Just in time for summer, Sony's Xperia Tablet Z has gone on a diet. This superlight 10-inch Android tablet weighs barely over a pound and is thinner than a pencil. Yet it's got a lot of muscle mass. Packed inside are a quad-core processor, a bright and crisp full-HD display, an IR transmitter, NFC and a host of clever apps to take advantage of that hardware. As if that weren't enough, the Tablet Z can survive being dunked in water for up to a half-hour. Are those enough compelling reasons to pony up $499 for this gadget?
This is one seriously thin tablet. At 10.47 x 6.77 x 0.27 inches and 1.1 lbs., the Sony Xperia Tablet Z manages to make the iPad look fat. Gone is the folded-book design of previous Sony tablets that, while unique, ultimately made those devices a lot chunkier than their competitors.
In comparison, the iPad is 0.37 inches thick and weighs 1.44 lbs.; the Google Nexus 10 is 0.35 inches and 1.33 lbs.; and the ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity TF700 measures 0.33 inches thick and weighs 1.3 lbs. You wouldn't think such miniscule differences would be noticeable, but the Tablet Z feels like a wafer compared to other slates.
Regardless, the Tablet Z feels very sturdy for its thinness. The Z's corners aren't all that rounded, giving the device a more squared-off look than most tablets' designs. A small Sony insignia is in the upper left-hand corner, with a 2-MP camera in the center.
The back of the Z has somewhat of a soft-touch feel that, unfortunately, picks up fingerprints easily. In the upper right-hand corner is an 8-MP camera, and in the middle is the Xperia insignia and an icon for the tablet's NFC chip.
The left side has a covered headphone jack, below which is a round, silver power button, and a black volume rocker sits below that. Along the bottom edge are two more covered ports: one protecting the microUSB port, and the other covering a microSD/microSIM card slot.
Normally, we'd view these port covers as annoyances, but on the Tablet Z, they help protect the device, which can withstand up to 30 minutes in up to 3 feet of water.
Pixel-wise, the 10.1-inch, 1920 x 1200p display on the Tablet Z is on par with that of the ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity TF700, but it falls below those on the Nexus 10 (2560 x 1600), and the iPad (2048 x 1536). But pixel count isn't everything. Using Sony's Bravia Engine 2, the OptiContrast panel delivered high-quality visuals. When watching the "Man of Steel" trailer, we found the reds in explosions were much more vibrant on the Tablet Z than on the Nexus 10, and blacks appeared deeper and truer.
With an average brightness of 354 lux, the Tablet Z's screen is slightly dimmer than the tablet average of 371 lux, as well as the screens on most other Android tablets in its price range. For example, the Transformer Pad Infinity TF700 measured 433 lux, and the Google Nexus 10 was 376 lux. The iPad came in slightly lower, at 346 lux.
Sony boasts that the Tablet Z's Clear Audio+ technology enhances any audio played through the device, but there's only so much that software can do. The stereo speakers on either side of the Tablet Z produced average audio, at best. Regardless of what we played -- from Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" to Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind" --the sound was tinny, as if we were listening to someone's radio on the beach from a blanket over.
The placement of the speakers is also problematic. Located toward the lower corner of each side, they were easily muffled when the tablet was held. We prefer the speaker placement on the Nexus 10 and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 -- on both sides of the display, pointing at the user.
The Tablet Z runs Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, with a few of Sony's own tweaks. At the top of the screen, in the left-hand corner, is a quick link to Google Now, and a microphone icon. In the middle are a series of circles that let you know at a glance what home screen you're on, and on the right is a Plus icon to customize the screens, and a link to the Apps menu.
Similar to Samsung tablets and smartphones, the Sony Tablet Z has so-called Small Apps, which can float anywhere on the display above other apps. Small Apps can be accessed via an icon in the bottom center of the display. Preinstalled are the Browser, Calculator, Clip Manager, Notes, Recorder, Remote Control and Timer apps. There are 36 more Small Apps in Google Play, and you can also convert Widgets into Small Apps.
Though they're not as clean as Samsung's TouchWiz software, we prefer the way the Galaxy Tab 10.1 lets you quickly toggle multiple settings via its notification drawer. We also like that Samsung's slate lets you run full-fledged apps side by side.
Remote Control App
Next to the Small Apps icon is an icon for the Remote Control app. On the top edge of the Tablet Z is an infrared transmitter that lets you use the tablet as a remote control for your home entertainment system. Setting up the Remote Control app was straightforward -- the app walked us through configuring controls for our TV, cable box, and AV receiver. In all, it took less than 5 minutes. However, the Remote Control app is pretty basic, and only allows you to change channels and volume.
