Display: Mobile Bravia 2
Sony's full HD 1920 x 1200, 224 PPI Mobile Bravia 2 display is absolutely lovely. Colors are rich and natural with a wide color gamut, it has great contrast and blacks are pleasingly deep. It's a much better display than the Xperia Z phone's display for black levels and viewing angles and it beats the higher resolution Nexus 10 for contrast and vibrancy. Sony used a gapless display design (there's no air gap) to achieve a thinner tablet, and it should in theory reflect less too. Well, the Gorilla Glass clad display is a mirror with reflections aplenty, and that's our only complaint about this otherwise excellent display. The auto-brightness works well and keeps things fairly bright, much like recent HTC smartphones and unlike Samsung Galaxy phones and tablets that run too dim on auto-bright. At 50% brightness, the Tablet Z's display was bright enough to use in a very well lit room, while max brightness is good enough for outdoor use at 345 nits, though it's not as bright as the insanely bright Asus Transformer Prime on it's outdoor setting. The mirror-like reflections are honestly more of an issue than brightness outdoors.
Horsepower and Performance
As of this writing, the Tablet Z takes the honor as the fastest Android tablet according to benchmarks. We've seen the quad core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro CPU clocked at 1.5GHz in several high end smartphones since the fall of 2012, and this is the first time it's made its way into a tablet. Of course, the somewhat faster Snapdragon 600 is in the recently released HTC One, Samsung Galaxy S4 and LG Optimus G Pro smartphones, but it hasn't hit tablets. The S4 Pro, like the 600, has Adreno 320 graphics and it's an overall very strong performer that's also power efficient for good battery life. Benchmarks are nice, but they don't always translate into perceived fast performance. Happily, the Xperia Tablet Z does feel responsive and Sony's custom UI doesn't seem to weigh heavily on performance. Games fly and 1080p video playback is smooth.
The tablet has 2 gigs of RAM and 16 or 32 gigs of internal storage. It has an SDXC card slot for storage expansion.
USB port handles HDMI and USB Host for Peripherals Too
One of the appealing things about Android tablets is that they behave more like portable computers than does the iPad. The tablet can output wirelessly using DLNA or via HDMI to a monitor, projector or HD TV. It can access USB peripherals like flash drives, game controllers, keyboards and mice. USB 3G/4G dongle drivers are not available for stock Android. The tablet doesn't supply enough power to run portable hard drives that rely on USB power, though it can charge a PlayStation controller. The Sony Xperia Tablet Z supports HDMI output via optional MHL adapter, much like many Android smartphones on the market. Plug the MHL adapter (available at consumer electronics stores and cell phone stores) into the tablet, then plug your TV or display into the tablet and you're ready to roll. We tested the Xperia Tablet Z with the above mentioned peripherals (including a PlayStation DualShock 3 controller) and it all worked well. Unlike older Sony tablet models, the Z integrates the contents of removable storage into the various media players so you don't have to use the included file transfer tool or a file manager to access your movies and music. The tablet also works with high capacity SDXC microSD cards, so you can expand storage easily. Remember that Android 4.x makes you install apps to internal storage, so use your card for movies, music and other documents.
Sony's Playstation Mobile, Music Unlimited, Video Unlimited, Crackle streaming movies/TV shows and more are loaded on the tablet. We particularly like the AV Remote that can control most any piece of home theatre gear. It supports a very wide array of brands (not just Sony) and it works with many kinds of home theatre gear including TVs, AV receivers, Blu-ray players, cable boxes and even wireless speakers. Sony was a pioneer in Android AV remote control long before Samsung and HTC got in on the act, and this is similar to what we've seen on the Sony Tablet S and Xperia Tablet S. Sony offers a downloadable TV Side View app via Google Play that has TV programming info and much more. It's a wonderful alternative to a sea of remote controls and a tiny TV grid on your smartphone.
The tablet runs Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean with Sony's usual tasteful customizations that include an easily reordered app drawer and ubiquitous bottom taskbar access to a mini-app launcher and the AV remote. The mini or small app launcher offers a selection of floating, resizable apps like a web browser, calculator, notes, a timer, sound recorder and clipboard manager. You can turn widgets into small apps and you can download more small apps from Google Play for free. I love having apps that can float in a window and be resized and moved, but I do wish there were even more apps to choose from (this is my wish for every neat Android multitasking solution I've seen including Samsung's Multi-Window feature).
