Sony Xperia Tablet S Review: Better, But Still Broken

Last year's Sony Tablet S wasn't perfect, but it was refreshing. It was a sign that Sony could still innovate, and that it wasn't afraid to try something different. The new Xperia S tablet is an improvement in every way. But it's still hung up on those same Sony snags.

What Is It?

Sony's second try at an ergonomic tablet with a 9.4-inch screen and Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich).

Who's it For?

People who want to use a full-sized tablet as if it's a one-handed e-reader.

Design

Last year's Tablet S was a big wedge made of creaky plastic. This year, Sony added an all-metal back and flattened it down, but kept the metaphor of a folded-over magazine.

Using It

The old design was actually nicer to hold. Hooking your fingertips into this model's back fold isn't comfortable or secure (but it does feel better than most 10-inch tablets). More portable than the older Tablet S.

The Best Part

An IR blaster—one of our favorite tablet features—and you can create macros for it! Customize a "movie mode" and just hit one button to fire up your TV, Blu-ray, receiver, and stereo. Really good idea.

Tragic Flaw

The software. Holy crap, Sony. Waking the screen up is so slow you doubt whether or not you hit the button. It couldn't stay connected to any of several Wi-Fi networks to save its life. Tons of pre-installed bloatware. The hardware is nice—as usual for Sony, this would be a really good machine if the software weren't so bad.

This Is Weird...

Sony has added a group of "small apps." You pull one up and move it around on top of whatever you're already looking at. (Samsung did the same thing in the Note Tablet.) A multitasking aid, it's sometimes convenient, mostly useless.

Test Notes

  • The Tegra 3 processor (an upgrade from last year's Tegra 2) powers through some serious HD games without a problem. Within Sony's customized skin, things get slow and jerky—again, this is the problem with Sony's software.
  • The power and volume buttons are well-defined, and the onboard speakers have plenty of kick.
  • The original Tablet S felt like a cheap toy; this feels like a well-made machine. It's eye-catching in a good way. There's no give to it anywhere. It's splash-proof, too.
  • Two port covers make it splash-proof. The one that covers the charging port is completely removable. You are unquestionably going to lose it.
  • It has a full-sized SD card slot for some serious storage expansion or for quickly viewing photos when you're on the go. Another great feature.
  • A micro-HDMI port sends video directly to your TV.
  • The only software addition that Sony got right is Guest Mode, which basically makes it safer to let your kids or friends use the tablet by giving them access to only the apps you specify.
  • You can get a flat keyboard cover as an optional accessory, similar to Microsoft Surface. It looks really nice. It's completely horrible. There is no tactile feedback on the keys whatsoever, so you'll miss tons of keystrokes. You can type much faster and with more accuracy with the on screen keyboard, which isn't even very good. The tablet barely stays connected to the keyboard. It costs $100 (or $50 if you buy it with the tablet). You should not buy it.
  • Another absurd accessory is the $100 docking stand. It puts your tablet on a pedestal so... I don't really know why. I guess to make it better for watching movies? It looks like a lamp stand. Save your money.
  • Excellent battery life. Got many days on standby and plenty of time gaming and streaming.
  • It comes in three storage sizes: 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB. Just get the smallest and throw in an SD card for more.

Should You Buy It?

Good hardware is nothing without solid software these days. Avoid the Xperia S until Sony gets this software fixed—especially the Wi-Fi issues. This could be such a capable and fantastic device, but it had its brains scrambled at birth. Sony should just get out of its own way, do less, and let Android and the hardware speak for itself.

Sony Xperia Tablet S Specs

• Network: Wi-Fi
• OS: Android 4.0
• CPU: 1.3-GHz quad-core Tegra 3 Processor
• Screen: 9.4-inch 800x1280 pixel LCD
• RAM: 1GB
• Storage: 16GB, 32GB, 64GB + SD card
• Camera: 8MP rear / 1MP front
• Battery: 6000 mAh Li-Ion
• Price: $400
Giz Rank: 2.5 stars