Sony tablets are strong contenders to compete against iPad (review)

Sony tablets are strong contenders to compete against iPad (review)

Summary: Sony is dishing more details about its two new upcoming tablets. Their designs go against the norm, which would very well please or deter many customers.

TOPICS: Hardware

Way back in April, Sony announced its plan to enter the tablet game with a pair of uniquely-designed tablets that definitely go against the traditional look of the iPad and others.

Last week, I managed to get a hands-on look at both the Sony Tablet S and Tablet P. I only spend a small period of time with each device, so don't take this is as an end-all user review.

[Image Gallery: Hands-on look at Sony Tablets S and P]

Nevertheless, both tablets left me with strong first impressions. Because both devices are much different from what we have seen so far in the tablet market, Sony's entries might have a better chance than the HP TouchPad, RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook and even Samsung's Galaxy Tabs -- all of which have (or now, had) the very similar, completely flat slate design. Thus, Sony's tablets could be the strongest contenders to give Apple's iPad some competition.

However, just because they are contenders does not mean that Sony will win. Here's what I thought about each device:

Sony Tablet S

Make no mistake about it: both of these tablets are consumer-focused devices. Sony reps reminded me that Sony is an entertainment company, and these devices are in fact reflective of that.

That isn't to say that they can't be used for professional purposes. They are still Android 3.0 Honeycomb-based machines, and users can download productivity apps and such from the Android Market as they please. You have to at least give Sony credit for being honest.

The real benefit of buying a Sony-made tablet is that it fits well with in the entire Sony spectrum. Earlier this year during its presentation at CES 2011, Sony made a big point of keeping its gadgets connected within the home entertainment spectrum.

The Tablet S fits in completely in a few different ways. First, Sony has gotten the HDTV team involved as the 9.4-inch TruBlack display is made with the same materials as seen on Bravia LCD screens. This model also sports dual cameras -- a front-facing VGA cam for video chatting and a 5-megapixel rear camera with an Exmor processor seen in Sony's digital camera collection. Thankfully, Sony did not stick a Memory Stick slot but rather went with the more universal, built-in, full-sized SD card slot, which is woefully missing from most tablets.

On the inside, the Sony Tablet S is PlayStation-certified. So far, that means that the Tablet S is capable of playing PlayStation 1 and PSP titles. No, that doesn't mean you can insert a disc copy of Final Fantasy VII inside (although that would be awesome), but it does mean that you will be able download and play some of your favorite old games. Crash Bandicoot and a few others will be pre-installed upon purchase.

Additionally, if you have a PlayStation 3, Sony-branded speakers, TVs, Blu-ray players or basically anything DLNA-enabled, you can use the Tablet S as a remote control thanks to the integrated infrared to manage these systems. Even better, you can use these systems to playback audio and video that is stored on your tablet by dragging them over in a very simple to use app. Other integrated Sony features include its reader app, Crackle and both Video and Music Unlimited by Qriocity.

However, this tablet is unusual in some respects, which some consumers might love or completely dislike. The most obvious point here is the design. Instead of a flat surface all the way around, the back is curved significantly and the center of gravity is weighted to one side. The point here is that users could hold the tablet in one hand (by the curved, more heavily weighted end) like a magazine and a cup of coffee in the other.

Then there is the user interface. I'm not a big fan of Android to begin with  -- the only tablet I use regularly is an iPad, and I'm not ashamed to admit that. I'm also a lesser fan of tablet manufacturers that put their own UI touches on top of the Android platform, with the exception of HTC Sense, which is just less cluttered than most alternatives. However, Sony's isn't so bad. The gestures are intuitive, the main apps menu is easier to navigate and there's a unique QuickLaunch menu with nine squares (Brady Bunch-style) that represent the nine most-recently used apps for quicker navigation.

There's probably plenty more to cover here, including Sony's partnerships with several companies for specialized apps, including ones from FourSquare and Evernote.

Overall, I liked playing around with the Tablet S. However, that doesn't necessarily mean I would buy it. Some pros for me would be that it fits in with the Sony ecosystem, and I already have a PlayStation 3, so at least there is some connection there. That's mainly why I bought the iPad -- it syncs well with my iPhone and MacBook Pro. I even like the curved, wrap-around design for the reasons Sony boasted, but I don't like it because it won't fit in my bag as easily.

