Sony Xperia Tablet Z review: Thin, thoughtful design, but at a premium price

Software features
If you're at all familiar with Sony's suite of tablet apps, you won't find many surprises here. Sony's movie and music marketplace apps, Video and Music Unlimited, respectively, make returns.

Video Unlimited offers rentable and purchasable SD-only movies and TV shows, but no streaming capability. Thankfully, Google Play picks up the slack with streamable or downloadable movies and TV shows; most 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.

Josh Miller/CNET

Sony's remote control app and IR blaster make a return, and I was able to set it up to use as my Samsung TV remote in seconds. Once configured, the tablet can be used as the universal remote for your cable, satellite, Blu-ray player, or pretty much any home theater device.

Using DLNA, you can also "throw" content from the tablet to a networked TV or compatible set-top box, including an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. While pictures are sent quickly enough, streaming even short videos from the tablet to my Xbox 360 produced video that would play for a few seconds before pausing and buffering periodically. Something that's probably attributed to the Tablet Z's slow Wi-Fi speed.

Josh Miller/CNET

Hardware features
The Tablet Z houses a 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro CPU, 2GB RAM, and includes support for 802.11 a/b/g/n (2.4GHz and 5GHz) Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, and GPS, as well as a gyroscope and an accelerometer.

The Z is one of the few tablets to include NFC capability and while it does work, its area of functionality -- located at the official NFC logo on the back -- is so small that I spent minutes attempting to line it up with the Nexus 10 just to push a single picture. Also, even after the picture zoomed away, I found it sometimes necessary to keep the two tablets touching for a few seconds or the procedure failed. A few times it even stopped working altogether, until I quit and then restarted the gallery app. Pushing from the Nexus 10, however, was easier and faster and didn't require me to keep the tablets touching any more than it should.

Josh Miller/CNET

I like what NFC technology has to offer, but let's please not start a trend of including it just to check it off the front-of-the-box specs list. Let's make sure that when we want to beam something to another device, we can do so quickly and easily, without any hassle. There's no real point in including this cool, convenient tech if I can't enact it with a simple quick bump.

Performance
The Xperia Tablet Z is a good, but not great performer. It's great at running games, and its screen is impressive-looking; however, apps take a bit too long to load and Wi-Fi speeds are lackluster.

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Polygonal games like N.O.V.A. 3, Need for Speed: Most Wanted, and Real Racing 3, ran at higher frame rates than on the Nexus 10, but only slightly so. The difference between the two was more pronounced in the 3DMark benchmark.

Device CPU GPU RAM OS tested
Sony Xperia Tablet Z 1.5GHz Qualcomm S4 Pro Andreno 320 (single-core) 2GB Android 4.1.2
Google Nexus 10 1.7GHz dual-core Samsung Exynos 5 Dual (5250) Mali-T604 (quad-core) 2GB Android 4.2.2
Apple iPad 4 1.4GHz dual-core Apple A6X PowerVR SGX554MP4 (quad-core) 1GB iOS 6.1.3

3DMark (Normal)
Google Nexus 10 8,055
Sony Xperia Tablet Z 10,204

Graphics test 1,720p (GPU)
Google Nexus 10 36.9
Sony Xperia Tablet Z 44.7

Graphics test 2,720p (GPU)
Google Nexus 10 32.9
Sony Xperia Tablet Z 43.4

Physics test, 720p (CPU)
Google Nexus 10 26.2
Sony Xperia Tablet Z 33.2

Navigating speed is quick but maybe not quite as zippy as the Nexus 10's, but we're talking fractions of a second here. I also used the first level of N.O.V.A. 3 to test app-loading speed, with some sobering results. The Xperia Z trailed behind the Nexus 10 by about 10 seconds and behind the iPad 4 by about 27 seconds. That's a large level, to be sure, and while less demanding apps took about the same amount of time to open, it's disappointing to see a brand-new $500 tablet outpaced by a $400 one from six months ago.

N.O.V.A. 3 Level 1 load time (in seconds)
Sony Xperia Tablet Z 38
Google Nexus 10 29
Apple iPad 4 11

The Tablet Z's 1,920x1,200-pixel resolution is lower than the Nexus 10's 2,560x1,600-pixel setup, but there's little difference in actual noticeable clarity, and even in games, the two screen are comparable. Real Racing 3's cars still sport lots of aliasing on either tablet. The Z's screen does handle color saturation better, however; images are richer and faces in movies look more lifelike than on the Nexus 10, despite its screen's higher pixel count.

Tested spec Sony Xperia Tablet Z Sony Xperia Tablet S Google Nexus 10 Apple iPad (4th generation)
Maximum brightness 411 cd/m2 393 cd/m2 368 cd/m2 398 cd/m2
Maximum black level 0.43 cd/m2 0.47 cd/m2 0.44 cd/m2 0.49 cd/m2
Maximum contrast ratio 955:1 836:1 836:1 812:1

Wi-Fi speeds consistently trailed behind that of the Nexus 10 whether when downloading apps or simply surfing the Web via Chrome.

Deer Hunter Reloaded download time (in seconds)
Sony Xperia Tablet Z 162
Google Nexus 10 60

SpeedTest.net download speed (in megabits per second)
Sony Xperia Tablet Z 10
Apple iPad 4 33
Google Nexus 10 47

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 Z 7.2

Conclusion
The Sony Xperia Tablet Z offers plenty of features, a sharp screen, and good gaming performance. It's also the thinnest, lightest large tablet I've yet held, but its slow network performance, disappointing large apps loading speed, and high price prevent it from being recommended over the Nexus 10 as Android tablets go. However, with impressively effective waterproofing, an expandable storage option, and useful Sony software features, most will be satisfied by its offerings. That is, as long as the high price works for you.

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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.