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

Meet Sony's Tablet S (SGPT111US/S And SGPT112US/S)

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The asymmetric thickness of the Tablet S makes it difficult to size up next to the competition. Somewhat deceptively, Sony selectively specifies a single thickness, which of course is the thinnest 0.3" measurement at the lip of the tablet. At the other end of the wedge, you're looking at a 7/8" (0.875") measurement.

Thickness Compared to AA Battery (right) and iPad 2 (bottom)

As a result of Sony's design decisions, the Tablet S obviously isn't as thin or as attractive as some of the products competing against it. However, it turns out to be incredibly functional. The tablet's wider end is very natural to hold in portrait mode, almost like a real book. Other solutions we've tested are either too thin or afflicted with a sharp edge. Consequently, you end up with a hand cramp after a while. This isn't the case with the Tablet S.

Ergonomics also explain a limitation of three possible orientation modes. Looking at it in a landscape arrangement forces you to have the thin lip facing toward you. Holding the tablet the other way (thin end facing away) is more awkward, like holding a paperweight with your fingertips. Thus, we're completely fine with three, rather than four, orientation options.

LengthWidthHeightScreen SizeAspect RatioWeight
iPad 2 (3G)9.5"7.31".34"9.7"4:31.33 lb.
Acer Iconia A5009.8"6.6".5"10.1"16:101.5 lb.
Asus Eee Pad Transformer10.2"7".5"10.1"16:101.65 lb.
Motorola Xoom10.7"7".5"10.1"16:101.5 lb.
Motorola Xoom Family Edition9.8"6.6".5"10.1"16:101.4 lb.
Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.110.1"6.9"0.38"10.1"16:101.3 lb.
Sony Tablet S9.5"6.8"0.3"9.4"16:101.3 lb.
Toshiba Thrive10.8"7"0.6"10.1"16:101.6 lb.

The iPad/iPad 2's 4:3 screen is deliberately sized to mimic a pad of paper. Conversely, we have yet to see an Android-based tablet with a 4:3 aspect ratio. Google and its hardware partners all seem focused on video content, as you can see from the 16:10 displays on all of the other tablets in the chart above.

Unlike the competition, however, the Tablet S employs a 9.4" LCD. This makes it more comparable to the iPad 2's 9.7" 4:3 display in that you getting roughly the same horizontal space, but less vertical room to work.

Due to its placement of the Wi-Fi and GPS antennas, Sony is forced to issue recommendations on holding the Tablet S. We have our own thoughts on them, naturally.

  1. In landscape mode, hold the tablet so its front camera lens is at the top. This should be obvious, considering turning the tablet upside-down won't re-orient the screen anyway.
  2. In portrait orientation, hold the tablet so its front camera lens is on the left side. Be careful not to block the ambient light sensor (to the right of the front-facing camera). This sounds like another orientation limitation to us. But hey, whatever it takes not to block the antenna, right?
  3. Be careful not to hold or cover the antenna shown in the figure above while using the Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or GPS functions. Because this is something we all want to have to think about as we're using our mobile devices.

The entire tablet is covered in ABS plastic, but the back features a glossy finish with a slight, dotted texture to help with grip. Otherwise, the silver surfaces are completely smooth.

  • 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?