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More compelling is SideView, which displays shows you like to watch in a scrolling tile view, and lets you view them on your TV with a flick of your wrist. Powered by Gracenote, the app has you select your cable provider and favorite channels. You can even set it up to search through Netflix.
Shows scroll past in a tile format; if you press on a tile and flick it toward the top of the tablet, the app will change your TV to that program. Tapping on the tile opens a new window showing details about that program, such as a plot summary, characters and how much time is remaining. The flick-to-watch feature was a pretty neat effect, but we had to make sure the tablet was aimed directly at our entertainment system.
Like previous Sony Android tablets, the Z is positively loaded with Sony's apps. Included is Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited, which let you rent or purchase music and movies. The Premium version of Music Unlimited costs $9.99 per month, and lets you stream and download songs to any device with the app installed. Movies on Video Unlimited cost anywhere from $3.99 to rent to $14.99 to buy.
Although it has access to Google Play, the Tablet Z also comes with two other app stores: Sony Select, Sony's curated Android app store, and PlayNow, which also includes ringtones and wallpapers.
SocialLife is a news-aggregation app, similar to Flipboard, which pulls in the latest content from a variety of sources, including Facebook.
Walkman lets you play music stored on the Tablet Z, from Music Unlimited, or even from networked storage devices. We especially liked that the app instantly recognized all the music in our network-attached storage device. The Movies app acts in much the same way, albeit for videos, and Album lets you view photos saved on the tablet, as well as on Picasa, Facebook and any network-attached storage devices.
Other apps include Crackle, Netflix, Facebook and TrackID, a music identification app.
Powered by a 1.5-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro APQ8064 Cortex-A9 quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM, the Tablet Z scored fairly well on our tests. In Quadrant, the Tablet Z's score of 7,513 was more than double that of the category average (3,165), and easily beat the TF700 (4,897) and the Nexus 10 (4,467). The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1's quad-core Exynos processor came closer, at 6,010, but still failed to beat the Z.
On Geekbench, the Tablet Z's score of 1,965 wasn't high enough to top the average of 2,511 or the Nexus 10 (2,464), but did best the iPad (1,679) and the Note 10.1 (1,710).
While its synthetic benchmark results may be mixed, the Tablet Z was smooth, even when playing demanding games such as "N.O.V.A 3." We were able to move easily through battles and blast baddies with no dropped frames or freeze-ups.
Another nifty feature on the Tablet Z is built-in NFC. In addition to letting you transfer images and URLs from, say, a phone to the tablet, the Z has another trick up its sleeve, called One Touch. If you're playing a song on the tablet, you can tap it on an NFC-enabled speaker to continue playing the song on that device.
Still images taken using the Tablet Z's rear-facing 8-MP camera were bright and vivid. The reds and greens of roses in a park were well saturated, but the camera did blow out some white roses set against a dark green background.
With the rear camera, you also have access to several features, including Superior Auto, Burst, Picture Effect, Panorama and Scene selection.
The Tablet Z's front-facing 2-MP camera produced better images than the main rear-facing cameras on other tablets did. While there was slight pixelation, colors were accurate, and we could even make out the stubble on our chin when we took a selfie.
On the LAPTOP Battery Test, the Tablet Z blew past almost all of the competition. Its runtime of 9 hours and 51 minutes was nearly three hours longer than the average (7:03) and the Transformer Pad Infinity (7:39). The Nexus 10 was closer, lasting 8:18. However, the Tablet Z was bested by the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 (9:59) and the iPad (12:22).
In addition to our $499 review unit, which has 16GB of internal storage, Sony sells a 32GB version for $599. The latter is also available in white.
Sony gives you a lot for your $499: You get the thinnest and lightest tablet on the market -- and one that's water-resistant -- an innovative remote control, and all-day battery life. However, the sound could be better, and you can pick up the ASUS TF700 with a 1080p display for $379. The $499 Galaxy Tab 10.1 isn't nearly as sleek, but its pen input makes that device more versatile.
According to the latest IDC numbers, Sony's share of the tablet market was behind Apple (40%), Samsung (17.9%), Asus (5.5%), Amazon (3.7%) and Microsoft (1.8%). It may have a long way to go, but Sony is definitely on the right path with the Xperia Tablet Z. In fact, with its design, performance and staying power, the Sony Xperia Tablet Z is one of the best Android tablets on the market.