Sony’s Tablet S – Simplifying Life On The Go (Review)
As we get older and more settled into our everyday lives, our careers keep us on the move more frequently than we would like. While smartphones do well to keep us connected to the plethora of information sources that guide us and keep us informed, they do have their shortcomings. Typing a lengthy email, editing a document for tomorrow’s presentation, or just watching a movie are things that aren’t very comfortable to do on a small screen. However, laptops can be cumbersome to carry around with you, often requiring a backpack full of peripherals to further weigh you down and take forever to set up and use. Even netbooks, which are typically nothing more than severely underpowered laptops, don’t provide you with much more than an ability to connect to email and write up a quick document. While they may give you what you need to get your work done, what about during that downtime in the hotel or at the bar when you feel like unwinding? Enter the tablet.
For years now, companies have been trying to push tablets on the masses as “The Way of the Future!” In the late 90s and early 2000s, tablet PCs were nothing more than a standard laptop with a swivel at the base of its screen to allow you to flip in and lay it flat on the surface. These tablets were bulky, hot, and wore out easily, leaving you to purchase a new one in fairly short order at twice the cost of a regular laptop. Of course, it would be the geniuses at Apple, led by the late Mr. Jobs, which would popularize a new form of tablet based on the smaller, powerful, and cooler ARM architecture used in their highly popular iPhone.
As with just about anything that Apple creates or improves on, the mad race was on for other PC manufacturers (and some non-PC makers) to hit the market with their own tablet. Some companies attempted to create their own unique OS (such as Samsung’s bada OS) for the devices; however, the dominant OS in the mobile market, aside from Apple’s iOS, was Google’s Android operating system.
Sony’s Tablet S is built on the Android OS and given a unique physical design for the modern mobilist. Its teardrop, or wing shaped, form serves a dual purpose, allowing you to hold the thicker side like a book in a comfortable manner, and while laying down, the slant allows for a more natural viewing angle and makes typing on the touchpad easier than your more traditional flat tablet. It also has tiny rubber nubs, or feet, on the bottom to keep it elevated just a little bit off of the table. This not only serves to keep you from beating up the back of your tablet or the desk underneath, but also allows for another reason that we’ll talk about shortly.
The Tablet S also has front (a mere .3 megapixel) and rear-facing (5 megapixel) cameras, an SD Card slot for media, a mini-USB port to plug in devices (more on that in a minute), as well as Bluetooth functionality and an infrared port. The 9.5″ screen has a resolution of 1280×800 and can run HD content through video services such as Crackle, Hulu, or Netflix, as well as standard video formats from the SD card or internal hard drive (16GB or 32GB, depending on which model you purchase).
It has a good number of features for sure, but Sony does fall short of the mark in a few areas. The fact that the SD card slot can’t be used as an extension of the built-in storage for applications is disappointing, albeit unsurprising, as it would supposedly encourage you to purchase the tablet with the larger capacity. However, even 32GB can be quick to fill with all of the applications out there. I have only had the 16GB model for two days and have managed to rack up 8GB of space used. Another complaint is the fact that instead of using a standard USB port, Sony has gone with a micro-USB port, which requires you to purchase a separate adapter cable (Part Number SGP-UC1) in order to connect a device to it. Rather than being nice and including the adapter (which you are bound at some point in time to use) in the package, you will need to pay an additional $19.99 retail to have one handy.
The non-visible features are as impressive as the visible ones. The Sony Tablet S has a built-in infrared port that allows you to control just about any IR enabled device from the comfort of your couch without having to hunt for a remote control. Using the Remote Control application on the tablet, you can configure a wide array of TVs, VCRs, Blu-ray and DVD Players, and even Media Centers with it. In a twist of irony, you can even configure the Tablet S to start up and control your Xbox 360, but not your PlayStation 3; not necessarily at the fault of the tablet division, however. The PlayStation 3 doesn’t use an infrared port, instead using Bluetooth for its remote control functions. While the tablet is Bluetooth enabled, it does not support connecting to the PS3 at this time.
