Sony Xperia Tablet Z review

The Sony Xperia Tablet Z is among the finest Android tablets available, combining an incredibly thin and light design with top-notch performance.
Photo of Sony Xperia Tablet Z

With its latest flagship Xperia devices, Sony has carved out a foothold in the premium smartphone and tablet spaces with inspired designs and impressive performance. The Sony Xperia Tablet Z ($499.99 direct) looks like a stretched out version of the admirable Xperia Z smartphone. It’s remarkably thin and light, packs in a sharp display, and pumps out top-notch performance thanks to its speedy quad-core processor. On top of that, you get a fully waterproof design, microSD expandable memory, and a built-in IR emitter for TV remote control abilities. The Xperia Tablet Z is among the finest Android tablets available, and is a worthy alternative to top-end tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, Asus Transformer Pad Infinity, and even the Apple iPad.

Design and Features
The first time I handled an iPad mini, I marveled at its thinness and lightness. I had a similar reaction when I first picked up the Tablet Z. At 0.27 inches thick and 1.09 pounds, it’s remarkably thin and light for a 10-inch tablet. For comparison, the full-sized iPad is 0.37 inches thick and 1.44 pounds, while the Note 10.1 is 0.35 inches thick and 1.31 pounds. That nearly half-pound difference is significant and makes the Tablet Z more comfortable to hold than other 10-inch tablets. Its slimness makes the tablet feel a bit delicate, though. It’s well built, but you can feel it flex when you twist at either end. On top of that, I noticed some LCD rippling at the edges when I applied pressure along the bezels.

The back is made from rubberized plastic, a departure from the glass-clad Xperia Z, but the curved corners and flat edges mimic Sony’s smartphone design. The Tablet Z is also fully waterproof, with flaps that cover the 3.5mm headphone jack, micro USB port, and microSD card slot around the tablet’s perimeter. There are speaker grilles on the bottom two corners right where your palms naturally rest, making them easy to cover up. I dunked the Tablet Z in a bucket of water and it was completely unaffected, even playing a video while fully submerged.

The tablet’s 10.1-inch 1,920-by-1,200-pixel TFT LCD is surrounded by a somewhat large 1-inch bezel. The full HD resolution and 224 pixels per inch means everything is incredibly crisp and detailed, on par with the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity and a big improvement over the 1,280-by-800-pixel display on the Galaxy Tab 10.1. The display also features inky blacks that give AMOLED panels a run for their money, without the blue tint to whites. Viewing angle is excellent, but the screen doesn’t get all that bright—outdoors, in bright light, the screen is barely discernible behind the fingerprint-magnet glass.

This is a Wi-Fi only tablet that connects to 802.11b/g/n networks on both 2.4 and 5GHz frequencies. Bluetooth 4.0 and NFC are also on board. Sony offers two models, a 16GB for $499.99 and a 32GB for $599.99, and our 32 and 64GB SanDisk microSD cards both worked fine.  

Performance and Android
The Xperia Tablet Z is powered by a quad-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro processor with 2GB RAM. This is the first tablet we’ve tested with this setup, and it didn’t disappoint—the Tablet Z scorched our benchmarks, recording some of the highest scores we’ve seen across the board. The 20,218 overall Antutu benchmark score handily beat the 16,604 notched by the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 and approached the 23,000-25,000 marked by the Samsung Galaxy S 4 and HTC One, which use Qualcomm’s even newer Snapdragon 600 processor. High Browsermark and Sunspider JavaScript scores confirmed anecdotally speedy Web browsing performance during day-to-day use, while GLBenchmark frame rates were among the best we’ve seen. From rapidly switching between multiple running apps to playing graphically intensive games like Real Racing 3, the Tablet Z handled everything we threw at it easily. Sliding between widget-loaded home screens and scrolling down media-heavy websites was smooth, with very rare choppiness. This is one seriously fast tablet.

Sony’s Android skin falls somewhere between Asus’s minimal modifications and Samsung’s heavy-handed skinning. Luckily, beyond the cosmetic adjustments, there are some genuinely useful additions here. On the home screen, you’ll notice two major differences between Sony’s version and stock Android. The first is a bar along the top that holds four customizable shortcuts, a Google search and voice command shortcut, and an app drawer launcher. I really like the shortcuts along the top, as they allow me to keep my home screens a bit less cluttered, while always keeping my most important apps on hand. The second modification is Sony’s multitasking ‘small apps.’ These run in little windows on top of whatever current app you’re running, and include a browser, calculator, notepad, clip manager, timer, recorder, and remote control. You can download more Sony-compatible small apps, from Twitter clients to camera apps, and also turn any widget into a small app. I found the small apps pretty useful, though they fall a bit short of the split-screen multitasking you get on the Galaxy Note 10.1.

