Sony Xperia Tablet Z Review
When one talks about tablets, it’s basically a one-way street. It’s all about the iPad, especially in the 10.1-inch category because no Android OEM has gotten around to make a really premium 10-inch plus tablet that would take on the iPad. Additionally, the UI and app scaling problems of Android get exaggerated on the 10-inch form factor. All that said and done, Sony believes it can pull off a rabbit out of its hat and deliver a tablet that’s not only premium, but matches the iPad spec for spec. And indeed that is true with the Xperia Tablet Z which is not only the lightest and thinnest 10.1-inch tablet in the world but also is waterproof and boasts a number of spec sheet niceties that would make a Cupertino faithful cringe. But at Rs 46,990 does it provide an experience that is comparable to the iPad with Retina Display and deliver good value. Read on to find out more.
Design and Build
Android tablets have had the untenable distinction of not being well built, leave alone being handsome. Just think about it, most Android products for that matter are made up of cheap plastics and are always trying to hit a certain price, but no OEM has set the bar high and aimed for Apple’s throat with a premium design.
Props to Sony because with the Xperia Tablet Z it has changed this notion as the device is the thinnest and the lightest 10.1-inch tablet in the world at 6.9mm and 495 grams without being flimsy. This is no Samsung tablet, Sony uses copious amounts of high quality plastics, and it has built a product, which is waterproof and dustproof.
In fact, while the matte plastic finish is very supple on the hands, instead of feeling slimy like a Samsung product, it does tend to get smudged by sweat and grease, a LOT. We think it’s safe to say, you’ll have a hard time keeping the tablet clean.
Yes, Asus has also made premium Android tablets, but like the Transformer Prime, which was also more expensive , so Sony is sort of a lone ranger currently.
When we compare the tablet to the iPad with Retina display, one has to give it to Sony that they have built a product that feels like a rock and yet feels more ergonomic to use. Obviously, there is no getting away from the wide Android aspect ratio, but for a 10.1-inch tablet, the Xperia Tablet Z was much more comfortable to use with one hand.
In typical Sony fashion, on the left we have the circular aluminum machined Sony power button. We found the placement to a bit odd for landscape use, but when we flipped it to portrait, this became a bigger issue, as now the button was on the top. Sony also decided to place the volume rocker, right below it. Above the power button, is the 3.5 mm audio jack, which was hidden courtesy a plastic door that remained suspended. Though if one had to predict, extensive use of this door will result it in getting detached, which in turn will render the waterproofing useless.
Both the sides are also home to stereo speakers, but these are not forward firing hence don’t have the ear opening effect of the boomsound speakers of the HTC One.
On the bottom side, the Xperia Tablet Z had two hidden compartments – One for the microUSB port and one for the microSIM and microSD card slot.
The front of the tablet was dominated by the massive 10.1-inch Bravia Engine powered LCD display which has a resolution of 1920×1200 pixels. Just above the screen we have the 2.2-megapixel camera that can shoot 1080p video.
On the back, there is a 8.1-megapixel camera, which has a Sony Exmor R sensor on the top left side, but there is no flash. Beneath the back panel there is a non-removable 6,000-mAh battery.
Design wise, Sony has nailed it with the Xperia Tablet Z, especially for a product that wants to compete with the iPad. In fact, its ergonomics are fantastic as its stark rectangular shape gives the impression of an awkward experience, but in reality the sides are subtly tapered and its pure svelte form just add to the usability.
On a side note, we have to say that of all the 10.1-inch tablets, we actually could consider using this one as an e-book reader in portrait mode just because it was so thin and light to use with a single hand. More so than even the iPad and we managed to finish Dan Brown’s Inferno in three days on a reading binge. That by the way, also speaks volumes about the display too, about which we will elaborate later.
In terms of pure specs, in the world of Android, the Xperia Tablet Z does not offer the best of the best considering it is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro chipset, which hums along at 1.5GHz with four cores. We have seen newer chipsets like the Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 and the Nvidia Tegra 4 on mobile devices, but we believe since there is no real competition to the Xperia Tablet Z currently, this should be a non-issue. Plus, the Snapdragon S4 Pro is a pretty badass chipset in its own right and is the heart of the Google Nexus 4, so it should be able to more than hold its own up against the iPad if it’s a straight up dual.
There is also 2GB of RAM, which works in concert with the Snapdragon S4 Pro, and it has 16GB of internal storage. Another benefit of the Qualcomm chipset is the 3G connectivity, which can be accessed via the microSD card slot.
But still for a tablet that costs Rs 46,990, the memory seems a little steep, but Sony is throwing in another 16GB memory card to sweeten the deal a bit.
The Xperia Tablet Z has an IR blaster that runs through a Remote Control app, which could theoretically convert the tablet into a universal remote. The Xperia branding doubles up as the NFC chip.
But the real star of the show is the 10.1-inch display, which has a resolution of 1920×1200 pixels. Thankfully, the display on the Xperia Tablet Z is much better than the one on the Xperia Z smartphone. Especially, when we talk about the black levels because the viewing angles remain much better and generally we get a deeper shade of black. However, the iPad still renders blacks better. As far as the color reproduction is concerned, to the naked eye we found it to be very accurate and not super saturated like an AMOLED display. Overall, the palette was on the cooler side of things, and legibility under direct sunlight also remained pretty good.
We enjoyed watching movies on it, and when it came down to reading content on it, the came through and did not put a lot of strain on our eyes.
Sony’s Android skins have always been rather usable and the Xperia Tablet Z is no different. It runs on Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and comes with its own set of customizations. Some are good, some are not.
