In a world dominated by extremely similar looking tablets, Japanese electronics giant, Sony have sent it a wave of fresh air. They've brought in two different form factors – the first one being the Tablet S – which wasn’t a major overhaul, in terms of design, and the second one being the Tablet P – the world’s first clamshell design tablet. Nintendo did it quite well in the gaming genre, but has Sony been able to pull off something similar with the Tablet P? Let’s find out.
A clamshell design
The most interesting form factor that’s ever existed on an Android tablet so far means two things – Sony isn’t in the mood to create iPad lookalikes and it's treading a thin line between being outrageously creative or outrageously pointless. The second debate more or less carries forward throughout this review. We’ve seen this design on a portable gaming console, the Nintendo DS, but by terming it a tablet, you’re throwing in a lot more variables into the picture.
On Video: Sony Tablet P
In terms of plain aesthetics, the Tablet P has got every bit of oomph and class you’d want in your device. Smooth curves, metallic finish, few plastics and brilliant colour tones – this one has stylish written all over it. However, the insides are glossy black and are quite prone to fingerprints. The dual screens feel immensely small when you compare them to the size of the tablet itself. The back (or the top, if you want to take it that way) consists of a 5 megapixel camera, while the headphone jack is located in the front. Moving on to the sides, we’ve got a power ON button, a charging port, the microUSB slot and volume keys. There’s an almost invisible notification strip that’s very neatly placed at the front. The microSD card slot is located underneath the bottom flap and is non swappable, whilst the SIM card slot is located under the top flap. Also, the Tablet P is one of the few tablets to have a removable battery.
With detachable covers
The biggest thing missing though is HDMI out. Imagine using a PlayStation certified tablet to play your PlayStation games on your TV and using your tablet’s screen as a controller. Well, it would require some tweaking around, considering both the displays could get projected on to the big screen, but if they'd have managed to map it well and get the idea to work, then it would've been a brilliant addition. One that would have affected our overall score of the Tablet P, greatly.
Coming back to the design, the P (we’re calling it that for the rest of the review) is quite chunky in its closed form. Plus, it’s got a very small footprint, which makes it feel a lot more dense and heavier, than other tablets. But at 372 grams, it is just that slight bit heavier than the seven inched Galaxy Tab 620. When it’s shut, it might just slip into your front pocket, but it's not really comfortable, so it’s best suited for a jacket pocket. This one is definitely more portable, than most other tablets out there, but is it as ergonomic? Let’s delve into that after the break.
From the sides
The P has a dual 5.5-inch screen with each one having a resolution of 1024 x 480 pixels. That’s great, but there’s a lot of bezel around the sides, so if you’ve got slightly smaller hands, you might have a problem reaching the far end of either of the screens, with the opposite hand. The hinges are strong and there’s absolutely no wobbling when you flip it open, so it will surely survive a few falls.
The design is quite catchy, no doubt, but we would have loved a slimmer and a smaller version. In terms of build as well, you’re pretty much getting the best from Sony.
Features and Performance
The P is powered by a dual-core 1GHz Tegra 2 processor and has 1GB of RAM with Android Honeycomb 3.2 onboard. It’s super slick and fast and though the boot up time isn’t that quick, you won’t find the device lagging, even when you’ve loaded up a bunch of memory heavy applications. But again, it’s a dual-screen tablet and hence it needs some special treatment in this section as well. Let’s see what’s different.
Social networking well integrated
While dragging apps from one screen to the other isn’t a problem, the same can’t be said about playing games on a full screen mode. If your game requires you to swap across the two screens (for example, Fruit Ninja) the touches won’t be registered a lot of times, which also means that it does require a dedicated set of games – something we’ll talk about in the miscellaneous features section. The menu stretches across the whole screen and if a particular app lies right in between the two screens, it gets split up on both the screens. It doesn’t force you to shift on to the upper or lower screen, so that’s good. Sony have tried to keep the usability as simple as they would have on a normal slate.
We put the P through a few synthetic benchmarks as well. In Linpack, the tablet got a score of 27.926 MFLOPS in the single thread mode, while it got a score of 53.853 in the multithread mode. It falls short of the Galaxy Tab 620, which has a dual- core Exynos 4210 chipset. In our AnTuTu benchmark test it got a score of 4955 points, which places it below the LG Optimus 2X and the S II, but above the Amazon Kindle Fire.
The dual-screen functionality has been nicely put to use in this section. For music, all your controls shift to the upper screen, along with the album art. The bottom consists of a collage of all your album art, allowing you to segregate all your favourite music without having to scroll down to find each song. There’s a 5 band equalizer with support for custom presets, along with a dynamic normalize and their xLOUD technology. So you can tweak your music to suit your needs. The loudspeaker, although isn’t as loud as we’d want it to be, is okay enough for personal viewing. Music via headphones is much better, just what we’d expect from a Sony product. Next up is the video section.
