Even back when it was just a sketch we were suitably intrigued by Sony’s Tablet S. Then it was the “S1,” a name that, indistinct as it was, still had more character and mystery than the unfortunately generic moniker it will ship with. Still, a dull name can’t obscure the most distinctive design we’ve yet seen in an Android Honeycomb slate, an aerofoil-like shape inspired not by a flying machine, but a rather more pedestrian folded magazine.
But, the result is a tablet that’s considerably thicker than the current king of the Android hill, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 (not to mention the iPad 2), a chunky design that isn’t always as hand-friendly as it looks. Is this the glossy, perfectly-paginated future of tablet design, oris it just a misshapen slate with a broken crease and shattered dreams? Read on to find out.
Look and feel
So what about that famous folded design? Well, the first time you pick it up, you’ll wonder why all tablets aren’t shaped like this. It fits comfortably and securely in either hand, with subtle dimples adding extra grip to what would otherwise be a slick, fingerprint-prone plastic back. If you’re the sort who likes to hold a tablet in one hand, portrait-style, whilst tapping away with the other, you’ll quickly feel right at home.
The Tablet S is also particularly well-suited to sitting on a desk in landscape, like a little keyboard. Sony thoughtfully attached a pair of rubber nubs on the top and, thanks to the gentle incline of the screen when placed on something flat, it makes for a decent typing surface — much more so than other tablets that are less inclined to your touch.
But, try to use this slate in any other position and the design becomes something of a hindrance. Sitting on a lap in landscape, for example, we found the incline a bit too steep. Meanwhile, in portrait orientation you’ll never manage to get the screen flat — it’s always angled one way or another.
Hold it in both hands and you’ll also be struggling. We found the 9.4-inch screen to be a little too wide to comfortably type on with our thumbs. Turn it 90 degrees and it’s much easier to opposably tap at the thing, but then the somewhat sharp edges on the skinny side start cutting into your palms. Unless we were sitting with this on a desk, we had a hard time getting comfortable typing on the Tablet S, and while that’s a problem that can be assigned to any tablet these days, the asymmetrical styling isn’t much help.
Again, all this results in a bit of a chunky girl. At its thinnest, Sony claims it’s 0.3 inches (7.62mm) thick, but it of course swells out from there, growing to about 0.8-inches (20.23mm). That means it’s even plumper than the Motorola Xoom on one side, but even its thinner end is no more slender than the Tab 10.1 — unless you count the beveled edge, which we don’t.
Its footprint on the other two dimensions is almost identical to the 10.1, measuring 9.5 x 6.8-inches (241 x 173mm). That means it’s only a fraction of an inch narrower, despite giving up 0.7 inches on the diagonal of the screen size. Sure, you probably won’t miss that extra space, but why settle for less?
Look between the black bars of the bezel and you’ll be greeted with a 1,280 x 800 display that Sony says uses the company’s TruBlack technology — already a staple in its Bravia televisions. While such trademarked tech is usually fluff, we must say the results here are quite good. You’ll get contrast ratios that hold up from any angle and very accurate color reproduction that surpasses the Tab 10.1. And, yes, the blacks are indeed about as good as you’re going to get on an LCD these days — no concerns about light leakage here.
You will, however, have to worry about getting a case. The surface that covers the screen is rather sadly not Gorilla Glass and, while Sony says there’s a protective layer here to keep the display scratch-free, after just one trip into a messenger bag unprotected it came out with a few new fine lines. This is a trip the Corning-clad Galaxy Tab 10.1 has made many, many times before, and it’s still looking as good as the day it came out of the box.
The rest of the Tablet S is similarly scratch-prone, with a few fine scuffs appearing on the pimply back, and should you make the mistake of tapping on it you’re greeted with a sound that can only be described as hollow. Meanwhile, the sides are made of what can only be called plastic, with a fine matte silver paint job that offers a high-end look, but a low-end feel. This is best demonstrated with the flimsy door that covers the tablet’s full SD card reader. But, we must make it very clear that this is not the storage augmentation you might be hoping for.
The tablet cannot directly play media from the SD card; it must first be copied to the internal storage. So, if you had dreams of buying the 16GB version then slapping a cheap 16GB SD card in there to make up the difference, let this be your rude awakening.
» Read more: Sony Tablet S preview