As usual we get standard Sony apps bundled. These include the Walkman music player, Album, which replaces the gallery app, Movies, which is your one stop for video content and the Sony Select app store, which offers a curated list of apps. The Indian version of the tablet also comes the Sony Music app, which is powered, by Infibeam and the Sony Liv app for local Indian content from the Sony’s channels in India.
Sony still insists on adding shortcuts for its Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited services on the homescreen. Both these shortcuts masquerade as full apps, but essentially they are shortcuts designed to lure the consumer to sign-in to the service.
Another neat addition is the presence of ‘mini apps’. Mini apps on the Xperia Tablet Z allows the user to launch a number of app widgets from anywhere in OS via a shortcut on the bottom bar which also includes the software Android buttons and notifications.
So users can launch a mini web browser, a calculator, a clip manager, a notes widget, a sound recorder, the remote control app and timer. While this is a neat addition, users don’t have access to multi-window like multitasking the way Samsung implements it on its Android devices.
The Xperia Tablet Z is also a PlayStation Certified tablet. That said, we could not find many graphically intensive games on the Sony Select store.
Sony’s remote control app worked well with the built-in IR blaster. We tested a Sony Blu-Ray home theater and a Samsung HDTV and both worked as advertised. We managed to setup multiple devices with the app including a TV, a Blu-Ray player and the PlayStation 3, but could not manage to connect our Tata Sky HD+ set top box with it. While this was not surprising we could achieve the same on the Samsung Galaxy Note 510 after a bit of tinkering.
Sony preloads an Office suite on the Xperia Tablet Z, but it only offers viewing capabilities and user will need to purchase the pro version of the app for editing.
We have always been fans of the Sony Walkman app. It is not only a gorgeous looking music player, but isnalso quite intuitive to use. Additionally, it also offers the user a gamut of EQ controls something which one cannot do by default on the iPad.
While all this was good, major issues with Android on a 10-inch tablets remained. For instance, there not even half as many tablet optimized apps on Android as there are on the iPad. Google has announced steps like the Android Studio development tool to mitigate this issue, but at the time of writing we still face issues like poorly scaling Facebook or Twitter apps. These are basic apps that every person uses and if the experience is not comparable to the iPad then it will turn out to be a deal breaker for the consumer.
As we mentioned earlier, in the age of the Snapdragon 600 CPUs, a product that costs Rs 46,990 should have the latest CPU, nothing less. However, the fact that the Xperia Tablet Z comes with the quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro CPU is not a bad thing, as in real world usage the performance for an Android tablet is absolutely first class. We have played around with the Google Nexus 10, and we found no discernable difference in performance. This was expected since we don’t only have a quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro clocked at 1.5GHz, but also 2GB of RAM, which is ample for Android these days.
Even in terms of benchmarks, the Xperia Tablet Z was the best performing tablet we have tested to date. Obviously, it benchmarked lower than the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S4, but considering we still do not have a tablet that is powered by a next generation chipset, Sony’s product comes out on top.
When compared to the fourth generation iPad with Retina Display, we’d say the iPad was surely a small step ahead in real world performance. While the Xperia Tablet Z would show rare signs of a discernable lag while swiping through the homescreen or pinching to zoom in the web browser.
Surprisingly though we found the graphics performance of the Adreno 320 GPU on the Xperia Tablet Z to be superior to the iPad. We played games like Real Racing 3, Dead Trigger and Shadowgun and we found the graphics to be more detailed and the Xperia Tablet Z reproduced more detailed shader effects.
The 8.1-megapixel camera in the rear is better than most cameras shipped on tablets, but we still don’t like the idea of taking an image with a 10-inch tablet. It has an Exmor R sensor, but its main issues stem from the below par camera software that is shipped with the tablet. For instance, the camera only focuses on the subject after the shutter button has been pressed. Luckily, most of the camera features from the Xperia Z smartphone also are available on the Xperia Tablet Z. So features like Superior Auto mode, HDR, Burst, Sweep Panorama make a reappearance. Another weird bit is that the while Sony advertises the 8.1-megapixel camera resolution, the tablet can only shoot at 7-megapixels at max, and by default it shoots at 5-megapixels.
Sony has made a lot of noise about the waterproofing on the tablet. We poured and dipped the tablet in water a few times and it came out unscathed. Though one has to ensure all port doors are closed, otherwise water can seep through and wreck havoc with the device.
The Xperia Tablet Z also impressed us with its battery life. It lasted around 8 hours and 45 minutes consistently with 3G turned on. We would constantly browse the web using the tablet and would always be hooked to Gmail, Hangouts, Facebook, Twitter and we basically replaced our TV remote with the built-in IR blaster. We also used the tablet to watched YouTube videos at great length and tablet always crossed the 8 hours on a single charge. Of course, the iPad does better pretty consistently, but for most this is just a negligible difference.
The Sony Xperia Tablet Z is the best 10.1-inch Android tablet we have ever reviewed at BGR India, but is that enough? Well, at Rs 46,990, the answer for the average consumer is no because the 32GB 3G iPad is not only cheaper but simply has so many more apps designed specifically for the tablet. Plus the performance of the iPad is also superior for most tasks.
While, the iPad remains our favorite tablet, if one is looking for an 10.1-inch Android tablet, the Xperia Tablet Z remains a great option, simply because it’s the most well designed and most up market Android tablet currently available. Additionally, for an Android device it also performs pretty well, but its main stumbling block remains its astronomical price of Rs 46,990, which we think is far from ideal in a price sensitive market like India.
Photographs: Namrata Juneja and Sawani Kumar