Sony Tablet P

Sure, the Sony Tablet S is portable. But the Sony Tablet P takes portability to a whole new level. This clam-shell gadget folds out to host dual 5.5-inch screens with a 1080 x 480-pixel resolution that can be formatted to run two applications simultaneously or combined for one big picture.

Sony's reps made a very smooth move when presenting the Tablet P to me by pulling it out of the inner pocket of a suit jacket. Thus, you can imagine how easy it is to tote this device around.

Many of the same features that are available on the Tablet S are also integrated on the Tablet P, such as the DLNA support, dual cameras and the Honeycomb operating system. However, it does not have built-in IR. All of the Sony ecosystem features (i.e. PlayStation 1 games, Music Unlimited, etc.) are also included here.

The big difference, besides the design obviously, with the Tablet P is that this one is 4G enabled. This Tablet S will be Wi-Fi-only, and that is what Sony is sticking with for now as it has found that most consumers have not opted for 3G/4G-enabled variants as much.

Thus, the Sony Tablet P might actually be a better option for business travelers on-the-go who always want to stay connected. Productivity might be a challenge with the small display, but it can still retrieve emails, support the same apps, be used for video conferencing and other tasks.


The Sony Tablet S will become available to consumers first in September. Pricing starts at the usual $499 for 16GB of installed memory and $599 for 32GB.

Additional accessories will also be available at launch time, including a keyboard for $79.99 and a cradle for $39.99.

Mystery still surrounds the launch of the Sony Tablet P. Although that one will be enabled with 4G HSPA+ connectivity on AT&T's network when it starts shipping, a launch plan hasn't been finalized nor has pricing. Note that the Tablet P will only have 4GB of onboard memory, but that can be expanded upon with the use of a full-sized SD card.

To go back to the original idea as to whether or not these devices could challenge the iPad's dominance, I don't think that they will supersede Apple's reign in this market. However, I do think that Sony's tablets, or at least the Tablet S, will have a good chance at selling well. I prefer the Tablet S primarily because it does fit in more with the existing tablet concept and would be better for productivity. Sony is right in the sense that 3G/4G connectivity isn't actually a necessity for a tablet as we might have originally thought. But the Tablet P's design is so different that it could be a bit off-putting and might only work as a niche product.

$499 still seems a bit much for an Android tablet as I don't think that version of the operating system is all there yet, and we're all still waiting to see what Ice Cream Sandwich can do. But considering that Sony products (like those from Apple) are usually expensive and sometimes overpriced, this could be considered a fair deal.


Topic: Hardware

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  • Looks good

    This throws grapefruits in the faces of all the people who say that it's not possible to build a tablet without infringing on Apple's design patent. See? All you have to do is hire your own industrial designer instead of putting Apple's design in your CAD-CAM system.
    Robert Hahn
    • RE: Sony tablets are strong contenders to compete against iPad (review)

      @Robert Hahn

      Hallowed are the Ori
    • amen!!

      @Robert Hahn ..have a good look guys.. you CAN design a tablet that is different to an iPad.. icona tab also looks noting like an iPad..<br><br>the ones that look like iPads had in their design brief.. <i>make it look like an iPad</i>...
    • Re: Looks goood

      The challenge is not to make the tablet look different, it is to make people buy the product. I personally thing both tablets are ugly like most things Sony makes these days.
  • Will my iPad and iPhone apps work on these?

    No?<br><br>Then I'm not interested. Sorry Sony but until you invest billions of dollars into an ecosystem that can rival Apple's, no one will buy your tablets.

    Anyone who wants to compete with Apple needs to be prepared to lose billions for many years. I don't see anyone stupid enough to do it. Instead, we will see half hearted attempts to sell individual devices that simply can't compete with the expansive iTunes ecosystem. iPad will be the only tablet worth buying for the next 20 years.
    • RE: Sony tablets are strong contenders to compete against iPad (review)


      Yeah, you really think iPad will be on the top of the pile forever? That's what they said about the little ol' G1. Now look at the marketplace?
      • RE: Sony tablets are strong contenders to compete against iPad (review)

