I  got a chance to play with the Sony Xperia Tablet S for the weekend. This is not meant to be a comprehensive review since the Tablet S. This is the second generation of tablets from Sony aimed at breaking into the market dominated by Apple and Samsung.

The Tablet S sports a skinned Android 4.0.3 Ice Cream Sandwich OS, Tegra 3 quad-core SoC, and a 9.4 inch 1280×800 IPS LCD screen (the same panel used in the first-gen Tablet S) that is surrounded by a big, glossy black bezel. The Tablet S can be ordered in 16 or 32GB built-in storage with WiFi or 3G=WiFi. It has a SD card slot as well for those who feel 32GB isn’t enough.

This second gen Tablet S that I am testing still has the folded-over magazine shape although this time around it is more subtle (239.8 x 174.4 x 8.8mm). The magazine-like fold extends only a quarter into the back. In the middle of this “fold” is a 8-megapixel camera (no flash) and an IR blaster. On one end of the short rectangular back panel are located the power button and volume rocker. Across the other side is the 3.5mm audio jack next to the SD card reader which is hidden behind a silver coated plastic cover. At the bottom is a pair of speakers flanking the multi-port dock.

One final observation, when viewed from the other end there is a semblance to the iPad 2 or the new iPad.

WHAT I LIKE

The Tablet S continues the Sony tradition of being easy on the eyes and a droll magnet. It has very good contrast making for a pleasant experience looking at pictures, reminiscent of the experience you’d get from one of Sony’s Bravia TVs. Another plus I want to highlight are the speakers. By far the Tablet S is great for listening to  music or audiobooks or watching a movie. I don’t need a pair of headsets or plug in an external speaker. The speakers produce crisp clear sound – a very welcome change from the current crop of tablets (include the iPad) and even against some of the larger notebook computers.

I normally do not like it when a manufacturer skins the Android OS in their attempt to “add” value and differentiation to their device. This is one instance where the changes Sony has incorporated are sufficiently minimalistic that they truly add value without masking some of the inherently strong features of the base operating system. Kudos to Sony for taking this path.
Sony learned from Samsung creating small apps (pop-up widgets) that let you easily launch any number of commonly used apps including a calculator, clipping tool, memo, voice recorder, timer and a browser. For the socially addicted, SocialLife is a very interesting app that seems to have taken a lesson from FLIP.
Sony must have recognized that tablets are meant to be shared. It has integrated a feature called Guest Mode which allows another user to have access to the same device without being privy to your personal messages, etc. This is a great tool that will enable temporary “guests” to use the device without forcing the original owner to logout from all of his or her favorite programs or even exit those same programs. This is a great example of virtualization at work.
The Tablet S is the first Android smart device I’ve had the pleasure of using for extended periods – longer than 8 hours without recharging. Despite the large screen and loud speakers, you can literally several movies on the Tablet S without needing a recharge. Great job Sony!

WHAT I DON’T LIKE

The proprietary multi-port dock is concealed under a removable cover which you can easily lose. Being proprietary means you have to use the supplied cable to charge or connect the device. The Tablet S supports HD video but the hardware didn’t come with a HDMI port. Instead you need to buy a special adapter that connect a HDMI appliance like a 3D TV to the Tablet S via the multi-port connector.
All vendors have a natural inclination to add their own special brand of software applications into their device. The Tablet S comes preinstalled with software and services like Music Unlimited, Video Unlimited, PlayMemories, Walkman, Reader by Sony, and Sony Select. Most require a service, some paid. Sony, of course, is not forcing you to use these apps and services but because they come pre-installed and are integrated into the “skinned” Android, you can’t get rid of the apps.
CONCLUSION
Despite the skinning of ICS, the Tablet S is a fast tablet. Despite the added “skin” it performs better than most tablets I’ve had the pleasure of using. At a suggested retail price of HK$3,288 for a 16GB WiFi only model, it is not much more expensive than the 7″ Nexus 7 from Google/Asus (yes the Nexus is more expensive in Hong Kong than it is in the US – complain to Google please!). Sony did well not to alter the Google UI. The “Sociallife” software is a great addition (IMHO) to the stack of Sony apps that come pre-installed on the Tablet S.

I usually end these reviews asking myself “would I buy this device” for my personal use. If I favored a 9″ screen (with its added weight and portability issues), I would consider the Tablet S over the iPad anytime (since it is no secret that I don’t like iTunes and the slavery – aka vendor lock-in – it promotes). Would I prefer the Sony Tablet S over a Samsung Tab 2 10? Probably! How about a Samsung Note 10.1? I need to think about that harder? Let me get back to you on that.

TECHNICAL SPEC

Model SGPT121HK (Wi-Fi model)
Operating  System Android™  4.0
Processor NVIDIA® Tegra® 3 Mobile Processor | with 4‐PLUS ‐1™ Quad Core ARM® Cortex™-A9 CPU 1.4 GHz *1 *2
Display 9.4″ wide (WXGA: 1280 x 800) TFT Color LCD*3
Memory 1 GB*4
Storage 16 GB*5
Interface Multi Port Multi  Port x 1*6
Headphone  Jack Stereo  mini jack x 1 (works  as a monaural microphone jack)
Wireless  LAN Wireless  LAN Specification IEEE  802.11a/b/g/n (WPA2 Supported)*7
Wireless  LAN Data Rate Maximum transmission speed: 150 Mbps, Maximum receipt speed: 150 Mbps*8
Wireless WAN Wireless WAN Function No
GPS Yes
Bluetooth®  Technology Bluetooth®  Technology Bluetooth® standard Ver. 3.0*9
Supported  Profile A2DP, AVRCP, HSP, HID, SPP, OPP
Sensor Accelerometer  (3-axis accelerometer), Gyro, Digital Compass, Ambient Light Sensor
IR  Remote control function Yes  (Supports Multi Function, Learning Function (Pre-loaded remote control code))
Expansion  Slots Memory  Card Slot SD  memory card x 1  (Supports  SD,  SDHC, SDHC UHS-I)
Speaker Built-in  stereo speakers
Microphone Built-in  monaural microphone
Camera Front  Camera HD  web camera (Resolution: 1296 x 808, Effective Pixels: 1 Mega pixels)
Rear  Camera HD  camera (Resolution: 3264 x 2448, Effective Pixels: 8 Mega pixels)
Supplied  Accessories AC  adapter (SGPAC5V6), Power Cord
Battery  Life (Approx.)*11 *12 Battery Built-in  rechargeable battery pack*10
Browsing  web with Wi-Fi 10.0  hours
Browsing  web with 3G NIL
Playing  video 12.0 hours
Battery Charging Time 5.5 hours*13
Size  (Approx. ) Dimensions (W x H x D) 239.8  x 8.8 – 11.85 x 174.4 mm
Weight 570 g

OTHER SITE REVIEWS

TechRadar (http://www.techradar.com/reviews/pc-mac/tablets/sony-xperia-tablet-s-1093685/review/2#articleContent)

Slashgear (http://www.slashgear.com/sony-xperia-tablet-s-review-12260425/)

The Verge (http://www.theverge.com/2012/9/24/3333106/sony-xperia-tablet-s-review)

PHOTO GALLERY

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