Sony’s mobile evolution in the last 18 months, together with their experience in screen production with their television range, puts them in a really good position to produce quality hardware. After an unfortunate run of lackluster devices the company has rebuilt its reputation in the mobile space, starting with the Xperia Z at the beginning of 2013.
The Sony name now stands for quality hardware that goes toe-to-toe with Samsung‘s and HTC’s own flagships, and the company’s 6-month hardware iteration cycle – on its flagship phones, at least – is ensuring that powerful hardware is always available to consumers. We’ve seen some notable diversions from this cycle – the Xperia Z1 Compact didn’t see an update with Z2-class internals, and the Xperia Tablet Z hasn’t been updated in a year … until now.
Thin, lightweight and powerful are probably the three words that really come to mind when you look at the specs of the Xperia Z2 Tablet on paper. It’s not until you pick up the device that you realise that it’s about more than just numbers, though – it’s about the experience you get with the device.
2013’s Xperia Tablet Z was an outstanding device, and the Z2 tablet continues to up the bar for anyone wanting to take Sony on in the top end of the Android 10” market space. It would appear that Sony has come of age in the tablet space, and are able to compete with anyone. Or can they?
It’s probably fair to say from the early days of Sony adopting the Android operating system, that they’ve learned a lot. Like many of the manufacturers, they went through a few iterations looking for a winning formula, but couldn’t find one. Some older Xperia phones had poor quality screens, and some had poor choices in software direction. Sony seems to have struck a winning balance with quite brilliant screens and (while not bleeding edge) high end specs; at a premium price.
I had the pleasure of reviewing the original Xperia Tablet Z last year, and it blew me away. The specs were up there, it had expandable storage, a light touch over stock Android in terms of UI customisation and a genuinely outstanding screen making for a positive user experience paired with snappy performance. It was – and still is – one of the picks of the bunch at the top end of 10” Android Tablets. Sony has made the Xperia Z2 Tablet even better.
- Lightweight and thin device
- IP58 Water resistance
- Long lasting battery
- Access to charging port is awkward
- Loaded with bloatware out of the box
- Auto screen brightness lags when light conditions change
The Z2 Tablet doesn’t stray far from its predecessor in terms of looks. Like most 10-inch tablets, and the original Tablet Z, it’s a portrait device (as evidenced by the Sony logo printed onto the front). It’s consistent with Sony’s current design language, and looks right at home next to a Z2 phone.
Perhaps a little less welcome aspect of that design language though is the serious bezels, which makes the tablet feel bigger than it actually is. Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S 10.5 has a larger screen, and the tablet is noticeably smaller than Sony’s 10.1 inch Z2 Tablet. Size isn’t everything, though.
Despite the large size, the tablet is comfortable to hold as soon as you pick it up, and gives off an air of quality in its construction. Like the Z2 phone, the Z2 Tablet consists of a plastic frame that has metal edges within. This has a couple of advantages – it’s light to hold but still sturdy, and it feels like you’re less likely to do serious damage if you drop the device on an edge.
Thankfully, Sony’s foregone the glass back of its phones and gone with a flat plastic back for the Z2 Tablet, which continues from the edges. The back of the tablet is pretty plain, with central Sony and Xperia logos, an NFC logo (handy) and of course the rear camera in the top corner.
The tablet is in fact so lightweight that you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’re holding a demo (ie non working shell) that is put in shopfronts to prevent theft of real units. It’s even 43 grams (on paper at least) lighter than the iPad Air. When you add that to the IP58 waterproof rating, you’re looking at a very slick unit that can withstand most things day to day life will throw at it.
Like Sony’s other Z-series devices, the Z2 Tablet is waterproof and dustproof. One of the first things I did with the tablet was to take it in the shower with me in the morning to catch up on my television viewing. The tablet worked fine, but I still feel like I might owe Sony an apology. (Editors Note: We are so, so very sorry for this mental image.)
This also means that the USB port, SIM and MicroSD Slots are all kept safely behind flaps along the top edge of the device that you’ll have to keep closed in order to keep water out. This isn’t such a problem for the SIM and MicroSD cards as you won’t change them frequently (smartly, they’re behind the same flap) but in order to charge the tablet you’ll need to get pretty familiar with the flap that covers the USB port. Sony would do well to consider adding Qi wireless charging to its entire product line.
