To date, Sony’s forays into the tablet market have been somewhat lackluster - the Tablet S, Tablet P and Xperia Tablet S all received rather lukewarm receptions - but its latest offering, the Xperia Tablet Z, may change Sony's fortunes. Riding on the coat tails of Sony's somewhat unexpected smartphone resurgence this year, first with the 5-inch Xperia Z, and most recently with the 6.4-inch Xperia Z Ultra phablet, the Xperia Tablet Z is an ultra thin, high-end, 10.1-inch Android tablet built from the same principles as the Xperia Z smartphones: sleek, black, waterproof. We find out if Sony's latest tablet has the winning formula.
Key highlights of the Sony Xperia Tablet Z
Unlike the unconventional 'fold-design' wedge-shapes of Sony's Tablet S and Xperia Tablet S, this time, Sony has opted for a minimalist rectangular design for the Xperia Tablet Z, which is pretty much just an extra larger version of the Xperia Z smartphone. The no-nonsense design actually works really well in tablet form as, thanks to its insanely thin 6.9mm edge (thinner than the Xperia Z smartphone, Motorola RAZR, iPad Mini, and pretty much everything else out there), it almost feels like you're just holding a screen in your hands - it's light too, at just 495g.
One minor concern with the Tablet Z's ultra thin form factor is that it has a fair bit of flex, which can be somewhat unnerving. However, it does have the same glass fibre polyamide 'OmniBalance' design that runs around the edge of Sony's Xperia Z smartphone, so it should be able to survive a few knocks and drops.
Like the Xperia Z smartphone, the Tablet Z's lone distinctive design touch is a round, silver power button located at the top of the left edge. The power button is actually a bit smaller than the one on the Xperia Z smartphone.
Where the Tablet Z differs from its smaller smartphone sibling is the rear, which features a matte black finish rather than the smartphone's glass panel. While it doesn't look quite as premium, we actually prefer the finish as, not only do you not have to worry as much about unsightly fingerprints (although it still gets a bit grubby), it also provides a bit of extra grip (useful for when you're using the Tablet Z in the shower!). Anecdotally, we also found that the rear of the Tablet Z doesn't heat up quite as much as the Xperia Z.
Like the Xperia Z smartphone, the Tablet Z boasts an IP57 rating, which means it's dust resistant and waterproof. However, this also means that all ports are sealed by a pull out door when closed, which can be quite fiddly to open.
While the Tablet Z's waterproof capabilities might make it a tempting option for watching your favorite Korean drama in the shower or bath tub, it should be noted that, any water falling onto the touchscreen tends to activate it, which can cause some annoying behavior (such as switching back to the homescreen, launching unwanted apps etc.). Likewise, while it won't suffer any damage from being immersed in water, you can't actually use the tablet underwater as the weight of the water on the touchscreen causes the same erratic behavior.
The Tablet Z sports a 10.1-inch 1920 x 1200 pixel resolution TFT HD LCD display with a pixel density of 224 ppi, which is pretty good, and on par with that of the ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity 700, but falls short of the displays found on the Samsung Google Nexus 10 (2560 x 1600), and Apple iPad (4th Gen) (2048 x 1536). Nevertheless, the screen is bright and super sharp, with text looking especially good.
Unlike the Xperia Z smartphone, the Tablet Z displays excellent contrast with deep blacks. Colors are vivid too, if a bit on the warm side - it's not too apparent on its own, but when comparing white websites side by side with an Apple iPad (4th Gen), the Tablet Z comes off looking a little yellowish in comparison. Viewing angles aren't fantastic, but are much better than those displayed on the Xperia Z smartphone.
Unfortunately, like the Xperia Z, the Tablet Z's screen is super glossy and reflective, which is both a fingerprint magnet and problematic when you're trying to view dark content under bright lights.
The Tablet Z has two speakers located at both lower corners of the tablet. Each speaker has two speaker vents, one located on the bottom, and one on the left/right edge. The speakers themselves are only average in quality, lacking in bass and also a bit soft, which isn't helped by the fact that gripping the tablet by its sides often causes your hands to cover, and muffle, the edge speaker vents. While the Tablet Z boasts Sony's Clear Audio+ technology, which claims to enhance any audio played through the device, we failed to notice any difference with it turned on.
Like the Xperia Z smartphone, the Tablet Z runs a close to default version of Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean, with just a few of Sony's own tweaks. The homescreen provides up to seven screens for apps and widgets, with a series of circles indicating which screen you're currently on. At the top-left of the screen there’s a bar where you can slot four of your favorite apps into (similar to Windows' Taskbar), which is useful for quick access to an app from wherever you are on the tablet.
Sony includes a few of its own services and apps pre-installed on the Tablet Z, including Socialife, a content aggregator that shows posts from your various social networks in a Flipboard-like style, as well as Sony's Video Unlimited and Music Unlimited content streaming services. Of course not to forget is the availability of Sony's Small Apps feature that was first introduced on the Xperia Tablet S and it allows for certain level of multitasking; although options are limited, there are a few handy items.
Connectivity on the Tablet Z is fairly standard. You'll find the usual headphone port, micro-USB port for charging and connecting to your PC, a microSD card slot for increasing the Tablet Z's 16GB storage space and a SIM card slot for 4G LTE connectivity. As mentioned, to access these ports, you'll have to open a little door that seals the tablet when closed.
As with the Xperia Z smartphone, the Tablet Z can also link with various Sony products with relative ease. For example, its NFC connection can be used to link to an Xperia Z smartphone to share a data connection, or to an NFC enabled speaker to play a song. You can also throw content to your Sony Bravia TV or wirelessly connect your Sony Playstation 3 Dualshock 3 controller. While it is possible to use these same features with other non-Sony brand devices, it's a bit more complicated to setup.