Sony’s take on the tablet world has never been to clone products made by anyone else, and its new tablet for 2014 proves this by evolving last year’s Tablet Z by making it better than ever, with a thin, light, and element resistant product. Is it worth your time?
Tablets these days tend to echo their smartphone siblings, and this year in the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet, that’s still true.
For Sony’s 2014 tablet, the company is borrowing the same formula it expects will be successful in its Xperia Z2 smartphone, including the use of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 801 quad-core processor clocked at 2.3GHz and working alongside the Adreno 330 graphics chip.
Those are the same base specs used in both Samsung’s Galaxy S5 and HTC’s 2014 One (M8), as well as the Sony Xperia Z2 smartphone, so we’re expecting good things here.
They’ll work with 3GB RAM (which appears to be the sweet spot for Android devices) and either 16 or 32GB of storage, with room for more with the microSD slot at the top.
Google’s Android 4.4 “KitKat” also runs on this tablet out of the box, with Sony’s own overlay here providing an experience similar in look to what you find on the PlayStation 3 and Bravia products.
Connections are all pretty standard for a flagship device in 2014, with 802.11a/b/g/n/ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0 with support for A2DP, Near-Field Communication (NFC), and even infrared at the top for controlling your TV. A cellular version of the tablet also includes these features, as well as support for 3G and 4G mobile networks.
Wired connections are few, with pretty much just microUSB hidden under a flap up top next to the infrared port, though Sony’s proprietary accessory connector is also found at the base of the unit.
There’s even a camera or two here, with an 8 megapixel shooter on the back and a 2.2 megapixel camera up front, both capable of recording Full HD 1080p videos, though no 4K video capture can be found in this model like it can on the Xperia Z2 smartphone.
There are only two physical buttons on the device, with a circular power button and volume rocker both found on the left-most edge. All other buttons are found in software, with Sony relying on modern Android’s on-screen soft buttons.
Ports for the Z2 Tablet include the microSD under a flap up top next to the microUSB port, also hidden under a flap, while owners of the 4G LTE model will also sport a microSIM in the same space as where the microSD normally goes. Try not to get them confused.
The battery is built into the unit and rated at 6000mAh.
Sony has included some interesting features into the latest tablet with a model it hopes to wow the pants off anyone keen to see something different take on the tablet everyone takes on, the Apple iPar Air.
So what’s it like?
The first thing you notice when you pick up the Tablet Z2 is its weight, because wow, seriously: wow.
It’s taken a few years of producing some interesting concepts, but Sony has nailed the balance in this tablet, with a 10.1 inch horizontal-preferred tablet that manages to feel oh so comfortable in the hands, with a pretty even balance across the board.
We say “pretty even” because it’s clear there’s a little more weight inching towards the bottom of the device, but it doesn’t matter, because however you hold this, the 439 gram weight is clear and Sony’s design is solid.
It even weighs less than Apple’s feather-light iPad Air, sacrificing 30 grams. Impressive.
Unlike the iPad, you won’t see metal casing here, but it doesn’t seem to matter. Rather, Sony’s reliance on plastic in this tablet feels right, and while we normally prefer the high-grade metals in our devices, the choice of a matte plastic that’s also soft to the touch works wonders in the Xperia Z2 Tablet.
This is partnered with the big sheet of glass up front protecting the 10 inch screen, with nothing more than a “Sony” brand printed up top, making the tablet look clean and simple, aside for some brushed metal sides that provide some nice accenting trim for the Z2 tablet.
Along the left side, you’ll find two buttons for controlling the tablet — a circular button for power and a volume rocker beneath it — and really, they’re all the control you have as far as physical buttons go, because Sony is using Google’s on-screen soft buttons for everything else.
When you press the big circular power button on the left, the screen will switch on and you’ll get to see the best of Sony’s display technology come to life.
Bright and colourful, dynamic, and very easy on the eyes, the 10.1 inch Full HD screen on the Tablet Z2 is one of the best screen we’ve seen on a tablet that wasn’t manufactured by Apple, with excellent viewing angles, plenty of detail, and strong vibrancy.
It’s excellent work, and appears to be very responsive too, which is good since this is the touchscreen you’ll be touching and prodding on everything you’re doing.
Over to performance and basically, we’re getting a preview of what Sony’s Xperia Z2 smartphone will be like, with the same specs as pretty much all other flagship phones coming out right about now.