Sony’s trademark round power button now sits on the left of the tablet, with the volume rocker just below it. The expansion port is on the bottom edge, while the right edge is untouched. There’s also an IR port at the center of the top edge.
The left edge is a pretty good place for the power and volume buttons – they sit under your hand in landscape mode, and if you hold the tablet in portrait mode they’re out of the way. This solves a problem that Samsung’s encountered with the Galaxy Tab S 10.5 – when you hold that tablet in portrait mode, you end up hitting its physical home/back/multitask buttons a lot.
The speakers are tiny, and fit into the frame of the device just beyond the bezel on the face of the device. This is actually pretty clever – they won’t be accidentally covered or blocked when you’re holding the tablet – a really nice bit of design work to get around this criticism that we’ve had on a number of 10” tablets in the past, including the Xperia Tablet Z. As with the design evolution of the Z-series phones, it proves that Sony’s actually listening and responding to criticism.
I attempted the old style “flex test” by twisting the device I felt very little movement or flex in the chassis. For a device that’s only 6mm thin, I find that a really impressive result that speaks volumes of the engineering; not just design that has gone into the Xperia Z2 tablet.
Even when wet, the tablet has a tactile, grippy feel to it that, and while it’s not approaching the kind of soft-touch material we’ve seen on a number of devices in the past few years you won’t feel like you have to stop the tablet slipping out of your hands. The tablet is light enough though that you won’t feel like you’re going to drop it easily.
The screen resolution is impressive, running at a whopping 1920 x 1080 at 224 ppi. It isn’t the highest resolution or density we’ve seen recently (that honour probably goes to the Samsung Galaxy Tab S series) but it’s very easy on the eye when you see it in person.
Some users who are used to the Samsung AMOLED displays will find that the colours are still quite vibrant, but blacks appear more grey (a bit too much backlight) than black.
I did run into issues conducting my highly scientific shower experiment. The touch input detection becomes quite confused when wet – water drops were confused for finger taps, and finger taps weren’t recognised at all, so my video playback stopped and started in odd ways. When the screen is dry however, it really does excel.
In the hours of viewing playback that I put in while testing the tablet, I didn’t find any noticeable issues with video lag, blur or shadowing on the screen. Outdoors in daylight hours, the screen deliverd video playback at a brightness that’s easy to see outdoors. Video playback is honestly as good as I have seen on any tablet.
Bearing in mind that the Xperia Z2 Tablet has a 6000mAh battery, it really shouldn’t struggle for battery life. It not only exceeded, but destroyed my expectations. In what I consider normal use for myself in any given day (an hour of streaming video/tv content, several hours of streaming music, sporadic use for email and web surfing throughout the day and other apps used semi-regularly), there was a solid 3 days in each charge. There’s most certainly some battery saving wizardry at play here as I’ve had bigger batteries last for shorter periods of time.
I had to kick it up a gear and see what punishment the battery could take before it needed a charge. On a full charge, I set a streaming playlist of x264 videos going and found that 4 hours later running full screen the tablet was still going strong. Checking in again an hour later, the tablet still had nearly 40% battery life left. While the tablet got quite warm, it was a truly impressive 8+ hours of streaming high quality video before the battery gave out and the tablet shut down.
It’s pretty safe to say that regardless of the hammering you give a tablet, you will get a full day or more of use out of this tablet unless you’re doing nothing but streaming high resolution video all day.
It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that any tablet these days has Wi-fi. The a/b/g/n/ac wireless set is reliable and fast, even streaming high quality video there was no issues with network lag or anything suggesting that there were connectivity issues. If you’re on the move there LTE to keep you connected on the move and the experience I’ve had when moving from wifi to LTE and back has been quite seamless.
Bluetooth 4.0 A2DP is in place also which means 2 things… firstly, low power consumption for Bluetooth audio and second, if you’ve got high quality speakers that you can link via Bluetooth to your phone then you’re in for a great quality audio experience.
There’s also GPS and GLONASS support for navigation, and being a Sony device there should be no surprise that NFC is on board.
