It’s been some time since Sony had a tablet on the market. Times have changed since the VAIO UX’s day, though, and where once tablets were niche devices, now they’re making headway into our living rooms. The Sony Tablet S is the first model of the company’s new strategy, packing Android Honeycomb into a hardware design that’s a little more interesting than many rivals have managed. Late to the game against the iPad, though, has the Tablet S’ tardiness undermined its potential?
Sony hasn’t strayed too far from the Honeycomb herd with the Tablet S’ core specifications. Powered by NVIDIA’s dual-core Tegra 2 paired with 1GB of RAM, its dimensions are kept compact thanks to a slightly smaller than usual 9.4-inch capacitive touchscreen. This still runs at 1280 x 800, like 10.1-inch Honeycomb slates, so the only real difference is a slightly higher pixel density. The display overall is a success, with wide viewing angles and solid contrast, though as is often the case it’s highly reflective and a fingerprint magnet.
Where Sony first pulls away from the pack is in the physical design; this is no basic slab. Sony calls it “folding design” and says the tapering form-factor is based on a folded-back magazine. The company has even carried that through to the rear panel, emphasizing the asymmetry with a ridgeline where the curve ends, and using contrasting white and black plastic to highlight. Ports – including a full-sized SD card reader, useful for quickly checking shots from your digital camera, and microUSB, though no HDMI – are clustered in the white end-caps, some under flip-out panels.
It’s a design concept we’ve seen attempted before – Notion Ink’s Adam, for instance, has a swollen battery bulge intended to offer an easier grip – but Sony’s downsizing abilities make it more successful. The Tablet S is purposefully made with off-center balance so that, when you’re holding it in portrait orientation and gripping the thicker edge, the weight is biased to your hand. That reduces the leverage effect; we found we could hold the slate single-handedly for longer than with regular tablets. The downside to the lightweight is that it feels less “premium” than, say, the aluminum iPad 2, instead being more plasticky like the Galaxy Tab 10.1. Unfortunately it’s also – even at its thinnest edge – thicker than the Samsung.
In landscape orientation, meanwhile, the Tablet S’ profile angles it on the table, mimicking the slight elevation many cases offer for easier typing. Sony says it helps avoid lighting reflections, too, though we still found ourselves shuffling around the glossy tablet frequently. A matte screen may not lead to the same eye-popping colors as a gloss-finish one, but it’s still a sacrifice we’d be happy to make.
Sony will offer two models, one with 16GB of onboard storage for $499, and another with 32GB for $599. Connectivity on both includes the usual WiFi b/g/n and Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, together with USB and a headphone socket. There’s no 3G/4G option at this stage, unlike the AT&T 4G support the Tablet S’ clamshell sibling, the Tablet P, will arrive with. Up front is a 0.3-megapixel camera for video calls, while a 5-megapixel camera capable of 720p HD video recording is on the back.
More surprising is the return of the infrared (IR) port, though as with Vizio’s tablet it’s here for universal remote control duties rather than sluggish file transfers. Sony preloads a Remote Control app, which, happily, works with TVs, cable boxes and other A/V hardware from other brands too. Setup is straightforward, requiring a selection of category (e.g. HDTV) and then manufacturer, and there’s a basic button layout for full control along with a swipe-gesture based channel/volume control, which lets you flick through without having to look down at the screen. What you can’t do is customize the layout: we’d like to have combined controls for several pieces of A/V kit onto a single panel, rather than have to jump between them via the app home screen, as well as ditch a few of the less frequently used buttons.
Like other tablet manufacturers before them, Sony has been unable to leave Honeycomb alone. The software modifications are less obvious, initially, than say Samsung’s TouchWiz UI on the Galaxy Tab 10.1, but there are more preloaded apps for what Sony says is a boosted “out of box experience.”
