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Last week Sony finally officially launched their first tablet, the Tablet S. Graham has already posted a short article outlining the tablet’s major features, but I was lucky enough to be able to spend some quality time with the Tablet S at an event last week. I should also be receiving a demo unit soon too, so check Future Shop blog soon for my full review.
When Sony announced their intention to release two Android tablets earlier this year they didn’t release many concrete details about them, other than that they would be running Android Honeycomb (3.0 and above), and that they would infuse them with unique Sony technology and content, hopefully making it them the Android tablets to beat.
Now that they have divulged the complete details it seems that they have made good on their promises – the Tablet S is certainly one of the most customized Honeycomb tablets that I have seen. However until I am able to spend some quality time with one it is hard to say how successful they were at making the best Android tablet – though from the little time I played with one so far, I can say that they might have!
On the hardware side the Tablet S has a 9.4” 1280x800 screen, which is slightly smaller than competing 10.1” models but gives it a better DPI (dots per inch), making everything slightly crisper. Combined with Sony’s TruBlack screen technology (which is also found in their TV’s & phones like the Arc) the Tablet S has one of the nicest screens that I have seen on any Tablet. It also has a Micro USB card reader, and an IR port for its universal remote application (which I think is the Tablet S’s killer app). There is however NO HDMI port, a glaring omission in my opinion – clearly Sony expects you stream pictures, audio and video over your network, via DLNA, to connected devices in your home. However that means you are out-of-luck if you are somewhere that you can’t connect to a network and still want to show pictures and video on a big screen.
The body of the Tablet S has a unique shape that Sony claims was inspired by the shape of a folded magazine. This shape makes it easier to hold in portrait mode with one hand when, say, you are reading an e-book. Similarly the shape angles the screen towards you when it is laid on a flat surface for easier typing. The back is also lightly textured for grip, which works well. It also only weighs 590g, making it one of the lightest tablets on the market. In practice I found that the Tablet S was very comfortable to hold one-handed and with two hands in landscape, but when holding it with two hands in portrait I did find it a little uncomfortable, since the thickness was uneven on each side. I also was a bit disappointed that all the areas that look to be made from metal in pictures are just silver coloured plastic. If Apple can give the iPad 2 an aluminum back for the same price why can’t Sony?
While I didn’t get to try out all software features on the Tablet S (since some of them have not yet launched), I did get to see an in-depth demonstration of the Universal Remote application, which is one of the Tablet S’ unique features (or at least it was until Samsung announced their Tab 7.7” tablet last week). This app allows you to program the Tablet S to act as the remote for almost any home entertainment device, from TVs to Blu-ray players, and much to my (pleasant) surprise it doesn’t just work on Sony products. It has a database of hundreds, if not thousands of brands, and in the demonstration I also watched it control a Rogers Cable PVR with ease. The application is fully-customizable, can learn commands from remotes, and can have custom buttons set-up, duplicating much of the functionality of a stand-alone, high-end home theater remote, which can cost upwards of $200. I would definitely call this application alone the Tablet S’ “Killer App”.
Along with the Universal Remote app, some of the other unique features that the Tablet S has over other Android tablets include access to the Sony Entertainment Network (formerly known as Qriocity) for audio and video streaming of the latest movies and songs. I wasn’t, however, able to see this in action at the event, since the service won’t be available until the Tablet S' launch in a few weeks.
It can also play PlayStation games, being the first “PlayStation Certified” tablet – and it comes pre-loaded with Crash Bandicoot and Pinball Heroes. I was a little disappointed, though, to find out that only PS1 and PSP games will be available for download, the same as on the Sony Xperia Play Android smartphone. The Tablet S has a much more powerful graphics processor than the phone, and should be easily capable of playing PlayStation 2 games. I was looking forward to being able to play Metal Gear Solid 2 or Gran Turismo 4 on a tablet, but I guess it’s not yet to be.
Overall, my first impressions of the Tablet S are very good. Sony seems to have learnt some lessons from other Android tablet makers, and has put together the right combination of unique Sony features, Honeycomb’s Google mobile services, and thoughtfully-designed hardware -- all at a competitive price. Of course the final verdict will only be in once I have had time to use the Tablet S outside of the controlled environment of a media event, but I am impressed so far.
Check back next week for my full review.
You can PRE-ORDER the Sony Tablet S1 from Future Shop now:
A slide show of some additional pictures of the Tablet S: