Sony Tablet S review: First Look

Reviews 6 Sep, 2011

Sony has gone with a magazine motif for its first Android tablet and it left Seth Barton suitably impressed. Find out why in his sneak peek.

Verdict: 
The chunky spine of the magazine-like Sony Tablet S leaves a positive first impression, but whether this is a well thought-out design decision or a mere gimmick depends on more prolonged use. We'll bring you a more in-depth review as soon as we can.

While other manufacturers fight over who has the slimmest tablet, Sony has simply done its own thing. The Sony Tablet S has a bizarre-looking design, and when we first saw pictures we thought maybe the company had lost the plot completely. However, after just a few minutes use it all makes a lot more sense.

Rather than having one tablet for all, like the iPad-styled models that every other manufacturer is touting, Sony has come up with two unique-looking and bespoke designs for differing uses - the Sony Tablet S for use at home and in the office, and the Sony Tablet P for life on the go. It's a brave strategy, but it's refreshing to find someone doing something different.

The Sony Tablet S may look like any other Android Honeycomb tablet at first, but it's quite different from the competition.

The first thing you notice about the Tablet S is the shape which hard to describe in words, but in the hand it feels a lot like holding a magazine one-handed, where you've folded back the pages on themselves. The black gloss edge of the design, which doesn't wrap all the way around the rear side gives a visual motif to match this idea.

The chunky 'spine' sits comfortably in the palm of your hand. All the weight is concentrated there, too, so the opposing tapered edge feels weightless. It feels like a tablet we'd like to hold for long periods. The design also means the tablet sits at a slight angle when resting on a table. This makes it easier to type on using the touchscreen, as it's always propped up at a slight angle.

Surprisingly, the chunky 'spine' sits comfortably in the palm of your hand.

Of course that chunky edge (20.6mm thick) makes it less convenient to carry about on a day-to-day basis. It's not a huge difference though as it tapers down just 10mm at the sharp end (so its easy to slide into a bag still) and it's only 598g - exactly 1g less than the Galaxy Tab 10.1 for anyone who's counting. Other dimensions are 241mm high and 174mm across (in portrait mode).

The folded-back magazine-inspired design of the Sony Tablet S.

It uses Android 3.1 - probably due to Sony's own extensive UI customisations - but an update to 3.2 is coming soon. Some of the standout additions to vanilla Android include such consumer-oriented features such as a rather smart DLNA server, where you can flick pictures, movies or songs from the tablet screen to the playback device. Also for living room use is the built-in infrared emitter, so you can control TVs and other AV devices from the tablet. There will also be PlayStation and PlayStation 2 games available to play on the tablet.

In terms of specifications Sony are on far more traditional ground. There's a Tegra 2 processor running at a now fairly pedestrian 1GHz. The display is a little smaller than most at 9.4in, but the high-quality IPS panel still has the usual 1,280x800 resolution. Predictably, there will be 16GB and 32GB models, as well Wi-Fi only and 3G equipped ones, starting from around £399.

We were pleasantly surprised by the Tablet S. By trying something different Sony has given anyone looking for an Android tablet a genuine alternative to the super-skinny look. We look forward to taking it for a lengthy test when it's released later this month – a 3G version will arrive later in October or November.

So what are our first impressions?