When Sony unveiled the Xperia Tablet Z, it offered a glimpse of the future for full-size Android tablets. Sleek, light and waterproof, the 10.1-inch slate was a true iPad competitor.
Twelve months later, the company is back with its replacement. Although the Xperia Z2 Tablet looks almost identical to its predecessor from afar, itâs even lighter, thinner still and packed with updated components.
By embracing the annual upgrade cycle widely adopted in the smartphone market, Sony wants to stay ahead of the curve. It faces stiff competition from Samsungâs new Galaxy NotePRO tablets, Appleâs numerous iPad models and other tablets due later this year.
A tall order, although Sony proved with the Xperia Tablet Z that it can deliver a unique, premium tablet with a 10-inch (or thereabouts) form factor. If the Xperia Z2 Tablet builds on that foundation and remedies the weaknesses of its forerunner, it could be a sleeper hit for 2014.
Although the look and feel is largely unchanged, the Xperia Z2 Tablet still offers a memorable and refreshing design. The previous model was thin, but this year Sony has built an even skinnier tablet thatâs guaranteed to attract some attention. At just 6.4mm thin, the device is an impressive feat of engineering and even bests Appleâs iPad Air in that department. From the moment you pick it up the tablet screams luxury, which is a rare sensation in the Android space.
The trade-off for that ludicrously thin profile are some chunky bezels on the top, bottom and sides. Theyâre difficult to ignore and at first glance, detract from what is otherwise an attractive piece of hardware. While that sense of disappointment never dissipates entirely, they do serve a purpose. Clutching a 10.1-inch tablet is often precarious, particularly one-handed. With ample space for your thumbs, itâs possible to hold the Xperia Z2 Tablet in landscape and keep one paw free for performing secondary tasks.
Similar to Sonyâs new Xperia Z2 smartphone, the slate embodies the OmnibalanceÂ design language. Itâs predominantly black, with brushed metal sides and a dark, matte material that slightly softens the edges and corners.
Taken as a whole, the slateâs design is fairly unoriginal. Safe, even. Sony isnât pushing into new or radical territory here, but in this instance Iâm not complaining. The Xperia Z2 Tablet looks refined and sophisticated, with an attention to detail that anyone can appreciate. At just 439 grams, itâs also lighter than many traditional magazines.
The small, curved dome used for the power button. The (almost) non-existent branding. The tiny dimple which alerts your finger to the orientation of the volume rocker. Everything is well-ordered and all of the buttons are easy to reach. Whether youâre slouched on the sofa or checking emails on the train, the Xperia Z2 Tablet is a gorgeous device to use.
The display dominates the front of this new premium slate, and rightly so. Sony has been brave, however, in its decision not to raise the pixel density this time around. Itâs another 1900Ã1200 panel, or 224 pixels per inch (ppi). Thatâs significantly lower than other full-size tablets, such as Appleâs iPad Air (264 ppi) and Samsungâs Galaxy NotePRO (247 ppi).
Instead, Sony has focused on improving the quality of the display in the original Xperia Tablet Z. The new model supports âLive Colour LEDâ, a technology which the company says produces brighter, natural and more accurate colors. The move is admirable; rather than racing for higher pixel counts, the Xperia Z2 Tablet is focused on the essentials first and foremost, such as color reproduction, contrast, saturation, clarity and brightness.
Itâs a pleasant viewing experience, but one that rarely pulls ahead of its competition. Whether youâre streaming an episode from Netflix or watching a recent blockbuster downloaded from the Play Store, video playback is always a delight. Deep, rich blacks deliver fantastic contrast and the wider color gamut helps to recreate the âbig screenâ cinematic experience in your lap.
When youâre tucked in with the digital equivalent of a DVD box-set, suddenly the 16:9 aspect ratio makes sense. Sony is positioning the Xperia Z2 Tablet as a gaming device too and with its PlayStation Now streaming service on the horizon, it makes sense to offer a scaled-down widescreen TV.
Unfortunately, the format isnât as well suited to ebooks and digital magazines. While holding the device in portrait, it feels too long to properly imitate a regular paperback novel. The clarity is superb though, with razor-sharp text and bright whites in the background.Â Hold the slate in landscape and youâll see two pages on-screen side-by-side. Itâs a much better fit, although the width the Xperia Z2 Tablet can make it difficult to manage in public. For ebooks, the 7-inch Android tablet still reigns supreme.
Water? No problem
Most of Sonyâs flagship Android devices are now waterproof, and the Xperia Z2 Tablet is no exception. If you take it outside in the rain, or fancy some light reading in the shower, you can be sure this full-size slate wonât suddenly switch itself off and never properly resuscitate.
While the tablet will happily resist some a Super Soaker, itâs difficult to do much with it. Once you have a thin veil of water resting on top, the touchscreen is largely unresponsive â apps open at random and your various swipes, taps and prods will frequently go unregistered.
So if you fancy using this device in the bathtub, itâs important to have everything set up first. Whether thatâs a movie, ebook or digital magazine, youâll need it open and ready to go before you take the plunge.
Instead, itâs better to think of the Xperia Z2 Tabletâs waterproof capabilities as a protective measure. If youâre caught in a sudden downpour, or accidentally knock over a cup of coffee, itâs never a problem. Admittedly this isnât an earth-shattering feature, but itâs a welcome one all the same.
