Sony Xperia Tablet S review: Sony Xperia Tablet S

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CNET Editors' Rating

3 stars Good
  • Overall: 6.9
  • Design: 8.0
  • Features: 7.0
  • Performance: 6.0

Average User Rating

3 stars 5 user reviews
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good The Sony Xperia Tablet S has a comfortable, high-quality design, a sharp-looking screen, storage expansion, and potential as a universal remote alternative.

The Bad Unfortunately Wi-Fi currently shuts off whenever the tablet sleeps, waking the tablet from sleep takes way too long, and its screen flickers intermittently. Price is a bit high for what's offered.

The Bottom Line The Xperia Tablet S has an excellent design, but there are cheaper alternatives that provide similar and better tablet experiences.

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The Sony Tablet S was one of the more impressive Android tablets when it debuted in 2011. Now with its Xperia Tablet S, Sony has revised the design, upgraded to Tegra 3, and updated its media ecosystem.

These improvements deliver a more than solid tablet that unfortunately currently suffers from some serious performance issues.

Sony does its best to offer its own spin on a media ecosystem and has built one of the most comfortable large form factor tablets to date, but depending on your needs, there may not be enough here to justify its $400 price, especially given its current performance issues.

Editors' note:The Sony Xperia Tablet S has a glaring Wi-Fi performance issue that causes its wireless adapter to shut off whenever the tablet enters sleep mode and sometimes requires a full system restart to get Wi-Fi working again. Because of this (among a few other issues detailed in this review), I've decided to give the Xperia Tablet S a 5 in performance. Sony is aware of these performance issues and says that an OTA fix for the Wi-Fi issue is "coming soon." I'll revisit the tablet's performance rating as soon as its released.

Editors' note update: On September 21, 2012, Sony issued an OTA update for the Xperia Tablet S, addressing the Wi-Fi performance issue. The Xperia tablet S no longer requires restart when returning from sleep in order to re-enable wireless. As a result, I've raised the tablet's performance score to 6; however, there are still problems with the Wi-Fi disconnect policy's implementation. These problems are detailed in the performance section below.

Design
As manufacturers continued to spit out tablets at nearly a weekly rate, the original Sony Tablet S found a way to stand out from the pack thanks to its unique "rolled-back magazine" wedge design. While the new Xperia Tablet S retains the magazine look, the wedge shape of the original is gone. The new tablet sports a more refined look and now lies nearly completely flat as opposed to being noticeably elevated.

The tablet sports a 9.4-inch screen and feels really light and comfortable to hold, especially when held in one hand in portrait mode; something that can’t be said for most tablets larger than 9 inches.

The Xperia Tablet S is one of the only tablets larger than 9 inches that actually feels good when held in one hand. There's obviously something earth-shatteringly serious happening on that screen, judging by the look on my face. James Martin/CNET


Sony Xperia Tablet S Sony Tablet S Apple iPad (2012) Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700
Weight in pounds 1.22 1.28 1.44 1.32
Width in inches (landscape) 9.5 9.5 7.3 10.4
Height in inches 6.9 6.8 9.5 7.1
Depth in inches .5/.43 .87/.37 0.37 0.33
Side bezel width in inches (landscape) 0.75 0.81 0.87 0.8

Along the tablet's right edge sits a volume rocker and power/sleep button; a full-size SD card slot and headphone jack are on the opposite edge. The power/sleep button had a tendency to not react to my presses and sometimes required a few presses before the tablet would awake from sleep. There’s also the issue of how long the tablet took to awake from sleep after pressing the button, but we’ll get to that later. On the top side of the bezel is a 1-megapixel front camera, and opposite it, on the back, is an 8-megapixel shooter with no LED. The micro-USB port from the previous Tablet S is gone.

While the front of the tablet is mostly glossy black, the back is of silver aluminum, with a raised, black textured panel at the top giving it its magazine feel. Sony chose to go with a proprietary multitport input for its charging port, which sits right in the middle of the bottom edge.

The folded back magazine design is retained, but feels much more comfortable now than it did on the original Tablet S. James Martin/CNET

Your tablet, your remote control
As with its previous incarnation, Sony includes an IR blaster and its own remote control app for the Xperia Tablet S, which turns the tablet into a remote control for not only your TV, but now your Blu-ray player, stereo, and cable box, among other devices. Unfortunately, this doesn’t extend to game consoles.

To set up your remote you simply choose the type of device you want to control and its manufacturer. You can then choose the specific type of remote (my Samsung TV had 77 different options!) and begin controlling away. There are a couple of problems with this solution versus my universal remote, however. First, the range on the Xperia is shorter and requires more precise aiming to be effective. And if there's one thing I hate when slothing on the couch, it's having to use precision. Second, while my universal remote never sleeps and is always ready to go at a moment's notice, the Xperia will eventually fall asleep and need to be unlocked before it can be used as intended. These are somewhat minor quibbles, however, and many will appreciate the app's inclusion of macro support and the many, many different types of remotes to choose from.

One of the key differentiating features of the Xperia Tablet is Sony's remote control software. For those willing to put in loads of time, there are some cool macro customizations to tinker around with, but personally I'll stick with my Logitech universal remote. It's always on and is easier to use. Eric Franklin/CNET
Still, I enjoyed using the app's actual controls much more than Peel’s TV guide/remote control app’s slider-based control seen on recent Samsung Galaxy Tabs. Speaking of guides, Sony recommends users download Watch Now to further enhance their TV remote experience.

Watch Now is a pretty slick-looking TV guide that gives you information on what’s currently playing, allows you to change the channel to a show of your choosing with a single tap, and post comments about shows to Twitter, Facebook, and Get Glue, directly from the app. In my time with it, however, the app wasn’t always very accurate about which shows were actually on. Also, why this Xperia Tablet S exclusive app doesn't actually ship with the Xperia Tablet S, is beyond me.

The Xperia Tablet S is purported by Sony as being splash proof, as long as the multiport is covered. I tested this by splashing a mostly empty cup of water on its screen. It continued to function. I moved on. Eric Franklin/CNET

According to Sony, with its multiport cover in place, the Xperia Tablet S is "splash proof" (but note that doesn't necessarily mean "waterproof") and its screen is purported to respond to touch gestures even with wet hands. I tested this by splashing a bit of water on the the screen and while the screen didn’t function with water on it, once I wiped it off, and waited a few seconds it worked normally. The tablet did work perfectly with my wet hands however.

Software features
The Xperia Tablet S ships with Android 4.0, but Sony says to look for a 4.1 upgrade before the end of the year. The interface is filled with plenty of the same app shortcuts the original Tablet S enjoyed, sans the oppressive Sony visual theme. Sony takes a page from Samsung’s TouchWiz interface by including an embedded mini-apps and widgets shortcut array on the bottom of the screen.

Here you can get a sense of how thick the folded back magazine feature of the tablet is. Also, the volume and power buttons are well-spaced. James Martin/CNET

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Wireless Connectivity IEEE 802.11b
  • Weight 1.22 lbs
  • Type Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich
  • Storage 16 GB
About The Author

Eric Franklin is a section editor covering how to and tablets. He's also co-host of CNET's do-it-yourself and how-to show, The Fix and is a 20-year tech industry veteran.