The Sony Tablet S is also the first PlayStation Certified tablet to hit the market that allows PlayStation games to be played on the device. While the current lineup of games is fairly limited (only about ten so far), you’ll have a little bit more to enjoy on the road than the standard Android fare of Angry Birds and Farmville. Furthermore, Sony has addressed the concern of gamers and the issues regarding on-screen controls in lieu of tactile buttons and they didn’t have to look any further than their own devices to do it! The Tablet S (with the 3.2.1 or newer update installed) allows you to pair a PlayStation 3 controller to your tablet via the aforementioned adapter cable (I said you would be bound to use it eventually, didn’t I?). Simply plug the adapter into the PS3 controller and the tablet, follow the onscreen prompts, and you’re done. After you’ve paired the controller, you’ll be able to use it for any of your installed PlayStation 3 games comfortably, with no perceivable lag. Unfortunately, using the PS3 controller is limited to use with PlayStation games, and doesn’t seem to support anything outside of them at this time.
Sony made a smart move by leveraging the Android OS as the platform with which to run on their Tablet S. This allows the end user to gain access to the plethora of applications and games already established in the Android Marketplace, and doesn’t attempt to sway developers to a proprietary operating system as many other companies have done. Furthermore, it brings Google’s online suite of applications (Google Mail, Docs, etc.) to your fingertips natively with no more configuration than a simple login. Sony has also built interfaces for these online applications so you don’t even need to download third party tools in order to use them. However, if you use Microsoft Office in the work environment or even at home, you will know that Google Apps has a few shortcomings such as the lack of support for Microsoft Office’s Track Changes functions. This is quickly remedied, however, at the cost of about $15 for Documents To Go, which is readily available in the Android Marketplace.
Also readily available on the Tablet S are Sony’s Music Unlimited service (formerly Qriocity) and the Movies Unlimited service. Other applications such as Netflix and Hulu can be downloaded from the marketplace as well, and videos are run in beautiful 720p HD resolution. Sony’s 9.4″ screen features their TruBlack LCD display, in conjunction with the NVIDIA ULP GeForce graphics processor provides deeper blacks and more vibrant colors to rival other high definition displays of similar size with no stutter.
Sony has taken a rather unique approach in the way that the device delivers sound as well, and that may not be an altogether good thing. While in hand, the speakers (located on the backside of the tablet) don’t offer a lot of the power that other tablets may have. However, set on a table or desk, the tablet’s unique design utilizes the surface on its perch to amplify the sound significantly (a feature that you’ll find in the new Walkman Z series as well). An interesting concept to be sure, and in a quiet room it does perform quite admirably. However, once you get past a conversational volume in the room, you’ll find that its quite difficult to hear. You might want to bring a pair of headphones to plug in if you’re planning on watching a movie or listening to music for a protracted length of time.
So the big question for users already familiar with Android would be, “Is the Sony Tablet S going to receive the Ice Cream Sandwich Update? (Android OS 4.0)” Rumors abound that the Tablet S (and Tablet P) should be receiving the update sometime in Q1 or Q2 of this year, so be on the lookout for it.
Sony’s Tablet S is a mobile device that provides a lot of solutions for the well-rounded individual. The ability to pair a PlayStation 3 controller to it will appeal to someone that enjoys those retro PSOne video games but doesn’t like onscreen controls, a gorgeous HD display that delivers high definition content, the wireless freedom Wi-Fi provides, the ability to control your home devices, and access to thousands of applications make it formidable in the tablet market today. However, it has its shortcomings as well. The inability to control a PlayStation 3 seems to be a massive oversight with the integrated Bluetooth technology, and weak audio hinder it as a standalone entertainment device without a pair of headphones. A largely underpowered front facing camera prevents you from having high quality video over chat. Probably the most annoying thing, of course, would be the fact that you have to purchase a USB adapter cable that should have been standard in the package, and not a separate item.
All in all, the Sony Tablet S is a fantastic piece of hardware. We liked it so much that after purchasing the first one for our Senior Editor to be able to edit our articles on the go, I wound up purchasing an additional one for my use as well. The 16GB model carries a retail price point of $399 with the 32GB model costing $100 more, which is about par for like devices.
The Sony Tablet S receives a 4.0/5.0
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