Early last year the Nvidia Tegra 2 1GHz dual core CPU was the staple of high line Android tablets. Now we're moving into the 1.4GHz Tegra 3 dual core with much improved GeForce 12 core graphics. The Sony joins a number of other Android tablets running that CPU, including the TF700, Iconia A700, Toshiba Excite 10 and Nexus 7. The Tegra 3 is undeniably a strong performer, and it brings support for Tegra 3 enhanced Tegra Zone games, a boon to gamers.
The tablet feels snappy and it's been stable other than Sony's Sociallife app that likes to crash at least once per day (you see a crash report and the app silently relaunches itself, the tablet itself doesn't grind to a halt). The first gen tablet's social networking app had a tendency to crash at first, but Sony eventually fixed that, though we found it a battery hog. Sociallife on the Xperia doesn't eat up the battery, most likely because WiFi shuts off after the tablet has been asleep for an hour. Unlike several other Android tablets, there's no way to prevent this, which is unfortunate if you want the connection to stay active for background news/weather/social networking updates.
IR Remote for AV Home Theater Control
If you've read our review of the first Sony Tablet S you know we really liked the AV remote app and found it the best among tablets with that feature. While most tablet virtual remotes have an abbreviated version of the controls available on the physical remotes, Sony's is rich with buttons and controls for all major AV gear types and brands. It's easy to set up the various remotes for your home theater and cable TV equipment, and the Sony has swipeable sections for each remote to access advanced (and not so advanced) functions that are absent in other simplified remotes. Every button on the physical remote is reproduced and that's crucial when controlling today's complex AV receivers and Internet-capable Blu-ray players and TVs. The interface is attractive and we like the AV gear overview with power buttons for each piece so you don't have to go into each remote just to power on/off pieces of gear.
In contrast, Samsung's tablets with AV remotes come with the Peel app that's more of a TV Guide on steroids and less a remote. For those who want a similar presentation of TV content, there's the downloadable Sony Watch Now app that showcases what's on now in a graphically rich manner. Why Sony didn't preload this app, we can't imagine.
For those of you not familiar with Sony ebook reading devices and the Sony Reader store, it's an ePUB bookstore that uses standard Adobe DRM, and you'll activate your Adobe account on the device when you log into your store account. Sony has a solid selection of books, that's not as comprehensive as the Kindle Store, but you'll find most popular books and bestsellers there.
The Sony Reader application is attractive and responsive, with single and facing-pages display modes, font size adjustment, justification, background settings, screen rotation lock and a brightness slider. Though you can change the font size, you can't change the font itself, which is a shame (the same is true of the Reader app on the last gen tablet). The app supports press and hold to create highlights and to look up words in the Wikipedia, Google or elsewhere in the book rather than a locally stored dictionary (that means you'll need a WiFi connection). You can create bookmarks by tapping the upper right corner of a page, and access the table of contents, highlights and bookmarks using a control at the bottom of the display (tap near the bottom center of the display to bring up Reader controls).
Sony does support side-loading of PDFs and ePub books, which we greatly appreciate. For PDFs, the Reader app features single and facing page views, highlighting and bookmarking. If you want to side-load ePUBs, just put them in the Downloads folder inside the Reader folder on internal storage.
The tablet comes with Sony's Crackle app, and we found it more reliable than Crackle loaded on other brand tablets where our connection often drops forcing us into a painful loop of viewing commercials over and over without ever seeing the main attraction. Streaming was reliable on the Xperia Tablet S with no connection drops. The Crackle app provides access to the same movies and TV shows as the website, and quality looks just as good as the Flash version on tablets. You can log in to your Crackle account and see your viewing history and queue as well. It works well and it's free.
Sony includes both the standard Google Play Music and their own Walkman app that's extremely visually appealing. Sound through headphones is excellent with plenty of volume, good bass and strong separation. Paid streaming music and video services include Sony's Music Unlimited, Video Unlimited, Netflix and Hulu Plus.
Tablet cameras are generally mediocre. The 8 megpixel rear camera on the Xperia Tablet is excellent. Sony and Sony Ericsson know how to make excellent mobile phone cameras, and that hertiage shines through in the Sony Xperia Tablet S. Images are sharp, colorful and well exposed. 1080p video is smooth, natural and it handles high contrast settings well. At the $399 price point, this is the best camera you'll find on a tablet today.
If you're experiencing WiFi disconnect issues when the tablet sleeps, check for firmware updates using your tablet. The first tablets shipped with a software bug that killed WiFi whenever the tablet when to sleep for an hour or more. Sony fixed that bug quickly with a software udpate.
Sony claims up to 12 hours of video playback and 10 hours of web browsing via WiFi. In our tests we managed 8.5 hours of video playback (locally stored content) and 8 hours of productivity use using the Quickoffice to edit MS Word docs (we downloaded Quickoffice since Sony only includes an MS Office viewer), viewing web pages, checking email and social networks using the official Facebook and Twitter clients. Like most tablets, the Lithium Ion battery is sealed inside. Sony uses a compact wall wart charger with the Xperia Tablet S rather than the tiny notebook style charger included with the first gen tablet.
We liked Sony's first gen Android tablet, even though it was late to market. This time Sony's really hit their stride with the slimmer and better looking Xperia Tablet S. The 9.4" form factor is a winner for ergonomics and portability while maintaining that big screen experience. Sony's software customizations make for a more enjoyable out of the box experience with lots of content consumption options plus an MS Office viewer. The display is one of the nicest we've seen on tablets with rich blacks, excellent natural colors and vibrance. Yes, it's not a 1080p display but it's still very good. Our only complaint? There's no obvious path to Playstation certified games (an app would be nice).
Price: Starting at $399 for 16 gig model