No, it's not called "The Sony DS," although technically that's exactly what the Sony Tablet P is. A dual-screen, portable Sony system that plays PlayStation games (keep reading), that just happens to run Android.
Dual screens on a tablet is a pretty exciting concept, but does having two screens improve or hinder the tablet experience?
Editors note: As of June 2012 the Sony Tablet P is upgradeable to Android 4.0. For details on the advantages Android 4.0 offers over Honeycomb, check the Android 4.0 section of the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime review.
The first thing you'll notice about the Sony Tablet P is the dual-screen, hinge-based design that allows the tablet to be closed up, like a clam shell.
The second thing is that, once folded, the tablet looks not unlike a large eyeglasses case that will likely fit into most large pockets.
|Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus||Toshiba Thrive 7-inch||Sony Tablet P|
|Weight in pounds||0.76||0.8||0.82|
|Width in inches (landscape)||7.6||7.4||7.1|
|Height in inches||4.8||5.1||6.2 (Closed: 3.3)|
|Depth in inches||0.38||0.5||0.75 (Closed: 0.9)|
|Side bezel width in inches (landscape)||0.75||0.75||1.1|
Tablets with pointy corners are something of a pet peeve of mine. There's nothing that ruins potential comfort like pointy plastic corners digging into your palms, and that's exactly the type of experience the Tablet P delivers. With the top screen rotated to an almost-laptop-like 90 degrees, the "pointy plastic things are causing me discomfort" effect is lessened, but you'd better have hobbit-size hands if you hope to get any typing or navigation done from this position.
The tablet's top half continues to rotate back another 90 degrees until the 5.5-inch screens align perfectly with each other. This creates a nearly complete, square screen shape that spans 7 inches diagonally. I say "nearly" since there's about a third of an inch of dead space between the screens, making full-screen viewing of games, movies, and pretty much any app not optimized for dual-screen playback a less-than-seamless experience.
On the right edge of the bottom section are the power button, power adapter jack, Micro-USB port, and volume rocker. Having all four features jammed onto a 3-inch space feels a bit cramped; both the power button and volume rocker are embedded in the tablet a bit too deeply and prove difficult to press at times. Especially if your fingers are as large as mine.
Embedded in the top section's top-right bezel is a 0.3-megapixel camera, and almost directly opposite it on the back, about an inch lower, is a 5-megapixel camera. Both cameras are well-placed and thankfully fail at attracting unwanted thumbs into their respective frames.
On the front edge of the bottom section, almost hidden in the right corner, lies the headphone jack. On the back, near the dual hinges, you'll find two small black buttons. When pressed simultaneously, these unlock the bottom plate, revealing the removable battery and microSD slot. The expansion slot supports cards of up to 32GB, and although I would have preferred the memory expansion to be more easily accessible, the option to remove and possibly replace the battery is an appreciated bonus.
The Tablet P ships with Honeycomb 3.2.1 and according to Sony and Verizon is "Ice Cream Sandwich-ready," but no update is officially planned as of yet. While the Honeycomb OS displays over both screens, some apps like the will, annoyingly, only display in the top screen. With other apps, like Marvel Comics, you're either reading about Captain America's latest adventure on a small 5.5-inch screen or awkwardly stretched over both screens, with a long black bar separating the top of a single panel from the rest of the panel.
The same problem holds for Android games and most movie players I tried. While they can be played or watched on the small 5.5-inch screen, taking them full-screen makes them look a lot less impressive as they stretch to fit into a completely square aspect ratio. The disruptive black bar halving the image doesn't help much.
Fortunately, the Sony-made movie player, music app, and photo app make good use of the dual screens by keeping controls and output separate and not allowing full-screen playback. Apps like the browser, however, which spreads over both screens, unfortunately will not autorotate when the tablet is turned upside down or sideways.
The Tablet P includes limited PlayStation Store support, with access to a scant few PS1 games. Games like Crash Bandicoot are well-implemented on the platform, placing most of the virtual control pad controls on the bottom screen with the actual game up top.
Unfortunately, the Android YouTube app is currently incompatible with the Tablet P. Sony says it's working on an optimized version of the app and that it's "coming soon."