Preloads generally make us wary, but Sony’s choice isn’t too bad. The Tablet S will get a selection of homegrown and third-party titles, including Evernote, FourSquare and USTREAM though they weren’t present on our review unit, plus the Remote Control app mentioned before. There’s also Sony’s Reader app for ebooks, the Reader Store, a File Transfer app, along with Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited. It’s also PlayStation Certified for mobile gaming, so you can load PSOne and PSP titles just as on the Sony Ericsson XPERIA Play.
Crash Bandicoot and Pinball Heroes will come with the slate, and Sony expects to launch a dedicated PlayStation Store for tablet gaming later in 2011. Since there are no hardware controls, the Tablet S uses on-screen buttons: a D-pad is on the left side and the familiar action buttons on the right. The exact positioning of these can be adjusted according to where your fingers most comfortably fall, though we reckon the clamshell Tablet P may be the gamers’ choice thanks to its more compact scale. The classic and portable titles should have no problems running on the Tegra 2 chipset, though they won’t be available to test until the tablet’s launch.
Other changes are more subtle. Sony has polished the homescreen transitions as part of what it calls “Swift and Smooth”; it did seem like there was a little less jerk or lag in swiping between homescreens, but it’s not a groundbreaking difference. Better is Quick View in the browser, baking a proprietary algorithm into the native Honeycomb app that speeds up webpage load times as well as pre-caching offscreen portions of each site. That means less catch-up when you scroll, though it may have an impact on data use if you’re relying on a mobile hotspot to get online.
While the homescreen looks like the Android norm, Sony also has its Favorites screen, a Pulse-style shortcut page with nine tiles on the right side and a dynamic preview window on the left. Apps and content can be pinned to each tile, either a single program or recently played content, your bookmarks, browser history or recently added music. There’s plenty of nice pivoting animation as you flick between each one, though we wish there was a way to set Favorites as the default desktop.
Just as the universal remote app tries to join the dots between the Tablet S and the rest of your A/V kit, there’s DLNA support on the tablet to handle media streaming. The audio and video apps have “Throw” buttons, which automatically scan for DLNA-compliant hardware – such as speakers or your network-connected HDTV – and then allow you to drag & drop the currently playing content to those outputs. It works just as you’d expect, and we were able to quickly get video recorded using the tablet streaming to our smart TV. For all Sony’s branding this is regular DLNA at its core, which means that other brands of TV and speaker system are supported (they’ll need to support MPEG4 rendering for video use, however).
Honeycomb still lags behind iOS for tablet-specific apps, and the Android Market doesn’t exactly help what with its filtering shortcomings. Sony has begun a new site, called Select App, to guide new users toward key software, split across various categories like home, lifestyle and entertainment. It’s sparse on information – just a short blurb about each app – and there’s no way for Tablet S owners to leave their own reviews or suggestions, but it’s better than nothing. What will make the difference is how often it’s updated, something Sony isn’t yet pinning down.
Sony claims iPad 2 equaling battery life from the 5,000 mAh battery in the Tablet S, and our experience suggests that’s a reasonably fair estimate. With mixed use but a solid amount of browsing and gaming, together with multimedia playback, we saw approximately ten hours of runtime. Less ambitious use, like ereading, and more casual browsing should see that extend even further.
Sony has two key Tablet S accessories initially, a Bluetooth Keyboard ($79.99) and a Desk Cradle ($39.99). The former – which in fact works with any Bluetooth tablet – is a low-profile ‘board with a similar layout to the keys on Sony’s VAIO laptop range. It has a line of dedicated keys for Android tablets, such as Home, Search, the contextual menu, etc., which work with models from other companies.
The Desk Cradle, meanwhile, is a little less useful. It only charges the Tablet S, and has no ports or other connectivity. While it can be adjusted for angle, it only has two positions rather than free movement. Drop the slate in, and a menu offers a choice of displaying the gallery, a desk clock or the preloaded chumby app with its various widgets. With no HDMI output on either tablet or dock, there’s currently no way to hook the Tablet S up to a big-screen TV, Sony instead relying on the DLNA support.
