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Sony Tablet S

Posted by in Tablets | Comments Off on Sony Tablet S
Sony Tablet S
 

Most tablets have followed Apple’s design for thinness and design: make it as light, and perhaps as small, as possible. Keep the screen big, but the size has to remain small. Tablets like Samsung’s Galaxy Tabs or the Motorola Xyboards are exactly like that. But Sony entered the tablet market in a completely different. Their tablet doesn’t follow the traditional norms, today’s industry standards. That is only one of the things that makes the Tablet S unique, and thankfully in a good way.

Hardware

Even the name – Tablet S – denotes a level of simplicity Apple has only realized publicly in the past few weeks with it’s newest iPad. The Tablet S looks more like a MacBook Air than a tablet in shape; it’s thick on one end and thin on the other. This size differential is made for grip, a notorious problem among all tablets today. Most rely on accessories and cases to hold these slate devices, but the Tablet S is the first, and still only tablet that’s comfortable to hold with just one hand for hours at a time.

The reason for this is simple: a dimpled textured surface that’s easy to grip, and a thicker surface properly shaped for the hand. It doesn’t look sleek or particularly advanced, but it feels infinitely more comfortable than large tablets like the Galaxy Tab 10.1 or the iPad. There is no comparison: if you want a tablet to hold one-handed with no limitations, the Tablet S is the only option.

And it’s a good option. After an extended testing period, I’ve put the Tablet S through it’s paces in every way imaginable, and there is a lot to enjoy and appreciate. But when it comes to the physical build, as comfortable as the Tablet S is to hold, it’s also a confusing device to use. Android devices still don’t have a simple lock mechanism for the direction the screen displays at (upside down, rightside up, etc.), so there is a lot of unnecessary twisting and turning.

The 9.4″ display is bright and provides excellent color contrast and visuals. I especially enjoyed streaming movies over Wi-Fi, both thanks to the numerous video apps (including Sony’s own Crackle, which comes standard with every Tablet S), and because the display provides rich color. The 1280×800 display is sharp and comfortable to view, and has very high viewing angles. It may sound like a sidenote, but I am also impressed with the strength of the built-in Wi-Fi antenna. Most tablets and phones I test have trouble getting through in some of my test areas, but the Tablet S always had a strong connection.

However, the screen isn’t as impressive to use. The screen itself is slightly abrasive, and isn’t smooth like many of today’s smartphones like the iPhone 4S or Samsung Galaxy Note. Many of today’s phones have coatings to make the glass feel smooth, and less like kitchenware, but the Tablet S feels more like the latter. Cold fingers also make using the touchscreen very difficult, much more than competing tablets.

Software

Running Android 3.2.1, the Tablet S is stuck in Honeycomb and there is no word on when it will receive the Android 4.0 update. As far as Android is concerned, there’s very little worth noting. One improvement is the selection of quick-apps that can be placed at the top of the screen, which adds up to five apps to activate from any home screen, like most smartphones have.

However, Sony is perhaps the best company poised to introduce their own software to a device, and they do exactly that with the help of all of Sony’s other ventures. The Tablet S ships with a number of Tablet S-only apps, from the banal Wi-Fi checked and Personal Space apps to Sony’s Music and Video Unlimited and Playstation Store apps. Anyone who is part of Sony’s entertainment ecosystem in any way, and anyone who isn’t yet, will have access to a multitude of media not available on any other tablet, at least until the Tablet P releases.

 

Benchmarks

I ran a slew of benchmarks on the Tablet S, but users should note that it shipped with the Tegra 2 processor. Like most people fear, it was only a month later that Tegra 3 released and provided significant improvements, and made Tegra 2 obsolete.

 

Battery Life

Normally I use the Basemark OS benchmarking suite to test battery life, but unfortunately some tablets, the Tablet S included, don’t time out or have automatic screen locks which can’t be overridden without rooting the device. I don’t root test hardware for two reasons: first, because it isn’t the experience the majority of users (and readers) will have with the device in question. The second reason is because our hardware partners like Sony, Samsung, Motorola, HTC, etc. don’t like it. Rooting is a cumbersome task, and reinstalling the primary software is equally challenging and time consuming.

However, tablet battery life is a serious problem for testing because they can last anywhere from 5-10 hours of continuous use. As much as I’d like to babysit the devices being tested, poking screens every 29.5 minutes because otherwise the screen will shut down is not really possible. I may yet find a solution around this, but for now this limits the scientific testing of some devices. That, today, includes the tablet S.

 

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