Sony goes with the older tablet UI where you access the app drawer via an icon in the upper right corner and the notification area grants access to (surprise) notifications but very few core settings. We'd like to see more settings like direct control for Bluetooth and WiFi here instead of Brightness and little else. Sony says the Android 4.2 update will be coming soon, and that should add OS-level support for multiple users (an Android 4.2 feature) and perhaps more settings in the notification menu.
The tablet supports USB host OTG and it works with Sony's own DualShock 3 PlayStation controller (both via USB and wirelessly via Bluetooth). You can access the controller pairing function under the Xperia section in settings. It even has a section providing instructions on how to re-pair the controller with your PlayStation 3. The Xperia section also has settings for screen mirroring, and setting up media "throwing" over DLNA.
Sony includes Xperia Link so you can use your Sony Android smartphone as a wireless modem for the tablet. This uses a Bluetooth connection between phone and tablet rather than WiFi. Other apps including TrackID, a file transfer app for use with microSD cards and USB drives (the same app we've seen on previous Sony tablets) and MobiSystems OfficeSuite 7 (an MS Office file viewer).
The front 2MP camera is better than average, yielding bright and not too noisy video chat footage in Skype and Google Chat. The rear 8.1MP camera with Exmor R sensor looks great on paper, but it only performed well in good lighting. Granted, there's no LED flash, but we still saw more noise compared to 8MP camera phones. The HDR mode didn't do enough to combat high contrast scenes and the "Superior Auto" mode (intelligent auto) didn't see to avail itself of HDR. The good news is that the intelligent auto mode in all other respects did a good job of picking the right settings, and with good light, the tablet takes bright and colorful photos and video. Contrast is overdone by default, which may please the casual observer, but you'll notice details disappear in darker sections of the photo.
The camera can shoot 1080p video and the image stabilization feature works well. Audio recording levels are decent and as with still images, good lighting is required. The camera can shoot panorama, burst and it has a wide selection of scene modes like soft skin, HDR, night, high ISO and gourmet for you foodies. When you select any scene mode other than Superior Auto, a variety of additional settings are available like ISO and HDR.
The Xperia Tablet Z has a 6,000 mAh Lithium Ion battery that's sealed inside. Granted, there are tablets with higher capacity batteries on the market, but the Sony holds its own thanks to the power frugal Snapdragon S4 Pro and Sony's good power management. This is a refreshing change since the Xperia Z and Xperia ZL smartphones don't have the best battery life. There's Stamina Mode that turns off the data connection when the screen is off for those who need to extend sleep times, but we didn't enable that for our tests, largely because we like to get background updates for our online-aware apps even when the display is off overnight. Even without enabling Stamina Mode, standby times were excellent, and the tablet managed a long weekend sleeping with 5% power drain per day. With auto-brightness enabled, WiFi and Bluetooth on, our tablet managed 7.7 hours of streaming HD video playback, which also speaks well of wireless power management via the dual band WiFi radio (our US model doesn't have 3G or 4G LTE). In a mix of average use including reading news via Pulse and News Republic, web browsing, playing several YouTube videos, social networking, email, 30 minutes of 3D gaming and two hours of Netflix playback, we had power to spare at the end of the day. That's a little bit better than our Nexus 10, which isn't a particularly strong performer in the battery life department, and 9% short of the iPad with Retina Display.
The tablet ships with a 1.5 amp micro USB charger rather than the more common 2 amp tablet charger, and that means slightly slower charging times. Perhaps Sony wanted to reduce heat when charging and thus they went with a lower amperage charger. On the upside, we didn't notice any thermal throttling when playing 3D games while charging, so heat is well managed. When gaming, the tablet gets warm but not hot to the touch.
It's hard to argue with the Sony Xperia Tablet Z: it's crazy thin and light, yet it's fast, has a vivid full HD display and an advanced array of features including an AV Remote, NFC, dual band WiFi, Bluetooth and a decent 8.1MP rear camera. It easily beats the venerable Nexus 10 on features, including core features like an SD card slot, though the Nexus still wins for resolution. That said, for those of us with average eyes, full HD 1920 x 1080 looks pretty darned great even if it can't match the Nexus 10's 2560 x 1600 resolution. Though speed standings changes quickly, as of this writing, Sony has the fastest tablet according to benchmarks, and it's future proofed enough that it won't feel slow in 2013, and it will probably feel spritely in 2014. That makes the Sony Xperia Tablet Z a solid buy if you're in the market for a premium Android tablet.
Price: $499 for 16 gig and $599 for 32 gig
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