Xperia Tablet Z Review

So, I bought a tablet. And no, it’s not an iPad. Despite the occasional use of apple product images on my portfolio, I’m actually an Android man. I do appreciate the sheer aesthetic brilliance of Apple products, but I love to tinker and customise! So it really has to be Android for me. And with ‘aesthetic brilliance’ and ‘android product’ being two of the most unlikely statements to use in the same sentence, I had to go for the only product that meets the bill: Sony’s Xperia Tablet Z.

Hardware

Not to spend too long on this. There’s a 1.5GHz quad-core snapdragon cpu (one of the top mobile cpu’s available at the moment), 2gb of RAM, and a 1920×1200 pixel screen. The screen resolution doesn’t quite equal that of an iPad, and doesn’t even come close to the resolution on the Nexus 10, but it’s very decent. Whilst it may not be the best, people happily cope with having a 40 inch HD TV, so when companies cram even more pixels than that onto a 10 inch screen, it would seem a bit picky to say that it isn’t at least good! Colours are very good – not as vivid as other screens, bit still good – black levels are great, and whites can be a bit yellowish, but not so much to be noticeable. All in all, very decent hardware for the money.

Design

This tablet really is a thing of beauty. With all the ports hidden away under small flaps, the tablet is literally just a minimal black slate, and though that sounds incredibly boring (and similar to a lot of other products), it’s been done in such a way as to give it a raw, yet refined, aesthetic. The refined feeling mainly comes from it’s ridiculously small weight and thickness. If you’ve seen or heard anything about this tablet, you’ll no doubt be aware that it’s the thinnest and lightest tablet of this screen size, being only 6.9mm thick and under 500g. I wouldn’t call any modern tablet heavy or thick, but compared to this one, the competition are outright obese! It also has a fairly large bezel, something some may see as a negative, but combined with the weight, it makes this tablet fantastic for one-handed use. This thin frame and large black bezel does also make everything look stunning – not always in a colourful and vivid sense (though that is sometimes the case), but more in a sleek and refined manner.

The little flaps can be a bit of an annoyance, but they are there to protect the tablet and make it waterproof and dustproof. This thing can happily jump in the bath for a bit, dry off, and then continue on with its merry life… It’s almost human! Although it can survive underwater, it definitely can’t be used when it’s there. This thing will register even a heavy rain drop on the screen as a touch, and putting it under a running tap will send it into a bit of an epileptic fit. In reality, the waterproof rating is more of a sales point than anything else. Much like the depth rating of most digital watches: you don’t really need it, but it’s nice to know that it’s there.

Xperia Tablet Z vs Nexus 4 obesity test:

xperia tablet z thinness

OS / UI

Naturally, this is running Android jelly bean (not the latest iteration of it, but close enough as to make no real difference), along with all the benefits (and drawbacks) associated with it. The biggest disadvantage with an android tablet is its smaller selection of dedicated apps. Android has an impressive app library, but lots of developers haven’t made the effort to tailor their apps for tablet use, so you end up with a fair number of phone interfaces that have been scaled up to fill the screen. And that’s including apps like Facebook, Twitter, etc. Other apps, such as The Verge, force themselves to only display in portrait view. That being said, if you’re willing to look through the Play Store a little more thoroughly, you can find alternatives that look great on tablets. FriendCaster (for Facebook), TweetCaster (naturally for Twitter), Glimmr (for Flickr), Pulse (an all in one news feed), to name a few, are all beautiful tablet alternatives from the original apps.

Manufacturers of Android devices love to slap their own UI on it. As a lover of stock Android, having to cope with a manufacturer UI is a bit of an annoyance. However, with a quick little hunt through the Play Store, you can find a fair amount of options to customise the UI – different app launchers and the like – to make it more or less however you want. Sony does include some nice little options though, including an element of multitasking called ‘small apps’. For instance, there are a couple of icons in the lower navigation bar that allow you to load certain apps on top of you current ones, including a TV remote, calculator, notes, and even a minimalist browser. More can be downloaded, and you can include android widgets there as well. It has it’s limitations, primarily in that only one small app can be used at a time, but it’s still a nice touch. Sony’s battery management options are very handy as well. And they’ve also added an option to be able to double tap the screen to wake it up. It’s such a simple addition, but it’s a good one!

