept the design of the Xperia Tablet S as minimalist as possible, and limits buttons and ports to the two sides of the device. On the right of the Xperia Tablet S are the Power button and volume controls. You can find the 3.5mm audio output jack, SD memory card slot and SIM card slot on the left.
As you can see from the image above, the 3.5mm audio output jack is not covered or protected by a plastic cover. Sony claims that the Xperia Tablet S has a splash proof design but we wonder if there is a chance that water might seep into the tablet via the 3.5mm audio output jack.
Update as of 31st January:- Sony clarified the the Xperia Tablet S has a splash-proof feature that's equivalent to IPX4 standard, which means it can withstand water splashing from any direction, but it's not water resistant completely. The tablet has been tested from 360 degrees under IPX4 condition, including the area of the audio jack. According to IPX Ratings, IPX4 refers to protection against spraying water at all angles (water spraying up to 60 degrees from vertical at 10 liters/min at a pressure of 80-100Kn/m2 for 5 min).
The Sony Xperia Tablet S ships with Android 4.0.3 Ice Cream Sandwich. Sony is not fond of tweaking the Android user interface (UI) as much as Samsung, which can be a good or bad thing depending on your perspective. Some users may prefer a smoother UI without the bells and whistles while others may prefer the convenience and innovative features that some Android vendors come up with. Now, let's take a look at how the UI looks on the Xperia Tablet S: -
Sony came up with this nifty software addition in the Tablet S, and it makes another appearance on the Xperia Tablet S. By default, the icons are Browser, Email, Camera and Settings. The shortcuts bar can accommodate up to four apps at any time, and you can customize it. However, you cannot add a folder of apps into the bar.
Guest Mode is somewhat similar to the Multiple User Accounts on Android 4.2 tablets. Sony designates Guest Mode as a parental control feature which enables you to select and manage the content that other users can access.
The first step is to enter a name for the Guest Mode, followed by the option to limit the access to certain apps and widgets or to have unlimited access to all the content on the tablet. The next step is probably most important, and you may want to spend some time configuring which apps to be available.
For example, if you do not want other users to look at your photos, you should not select the Album or Gallery app. The same applies for other personal information such as the Email, Gmail and other social networking apps like Facebook. The last step before completing the set up of the Guest Mode is the option to set a code to unlock Guest Mode. If you do not set a code, any user can exit out of the Guest Mode.
Ever encountered a situation where you need to exit the app you are using (e.g. email invitation to an event) to check on another app (e.g. Calendar) before replying the email? While Samsung addresses this issue with its Multi-Screen and Pop-up Play features, Sony's idea is slightly more novel in its implementation.
Located at the center of the bottom row is Small Apps, a feature which allows you some leeway of multitasking between two apps by using one app in a small screen while at the same time, allowing you to continue using the main app that you are in. Small Apps include calculator, browser, voice recorder, timer and IR remote.
You can add any of the Small Apps as a shortcut to the right, where you can easily launch it. By default, the IR remote occupies the space beside Small Apps. Although you cannot add other apps to Small Apps at the moment, you can make any widget a Small App.