Sony Xperia Tablet S review: Sony Xperia Tablet S

Guest Mode lets you make multiple personalized user accounts with customizable app and widgets accessibility. Creating the new account is a simple and clear process that ultimately does what it intends: allow for an ironclad lockdown of any software feature of your choosing. For parents, this could be a great tool for limiting Junior's access to apps on your tablet, while still allowing him to play around with it.

Video Unlimited returns and offers rentable and purchasable SD-only movies and TV shows, but no streaming capability. Thankfully the Google Play picks up the slack with streamable or downloadable movies and TV shows; some in HD. Music Unlimited is pretty much the same idea, but for music. Walkman is Sony’s music playing app with built-in features for getting info and lyrics about the song from the Internet and features a number of sound equalizer options. With Play Memories Online you can store your videos and photos in the cloud and view them across multiple devices.

Sony's Video Unlimited app is actually quite limited when it comes to streaming HD movies and TV shows. In that you can't actually do that. James Martin/CNET

Sony also provides codes for 3 free movies (from a list of 15) on the Google Play store, but curiously, not its own store. As for the selection, well let’s just say it was a good thing "Moneyball" was on there.

Hardware features
The quad-core Tegra 3 inside the Xperia Tablet S is the same 1.4GHz chip we've seen on other Android tablets. The Xperia also includes 1GB of RAM, as opposed to the faster DDR3 RAM the Asus TF300 uses and has support for 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, a gyroscope, an accelerometer, and GPS.

Tegra 3: so much potential, so little realized. These splashes are simulated. James Martin/CNET

Performance
The tablet features a 9.4-inch IPS screen with a 1,280x800-pixel resolution. That’s smaller than 10.1-inch displays running at that same resolution, which means higher pixel density and sharper text; however, the colors and all-around screen vibrancy couldn't match the Kindle Fire HD's impressive screen. Also, I noticed that the Xperia's screen flickers intermittently for no obvious reason. It's rare, but is disconcerting when it occurs.

Tested spec Sony Xperia Tablet S Sony Tablet S Apple iPad (2012) Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700
Maximum brightness IPS mode (Super IPS) 335 cd/m2 393 cd/m2 455 cd/m2 422 cd/m2 (644 cd/m2)
Default brightness 136 cd/m2 160 cd/m2 160 cd/m2 112 cd/m2
Maximum black level, IPS mode (Super IPS) 0.17 cd/m2 0.47 cd/m2 0.49 cd/m2 0.34 cd/m2 (0.53 cd/m2)
Default black level 0.06 cd/m2 0.19 cd/m2 0.17 cd/m2 0.10 cd/m2
Default contrast ratio 2,266:1 842:1 941:1 933:1
Maximum contrast ratio, IPS mode (Super IPS) 1,970:1 836:1 939:1 (1,241:1), (1,215:1)

My favorite test game, Riptide GP, ran smoothly at maximum resolution and included the requisite Tegra 3 water splashing effects.

The way Sony set up its Wi-Fi disconnect policy for the Xperia Tablet S feels like a legitimate, if stupid oversight. Users can choose from three options and none of them allow Wi-Fi to stay on when the tablet sleeps or its screen turns off. Last year's Tablet S had a much clearer implementation.

2011's Tablet S's Wi-Fi disconnect policy is a lot clearer than the Xperia's even if it also doesn't work as it should all the time. Screenshot: Eric Franklin/CNET
The Xperia Tablet S' disconnect policy reads like a No parking after midnight street sign. Screenshot: Eric Franklin/CNET

Originally, there was the issue of the Xperia Tablet S requiring a complete restart to re-enable Wi-Fi after returning from sleep, but this was addressed in an OTA update on September 21st, 2012 and while it no longer requires a restart, I sometimes had to wait several seconds after waking the tablet before Wi-Fi re-enabled itself. When it actually was working however, Web and app downloading speeds were zippy.

The speakers deliver loud, but ultimately tinny sound. A bit more bass would have led to a lot less of me grinding my teeth grinding. James Martin/CNET

The Xperia’s speakers delivered loud sound, but its Clear Audio + sound enhancement feature didn’t seem to make a difference in sound quality. Also, more bass and less "tin" would have led to me grinding my teeth a lot less when listening to music at high volumes.

The 8-megapixel back camera took decent shots, but come nowhere near matching the Asus Transformer Infinity's 8-megapixel shooter's capability to capture detail and color. Just goes to show that a camera’s capability to take high-resolution photos does not necessarily make for a quality camera. The front camera actually captured more detail than I expected and was more than adequate for Skype-type activities.

The front-facing 1-megapixel camera is totally adequate for Skype calling, but not much else. James Martin/CNET

The tablet's GPS performance brings back bad memories of the Transformer Prime. The Xperia had a tough time both finding and holding onto any satellites for more than a few seconds.

Here are our official CNET Labs-tested battery life results. More tablet testing results can be found here.

Video battery life (in hours)
Sony Xperia Tablet S 10.5

Conclusion
Sony definitely gets the design right here. The Xperia is one of the most comfortable large form-factor tablets I’ve ever held and while its remote control feature can't compare to a true universal remote, it's thoughtfully implemented and will please those willing to delve deeply into its customization options. Guest mode is a neat feature for families and its full-size expandable storage option is comforting to have.

However, the Wi-Fi policy issue, lag when returning from sleep, and intermittent screen flickering need to be addressed ASAP as they seriously adversely affect the tablet's value.

With its current issues, I can't recommend it for any price. If Sony hammers those issues out, then the Xperia would stand as a quality tablet, but those looking for a full Android tablet should think twice before buying. The Asus Transformer Pad TF300 offers much of the same options and is currently sitting pretty at $340. Also, if you're strictly looking for a media consumption tablet, the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 inch is coming in November for $300, and if its 7-inch version is any indication, it should be well-worth the money. Then of course, there's the iPad 2's current $400 price with its incredible app and ecosystem support.

The Xperia Tablet S isn't necessarily a bad deal at $400, but there are just too many tablets out there providing very similar (and in the case of the iPad 2 better) experiences at the same price or lower. Regardless, make sure Sony addresses the Xperia's performance issues before you buy.

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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.