The speakers themselves are so tiny you’ll have to hunt for them on the tablet itself. Because of their construction and sharp edges, they also seem to attract a bit of dust and stray threads of whatever fabric they come up against:
Herein lies the one and only major failing of the Z2 Tablet. Until I sat down to listen to some music (well, okay, I put The Wiggles on for my kids), I kept looking for where Sony sacrificed any quality in the strive to be the thinnest and lightest tablet out there. I found it when I turned the volume up to listen to music, as against the usual volume I run my tablet at for notifications.
The volume was more than adequate, in fact it was so loud it was almost piercing. The disappointment was around the depth of the sound. There’s not a lot by way of mid-range sounds and bass is unsurprisingly nonexistent, leaving just the high range sound to bombard your eardrums. It’s also pretty directional, so if you leave the tablet face-up playing music in your general vicinity you won’t be getting the full effect.
There’s a couple of options here. When I plugged my headphones in, I got some really nice sound out of the tablet. The pre-amp output on is very impressive – the sound on my headphones was as crisp as I’ve ever heard it. The other option to get around this shortcoming is to connect either a Bluetooth headset, or Bluetooth speakers to the tablet using the A2DP technology built in to get the best audio experience you can.
Sony’s Android skin has a focus on aesthetics and visual experience which works quite well for them. The problem is that they have a lot of visual enhancements and tweaks included that at times can hinder the performance of the tablet, at times it feels as though Sony is relying on the high specs of the hardware to carry the software over the hump and prevent lag or performance issues.
It’s important to note that I didn’t notice any massive lags or anything suggesting a performance issue on the Z2 tablet, however I did feel that changing the launcher made switching between apps, load times and the general responsiveness of the tablet notably snappier.
The cameras are capable enough for a tablet in this class, though it’s surprising Sony hasn’t put in the 20.7MP camera seen on the Z-series phones. What you’ve got is an 8MP rear camera and 2MP front that’ll be outshone by the competition, most notably Samsung’s own very good cameras in the Galaxy Tab S line.
Sony make some really nice cameras and the 8MP camera they’ve crammed into this super thin tablet has some reasonable optics in it, but it can struggle to capture detail and colour in disappointing ways. If you want something that looks true-to-life, you’ll need to turn on HDR mode (buried under Manual controls), and even then it may or may not be up to par.
Framing your subject with a large device like a tablet is rather more difficult than you’d think. Because of the size and weight of the tablet, it’s actually pretty hard to take a shot without shaking the camera and producing a blurry image.
Even if you take your time and line up your shot though (resting the tablet on a nearby surface can help) you could be a little disappointed. If you’re steady of hand, the camera is capable of getting some reasonable shots in low or fading light, or even under fluorescent light at night.
The 2MP camera is there for video calling such as Hangouts and Skype … and if you must, it’ll take the odd selfie too. It’s serviceable, but nothing to write home about in a time where we’re seeing 5MP “selfie cams” attached to the front of smartphones. It feels very much like “last year’s tech”.
Don’t forget Sony’s fun AR camera modes are also included:
Sony’s launcher and UI haven’t changed much in the last couple of iterations, and the Z2 Tablet, unsurprisingly, feels like a big Z2. It’s a little disappointing that Sony hasn’t been a little more adventurous with their 10-inch tablet UI. That said, there’s still plenty to like on the Z2 Tablet, both in terms of the OS version and the bundled apps.
If you’re looking to buy a tablet as a gift for someone, the first-boot setup process is well thought out and helps users carry out all the setup tasks they need to get going.
Android 4.4.2 comes on the device out of the box with a good chance of at least one minor update (Sony’s own software, not an OS update) being ready very shortly after you turn it on.
The placement of Android’s onscreen buttons could be a little better though, as they’re close to the centre of the screen while your hands are usually spread wide at the edges of the tablet. This is a pretty common problem with landscape tablets, though it’s one Sony could have addressed.
Interestingly, there’s no Google apps on the home screens except for Google Play. All the pre-installed Google apps are listed in the app drawer though.
The launcher places the app list under a shortcut at the top right, so it’s easy for your right hand to hit. That button then turns into the back button that takes you back to the home screens.