To support its upgraded display, Sony has fitted its latest slate with dual front-facing speakers. The company has termed this setup âS-Forceâ and it promises to deliver a surround sound experience without the need for standalone speakers.
Although Sony says the new speakers have been âcarefully placedâ on the device, theyâve been fitted in a terrible position. I suspect most people, like me, pick up a tablet with both hands towards the bottom of the opposing edges. The corners of the device sit in the palm of your hand and the thenar â or the padded section at the base of your thumbs â provide extra support on top.
If you hold the Xperia Z2 Tablet this way, both speakers are covered. You wonât muffle the sound completely, but audiophiles will certainly hear the difference. Itâs a shame, because Sony had the right idea here â HTCâs BoomSound setup is terrific and Iâve been waiting for other manufacturers to follow suit.
Ergonomics aside, the Xperia Z2 Tablet offers a decent audio experience. The range is excellent and the highs are crisp, particularly for dialog and voice acting. The twin speakers can deliver at the low-end too, although the bass is often lacking in power and depth. This is a common problem for tablets though and if youâre truly passionate about sound, a decent pair of headphones will always be your best option.
If you exclude the Nexus and Google Play Edition devices, Sonyâs hardware offer some of the best Android software experiences. For the most, part the company takes a hands-off approach to Googleâs mobile OS, allowing the original âstock Androidâ experience to shine through.
The additions it does make are fairly useful too. In the multitasking menu, thereâs a small toolbar for launching âmini appsâ and widgets, such as a calculator, timer and internet browser. Theyâre not particularly sophisticated, but can be useful when referring to other apps.
The quick settings pulldown is also fully customizable, so you can specify exactly which options are shown by default. In the app drawer, Sony also added a slide-out menu to help you reorganize and search for apps. Software can be filtered by name, how often you use them, or when they were installed â thereâs even the option to rearrange them manually.
In the app department, Sony is keen to push its own wares, particularly around content and services. The Walkman app ties into Music Unlimited, a streaming service similar to Spotify and Rdio, while the Movies app links to Video Unlimited, a marketplace for purchasing TV episodes, seasons and movies. Neither are awful, but they pale in comparison to specialized apps.
Sony takes this further with Whatâs New, a feed of recommended content that you access by long-pressing the home button. The Sony Select app serves a similar purpose, only for software instead of media. Neither are obtrusive, but the recommendations are poor and theyâre generally just unhelpful.
Itâs a similar story elsewhere. Sonyâs email, gallery and messaging apps are serviceable, but theyâre no better than Googleâs apps and clearly inferior to the best software in the Google Play store. I suspect many Android enthusiasts will replace these apps immediately and then never touch them again.
Sony knows how to develop cameras. The A7R and RX100, for instance, produce jaw-dropping photos and slowly, Sony is using that expertise to improve its mobile products too. The Xperia Z2 Tablet offers an 8.1-megapixel rear-facing camera with 8x digital zoom and 1080p video recording, which is standard fare for Android slates.
Sonyâs camera app offers a bevy of different shooting modes, covering panoramas, background defocus (for shallow depth of field) and burst photography. Most of these are superfluous though; youâll spend most of your time with the Superior Auto and Manual modes instead.
The photos from the Xperia Z2 Tablet are fine, but unremarkable. Colors often look washed out, but theyâre usually bright, sharp and with a suitable amount of contrast. The exposure compensation, white balance and ISO options offer extra control, but itâs worth emphasizing this is a tablet, not a full-frame DSLR.
As the saying goes, âthe best camera is the one thatâs with you.â If nothing else is to hand, Sonyâs latest Android slate will deliver. The 2.2-megapixel camera on the front, meanwhile, is competent for video calls and selfies.
With a 2.3 GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor and 3GB of RAM, the Xperia Z2 Tablet is a powerhouse. Whether youâre playing games such as Riptide GP2 and Asphalt 8: Airborne, editing video or catching up with unread emails, this Android slate never skips a beat.
I went out of my way to find its limits and rarely did I experience any slowdown, stuttering or long load times. Everything was quick and remarkably smooth â the occasional app would freeze and force close, but thatâs not uncommon for Android smartphones and tablets.
The battery life was a different story though. Sonyâs latest tablet runs on a 6,000 mAh power pack, which should be more than adequate. Yet with intensive use, particularly for video games, the Xperia Z2 Tablet runs out of steam at an alarming rate. After I had finished streaming a movie or experimenting with the camera, I was often surprised by the amount of charge it had dropped.
In casual use though, the device fares much better. If youâre using it to read email, browse the web and read the occasional ebook, itâll last most of the day without dipping into the red. Charging could be a little faster and you can always use Sonyâs Stamina Mode if youâre in a tight spot.
Too often, Android hardware feels like a race to the bottom. Manufacturers want to hit increasingly lower price-points and inevitably, most of these products are riddled with compromises.
Itâs therefore refreshing to see Sony target a premium, high-end experience with the Xperia Z2 Tablet. While not perfect, the device offers a stunning, spartan industrial design and competitive internals. The processor and RAM are excellent, and the 16GB of onboard storage can be raised by 128GB with its included microSD card slot.
The display is a noticeable leap from last yearâs model, although the resolution and pixel density feels like a missed opportunity. The front and rear-facing cameras are solid and its take on Android is better than almost any other tablet manufacturer. In short, this is probably my favorite full-size Android tablet. At least until Google launches a follow-up to the ageing Nexus 10.
Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet review: A skinny Android slate that"s light, powerful ...