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?
Click to EnlargeThis 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.
Click to EnlargeRegardless, 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.
Click to EnlargePixel-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.
Click to EnlargeThe 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.
Click to EnlargeSimilar 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