The Android Tablet story has been a hit and miss so far. In fact, not so many hits as misses if you ask me. Tablets like the Nexus 7 had a good run; all due to the bang-for-the-buck pricing and a comfortable form factor. But other than a handful success stories, it has been a hard game for Android tablets to shine under the huge shadow of the iPad. This is especially evident in the high-end tablet category, where not many players seem extremely keen to go toe-to-toe with Apple’s product. Sony, the Japanese electronics giant decided long ago to dedicate its entire portfolio to the “winning” Android software platform.
Right from the recently launched Flagship smartphone, the XPERIA Z Ultra, to the low-end XPERIA E, it’s all Android. Based on the same design language and feature set of the Z series, the XPERIA Tablet Z was born. It is a thin 10-inch device trying to lure potential iPad buyers into the world of Sony and Android. Can they win?
Design and Hardware
The XPERIA Tablet Z is a head-turner, the well-crafted design definitely deserves a round of applause. Although it may not feel as sturdy as the aluminium-clad iPad, it is fairly built. But one definite advantage it has over the iPad is the thinner and lighter frame. This is a no-brainer; the lighter the tablet, the better it is to use. At 6.9mm, it is ridiculously thin and at a shade under 500 grams, it is lighter than the iPad 4 by almost 170 grams.
All the ports around the device are hidden by covers that can be irritating to pull out. But this protection is part of what makes the XPERIA Z an IP57-certified water-resistant and dust-proof tablet. The power button is exactly the same as you find on any XPERIA device these days. Next to the power button is a multi-color LED notification light, which is always nice to let the user know of any notifications on the device. There are stereo speakers placed on both sides of the tablet, a smart decision if you ask us. The back has a slightly rubbery texture that assists in gripping the tablet better.
The main component of any tablet — the screen, is a 10.1-inch LCD panel with a 1920 x 1200 pixel display. This makes it fairly pixel dense; albeit a few notches below the iPad 4 and the Nexus 10. If you look up-close, you may spot a little pixelation in text. But it appeared acceptably crisp for everyday use. It is not the pixel density that we had a problem with, it was the colour reproduction. Colours on the display appeared a little washed out, the effect of which was particularly visible in white backgrounds, which appeared yellowish. It wasn’t that apparent in videos and photos, which seemed nice owing to the high resolution. Outdoor visibility is bad, because even with full brightness the super-glossy screen transforms into almost a vanity mirror, There’s also a bit of a usability problem I personally have with 10-inch widescreen tablets. They may be good for video because of the 16:9 aspect ratio, but you’ll pretty much be using it in landscape mode, as holding it upright doesn’t feel natural at all. Typing on the default QWERTY board in landscape mode with your thumbs is excruciating, and I quickly installed SwiftKey and used the split-keyboard mode to bring the keys closer to where my thumbs could reach them. Fortunately for the XPERIA Tablet Z, its super lightweight really helps when holding it in one hand; where heavier 10-inch tabs like the Dell Latitude 10 have been an absolute pain.
The speakers are pretty loud even even while watching streaming video, when typically the volume falls short on the iPad, requiring you to cup the speaker to hear better. Both the cameras at the front and back were a disappointment; producing grainy video quality despite reasonable lighting indoors. Although we don’t expect one to click snaps with a device this big, we don’t think the 8MP sensor at the back took great photos in the first place.
The XPERIA Tablet Z that we tested ran Android 4.1 with Sony’s unnamed UI modification, which sets it apart from stock Android that rolls with tablets like the Nexus 7. Even though Sony’s website says the tablet runs version 4.2, checking for a software update resulted in it telling us that we already were running the most recent version.
Subtle modifications are apparent right from the lockscreen. There’s a ‘Themes’ menu that changes the appearance of the UI, per your preference. A button at the bottom lets you open rudimentary apps like calendar, notes, recorder etc. and keep them running in the foreground, as a layer above the UI. True multi-tasking, one would call it. Then there are certain good usability additions like a double-tap to wake the screen up, which works as advertised.
Another interesting bit is the Remote Control app, which uses an IR blaster placed on the top of the tablet to transform it into a universal remote. We were able to configure an LG TV and a Tata Sky set-top box pretty easily and its good to know that you can quickly control your living room entertainment devices with this tablet. Another sweet thing about this app is the ability to set up macros. So for e.g., you can turn on the TV, the set-top box, and go to Channel no. 341 at the press of a single button.
There are multiple homescreens for you to fill up with widgets and app shortcuts. There’s a quick access to Google Now at the top and the app drawer.
The XPERIA Tablet Z boasts of high-end specs — a quad-core 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 Pro chip, 2GB of RAM et al. And though by no means is it laggy, I just couldn’t help but notice slight stutters in the interface from time to time. Especially while browsing non-mobile optimised websites in Chrome. Maybe it is an issue that Android itself faces, no matter how strong the muscle underneath.
The tablet-optimised app variety on Android for tablets has not been quite compelling till now. Apple as of today has 40 percent of the 9,00,000+ apps on the App Store optimised for the tablet screen size. Google isn’t boasting the number of tablet-optimised Android apps at the moment. So, what happens when apps that are designed for a smartphone screen size run on a tablet?
Although things seem to be getting better, it is still a long way to go before we see parity in the number of tablet optimised apps to regular ones. Till then, this will remain to be the Achilles Heel for Android tablets in general.
Given the thinness of the device and the high specifications, my major concern was the impact it would have on the battery life. To my delight, the XPERIA Tablet Z has good up-times of close a good 8 hours in my usage. Your mileage may vary, as I mostly ended up using the device primarily for reading and social networking. The XPERIA Z’s standby times get a boost when you activate ‘Stamina mode’, which simply turns off mobile data when the screen is off. This feature will be useful to casual users of this tablet.
The XPERIA Tablet Z is a decent effort from Sony. There are many things to like about this tablet, but are ultimately followed by a fair amount of dislikes too. At Rs. 43,990, there aren’t many compelling Android tablets in this price range that are going to give it a run for its money. The XPERIA Tablet Z is worth considering for somebody who isn’t sold on the iPad tablet platform, and will appreciate all the features that Sony has baked in and the freedoms of the Android platform has to offer instead.