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The Apple iPad Air might be a slick piece of design, but dunk it in the bath and it'll quickly turn into a lifeless slab. Enter the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet -- a 10.1-inch slate that is completely waterproof. It replaces Sony's existing Xperia Tablet Z , but packs in a new quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor clocked at 2.3GHz, adds the latest Android KitKat software and slims the design down to only 6.4mm thick.
The Xperia Z2 Tablet is available to buy now online in the UK starting at £399 or throughout wider Europe for €499. Sony is yet to announce wider availability. The iPad Air also starts at £399 (both with 16GB of storage) but Sony's comes with 4G LTE connectivity, something which will cost you an extra £100 on the iPad. The Z2 Tablet's waterproof skills may mean you're less likely to have to shell out on a new one if you're clumsy enough to drop it in the sink.
When you first pick the Z2 Tablet up, the first thing you'll almost certainly notice is just how incredibly slim it is. It measures only 6.4mm thick, knocking 0.5mm off its already razor-thin predecessor. It feels like you're holding a skinny pamphlet, which is compounded by its light 426g weight. By comparison, Apple's iPad is both slightly thicker and heavier, at 7.5mm and 469g.
That extreme skinniness has come at a slight cost however. While the iPad Air's metal body is incredibly sturdy, with little flex anywhere, the Z2 Tablet feels much less secure. It's not difficult to give the entire tablet a slight bend in your hands -- I don't imagine it would come off too well if it was accidentally sat or leant on.
Design-wise, not much has changed since the previous model. The front is a button-free, all-glass design, while the back panel is a wide expanse of matte white or black plastic, with the minimal Sony branding in the middle. It maintains the 16:9 aspect ratio, which, while helping show movies without black bars, does mean it's quite wide in landscape mode, making it cumbersome to use with one hand.
That's not helped by the enormous black bezels which surround the screen -- 22mm on either side, to be exact. That's a hell of a lot of wasted space. Apart from making the tablet look like a less premium device (cheap slates often use wide bezels) it means the body is needlessly wide for the screen. Sure, it allows you to easily grip it without activating the touch screen, but I'm sure there's a happy medium.
Like its predecessor, the Z2 Tablet is completely waterproof, allowing it to shrug off an errant spilled drink or even let you happily take it into the bath to watch "Breaking Bad". Personally, I like being able to prop it up in my kitchen to watch shows while cooking, safe in the knowledge that when it gets splattered with sauces, I can simply chuck it in the sink with the other pots and give it a rinse.
It keeps the water out by covering the main ports -- including the microSD card slot -- with rubberised flaps. Mercifully, the 3.5mm headphone jack doesn't require a flap, meaning you don't have to unhook a cover every time you pop your headphones in.
You'll also find an infrared blaster on the top, allowing you to use it as a remote control for your TV. Setting up the remote app is a simple process -- select your TV manufacturer and the app will do the rest. It took less than a minute for me to set it up with my Toshiba telly and gives access to all the essential controls you'd normally find on your remote.
The 10.1-inch display boasts a Full HD (1,920x1,200-pixel) resolution, giving it a pixel density of 224 pixels per inch, making it well equipped to tackle glossy, high-definition video. It doesn't quite match the iPad Air's whopping 2,048x1,536-pixel resolution (264ppi), although side by side, I doubt you'd notice a massive difference.
The display is extremely crisp, with sharp edges on text and icons throughout the Android interface and on Web pages. High-definition photos look sharp and well defined too, which is helped by the high brightness of the screen and the excellent handling of colour.
Sony states that the tablet uses some of the same 'Triluminous' display technology from its line of TVs, which promise brighter, bolder colours. Whatever Sony has done, it works well. Colours are rich and deep, without looking bold to the point of being unnatural. If you're not keen on the colour balance, you can pop into the settings and tweak the hues to get something more to your taste.
The Z2 Tablet comes running the latest version of Android, known as 4.4.2 KitKat. Sony isn't brilliant when it comes to updating its products with Android updates -- we're still waiting for KitKat on last year's Z1 -- so it's good to see the latest version on board at launch.
Sony has made many of the same tweaks to Android as you'll see on the rest of its recent mobile range. The five homescreens are littered with icons for Sony's music and movies services and there's a tool to the left of the app tray that lets you easily change the order of the app icons. Although the Sony photo and video galleries are a little clunky, the interface is generally easy to use and won't take long to get used to.
Stuffed into that skinny frame is a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor, clocked at an impressive 2.3GHz, backed up by 3GB of RAM. That's a burly lineup of specs so it wasn't much of a surprise that it has a some serious power behind it. It achieved an impressive score of 3,787 on the Geekbench 2 benchmark test, putting it alongside its superbly powerful Xperia Z1 smartphone sibling. Navigating around the Android interface was extremely swift, with zero lag when flicking between homescreens, opening menus or pulling down the notification bars.