The Little Irritations

Every tablet has it’s faults, and this one is definitely no exception. Let’s start with the most prevalent drawback: battery life. Such a thin device has to sacrifice something, and it usually tends to be the battery. Compared to your average android tablet, the Xperia Tablet Z’s battery competes fairly well, matching that of most of the Samsung Galaxy Tabs. Compared to the likes of the iPad and Nexus devices however, this tablet’s longevity is severely lacking. The battery life is still decent – under heavy use (lots of web browsing, playing games, brightness set fairly high) it will last a day, and more moderate use will see it surpass that of course – but it simply doesn’t compare to some other premium devices out there. But if you want something this thin and light, that’s a compromise that has to be made. Sony’s power management options do help to provide a little extra boost as well, particularly stamina mode, which allows you to set the connectivity options to switch off when the screen does, and you can even set certain apps as exceptions, so you don’t have to worry about your download being cancelled by accident. This allows for a fairly decent standby time, which does actually make quite a difference, because nobody is using their tablet non-stop! Leaving the tablet on overnight with stamina mode active usually amounts to no more than a 1 or 2% battery drop. And turning the brightness down helps too, as the screen is quite the battery hog!

Whilst Sony’s UI has it’s advantages with multitasking and battery management, it has chosen to omit certain options that I’ve come to know and love. For instance, there’s no built in quick method to simply switch the wifi or bluetooth on and off from the notification area. It’s not a hassle having to go through 4 steps to do it, but when you’re used to always doing it in 2, it seems less fluid. The biggest disadvantage to Sony’s UI is the occasional lag that comes with it. When swiping between home screens on stock Android, there’s a fairly fluid animation. Sony’s UI relies on more of a spring mechanism, with the current screen slowly pulling away as you swipe, until the next one snaps into view. With the home screens full of processor intense widgets, the content simply can’t keep up with the speed of that snapping motion, and the result looks unrefined and clunky. Removing the widgets completely solves the issue, making swiping through home screens very smooth. This isn’t what I’d call a fix, as one of the benefits of Android is its selection of widgets, so hopefully Sony will alter this at some point. Removing that snapping motion would make a real difference.

Then there are the glitches… Every tablet has them, but this one has a few more than any other premium tablet I’ve used. Firstly, there are a few more instances than normal here where swipes are registered as clicks. It seems that Sony’s UI has a higher threshold for swipes than most – I often have to do fairly long swiping motions to navigate between screens, including in apps like the gallery – once you’re used to that threshold, it stops being a problem; it would be better if you didn’t have to adapt to it at all though! Then there are the other little bugs – as rare as they are, I can’t deny that they’re there. The first time I switched this tablet on, it shut itself down before it could get anywhere. I have no idea why, and it’s only happened the once, but it still happened. Every now and again apps just stop working as well. If they were processor or memory intensive apps closing themselves for the benefit of performance then I’d understand, but they’re not. The main one that does it is actually the settings, and only when I try to access them from the notifications panel – it politely informs me that settings has stopped working and closed, and when I click it again, if loads without any problems. These bugs aren’t a deal breaker, but they’re there. You get used to where and when they occur, so they can actually be avoided in some sense, but when a tablet costs this much, they really shouldn’t be there in the first place.

Conclusion

Despite the faults that I’ve mentioned, this is still a tablet I’d recommend. It’s a stunning piece of hardware with specs that justify its price, and it operates smoothly a good 98% of the time. The slight faults are a shame, and the upcoming update to the latest iteration of Android will hopefully smooth out some of the bugs, but even if it doesn’t, I’m still very happy with this device. If you want a tablet with a large selection of dedicated apps, I’d direct you to the iPad every time, but if you’re as glued to Android as I am, or just intend to use your tablet for the likes of YouTube, a few games, web browsing, some books, etc. (essentially those activities that don’t require a large library of dedicated tablet apps), then this is one you should definitely consider. I’ve written this review on it, and it really is lovely to use (the WordPress app looks pretty good on Android tablets too by the way!).


Posted: July 3rd, 2013
Categories: reviews, mobile, tech