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Sony Xperia Z4 tablet review: The best tablet you've never heard of

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The Good The Sony Xperia Z4's slim, waterproof design is simultaneously sleek and solid. Running the latest version of Android, it features a colorful user-friendly overlay. It has a sharp HD screen, and its performance is fast and smooth.

The Bad The optional Bluetooth keyboard is cramped to type on and has a frail plastic build.

The Bottom Line For novice Android users with a desire to greatly personalize their experience, the Sony Xperia Z4 is a beautifully constructed tablet with high-end specs that won't disappoint.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

8.0 Overall
  • Design 8.0
  • Features 7.0
  • Performance 9.0

Review Sections

Sony might not be the first to come to mind when you think about tablets, but if you're in the market for a stellar Android model, you should pay attention to its latest release. The Xperia Z4 tablet, not to be confused with the Xperia Z4 smartphone, is a skinny and powerful 10-inch tablet that's both dust- and waterproof.

One of the best reasons to pick an Android gadget (and skip on comparable iOS or Windows devices) is the freedom to tweak it to your heart's desire. Rocking a colorful overlay full of useful customization features, the Z4 takes full advantage of this flexibility.

Whether it's the option to organize the app tray layout by apps most commonly used or the ability to launch Spotify as soon as you connect your headphones, what sets the Xperia Z4 apart is its considerable customization opportunities.

A touch of waterproof durability goes a long way. Josh Miller/CNET

Solid Android tablets with a chic design, powerful performance and razor-sharp HD screen are a dime a dozen, but one that hand delivers all the personalization options natively (without having to download any additional apps) like the Xperia Z4, are harder to find.

Speaking of hard to find, although the tablet is currently on sale in the UK for £499 -- and available on Expansys for the same price -- Sony has not made an official announcement regarding official pricing or availability in the US or AU. US shoppers can find the Wi-Fi-only model on Amazon without the keyboard for $699 and with it for $759. The standalone LTE variant starts at $799 and the LTE model with the keyboard will run you $849.

In Australia the LTE variant of the Z4 is a Telstra exclusive, available outright for the bizarre prices of AU$888 or on plan from AU$62 per month. The Wi-Fi only model will arrive in late September at Sony stores and online, for AU$799.

Design

The Sony Xperia Z4 tablet is one of the thinnest and lightest tablets, which is a nice feat for a large 10-incher. The rounded corners and slightly curved edges help it fit comfortably in your palms when holding it, and the smooth plastic back has a subtly textured finish that provides some grip support.

Tested spec Sony Xperia Z4 Dell Venue 8 7000 Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 Apple iPad Air 2
Weight 0.87-pound (393g) 0.67-pound (306g) 0.65-pound (294g) 0.96-pound (437g)
Width (landscape) 10 inches (254mm) 8.5 inches (216mm) 8.4 inches (213mm) 9.4 inches (240mm)
Height 6.6 inches (167mm) 4.9 inches (124mm) 4.9 inches (124mm) 6.6 inches (169.5mm)
Depth .24-inch (6.1mm) .24-inch (6 mm) 0.26-inch (6.6mm) 0.24-inch (6.1mm)
Side bezel width (landscape) 0.56-inch(14.2mm) .69-inch (17mm)/ 0.18-inch (4.6mm) 0.56-inch(14.2mm) 0.8-inch (22mm)

The top edge houses the headphone jack, while the SIM and microSD card slots are next to it, covered by a small flap. On the right edge you'll find a Micro-USB port, and on the left there's the power button and volume rocker. Our review unit was charcoal black, however it's also available in white.

Sony's skinniest slate yet. Josh Miller/CNET

One of the coolest design aspects of the Xperia Z4 is its waterproof build. It has an IP65/68 rating, meaning it can withstand a brief shower or dusty conditions. Unlike Sony's previous model, the Z4 doesn't have flaps to protect the ports, making the headphone jack or Micro-USB port vulnerable to the possibility of water damage.

It can be submerged up to 1.5m (5 feet) underwater, but since water can enter through the ports, it's not exactly the bathtub-friendly Xperia tablet we're used to seeing. However, if you ever spill your drink on it, the built-in durability provides a nice sense of security.

A lackluster set of keys. Josh Miller/CNET

The Sony Xperia Z4 has an optional keyboard accessory, but I'm sad to report that that it's not worth the investment. It's light and thin, snugly fits the Z4 into its top edge, and when attached, it transforms the thin tablet into a netbook-esque device. However, its plastic build feels cheap, and it's sometimes unresponsive. Its poor performance depreciates the overall user experience, and despite the added functionality, you're better off skipping it.

Features

Running the latest available version of Google's operating system, Lollipop 5.0 , the Xperia Z4 features an overlay that slightly modifies the Android experience. It's no complete overhaul like you'd find in the Lenovo Yoga 10 , but the alterations are evident.

screenshot2015-07-06-15-48-20.png
You can organize your apps in whatever way you want. Screenshot/Xiomara Blanco

While not a flashy feature, one of the best aspects of the UI is the easy ability to customize how you interact with your Xperia Z4. You can modify practical things, like choosing which settings buttons you'd like quick access to via the pull-down menu, accessible by swiping down from the top of the tablet, or you can change how the apps in your app tray are organized.

You can also customize more complicated matters. Smart Connect is a preloaded app that allows you to tell your Xperia tablet what to do when you connect or disconnect an accessory. You create "events" that trigger a certain response from the tablet. You can set the tablet to automatically launch your running playlist when connected to headphones between the hours of 6 a.m. and 7 a.m., or set the volume to max whenever connected to the charger, ensuring you won't miss any notifications.

screenshot2015-07-09-13-04-29.png
You can tell you Xperia tablet what to do when you connect your headphones. Screenshot/CNET

When tethered to the Bluetooth keyboard, a small taskbar on the bottom-left corner of the screen appears. It's customizable -- you can hand-pick which apps appear in it, and you get a maximum of 18. This is an easy way to open your most-used apps instead of finding the shortcut on your homescreen or making your way to the app tray. I found it very helpful and used it often.

If you own other Sony products, like a TV, Xperia phone or PlayStation, the tablet can also seamlessly work with those devices. For example, you can mirror the tablet's screen onto your Sony TV or Xperia phone, and if connected to a PS4 via the preloaded PS App, the Z4 can be utilized as a controller, a second screen, or as a keyboard for text entry.

screenshot2015-07-08-10-33-37.png
Customizing the taskbar is everything but taxing. Screenshot/Xiomara Blanco

Hardware

The Sony Xperia Z4 tablet houses a 2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 64-bit octa-core processor, Adreno 430 GPU, 3GB of RAM, 32 GB of internal memory, and a microSD card slot that can store up to an additional 128 GB. Other features include Bluetooth 4.1, FM radio and NFC connectivity.

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