        @Droid101 <br><br>Look at it. Stalled Android numbers at Verizon. Apple's numbers going up. Apple taking 66% of the money up from 50%. The iPhone 4 the best selling phone in the world. The iPhone 3GS outselling much newer Android phones. Malware on Android up 76% with no end in sight.<br><br>Phones like the Atrix, Droid X, Incredible 2 consigned to the dustbin of BOGO sells.<br><br>Playbook. Xoom. Galaxy Tab(s). Touchpad. All non-players none of which can run the "full" web. Even in late 2011. Not a pretty sight.
      • RE: Sony tablets are strong contenders to compete against iPad (review)


        Really? Who thought the Google G1 phone would be on the top of the pile forever? Other than you, of course.
      • RE: Sony tablets are strong contenders to compete against iPad (review)

        @dhmccoy & @msalzberg... Let's insert some facts here: Worldwide Android market share: 31%; iOS market share: 19%. Extremely important to note: Android share is increasing by around 5x, while iOS share is increasing by around 2x. (Source: April 2011, Gartner)

        US domestic phone market share: Android-39% iOS-28%. Increases are roughly the same as worldwide. (Source: Jul 2011, Nielsen)

        'Nuff said!
    • RE: Sony tablets are strong contenders to compete against iPad (review)


      The funny thing is, Sony had the chance to truly challenge Apple's iPod + iTunes many years ago (remember Connect) but unfortunately their hardware and content division could not get along. Sony always made great hardware but then it would be at odds with their own content division (Sony music and movies). Sorry Sony, you were your own worst enemy, not Apple.
      • I agree with you totally on this one

        My sister had a Sony MP3 player years ago and I couldn't believe how horrible the software was for syncing her music. I believe much of the difficulty had to do with DRM which was likely thanks to the Sony content division, as you alluded to.
      • Sony and their stupid drm'd ATRAK file format..

        @dave95. while Apple supported MP3 and ripping right in iTunes.. ATRAK was the beginning of the end of Sony as we used to know them.. they thought they had the power to just muscle everyone into their way of thinking but the ground was quickly shifting below their feet.. didn't even know what hit them.. also right.. they were very good at hardware but were clueless about software..

        hanging on to ATRAK too long delayed them getting on the MP3 bandwagon and then when they did, they were late to the game and iTunes/iPod were the defacto standard and their software sucked.. down for the count..
  • RE: Sony tablets are strong contenders to compete against iPad (review)

    I am not sure why Sony is not fully utilizing its ecosystem when it comes to phones and tablets. They have no need to depend upon Google or other company. They have games, media and other content. Just build a entry point to market those like Apple does with its iTunes and Microsoft with its Zune Services. Just hire good development team and build their own device. Man some companies never really realize and utilize their full potential.
    Ram U
    • RE: Sony tablets are strong contenders to compete against iPad (review)


      Sony is utilizing its utility its ecosystem. When they revealed the tablets, they also revealed their new SEN (Sony Entertainment Network) program.

      Their Tablets, Bravias, Xperia branded phones, and PSP as well as their blu Ray players will be able to take advantage of it. I think they're the best competitor to apple now.

      You can view their website at
  • RE: Sony tablets are strong contenders to compete against iPad (review)

    For the price why would anyone buy these? It has fail written all over it. Sony prices assures us of that.
    • RE: Sony tablets are strong contenders to compete against iPad (review)


      Why would anyone listen to you? your comment shows how much of a fail you are when it comes to the world of technology.

      I'd buy it because it integrates with Sonys electronics and other electronic makers devices... It also inegrates with (SEN) Sony Entertainment Network.
      • RE: Sony tablets are strong contenders to compete against iPad (review)


        No one needs to listen to him for these and other tablets to fail...

        They will fail on their own, Mr "TechGuyChris"-knows-it-all-in-the-world-of-technology......
    • RE: Sony tablets are strong contenders to compete against iPad (review)

      @MisterSavage "Sony Prices" and what about "Apple Prices"?
  • WHY??

    Why are we still trying to compete with the iPad???? Compete with RIM, Motorola, HP, Asus. The iPad sold 8 million devices on the last earnings call, you can't beat the iPad!!! it will take many years to get to the level of iPad sales...
    • RE: Sony tablets are strong contenders to compete against iPad (review)


      its just media hype. I think Sony is trying to create a tablet on there own grounds for use with their electronics and others, and for productivity and to show just how different they are from the other competitors.