(Next page: Multimedia and Conclusions)

The built-in remote control app and small app make use of the Tablet Z’s IR emitter to control TVs, DVD players, audio receivers, and even cable set top boxes. I tested the tablet with a Sharp HDTV, Sony audio receiver, and Time Warner Cable set top box, all of which were easily controlled using the Tablet Z. Curiously, Sony’s TV SideView app was not pre-installed on our Tablet Z, but was easy to find in the Google Play app store. TV SideView works as a graphical program guide, showing tiled pictures of current programming, and also shows extra info like cast names and episode summaries. You can record the show you’re watching, but you can’t access your DVR or set up recordings for another time.

The tablet comes with a range of stores, including Google Play and Sony’s own media stores, Video Unlimited and Music Unlimited. Unfortunately, Video Unlimited only delivers SD content to the Tablet Z, which doesn’t do the display justice; stick to other retailers. Sony also preloaded its well-designed Walkman, Album, and Movies apps, which I prefer over the stock Android alternatives. In a nice move, Sony allows you to uninstall most of these preloaded apps.

Dig into the settings and you’ll find a few more Sony customizations. Under Display, you can jack up the color saturation, which may or may not appeal to your aesthetic sensibility. There’s an Xperia tab in the settings menu that walks you through pairing the Tablet Z with other Xperia devices, and even lets you easily pair a PS3 DualShock 3 controller for gaming. Sony also included two power management settings; Stamina mode disables wireless radios when the screen is off, while Low Battery mode disables unnamed functions in order to save power when battery is low.

In our battery rundown test, which loops a video with screen brightness set to max and Wi-Fi turned on, the Xperia Tablet Z lasted 4 hours, 41 minutes. That’s disappointing compared with the Transformer Pad Infinity’s 7 hours, 17 minutes and the Galaxy Note 10.1′s 5 hours, 42 minutes on the same test. During testing, I also noticed the Tablet Z seemed to charge slower than competing models, and the micro USB port, which is covered by a protective flap, was finicky and disengaged charging a few times when I didn’t pay attention to how I put the tablet down.

Media playback is solid with the Tablet Z and it breezed through anything we threw at it, including MP3, AAC, WMA, OGG, MPEG-4, H.264, DivX, Xvid, and WMV files at resolutions up to 1080p. 

There are two cameras on board here, an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera and a 2-megapixel front-facing camera. The rear camera disappointed in my tests, with noticeably grainy images in both indoor and outdoor settings. Images are moderately sharp, but the Tablet Z struggles with dynamic range, blowing out highlighted areas and losing detail in shadows. You can record video at 1080p resolution, but I’d use it as a last resort—video is shaky and riddled with image noise. The front-facing camera is serviceable for Skype calls, but not much more. This, however, is pretty typical of most tablet cameras.

Conclusions
The Sony Xperia Tablet Z is a truly impressive tablet. It’s supremely thin and light, exceedingly fast, and has a sharp full-HD display. Throw in extras like waterproofing, a built-in IR-emitter, expandable memory, and PS3 controller compatibility and you have a seriously loaded Android tablet.

Consumer tablets are really differentiating themselves now, and each of the leading ones have different strengths. The Transformer Pad Infinity has an optional keyboard dock that turns the tablet into a veritable laptop replacement. The Galaxy Note 10.1 has a pressure sensitive stylus and dual-screen multitasking. Microsoft’s Surface RT has Microsoft Office, and no other tablet can touch Apple’s iPad when it comes to offers a range of truly tablet-optimized apps, games and educational content. If you want the thinnest, lightest, and arguably fastest Android tablet on the market, the Tablet Z is the way to go, but you’ll pay a premium and miss out on some unique features offered by the competition. Our Editors’ Choice award remains with the Note 10.1, as its stylus and multitasking features make it more useful than any other tablet we’ve tested. 

Specifications
Wi-Fi (802.11x) Compatibility 2.4GHZ/5GHz
Screen Resolution 1920 x 1080 pixels
Operating System Google Android 4.1.1
Dimensions 10.47 x 6.77 x 0.27 inches
Weight 1.09 lb
Screen Type TFT LCD
Graphics Card ARM Adreno 320
RAM 2 GB
Camera Resolution 8 MP Rear
2 MP Front-Facing
Storage Capacity (as Tested) 16 GB
Screen Pixels Per Inch 224 ppi
Additional Storage MicroSD
Video Camera Resolution 1080p Rear
720p Front-Facing
Processor Speed 1.5 GHz
Bluetooth Version 4
Screen Size 10.1 inches
CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro APQ8064 Quad-Core
Ports MHL, micro USB
Storage Type SSD

Verdict
The Sony Xperia Tablet Z is among the finest Android tablets available, combining an incredibly thin and light design with top-notch performance.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc