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Sony Tablet S Review: The Media Enthusiast's Dream Tablet

Graphics Performance: Tegra 2

As we’ve mentioned in the past, mobile devices like smartphones and tablets use highly integrated logic referred to as SoCs to minimize physical footprints and power consumption, all the while optimizing for performance and functionality. By putting execution resource, graphics processing, system memory, and several other subsystems in a single ASIC, data transfers can be achieved more efficiently without soldering a bunch of separate chips onto a PCB. Incidentally, the same SoC term applies to modern desktop processors like Intel's Sandy Bridge- and AMD's Bulldozer-based chips, which combine cores, cache, memory controllers, and other capabilities.

SoCApple A4 (iPad)Apple A5Nvidia Tegra 2
TabletsApple iPadApple iPad 2Acer Iconia Tab A500Asus Eee Pad TransformerMotorola XoomMotorola Xoom Family EditionSamsung Galaxy Tab 10.1Sony Tablet SToshiba Thrive
Processor1 GHz ARM Cortex-A8 (single-core)1 GHz ARM Cortex-A9 (dual-core)1 GHz ARM Cortex-A9 (dual-core)
Memory256 MB 333 MHz LP-DDR (single-channel)512 MB 1066 MHz LP-DDR2 (dual-channel)1 GB 667 MHz LP-DDR2 (single-channel)
GraphicsPowerVR SGX535 (single-core)PowerVR SGX545MP2 (dual-core)ULP GeForce (single-core)
L1 Cache(Instruction/Data)32 KB / 32 KB32 KB / 32 KB32 KB / 32 KB
L2 Cache640 KB1 MB1 MB

Tegra is Nvidia’s SoC brand, and it represents the company’s effort to tap into the mobile market beyond its desktop-derived GeForce graphics processors. For those unfamiliar with Tegra 2, read page eight of our Motorola Xoom review for a full discussion of GPU architecture. On the CPU side, Tegra 2 shares the same dual-core Cortex-A9, which offers a substantial boost from Cortex-A8 used in the first-generation iPad. Read Apple's iPad 2 Review: Tom's Goes Down The Tablet Rabbit Hole for a full discussion of Cortex-A9 performance.

While we've already covered Tegra 2, it's important to examine the graphics performance of each tablet. Sy Choudhury, director of product management at Qualcomm, once stated, "There is a misconception that the same processor and operating system gives the same performance." Why is it wrong to expect the same performance from all Android-based Tegra 2 tablets? Hardware vendors get access to the same optimizations from the SoC developer, but not all of the software-based tweaks are enabled by OEMs.

GPU (System-on-Chip)PowerVR SGX 535 (Apple A4)PowerVR SGX 543 (Apple A5)ULP GeForce (Tegra 2)
Pipelines2 (unified)4 (unified)8 (4 pixel / 4 vertex)
Bus Width (bit)646432
Triangle rate @ 200 MHz14 MTriangles/s35 MTriangles/s?

The ULP GeForce has a maximum operating frequency of 300 MHz, but device vendors can tweak this setting to save on power. Nvidia provides less information on the Tegra 2 than it does for its desktop GPUs, so it’s best to move on to benchmarks. As in our iPad 2 review, we're turning to GLBenchmark. However, since the publisher of this benchmark recently released version 2.1, our scores are different from what you've seen in the past.

The Tablet S offers performance typical of a Tegra 2-based tablet. It's better than the iPad, but worse than the iPad 2. However, the standard Egypt and Pro tests only measure performance at a tablet's native resolution. On Android-based tablets, this is always 1280x800 (compared to the iPad/iPad 2's 1024x768).

GLBenchmark 2.1 introduces a new off-screen test, which standardizes performance to 720p. Based on the new tests, we see a smaller gap between the Tegra 2 and PowerVR SGX543MP2, but the latter still outperforms the former by ~50%. As a result, it's not surprising to hear that Sony will employ a quad-core PowerVR SGX 543MP2 on its PlayStation Vita, the PSP's successor.

