Sony Xperia Tablet S Hands-On: Still Weird. A Little Better. Let's Hope Somebody Buys It This Time.

It's been exactly a year since the original Sony Tablet S debuted. It was unique, and a lot better than the terrible Tablet P, but it never got to be all that popular. This year's Tablet S returns with the Xperia moniker and a set of improvements that should fix the flaws from the first time around.

The Xperia Tablet S is a 9.4-inch Android tablet running Ice Cream Sandwich. It has 1280x800 resolution (that has become an Android tablet standard). The IPS screen looked brighter and crisper than last year's dim version, and it has an anti-fingerprint coating.

The biggest improvement is the build quality. Last year's shapely model felt like cheap, creaky plastic. The new one's metal back felt much stronger, but lighter than an iPad 2. The metaphor of the folded-over magazine remains, but it feels flatter and better balanced. The speakers are on the bottom of the device in landscape mode, which may help keep a nice-sounding virtual 3D feature unmuffled. The tablet is also now water repellent to the IPX 4 standard, which is great news.

Inside, a quad-core Tegra 3 is now running the show, which is good since last year's had some serious lag problems. Ports include a full-sized SD card slot, USB, and HDMI (with a dongle). It has an 8MP camera on the back and a 1MP camera on the front. It also supports DLNA for beaming you media to other devices.

A built-in IR blaster controls home entertainment devices, which is a fantastic feature on a tablet. Sony took it up a notch by giving you the ability to program IR blaster macros. You could just hit "Gaming Mode," and it fires up your TV, gaming system, and receiver, and it puts all the inputs where they need to be. Really slick.

The software, after a quick first impression, seemed to move quickly and smoothly. Sony's tweaks to Ice Cream Sandwich include a quick launcher in the upper-left corner, where you can put four shortcuts to whatever you want. There are also a bunch of "small apps," which include miniature versions of browser, Facebook, YouTube, and calculator apps, plus some free-standing widgets. The Xperia Tablet S also comes with Sony Music Unlimited, which now offers offline storage.

All in all, these are significant improvements to an already good tablet. Is it good enough to be the best? Potentially, but that call will have to wait for a full review. The Xperia Tablet S will be available on September 7th and will come in three sizes: 16GB for $400 (which is $100 cheaper than last year's 16GB model), 32GB for $500, and 64GB for $600. Stay tuned.