Sony Tablet S review: first look
Amid a bevy of product announcements at Sony’s IFA 2011 stand, its brand new Android tablet, the 9.4in Tablet S, caught everyone’s attention. We fought through the crowds to get up close and personal with Sony’s new media darling.
If you’re looking for novelty in the specification sheet, you’re likely to be disappointed. The 9.4in, 1,280 x 800 screen is powered by an Nvidia Tegra 2 processor and comes with Android 3.1 installed as standard – although it will eventually be upgradeable to 3.2.
Nevertheless, the screen itself looks bright, and even under the vicious glare of the Sony booth spotlights it positively oozed with contrast. If you can gauge speed from a few minutes spent flicking through menus, and idly pecking through a demo gallery of pictures and videos, the Tablet S feels as responsive as they come.
However, it’s the physical design that delivers the real departure from the exisiting crop of Android tablets. With a novel wedge-shaped design, the Tablet S tapers across its back from a thin edge to a thicker rounded profile. That extra girth makes the Tablet S more manageable than most in portrait mode; with more to grip onto, it actually feels far lighter than the claimed 598g weight would suggest.
Pop the Tablet S back on the desk, and that tapered figure also allows the display to tilt just that little bit forward. Thus, rather than forcing you to crane your neck to look from above, it’s quite usable from a sitting (or standing) position. In addition to making for easier typing, this makes it far easier to watch a video or read a webpage with the tablet flat on a desk.
If you crave an even more laptop-like tablet, the optional Sony docking cradle and Bluetooth keyboard will happily oblige. For tapping out longer emails, the wireless keyboard is the far comfier option – and a strip of Android navigation keys along the keyboard’s top edge save you from having to reach out and prod the display with aggravating regularity.
Although Google’s Android 3.1 software is largely unmodified, Sony has added a few finishing touches of its own.
The first is the ability to use the Tablet S as a (very expensive) universal remote control, courtesy of an integrated infrared transmitter. Hundreds of TV brands and models are preconfigured, so most people will be able to just select their telly from the list and get channel-hopping right off the bat. If your TV isn’t listed, an IR receiver allows you to program the requisite codes using your old remote.
Another nifty party trick is the ability to ‘flick’ movies and music wirelessly to other devices. You don’t need a Sony TV for this: apparently it’ll work with any recent TV with up-to-date DLNA support, though we’re yet to see a definitive list of supported hardware. We tried and failed to get a decent video of the process (frankly we’re surprised it worked at all over IFA’s overloaded airwaves), but we saw plenty of demonstrations of it working.
It’s also possible to flick web pages and internet video over to the TV. Find a funny/horrible/interesting video on YouTube, and all you have to do is hit the shortcut button to fling it over to the TV set. The Tablet S then turns into a wireless touchpad/remote control, allowing you to continue surfing the web on the big screen.
The final attraction – perhaps the main one, depending on your priorities – is that the Tablet S (like its little brother, the Tablet P) boasts PlayStation certification. That means it’s possible to play downloadable PS One games, such as Crash Bandicoot:
The on-screen controls aren’t perfect: with default settings, we found the precision control required to avoid plunging Crash Bandicoot into every other crevasse nigh-on impossible. Thankfully, it’s possible to adjust both the position and size of the controls to suit your hands. As you’d expect from a game of this age, the graphics are basic, but the overall appearance is crisp and colourful, and framerates are silky smooth.
Whether Sony’s Tablet S would tempt us away from Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1, or indeed an iPad 2, is yet to be seen. With the basic 16GB Wi-Fi model coming in at £400 and available from the end of September, you’ll have to wait for the PC Pro review before we can give you the definitive answer.