  • tanjo
    Can't they think of a better name? S? What's next Sony Tablet S II?
  • acku
    tanjoCan't they think of a better name? S? What's next Sony Tablet S II?
    Yeah, admittedly the name isn't catchy or memorable.

    Andrew Ku
  • lashabane
    At least they didn't name it the "i".
  • belardo
    Great review... The Sony Tablet S is a nice looking device. I agree on the thinness issues that some companies do... my older Sony phone is still easier to hold than my new Samsung Galaxy which is half as thin.

    I think SONY should have included an HDMI port, but wireless works too. HDMI has a limited life anyway as the video industry is moving to CAT6 instead. Its cheaper and can be far LONGER cable than HDMI.

    There are both good and bad things about the SONY, its problems are rooted in Android in general and reminds me WHY I'm glad we went with an iPad(1), even compared to todays modern designs.

    - Connectivity. The USB is for debug mode? How easy it is to share your data between a desktop and the tablet? My Samsung Android experience in this area is just as crappy today as it was a year ago. I doubt I'll ever buy another Samsung phone ever again, much less another Android. I'm looking to MS's WP8 next year.

    - Performance: All these new tablets (I'm eying the Lenovo ThinkPad tablet - why they didn't name it ThinkTab? or Simply ThinkPad) have the same low Nvidia Tegra2 performance compared to the OLD iPad2. Same shorter battery life. Why would a typical person pay $500 when the iPad2 does it faster?

    - Love the shape and remote control aspect of the SONY. Looks comfortable. When I went to Android (from a basic phone) I had a choice between the Samsung Galaxy and Sony's Android. Sony still had some quality issues to work out. Samsung had the better OMLED display and a cover for the USB port - rather than a stupid rubber cover to fight. Sony had a much nicer weight and feel. But considering that both phones hit the market at the same time - SONY using Android 1.6 vs. Samsung's 2.1 made me nervous about SONY's ability to upgrade. And then I experience Samsung & at&t failure for a proper Froyo update. Ice Cream has lots of improvements... but still buggy.

    Its crap like that, that make me NOT want to buy another Android device. iOS 5 is a very nice update, it was far less painful than getting Froyo onto my Phone! (I had to use an old XP computer to do it) - but Apple pisses me off with their anti-competitive legal games they play against Android. And I have my issues with Microsoft.

    Okay, they are ALL EVIL! So I'll go with the easiest and best thing at the time of my purchase.

    With Amazon & RIM selling tablets at $200 now, the game will be different next spring when the iPad 3 comes out as well as Windows Mobile 8. Hopefully MS will just call mobile devices "Metro 8".
  • jemm
    Great article!
  • soo-nah-mee
    I had one for a week and took it back. It's a nice device, but not worth $500 IMO. It is very plasticky (albeit lightweight), and it feel like the screen would crack with no more than a slight twist of the device.

    The IR blaster was the one feature that made me consider keeping it. It works VERY well.

    The Transformer Prime is going to be the same price and is better in every way, other than not having an IR blaster. Who would buy this instead? You'd either REALLY have to want that IR blaster or be a Sony fanboy.
  • bunz_of_steel
    Good review Andrew Ku and great comparisons! Has IR port instead of RF... I don't know of anyone that wants an IR port vs RF. A little more expensive but who wants to be aiming this thing to change channels. Also don't like the fact that this doesn't have a full size USB or an HDMI port. ??? Think I'm going to hold off buying any tablet until they have what I need. HDMI out, USB 3, wired port always nice. And like Andrew said why pay $500 when ipad2 is faster.
  • cknobman
    Hard to see too many positives in this device, even with the overly optimistic review given here at Toms.

    Bad ergonomics
    Cheap plastic build
    Terrible battery life
    Sony bloat on it

    I played with one in store and found it to feel and look like a cheap toy compared to some of the other Android tablets.
  • soo-nah-mee
    cknobmanBad ergonomicsActually I thought the ergonomics were quite good. Hold like a book in portrait mode and for landscape mode you can "hang" it by one finger in each of the "loop" areas at the top.
  • andywork78
    Great review this is why i choose galaxy tab 10.1
    good price good options.
    However on your graph cart.
    Higher is better or lower is better?