Sony P tablet at IFA – first look review

5.5in dual-screen, clamshell tablet out in November
Photo of Sony P tablet at IFA – first look

UPDATE: To see video of the Sony P Tablet live at IFA 2011, click here.

First came the tablet, then Samsung’s Galaxy breed of ‘tab phones’ – and now this €599 ‘clam-tab’ from Sony.

As if the advantages to travellers of a 10in-or-so flat-screen tablet weren’t already enough, Sony’s dual 5.5in touchscreen device – complete with WiFi and 3G – literally folds in two for easy storage. We put it through its paces at the recent IFA event in Berlin – and first impressions were very positive.

Shape of things to come
Available to UK shoppers this coming November, Sony’s P tablet is armed with a NVIDIA Tegra 2 mobile processor – the same as its sister ‘S’ tablet – and also runs, for now, Android 3.1 Honeycomb OS.

The P’s PSP-influenced curved sides feature slots for a MicroSD Card and USB 2.0 and cameras on the front and back.

With 3G onboard, P is all about the business trip; it’s supremely lightweight at 372g and easy to hold while standing, though its foldability (the P measures 79x180x26mm when snapped shut) is the real boon.

Dual screens
Each of the two screens measures 5.5inch across – and to our eyes they appear clear and blur-free with video. We managed to watch some demo video files without issues, with colours looking natural and text crisp; this is one high-contrast, high-quality screen.

The dual 5.5in touchscreens perform an interesting trick, though in practice the split-screen idea is not as useful as it could be. Video can be watched on one screen, while the other can only be used to control that video. It’s not possible to make your own decisions and, say, keep a Gmail account on one screen and a note taker or browser on the other, though the lower screen can be used exclusively as a virtual keyboard. That idea is reinforced by a very responsive screen and an excellent virtual keyboard that proved comfortable to use in our test.

What each screen can be used for depends on the app that’s being used. Sony’s own app store will hold P-centric apps that make various uses of its two screens, with a selection of games imminent. Staff at the Sony booth at IFA 2011 indicated that some of those games will use just the upper screen, some both but with different footage on each, and others will unite the two screens.

Online stores
Used together as one joined-up screen, viewing web pages feels slightly unnatural, and we’re not convinced of its usefulness for remote working, though it could come in handy as an ebook reader.

Sony is, not surprisingly  (it’s always at it in some form or another) looking to intertwine its products, and these tablets are no exception; Qriocity, the oddly-named music and video on-demand service that has so far failed to attract much attention, will be rebranded in October as ‘Music Unlimited’ and ‘Video Unlimited’, and will be accessible via the P tablet, as well as virtually every other device from Sony (including its S tablet, also announced at IFA).

Once Sony has got its various online stores up and running, both Sony tablets will also be able to host PlayStation games, buy books from its Reader Store, engage with some free ‘personal space’, and work as a remote control for Bravia TVs and Blu-ray players.

This unique tablet, an attempt to please ebook readers as well as multi-tasker, is presented in such a way that it could be a big hit, though it’s iPad-esque pricing could be a drag factor.