The media interface
The videos come up on a single screen and you might have to make a big compromise in this section, because one screen is quite empty, and watching a movie on a ‘five point five inch tablet’ isn’t a great deal. However, one good thing that comes out of here is that you can make the tablet ‘sit’ on any flat surface and have ‘handsfree’ viewing. 1080p videos play out of the box and though the stock player didn’t support our FLAC file, there are plenty of third party apps for other codecs. DLNA has been included for your wireless streaming needs.
The P has quad-band 3G (and 4G in some models), Wi-Fi with DLNA, Bluetooth 2.1 and GPS. We would have loved dual-band Wi-Fi support, too, but that’s been omitted from the P. Browsing is better when the tablet’s completely flipped open, otherwise the viewing angles start playing an important role in deciding what’s more clearly visible to you. If you’re using it more for typing, then you’re better off with it, while being seated, otherwise the extra bezel on the sides might make you want to ‘reach out’ to the middle letters. While sitting, you'll notice a slight improvement in typing with the ‘mini laptop’ feel the P gives you. You’ve got the screen on a vertical plane, so it’s a lot easier to see what you’re typing. To sum it up, if you’re going to have a lot of browsing and writing, you’ll be better off switching between the different positions to maximize productivity.
Viewing angles come into play
One big concern we had with our review unit was that it would just not lock onto our Wi-Fi connection. The other tablets in the same area wouldn’t really have much of a problem, but this tablet was just too erratic with its connectivity. This particularly came to light while downloading large files.
The Tablet P is a PlayStation-certified device. Sadly, we couldn’t find any content on its official app for the Indian sub-region. Secondly, the tablet comes with a My Apps application that basically connects you to an online store where you can download the latest apps optimized for the tablet. Here again, all we could see were three apps for the Indian region. We were automatically relocated to India, but we made a minor tweak in the URL and found a lot more content for U.S shores. The phone comes with Crash Bandicoot and Pinball pre-installed and they make effective use of the dual screens. The size of the controls can be adjusted as well, so you’ve got the game playing on the upper screen, while the controls reside on the lower one. Another problem out here is the display resolution – Crash Bandicoot doesn’t occupy the whole screen (you can force it to, though, but in the process will warp it a bit), so you’ll have like a minor part of a 5.5-inch screen occupied. Doesn’t look like gaming on a tablet, but on a small screen with a lot of space being wasted behind the controls and the bezel. This is important because we’ll remind you it’s a PlayStation-certified tablet. Oh, and while we’re at it, we just couldn’t find any more games, besides these two pre-installed ones. Where’s the bunch of PSone and PSP games you promised us, Sony?
Very few games in the App store
The default Skype app doesn’t work too well and Sony have their own ‘Video Chat plugged into Skype’ application, which utilises both screens. Here again we were absolutely disappointed with the way in which the screen space has been wasted. Chat opens up in a new window and if new notifications pop up, it’s extremely difficult to toggle between the two windows. Why didn’t they just keep a chat window for the existing call on the lower screen? Puzzling and irritating. The reader application works in portrait mode and converts the tablet into a book of sorts and was the only decent application, which we liked on the Tablet P.
One of the strong points, the Reader app
We’re stressing on the fact that the tablet P needs its own ecosystem of applications, optimized for dual screens. Just like how you can’t play Nintendo Wii games on a DS, single screen games quite literally get screwed up when played on dual-screen. Currently, there’s very limited support for this tablet with a bunch of apps and with only Sony in the dual-screen tablet market, we’re not too sure if many developers would actually go that extra mile to port apps (not just games) to dual screens. A lot of the third party applications would simply crash, or appear warped or not work at all. Not something you’d want, especially, if you’re investing in a tablet with that price tag.
The P comes with a 5 megapixel rear camera and a VGA front camera. It’s also capable of recording videos at 720p at a frame rate of 30 fps. There’s no touch focus, so you’ll have to long press on the camera button to (try to) get the object into focus. The image, somehow gets displayed on the bottom screen, which is just puzzling. There’s not too much detail in the snaps and unless you’ve got a lot of light falling on the object, your picture won’t appear too great. Video capture has a lot of colour banding and noise. Again, not impressive. Overall, we weren't too impressed with the Tablet P’s shooting capabilities.
The tablet has a 3080 mAh battery and Sony claims that it has a battery life of about 7 hours. In our video test, the P played a 720p video nonstop for 6 hours 20 minutes before shutting down, so they’re holding true to their claims, which is quite nice. Under average usage, you’ll easily crank up to a day’s juice. P for Power, eh?
Worth a buy?
The Sony Tablet P is priced at Rs.36,990 (MRP). This makes it compete with the top notch Android tablets and the iPad 2, as well. The P makes for an interesting design, but whilst doing so, it limits your functionality greatly. In the real world, you’re not going to be impressed with what it’s capable of doing. At best, it’s decent for gaming (if they get more apps that is) and as an e-reader. But, a tablet is much more than just that. If it would have been priced around 23-25K, then we’d have been a little more lenient with our score, but at 37K, it’s just too absurd a price. With the P, it’s back to the drawing board for Sony.
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