Fantastically thin: Sony’s Xperia Z4 Tablet reviewed
4.6Overall Score
Price (RRP): $799 (starting price); $799 for the WiFi model; $888 for the WiFi/4G model; Manufacturer: Sony

Australia didn’t see the Z4 phone this year, but that’s ok, because with the Z5 arriving shortly to fill that gap, Sony is also filling the Z4 void with a nice new tablet.

Features

You might think that the tablet world already has too much to choose from, but why not add another?

Sony’s Z4 is filling that spot next, with Sony bringing a 10.1 inch 2560×1600 display to the table, providing 299 pixels per inch of clarity. This screen is protected by a layer of scratch-resistant mineral strengthened glass, complete with an anti-fingerprint layer on top, also.

Two small speakers sit to the side of this screen, and then there’s merely what is under the hood.

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Beneath this display, you’ll find a 2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 eight-core processor, paired with the Adreno 430 graphics processing unit and 3GB RAM. Storage on the Z4 Tablet is set to 32GB, though this can be upgraded thanks to a microSD slot found on the side of the unit.

Google’s Android is the operating system of choice on this tablet, providing version 5 “Lollipop” out of the box.

Connection options are fairly standard, with 802.11a/b/g/n/ac WiFi serving every variant, as well as Bluetooth 4.1, Near-Field Communication, assisted GPS, all here for wireless connectivity, while wired is handled by the 3.5mm headset jack and a microUSB port at the bottom.

One variant of the Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet can be found with 4G LTE, making it web capable without WiFi in range.

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Cameras are also found here, with an 8.1 megapixel camera on the back capable of capturing Full HD video if need be, while the front relies on a 5.1 megapixel camera.

The Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet is built form plastic and glass, primarily, and has a degree of ruggedisation applied to it, offering up IP65/68 protection, providing a dust tight build, while water immersion is protected against (when sealed) for up to one metre of freshwater for up to 30 minutes.

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Only a few buttons can be found on the device, with the circular power button and volume rocker found on the left most edge, with the rest of the buttons on-screen and virtual, as part of how Android normally functions.

Ports are also limited, and you’ll only find the 3.5mm headset jack up top next to the microSD tray (which also hides a nanoSIM slot if you opt for the 4G LTE variant), while a water-resistant microUSB port sits on the right edge.

The battery in the Sony Z4 Tablet is rated for 6000mAh and is not removable.

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Performance

Next to smartphones, tablets are one of the other big playing fields where competitors are doing everything they can to unseat what is easily the leader, Apple.

Thanks to its iPad, Apple has shown that tablets — which for a long time were basically thick Windows computers that didn’t feel as portable as you’d really want — could be truly and properly portable, and this has had other manufacturers scrambling.

At the top of this competitor pile is Samsung and Sony, and while the former showed us its wares only a month or so ago, Sony is ready with a follow-up to its Z2 Tablet, found in the Z4.

Announced earlier in the year, Sony’s Z4 is a bit of a late arrival, being shown to the world back in March during Mobile World Congress, though not arriving until this past month.

That said, now that it’s here, we’re ready with our review, so is Sony’s Z4 Tablet the iPad competitor worth ditching Apple for?

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Pick up Sony’s Z4 and you’ll find simplicity in a nutshell, as the design team at Sony take that basic monolith design from the old Bravia TVs and apply it to portable computers. In the world of phones and tablets, it’s no longer monolithic, but rather “omni-balance”, which is what Sony once called its design, though now it’s easier to just refer to the form of the Xperia Z series as “thin and rectangular”, because really that’s what it is.

If you could take a rectangular form, slim it down to 6.1mm, and give it a basic form made of glass and plastic, this is what you’d have, with Sony building one of the slimmest tablets you’ll find today.

Hey, we’d even happily called it fantastically thin, because while all flagship tablets are thin — and this isn’t any thinner than the iPad Air 2 — the way this has been balanced across its body makes it feel fantastically so.

In the hands, the ever-so-slightly-textured matte plastic of the Z4 is comfortable, while the 393 grams of weight are spread out well on the slightly bigger than 10.1 inch body, which is only slightly bigger thanks to a frame existing around the 10.1 inch 2K display Sony has opted to use on this tablet.

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Let’s take a moment and look at that screen, too.

For the first time, this is Sony going beyond the Full HD resolution on a tablet, and it looks excellent. Forget the sharp 1920×1080 or 1920×1200 displays you’ve seen on other tablets — even Sony’s own — because this is a 2560×1600 Quad HD screen retaining the 16:10 ratio most tablets use, catering for widescreen movie support and a little extra room compared to 16:9 when you start typing in landscape.

