It is no exaggeration to say that Sony’s new flagship Android tablet, the Xperia Tablet Z, is one of the most impressive pieces of technology I have ever laid my eyes and hands on. It packs a set of competitive hardware specifications, a truly excellent display and Android 4.1 Jelly Bean into a slim 6.9mm frame that weighs just 495g, making it slimmer than an iPad mini and lighter than a 4th-generation iPad. But is the Xperia Tablet Z worth buying? You’ll have to read on to find out.
Hardware and Design
The Xperia Tablet Z is available in three variants – there are 16GB and 32GB WiFi-only models as well as a 16GB WiFi+LTE/HSPA+ model. From a design and build quality perspective, the Xperia Tablet Z is sublime. It would be apt to describe the Tablet Z as an upsized Xperia Z in terms of how it looks; the Tablet Z is flat and angular with minimalist lines, with a single sheet of glass covering the front of the tablet and a matte soft-touch back that attracts its fair share of fingerprints. The soft-touch back is one of the high points of the Xperia Tablet Z though; it makes the device very comfortable to hold and reduces the chances of it slipping out of one’s hand. Sony is quickly establishing a reputation for itself of building extremely well-constructed mobile devices, and the Xperia Tablet Z is no exception. Despite its impressively thin frame, there is absolutely no creaking or flexing to be found and its water and dust-resistant body means that one can use it in the rain, at the beach or at the poolside.
The 10-inch 1920×1200 TFT LCD display on the Xperia Tablet Z is easily the best part of this device. Not only does it pack an impressive number of pixels in a 10.1-inch diagonal making for a pixel density of 224PPI, it also does not disappoint in terms of viewing angles, colour balance, brightness and contrast. The display does not appear washed out even when one is looking at it from a side, unlike most Xperia smartphones.
Some of the more unique hardware features of the Xperia Tablet Z include NFC and an IR transmitter for use with Sony’s pre-loaded remote control app, allowing you to easily control your TV as well as most home audio/video equipment. The stereo speakers on the Tablet Z are well-positioned at the bottom corners of the device, but the sound that they put out is average at best in terms of loudness and volume. The power and volume buttons are very well-positioned, however, and offer good press feedback.
Performance and Battery Life
The Tablet Z is no slouch in terms of speed; its quad-core 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 Pro CPU coupled with 2GB of RAM keeps everything running smoothly, including demanding games like Shadowgun and Need for Speed: Most Wanted. I found the 6500mAh battery in the Tablet Z to last around 1.5 to 2 days with moderate use and LTE enabled, with around 8 hours of total screen on time. That is fairly decent as far as 10-inch Android tablets go; the Xperia Tablet Z should be fairly adept at providing entertainment throughout a moderately long flight.
The Tablet Z packs the same power-saving features that we have seen on the Xperia Z and other current Sony smartphones – there’s a Stamina mode which disables cellular data when the display is off, a low battery mode which disables various hardware features automatically once the charge level drops below a certain threshold and a location-based WiFi feature that only activates WiFi when in range of a saved WiFi network.
Imaging and Media
Frankly, I had rather high expectations for the Xperia Tablet Z’s 8-megapixel rear-facing camera given that the Tablet Z’s imaging abilities is supposed to be one of the unique selling points of this tablet. However, the Exmor R sensor on the back of the Tablet Z is purely average in terms of the images it puts out and the front-facing camera has not really impressed me either. Like most midrange smartphone cameras, the Tablet Z is pretty much unusable as a camera in low light, while aggressive noise-reduction algorithms serve to mask raw details in daytime shots. With that said, it is unlikely that one would use the Xperia Tablet Z as a camera for anything more than spur-of-the-moment photographs.
The Xperia Tablet Z’s camera app will be familiar to anybody who has used an Xperia smartphone recently; it is very decent and packs a good selection of settings and features including the Intelligent Auto mode, Sweep Panorama, HDR image and video capture and the ability to shoot still photos while recording video. Of course, standard features such as exposure compensation, ISO and white balance adjustment, touch-to-focus, face detection and software image stabilization are all present.
Sony’s collection of media apps have been adapted for the Tablet Z. The Walkman, Album and Movies apps sport a consistent 2-pane design, neat features and smooth transitions throughout. The Walkman app continues to be my favourite music player on Android; not only is it beautiful, it also allows you to download and update your album art and track info over the air, switch audio outputs effortlessly and automatically generates SenseMe playlists that automatically categorize your music based on moods, which actually works really well. As always, there are a plethora of sound enhancements that can be applied, including ClearAudio+ which seems to boost bass and treble, surround sound options, a graphic equalizer, xLoud and Clear Phase for the loudspeaker and a volume normalizer function.
The Album app (for viewing photos) has a very intelligent layout, showing you a timeline view on one tab and a grid of albums on the other where you can view the camera roll as well as photos that have been uploaded to Facebook and Picasa. If you have switched on geotagging in the Camera app, you can also have your geotagged photos displayed on a map so you can see where you shot them. Editing and sharing photos is a quick and painless affair; the Album app includes some basic colour correction and image manipulation tools as well as artistic filters that you can tinker with.
The Movies app is a real treat though. While hardcore geeks will still turn to 3rd-party apps like MX Player Pro that can play just about any video format in existence, Sony’s own Movies app is capable of taking appropriately-named movie files and tagging them with movie art, total length and a short synopsis. It is the attention paid to little details like this that really impresses me because it definitely improves the experience of watching a movie on a smartphone in a small but important way. I also like how Sony has made DLNA a very discoverable feature across all their media apps; you can “throw” any content from your smartphone to a DLNA-compatible device such as a HDTV with a couple of taps and any computer or device sharing their media library (through Windows Media Player, in my case) on your home WiFi network shows up as a content source across the Walkman, Album and Movies apps, allowing you to stream content such as music and movies from your PC almost effortlessly. Of course, the Xperia Tablet Z can also serve as a DLNA media server, allowing you to access the media on it from other DLNA-compatible devices.
Sony has done a great job of adapting their existing custom user interface on their smartphones to the Xperia Tablet Z. As a result, the user interface and preloaded apps on the Xperia Tablet Z are pretty much consistent with what’s available on the Xperia smartphone lineup. Pretty much all of Sony’s custom widgets and apps, including the Messaging, Clock and Calendar apps, have been adapted for the Tablet Z. Interestingly, Sony has stuck with the Android Honeycomb-style tablet user interface layout instead of moving to the more phone-like tablet user interface layout as seen on the Nexus 10.
Even on the WiFi+LTE variant of the Xperia Tablet Z, there is no Phone app preinstalled which means that you will not be able to make or receive calls on this device. However, Sony has also enabled support for Google Wallet, wireless DualShock 3 controllers (if you have a PlayStation 3, you’ll be able to connect your controller and play games on the Xperia SP), DLNA screen mirroring and MirrorLink (if your car supports it, you can control your Xperia device from your car’s infotainment system), in addition to throwing in apps such as Sony’s own Reader client (an ebook reader that supports PDFs and ePub formats but only has stores in US and Canada), Socialife (a social networking client that aggregates Twitter, Facebook and a few other services), Smart Connect (a utility that allows you to configure Sony’s own accessories like the Smart Watch and set up actions that take place when accessories are plugged in) and Xperia Link (which appears to be an easy way to tether your phone or PC to your tablet’s Internet connection).