Hands-on: Sony’s Xperia Tablet Z could be the first Sony tablet worth owning

Check out our review of the Sony Xperia Tablet Z.

The Xperia Tablet Z didn’t make its debut here at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, its presence is a good indication that the tablet will be launched all over the world in the next few months. Sony has struggled with tablets in the past, coming up with unusual, and strange designs to try and tempt the crowds away from Apple and Samsung’s offerings; but with the Xperia Tablet Z, it has abandoned the gimmicks and gone for flat out style instead.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z

The Xperia Z smartphone impressed us with its cool simplicity, and Sony has repeated this with the Xperia Tablet Z. Never has the word slate been more appropriate; not only is the Tablet Z dark and slim, but it’s also angled and sharp where other tablets are usually curvy. It’s a striking look, enhanced by the tablet’s low 495g weight. Despite the lack of smooth edges, it’s comfortable to hold in one hand.

Sony showed the black model at Mobile World Congress, and it has chosen a matte, soft rear panel that looks great against the deep, shiny black of the 10.1-inch screen and its bezel. It’s easily the best looking tablet Sony has made, and it’s astonishingly thin at just 6.9mm, a figure which almost certainly beats the smartphone in your pocket. It’s the perfect companion device to the Xperia Z, and it’s good to see Sony come up with a great design it feels comfortable extending throughout its top-of-the-range hardware.

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Android 4.1 Jelly Bean is installed and although Sony says it hasn’t toyed around with the Android operating system too much, it’s still very much a Sony product rather than a Google one. As is often the case, this is both positive and negative. On the positive side, the photo gallery is great and encourages you to store your picture collection on the tablet. The pinch-to-zoom feature is intuitive and fun – thumbnails get larger or smaller as you pinch in and out – and is also useful for those of use with hundreds of images, particularly if they’re unsorted. The user interface (UI) is less successful if you’re used to Google Nexus devices; Sony has moved a few buttons around and it can be frustrating to search for them until you’re familiar with its nuances.

Back to the positives: The NFC pairing worked instantly with a Sony speaker (tap your tablet to the speaker to connect). The shortcuts at the bottom of the screen concentrate on features such as Sony’s customized gallery and the media player. For a tablet running Android 4.1 and using a 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro with 2GB of RAM, the Xperia Tablet Z wasn’t as smooth we hoped, but its hiccups were relatively rare.

Sony Xperia Tablet Z menu

Although we couldn’t personally test it in our short hands-on with the Xperia Tablet Z, Sony claims that, like the Xperia Z phone, the tablet is water proof. It went so far as to show another test tablet being repeatedly dunked into a bowl of liquid to prove it could take the hydration. One of the other tablets announced at MWC, the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0, had a slow-witted camera, but the Xperia Tablet Z was quick to focus and take a picture. The results looked good on the tablet’s screen, although we were taking them in a brightly lit environment. It does use the Exmor R sensor seen in the Xperia Z and other Sony smartphones, so performance should be consistent.

Sony’s ace card is the Xperia Tablet Z’s design and construction, as embodies that premium feel Sony has long been associated with, but failed to capitalize on in recent years. Sony products rarely come cheap, and we don’t expect the Tablet Z to break that tradition. However, with this and the equally desirable Xperia Z smartphone on its books, 2013 could indeed be Sony’s breakthrough year for mobile, just as Sony’s Corporate Vice President Kaz Tajima promised at the Tablet Z’s unveiling. It’s expected to go on sale in the spring.

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