It turns its hand to more demanding gaming tasks very well too. It scored a whopping 18,971 overall on the Ice Storm Unlimited 3D Mark graphics benchmark test, casually besting the 14,605 achieved by the iPad Air and the 13,677 Samsung's 2014 Galaxy Note 10.1 managed to rack up.
Gameplay was very smooth in "Riptide GP 2", and I saw the same high frame-rates in zombie shooter "Dead Trigger 2" and in "GT Racing 2". There was generally very little I could find that the slate wasn't able to handle well. Whether you want a tablet to tackle the latest high-definition games from the Google Play store, or just want to watch Netflix or browse the Web on the sofa, the Z2 tablet will cope admirably.
The Z2 Tablet's battery life is definitely something of a mixed bag. On the plus side, it put in a more than acceptable performance on a video drain test, managing to keep going on battery (at half brightness) for 13 hours and 20 minutes -- that's exactly the same time as the iPad Air achieved.
It's not all good though. With more intense use (gaming, for example) the processor seems to go into overdrive, draining the battery incredibly quickly. It also seems to take much longer to charge up than I would normally expect to see. Those two points together meant that I regularly found the tablet lost power even when it was plugged in to the mains.
That's very worrying if you're down to your last few percent of life and desperately want to keep racing in Asphalt 8 as the tablet isn't drawing in enough power to make up for the amount it's using. Inevitably, the slate will just run out of juice and shut down.
It also doesn't seem to hold its power well in standby mode. When the screen was off, I found the tablet to have lost around 10 percent of its charge over a period of about four hours. Even if you only plan on using it for moderate use, you'll still need to pack a charger if you're going away for a few days.
The battery drain test showed that the slate is capable of managing its power well, so it could be that its power loss in standby mode is more of a software issue -- background processes not being properly turned off, for example. Fingers crossed Sony takes a look soon and issues a patch to sort it out.
Tucked into the top-right corner on the back of the tablet is an 8-megapixel camera. Having a camera on a tablet this size is arguably a little unnecessary -- you're not likely to be carrying it around all day using it as your main camera -- but it's handy for those quick snaps in the home that you'd miss if you were to spend time fishing your phone from your jeans.
Thankfully then, the camera is at least good enough for those quick shots of your kids. On my first test shot in the CNET offices, the camera achieved a satisfying overall exposure, with a very natural colour balance. Clarity isn't brilliant -- particularly when you view the image full-screen -- but I've certainly seen worse.
It coped well on my second shot too, managing not to blow out the bright highlights or under-expose the shadowy areas too much. There's quite a bit of image noise in the darker portions of the picture, suggesting that it won't do as well if you're trying to grab pictures of your dinner by candlelight -- particularly as there's no LED flash. Keep to well-lit areas and the Z2 Tablet's camera should be more than adequate for Facebook snaps.
The Sony Xperia Z2 is available in a 4G LTE model through Verizon Wireless. Starting at $600 for the unit (for a limited time it's currently available for $500 with a two-year contract) Verizon offers a variety of data plans -- the cheapest starting at $20 -- but if you're already a Verizon customer you can tack it onto your existing plan for an additional $10 per month. For more information on data plans, head over to the Verizon website or to your closest Verizon store for accurate pricing.
The Verizon version of the Xperia Z2 tablet packs 32GB of internal storage and comes with a few free goodies from Sony, including 90 days of free music streaming via Sony's Music Unlimited app and six free movies to download from the Video Unlimited app. The free movies were a cool perk, but in standard definition, I didn't experience the "wow factor" of the super-HD screen quality and (full disclosure: as a Spotify user) the Music Unlimited trial didn't sway me from my existing streaming services.
When 4G LTE speeds were available, Web browsing, video streaming, and downloading apps were impressively swift and almost as speedy as using my home WI-Fi connection. Downloading a 660MB app with full bars using 4G LTE took an average of 3.9 minutes, while on Wi-Fi it was slightly less, at an average of 3.1 minutes. Streaming video understandably didn't always look good on-the-go when cellular speeds slowed down -- suffering from pixelation and slow load times -- yet I was never without cellular service wherever I took it.
If you've been hankering for a tablet to add to your wireless plan, the Sony Xperia Z2 is a mighty fine addition to the family. Its price may be steep, but keep in mind premium tablets with 4G LTE capabilities cost a pretty penny, and at its current $500 bundled price, the Xperia Z2 offers one of the best values.
The Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet isn't a massive overhaul from its predecessor, but that's no bad thing. Its skinny frame looks and feels great, while its waterproof design will keep it safe from spilled drinks or accidental dunks in the bathtub. Its quad-core processor provides heaps of power for gaming and the Android KitKat software is easy to navigate.
Although the battery put in a good effort in our drain test, its inability to hold charge causes me some concern. Sony needs to address this if it wants the Z2 Tablet to really give its rivals a run for their money.