ith its latest flagship Xperia devices, Sony has carved out a foothold in the premium smartphone and tablet spaces with inspired designs and impressive performance. The Sony Xperia Tablet Z ($499.99 direct) looks like a stretched out version of the admirable Xperia Z smartphone. It’s remarkably thin and light, packs in a sharp display, and pumps out top-notch performance thanks to its speedy quad-core processor. On top of that, you get a fully waterproof design, microSD expandable memory, and a built-in IR emitter for TV remote control abilities. The Xperia Tablet Z is among the finest Android tablets available, and is a worthy alternative to top-end tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, Asus Transformer Pad Infinity, and even the Apple iPad.
Design and Features
The first time I handled an iPad mini, I marveled at its thinness and lightness. I had a similar reaction when I first picked up the Tablet Z. At 0.27 inches thick and 1.09 pounds, it’s remarkably thin and light for a 10-inch tablet. For comparison, the full-sized iPad is 0.37 inches thick and 1.44 pounds, while the Note 10.1 is 0.35 inches thick and 1.31 pounds. That nearly half-pound difference is significant and makes the Tablet Z more comfortable to hold than other 10-inch tablets. Its slimness makes the tablet feel a bit delicate, though. It’s well built, but you can feel it flex when you twist at either end. On top of that, I noticed some LCD rippling at the edges when I applied pressure along the bezels.
The back is made from rubberized plastic, a departure from the glass-clad Xperia Z, but the curved corners and flat edges mimic Sony’s smartphone design. The Tablet Z is also fully waterproof, with flaps that cover the 3.5mm headphone jack, micro USB port, and microSD card slot around the tablet’s perimeter. There are speaker grilles on the bottom two corners right where your palms naturally rest, making them easy to cover up. I dunked the Tablet Z in a bucket of water and it was completely unaffected, even playing a video while fully submerged.
The tablet’s 10.1-inch 1,920-by-1,200-pixel TFT LCD is surrounded by a somewhat large 1-inch bezel. The full HD resolution and 224 pixels per inch means everything is incredibly crisp and detailed, on par with the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity and a big improvement over the 1,280-by-800-pixel display on the Galaxy Tab 10.1. The display also features inky blacks that give AMOLED panels a run for their money, without the blue tint to whites. Viewing angle is excellent, but the screen doesn’t get all that bright—outdoors, in bright light, the screen is barely discernible behind the fingerprint-magnet glass.
This is a Wi-Fi only tablet that connects to 802.11b/g/n networks on both 2.4 and 5GHz frequencies. Bluetooth 4.0 and NFC are also on board. Sony offers two models, a 16GB for $499.99 and a 32GB for $599.99, and our 32 and 64GB SanDisk microSD cards both worked fine.
Performance and Android
Sony’s Android skin falls somewhere between Asus’s minimal modifications and Samsung’s heavy-handed skinning. Luckily, beyond the cosmetic adjustments, there are some genuinely useful additions here. On the home screen, you’ll notice two major differences between Sony’s version and stock Android. The first is a bar along the top that holds four customizable shortcuts, a Google search and voice command shortcut, and an app drawer launcher. I really like the shortcuts along the top, as they allow me to keep my home screens a bit less cluttered, while always keeping my most important apps on hand. The second modification is Sony’s multitasking ‘small apps.’ These run in little windows on top of whatever current app you’re running, and include a browser, calculator, notepad, clip manager, timer, recorder, and remote control. You can download more Sony-compatible small apps, from Twitter clients to camera apps, and also turn any widget into a small app. I found the small apps pretty useful, though they fall a bit short of the split-screen multitasking you get on the Galaxy Note 10.1.