Otherwise, this is a familiar story – Sony’s customised the look of the OS without changing the functionality very much. Switches look different, tabs have colour gradients, and so on but Settings is still Settings and you’ll have no trouble using the tablet if you’re at all familiar with Android devices.
The bundled apps won’t surprise anyone that’s used a Sony mobile device in the last couple of years: Walkman and Movies are Sony’s own alternatives to Google’s Music and Google Movies, and to be brutally honest just don’t see any heavy Android users investing in the Sony system if they’re already heavily invested in Google. There’s also no free content on offer – disappointing, given Sony’s extensive catalog.
Playstation Mobile is linked to the Playstation Network and isn’t important to me at all. In fairness to Sony, I’m sure if you’re a heavy console gamer and have serious time and dollars invested in PSN it’s going to be a tick in the box that other competitors just don’t have, but as we’ve seen in past reviews this app is getting pretty long in the tooth and presents a fractured experience to a user who probably expects better games than those on offer here.
TV SideView lets you use the tablet as a remote control for compatible Sony devices in your home (such as, you guessed it, your TV). In the same vein, the IR port on the top of the tablet can be controlled by the Remote Control app, which thankfully supports a wide range of manufacturers and device types. While we’re at it, Sony’s Throw service lets you connect wirelessly to TVs, Speakers and Headphones using established protocols like DLNA or Bluetooth but wrapping it up in an easy to use way.
On the other hand, Sony’s Xperia Lounge is a great idea – exclusive offers, content and competitions from Sony for its customers – just really poorly delivered. The interface is clunky and hard to understand, focusing as it does on an “experience” rather than a useable product. Using the app is frustrating and difficult, so much so that I just gave up on in a fit of rage. I don’t feel like I’m missing anything in the experience though (other than a couple of competitions I could enter), and perhaps that’s more telling.
Sony’s Sony Select app recommendation service makes a return, and on the big-screen tablet it’s been given a welcome overhaul. It’s interesting to see the apps Sony recommends to its users, and the service has even managed to surface a few interesting new apps, as well as some that have been around a while, but have gone unnoticed.
Other bundled apps aren’t a surprise if you’ve used any recent Xperia Z-class device, including Socialife, Track ID, Sketch, Pixlr Express, LinkedIn, and Box.
Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet
- 10.1” Screen running 1920 x 1200 @ 224ppi
- Quad-core 2.3 GHz Krait 400
- 3GB RAM
- 16GB Storage + up to 64GB MicroSD
- 2.2MP Front Facing and 8.1MP Rear Facing Cameras
- a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC
- GSM: 850/900/1800/1900 MHz
- WCDMA: 850/900/1700/1900/2100 MHz
- 4G LTE: 850 / 900 / 1700 / 1800 / 1900 / 2100
- Android 4.4.2 Kitkat
- 6000mAh Battery
- 266 x 172 x 6.4 mm, 439 grams
Sony’s delivered a distinctly Sony tablet. It’s light, well-designed and built, and it has a nice screen. You can get it with LTE (16GB) or with just Wi-Fi connectivity (16GB or 32GB). Regardless of this choice, there’s always a MicroSD slot. It feels great in the hand and can be carried around one-handed. While the tablet’s size is a bit of a drawback, it’s one of the lightest large screen tablets I’ve ever held.
Besides the sheer size of the tablet, the major drawbacks would have to be the lackluster camera performance and the sound that comes from the tiny speakers – prospective purchasers will need to weigh up how important those features are, and whether the $600 starting price (iPad pricing parity is apparently now “a thing” for Android manufacturers) is worth it for those trade-offs.
A 10-inch device also presents a distinctly different usage scenario to a smaller tablet. It’s less portable (despite the weight, or lack of weight) and seems more designed for passive media consumption (ie, videos) while you’re sitting on your couch. Taking the Z2 Tablet out on a train to read comics in portrait mode makes you feel a bit ridiculous.
The 10-inch Android Tablet market is finally starting to heat up with serious contenders, though I’m not sure the Xperia Z2 Tablet will be able to justify its price after a few months, considering the tradeoffs.