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Sony Xperia Tablet S: Souped-Up TV Remote Meets Surface-Like Keyboard

Sony hopes to capture the hearts and minds of couch potatoes with its new Xperia Tablet S. Falling under the same brand as Sony's smartphones, this $399, quad-core Android 4.0 slate adds macro capability to the universal remote control feature on the original Tablet S and a slick Peel-like interface for seeing what's on. The Xperia Tablet S also targets families with a Guest Mode feature with built-in parental controls. Add in an optional cover keyboard that looks a lot like Microsoft's Surface Touch Cover and you have a buzz-worthy tablet.

Sony gave us a chance to go hands on with the Xperia Tablet S before launch. Read on to get our first impressions.

Weighing 1.26 pounds and measuring 9.5 x 6.9 x 0.35-0.47 inches, this device is both lighter and slimmer than the first Tablet S (1.3 pounds, 0.3-0.75 inches thick). We also like the new aluminum back, which gives the tablet a sturdier feel, though we're still not fans of the port flaps. On the plus side, the design is splash-proof.

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A quad-core Tegra 3 processor and 1GB of RAM provide the muscle for the Xperia Tablet S, whose 9.4-inch screen has a resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels. Other specs include an 8-MP back camera, 1-MP front shooter, SD Card slot and a Multi Port that supports HDMI output. 

Like the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, the Xperia Tablet S features a built-in IR remote control, but Sony takes things a step further by offering macro capability. That means with a press of a button you can do things like turn on the TV, fire up your Blu-ray player and flip on your receiver to watch a flick.

The Watch Now app replaces your confusing grid-like program guide with a slicker interface fed by your preferences, though it won't let you schedule recordings. The app also integrates with Facebook and Twitter, so you can share your take on whether "Comedy Bang Bang" is funny or just weird.

When you want to hand off the Xperia Tablet S to Junior or another family member, you can engage Guest Mode. In this mode users will be able to set their own wallpaper and organize their apps and widgets however they want. And if you want to have control over what your kids can access, you can use the intuitive parental controls.

As you might expect, the Xperia Tablet S integrates with Sony's wide array of content, from music and movies to TV shows. Plus, ClearAudio+ mode enhances sound quality, whether you're using the built-in speakers or headphones. Sony also throws in Small Apps for multitasking, giving you smaller versions of the browser, remote, memo and other apps that can run on top of full-screen apps.

The Xperia Tablet S will have a wide range of accessories available, including a Docking Stand, Simple Stand, Carrying Cover and Charging Cradle. But the most head-turning add-on is the $99 Cover with Keyboard. The flat, felt-like surface reminds us of Microsoft's Surface keyboard, but it didn't feel very satisfying when we tried it out in person. The loud beeping noise got annoying (which we assume you can turn off), and there's absolutely no travel. We'd like to spend more time with this accessory before we say buy it or skip it, but right now we'd say it doesn't add much value.

Overall, the Xperia Tablet S looks to be a much-improved version of the original Tablet S, with a focus on in-home entertainment as well as families. Stay tuned for a full review.