Sony Tablet S Review: Slick, But Somewhat Slow

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Short Version

The Sony Tablet S is actually a pretty hot 9.4-inch slate, and doesn’t look like every other Android tablet out there (thank goodness). On the performance side, however, I found myself frustrated on more than one occasion. The design is everything I’ve been wanting from Android tabs, but unfortunately I just couldn’t ignore the underwhelming responsiveness of the slate.

Features:

  • 9.4-inch 1280×800 TFT touchscreen
  • Tegra 2 dual-core 1GHz processor
  • 5MP rear camera (720p video capture)
  • 1.3MP front-facing camera
  • Playstation-certified
  • Android 3.1 Honeycomb
  • MSRP: $499

Pros:

  • Smart, elegant design
  • Comfortable in the hand
  • Great Playstation game-play performance

Cons:

  • Super sluggish scrolling, pinch-to-zoom
  • Difficult to get comfortable in portrait
  • Drops Wifi connection more often than I’m OK with

Long Version

Hardware:

In terms of design, the Sony Tablet S actually has a lot going for it. It looks like it used to be a long slab that’s now been folded in half, making one side thicker and more rounded, with the other coming to a much thinner point. In landscape mode, this is exactly what a tablet should be. The slight angle makes for easier typing and viewing, and with the help of that textured finish on the back (more on that later) it’s comfortable in the hand, too.

In portrait, however, the tab gets more hit or miss. If you’re holding it with one hand on the thicker side, it’s actually a much more solid grip than you’d get with an iPad or Galaxy Tab 10.1. If you’ve gripped the thin side, on the other hand, it’s actually really difficult to hang on to not only because its thinner, but because that textured finish doesn’t extend all the way down to the thin side.

The tablet comes with the usual ports, some with a solid little plastic covering. I usually hate any sort of covering over ports (save for specifically rugged devices), but since the design of the slate leaves the button in a shallow crevice along the side, I don’t see this covering breaking off unless you leave it unlatched all the time.

Underneath the covering you’ll find an microUSB port, as well as an SD card slot (up to 32GB). The microUSB isn’t for charging, however, as the Tablet S has its own dedicated charger that sits along the bottom. In every case that’s a great spot for it, as it never once interrupted me while using the tab plugged in.

Unfortunately, just about every surface of this device snatches up your fingerprints like it’s the only thing that matters in this world. The screen is instantly smudgy, and even the textured back panel takes on prints. Since that back panel is also reflective, rather than being a soft touch-type material, once it takes prints it looks much cheaper than it did out of the box.

Software:

Honeycomb runs well on the Tablet S for the most part. Switching between home screens, opening and closing applications, and multitasking were all a breeze. But once I ventured into the browser, things got really messy. For some reason, the Sony Tablet S loses its Wifi connection too frequently.

More than a handful of times per day, I’d say, which is more than I’m comfortable with. Especially when every other device in the house (and trust me, there are plenty) is doing just fine maintaining a connection. I also had trouble within the browser. Pinch-to-zoom was wonky, and all scrolling was delayed, at best.

I also found a few other weird bugs. The pre-loaded Sony Reader app, for instance, sent me into an unending loop of a “download now” web page, to the Android Market, back to the “download now” page. Sony’s Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited apps work well if you can get them to open (and have a subscription, of course), but only if you can get them to open. I once had to restart the tablet to get them to launch.

Other apps, like Sony’s Remote Control (which lets you control almost any device in your house via infrared), work really well.

Basically, it’s hit or miss on the software front.

Performance/Battery Life:

The Tablet S really shines during game-play. Everything’s snappy, and I experienced no bugs in any of the Playstation titles I dug into. And as I said earlier, multitasking doesn’t seem to bother the S much. I was able to have up to ten different apps working at once without seeing a noticeable slow-down in performance.

The same story’s true of battery life, too. The Sony Tablet S gives a solid eight hours of use, even with the brightness turned all the way up.

Conclusion

The Sony Tablet S has a lot going for it in terms of design. I love the folded-over look, and think its much more comfortable during use and in the hand. The 10-inch form factor has always been a tad big for me, but anyone who appreciates the size of an iPad will feel right at home with the Tablet S, as it’s just slightly smaller.

It’ll inevitably come down to patience, which is what you’ll need a bit of to deal with surfing the web on this thing. The constant loss of a connection, the janky scrolling and zooming functions, and the overall bugginess of certain Sony apps is frustrating to say the least, and could use a good old software update.