Granted, a 2560×1600 screen (or “2K” for short) isn’t anything super new, and Sony’s display isn’t as bright as what either Apple or Samsung offers, but coupled with Sony’s Triluminos display technology, the visuals really stand out, displaying sharp text, clear images and colours that look superb, and a general feeling that Sony is well and truly playing with the big boys.

Both the Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet (left) and the Apple iPad Air 2 (right) measure 6.1mm thin.

Both the Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet (left) and the Apple iPad Air 2 (right) measure 6.1mm thin.

Get to using the device and the gasps don’t stop, because with a 2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor under the hood, the Z4 Tablet is no slouch, taking on devices like the HTC One M9 and even the inbound Sony Xperia Z5 with the same chip lurking underneath.

That means most of what you download should perform flawlessly, and apps should run without slowdowns, with the eight-core chip humming away underneath, able to take a fair amount of pummeling that you send its way.

Despite the high end innards, though, we found the Z4 could slip into a little bit of lag every so often, but by and large, it was a fairly slick performance.

Software is also a big part of the Z4, and Android 5 “Lollipop” can be seen on the tablet out of the box with a fairly minimalist overlay, as Sony takes its PlayStation-inspired design from the past few years and knocks it back a little more.

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Some of the cool features Sony has provided on its other smartphones and tablets can also be found here, with the PlayStation 4 able to be played directly from the tablet if you own one, some phone-to-tablet linking software for Xperia devices only (much like how Samsung has its Samsung-specific “SideSync” and Apple has its shared connections to iPhones on the iPad), as well as high-resolution audio support providing up to 24-bit audio playback, something the microSD slot will no doubt help with given you’d eat up the 32GB storage in the device very quickly if you loaded FLAC files on the hardware in this way.

Even the battery life isn’t bad, offering a solid day or so of performance if you’re dedicated to using it as your main machine, though with Android on it and content consumption key, we mostly stuck to the casual two or three day usage scenario, which worked nicely with the Z4 Tablet’s 6000mAh battery quite well.

Our review model even sported a nanoSIM slot, which would have been handy if we wanted to get online and work from the go, but Sony does pack in a surprise most tablet makers leave out: phone access.

Sure, you might be seen as a little crazy if you do it, but if you want to, the Z4 Tablet will function as a phone, albeit a 10 inch phone that will look a little chaotic and nuts held to the side of your head. We’d suggest bringing a headset of some kind — Bluetooth or wired — if you plan to take this route, but the Z4 could also be useful if you feel the 6 and 7 inch phablet phones are still not quite big enough.

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The hardware also wins points with its design because of the water resistance, something Sony has become known for in its flagship devices.

Just like on the previous models, you can find IP65 water resistance here, allowing you to take the 10 inch tablet down to the beach and pool without risk that a splash or two will destroy it because a splash or two won’t bother it at all.

Granted, if you get salt water or chlorinated water in it, the freshwater ratings suggest a quick rinse under a tap should deal with any chemicals drying out on connectors, but the water resistance applied is more water resistance than other companies even think about.

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In fact, you get a little more leeway with the water resistance on the Z4 Tablet, and that’s because there’s no flap protecting the microUSB charge port this time. Instead, Sony has applied some of the fancy microUSB design we’ve previously seen on the Xperia M4 Aqua from earlier in the year, the first of the devices that Australia received with a totally waterproof USB port.

Sony’s Z4 also gets the privilege of getting one of these, which means you don’t need to cover up when you take the Sony down by the water. Just make sure to keep the microSD and nanoSIM slot covered (which you don’t have much of a reason to open up all that often, truth be told) and you should mostly be right, freshwater and all.

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And yes, there is a camera here, with a combination of 8 megapixels on the back and 5 sitting on the front, the latter of which will be fantastic if you decide to engage in some video conferencing and the occasional selfie, while the former will provide something useful if you’re one of those sorts that takes photos with their tablet.

One catch exists, however, and that’s Sony skipping out on the flash on the back of this tablet, and we’re not sure why. We’re not huge fans of using a tablet as a camera, but we can see why people do it, big viewfinder and all. That said, with Sony’s expertise in cameras — especially in mobile devices, since it makes a good portion of the sensors for phones out there — it’s surprising the company pulled back on a flash on the back of these tablet since it’s doubtful it would have made any huge impact on design, and would have at least given night tablet photographers something to work with, if there is such a thing.

Beyond this one caveat, about the only other thing that bothered us on this version was the finish on the back.

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While we’ve seen this sort of matt black plastic look from Sony in the past, and it no doubt helps to make the tablet lighter, it has two drawbacks: one is it doesn’t boast the same sort of premium feel we’ve come to expect out of an expensive tablet, and the other is that it picks up scuff marks all too easily.