The Tablet P houses the usual Android tablet suspects, including Nvidia's dual-core Tegra 2 CPU and 1GB of RAM, but includes only a paltry 4GB of storage. Also, it has 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi support, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, a gyroscope, and GPS.
If you're thinking of using the Tablet P as a dedicated music player, you may want to invest in some high-quality headphones. The single speaker, located on the bottom section's left edge, is pumped through a quarter-inch-long slit and delivers sound as muffled and low as you'd expect, even at maximum volume.
The Tablet P's dual 5.5-inch capacitive touch screens sport impressively high luminance ratings while simultaneously delivering low black levels. The screens feature a high-gloss, high-contrast look with wide IPS-based viewing angles. Colors pop with a vibrancy that rivals some of the best tablet screens available. The glossy screen is quite reflective, however.
|Tested spec||Sony Tablet P||Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus||Toshiba Thrive 7-inch|
|Maximum brightness||388 cd/m2||214 cd/m2||350 cd/m2|
|Default brightness||152 cd/m2||50 cd/m2||141 cd/m2|
|Maximum black level||0.31 cd/m2||0.17 cd/m2||0.45 cd/m2|
|Default black level||0.13 cd/m2||0.04 cd/m2||0.18 cd/m2|
|Default contrast ratio||1,169:1||1,250:1||783:1|
|Contrast ratio (max brightness)||1,251:1||1,258:1||778:1|
Navigating the OS and launching apps is fast and the screen seemed responsive to my swipes; however, the dead space between the screens does get in the way at times.
Web and app download speeds matched most other Android tablets when within 5 feet of our test router; even up to 20 feet away, it retained much of its strength.
Thanks to its hardware scalability, I used Riptide GP as a game performance benchmark. Depending on the speed of the CPU, Riptide GP will deliver a noticeable increase or decrease in frame rate. The Tablet P offered performance typical of a Tegra 2-based tablet by delivering a consistent, playable frame rate that unfortunately can't match the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus' smooth near-60-frames-per-second Exynos 4210-induced fluidity.
As mentioned, the Tablet P includes a front-facing 0.3-megapixel camera and a 5-megapixel back camera. Images and video recorded with the front camera looked washed-out and lacked detail. The back camera, however, delivers detailed, high-contrast, and colorful photos that go a step beyond typical tablet fare.
Playback of 720p video from external sources ran smoothly and looked sharp on the Tablet P's top 1,024x480-pixel-resolution screen. Contrast was high and colors popped with a suitable vibrancy, without looking oversaturated or unnatural. Unfortunately, none of the 1080p files we attempted to play on the tablet would start, however.
Here are our official CNET Labs-tested battery life results. More tablet testing results can be found here.
|Video battery life (in hours)|
|Sony Tablet P||5.8|
The Tablet P is available for $400 if you sign up for a two-year contract with AT&T, giving you access to its HSPA+ network; however, I don't recommend getting roped into a two-year contract with any tablet. Off-contract, the Tablet P is available for $550.
If you're looking for something a little different in an Android tablet, dual screens and a clamshell design do fit the bill. The removable battery is useful, and the 5-megapixel back camera takes some pretty detailed pictures. Also, the ability to fold a tablet in two and fit it into your pocket is truly convenient.
I found it difficult to think about a portable Sony device, which technically plays PlayStation games, without my thoughts drifting toward the PS Vita. Unfortunately for the P, the PlayStation Store's limited (not to mention old) games selection didn't exactly overwhelm me with excitement.
The Vita plays nearly PlayStation 3-quality games for $250 (plus memory cards, of course). The games are more expensive, but arguably provide better experiences as well. The Vita also supports Web browsing, 3G, apps (like Facebook, Twitter, and Netflix), a capacitive touch screen, and dual cameras (albeit both at VGA resolution).
It's baffling that Sony would release two completely different devices that feel as similar in purpose as these do at around the same time. The Vita is easily the better portable Sony device.
Still, I appreciate the Tablet P's novel approach to design, but while Sony shows up with optimized native apps for music, photos, and movies, most apps feel either crammed or weirdly segmented on the tablet. Also, there are simply better tablet options out there at its current asking price or lower.