We’ve mentioned what they are in the specs, but to quickly jumpstart that memory, that includes the Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor clocked at 2.3GHz, 3GB RAM, 16GB storage, and a microSD slot.
That is more or less a Sony Xperia Z2 smartphone, and the performance we’ve experienced on this tablet has been excellent. Applications loaded without any issues, and multitasking was something we could do quickly and effortlessly, which was nice too.
Games flew on this, and battery life — while not as critical on tablets — provided us with around a day or two of life. The more we played games, the more we had to charge the tablet, but general use should survive two days.
Android is also easy to use, thanks in part to Sony’s continued use and development of an Android overlay that doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, but makes it look closer to Sony’s other products. You’ll find multiple homescreens, a sortable apps menu that can be configured by swiping from the left edge in that screen, and even some of the micro apps we’ve seen previously on Sony’s devices.
Also of note is the water and dust resistance, a staple feature on Sony’s recent devices, which is present on this tablet, too.
Indeed, you can take the Tablet Z2 poolside or into dusty places and provided the body caps are closed up and sealed, you’ll find your tablet isn’t afraid of a splash or even a dive. Try getting the iPad to do that without a case.
There’s also a camera here, but we didn’t spend too much time going over the 8 megapixel rear shooter on this body, mostly because we find taking pictures with a 10 inch camera can make you look a touch silly. That said, the images out of it aren’t bad, but with no flash on the back, we’d probably recommend you stick with your phone camera or something a little better suited to taking photos, like maybe even a real camera.
In fact our only real complaints for the Xperia Z2 Tablet tend to air on the side of audio, with one of the advertised features not really being a feature, and the other part just not being as amazing as the rest of the unit.
We’ll go in that order, and if you read our initial heads-up pieces on the Z2 Tablet, you may have heard that it’s the first tablet to support noise cancellation. That’s not to say that you haven’t been able to use active noise cancellation headphones with every tablet or smartphone to date — you can totally do that, getting a pair of Bose QC20s working on an iPad or Nexus — but Sony’s answer in the Tablet Z2 (at least how it was advertised) was to include the noise cancellation tech in the tablet, making it possible to plug in a pair of headphones and let the tablet do all the work.
The idea has merit, and is one we’ve been scratching our heads trying to work out if it was possible for a while (and if so, why no one had implemented it). I mean, if you have a pair of headphones that you love, why not let the tablet do all the heavy lifting and cancel repeating hum and noise while you enjoy all the quality your cans have to offer.
Unfortunately in the Xperia Z2, the feature doesn’t quite work how Sony implies it should.
There is support for noise cancellation in the tablet, but it only works if you plug in a specific pair of headphones. That specific pair is the MDR-NC31EM, which are made by Sony and include microphones specifically developed for being used with the noise cancelling feature of the tablet. That’s not really the same thing as having “noise cancellation” built into the tablet, because it requires a specific set of headphones engineered for this specific purpose.
It doesn’t help that the headphones aren’t included in the box — we’d be a little more forgiving if they were — and that they’re an optional purchase carrying a $100 price tag.
You can, as we mentioned before, still plug in a pair active noise cancelling headphones, but you’ll be relying totally on the technology used in the headphones, not in the tablet.
Also weak in the sound front is, well, the sound on the front of the Xperia Z2 Tablet, with some of the lightest front-facing speakers we’ve ever come across.
To Sony’s credit, the speakers are loud and reasonably bright and detailed, but it lacks any impact with some weak bass, even when the built-in equaliser is switched to provide more. Sony’s ClearAudio+ setting helps to work out where to add more, but it’s not always perfect, so if you’re finicky over your sound and prefer a touch more oomph, plug in those headphones or grab a Bluetooth speaker you like.
Consider us impressed, because there’s a lot to love about Sony’s Xperia Z2 Tablet. A lot. To love.
Manufacturers take note: this is how you make a tablet when you’re competing with perfectionists like Apple. You make it simple, clean, and easy to use, and that’s exactly what the Xperia Z2 is.
You also give it some interesting points of difference such as the dust and water resistance, which borrows over from Sony’s similarly named mobile handset. And you make it a delight to use, and that’s precisely what the Tablet Z2 is.
We do wish the noise cancellation was an actual feature and not just a way to sell a specific type of headphone, but outside of that, Sony’s Z2 is excellent.
Seriously, Sony has created a top tablet here, with a product that is thin, light, capable, and totally worth your time.