One wrong move in your backpack or out in the real world and you get a nice little mark that no amount of rubbing will remove, which is something alloys like aluminium deal with nicely.

We have little doubt that plastic was chosen for its weight properties, and Sony has definitely kept this thin, remarkably so. Seriously, when you pick up the Xperia Z4 tablet, you will swear you are holding a piece of the future because this is so thin and light, it can’t possibly come from our time.

And yet it does, and you’re not in an episode of Star Trek waving about a PADD.

We just wished it was a little more substantial, because while it might also pack in water resistance — something no other premium tablet in its price range carries — it doesn’t feel as premium as the other players.

Scratches are very easily noticed on the back.

Scratches are very easily noticed on the back.

Power to the keyboard

We don’t often talk about the accessories of a gadget with a review, but in the case of the Bluetooth keyboard made for the Z4, it’s something actually worth mentioning, and that’s because for the first time in ages, here is a keyboard designed to work with the tablet in more than just a “it adds keys to the bundle” capacity.

If you end up grabbing the Sony BKB50 Bluetooth keyboard, you’ll find it adds keyboard functionality to the Z4 tablet, which makes sense given that’s what these sorts of accessories are designed to do.

Like many of the other accessories out there, it also gives your tablet a bit of a hinge to connect to, which also has the added bonus of making the keyboard work as a screen cover for when you’re out and about, but there are a few more tricks to this little box.

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For starters, it’s not just a keyboard, as Sony has provided a small touchpad at the bottom with a button underneath, effectively turning the Z4 into an Android laptop if need be.

The way of connecting the tablet to the keyboard is also kind of neat, with a crevice that holds onto the tablet and doesn’t let go until you remove it firmly from that spot.

But probably the most impressive bit about the keyboard is the way the software on the Z4 works with the BKB50.

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When you get to using it, you’ll find Android kicks into gear with a different and redesigned soft button bar at the bottom of the screen, with a look more reminiscent of Windows or Chrome OS, providing customisable application shortcuts across a few pages — you can have three page of six icons in this section — while a mouse over (because you have a mouse on that keyboard) will reveal a preview of what is running in that app, much like it would on Windows.

What would normally be the “Start” button on Windows is an up arrow here, and that offers more of those shortcuts, access to settings (to change those shortcuts), and some of Sony’s mini floating apps, allowing you to get a modicum of multi-tasking done if need be.

It’s also a feature specific to the Sony keyboard, so if you bring another Bluetooth keyboard to the party, don’t be surprised if it doesn’t show up.

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All in all, this is a pretty neato way of adding to the functionality of the keyboard, but there are a few things it falters with, such as the keyboard itself.

For instance, if you rely heavily on the right side of the keyboard — it’s usually a lefty thing with the right shift key, but it also depends on how you’re used to typing — you may find that the right side feels unusually cramped, with Sony trying to pack as much into the keyboard as possible.

On that side, you have a tiny shift key, a smaller slash key, a tiny Alt key, and for some reason the three Android home screen dedicated choices for back, home, and multitask, even though they’re also right on the screen.

It’s too much, and if you do rely on the right side of the keyboard for some of your shortcuts, your fingers will end up going all over the place.

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The mouse is also nowhere near as useful as you might expect, and while it might seem like it can support gestures or even a right click, most of the time Android just gives it a bit of a question mark approach, and hangs there trying to work out what you’ve done.

If you do a lot of typing, though, we can see what the Sony BKB50 would offer over other keyboards simply because it feels like it was made to go with the Z4, and dedicated keyboard hardware isn’t always something you find with tablets.

Yes, you can hold the keyboard by the tablet if it's sitting in place. Hooray for laziness!

Yes, you can hold the keyboard by the tablet if it’s sitting in place. Hooray for laziness!

Conclusion

Samsung and Apple may well be the big players in the tablet market, but Sony’s entrant for 2015 is definitely worth taking a look at if you’re after a tablet that goes the distance and then some.

Offering expandable memory, a solid battery, a lovely screen, and the ability to survive the occasional water spill, this is definitely a fantastic little tablet for anyone who needs one.

 

Fantastically thin: Sony’s Xperia Z4 Tablet reviewed
Price (RRP): $799 (starting price); $799 for the WiFi model; $888 for the WiFi/4G model; Manufacturer: Sony
Superbly thin tablet; Lovely 2K resolution display; Still water resistant; Upgradeable storage; Can work as a phone if need be; Sony makes a Bluetooth keyboard accessory that does a little more than your standard Bluetooth keyboard accessory;
No flash included on the rear camera; Plastic material on the back of the tablet is too easy to tarnish;
Overall
Features
Value for money
Performance
Ease of Use
Design
4.6Overall Score
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