Sony’s UX series VAIO UMPCs were, with their tiny slide-out keyboards and futuristic design, innovative enough to still show up in motion pictures as space-age props long after their actual hardware was outdated. The company has attempted some of that creativity with the Sony Tablet S, too, though it’s far more in line with what other Android device manufacturers are pushing out. We’ll have to wait for the dual-display Tablet P, with its pair of 5.5-inch touchscreens, for the truly eye-catching hardware.
Starting at $499 when the Tablet S goes on sale in mid-September, Sony matches the iPad 2 and Galaxy Tab 10.1 pricing. That’s perhaps a brave strategy given the Apple slate’s current dominance, though viewed against the Samsung each has its strengths and weaknesses. Sony has packed the Tablet S with a higher resolution rear camera than that in the Galaxy Tab 10.1, and the custom apps are arguably more useful than Samsung’s TouchWiz interface, especially the universal remote; on the flip-side, it’s a chunkier tablet than the Samsung and the asymmetrical design forces compromises in terms of bulk that have to be balanced against the increased ease of holding it in portrait orientation. Performance and app selection are in the same ballpark, for the most part.
Below you can find a video about the Tablet:
Back in October, as you may recall, Adobe unveiled its Touch Apps family — a collection of six tools designed to make life easier and more tactile for tablet-using creative types. Today, those apps are finally available on the Android Market, for tablets running Android 3.1 or higher. The sextet includes Photoshop Touch, Collage and Proto, among other Adobe products, each of which is priced at $9.99. These applications will also play a central role in Adobe’s forthcoming Creative Cloud initiative, which will allow users to share, view and transfer files across multiple devices. That isn’t expected to launch until the first half of next year, while the full suite of Touch Apps for iOS users should be released by "early 2012" (Adobe Ideas is the only member currently available on iTunes). Android slate wielders can get their hands on all the Touch Apps now, though Adobe says they’ll need at least an 8.9-inch, 1280 x 800 display to get the most out of it. Check out the source link below for more details, or head past the break for the full PR treatment.
Bloomberg reports that Amazon is preparing to unveil its new 7-inch Android-based tablet, with the “Kindle Fire” device carrying an unexpectedly low price tag of $199. Amazon will be introducing the tablet at its media event set to begin in just a few minutes.
The Kindle Fire will have a 7-inch display and sell for $199, compared with $499 for Apple’s cheapest iPad, Amazon executives said. The device, a souped-up version of the Kindle electronic-book reader, will run on Google Inc.’s Android software, the Seattle-based company said.
Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos is betting he can leverage Amazon’s dominance in e-commerce to pose a real challenge to Apple’s iPad, after tablets from rivals such as Hewlett-Packard Co. and Research In Motion Ltd. have fallen short.
Previous rumors had suggested that Amazon would price the Kindle Fire at $249, although sources had hedged in recent days that the device might come in at $299.
The Kindle Fire offers Wi-Fi connectivity and a 30-day trial of Amazon Prime, the company’s $79/year service that offers streaming video and free two-day shipping on most items purchased through Amazon. The tablet does not offer 3G connectivity, camera, or microphone.
In an extensive profile of Amazon, Bloomberg Businessweek notes that Amazon will be introducing a “crop” of new Kindle devices beginning at $79.
The long-awaited upgrade for Samsung’s original 7? Galaxy Tab is now underway in the UK, with Tab fanatics able to update their machines via Samsung’s KIES tool right now. The update takes the machine from its launch Android 2.2 software up to version 2.3, so isn’t a massive leap but very welcome all the same.
Apple sold 9.2 million iPads in the last business quarter of 2011, and the company’s CFO even went on record to say that Apple is selling “every iPad we can make.” This has been evidenced by the delayed shipping times for the iPad 2 since its release, with the tablet finally receiving a normal online shipping estimation only a couple weeks ago.
To contrast the iPad’s unprecedented success in the consumer tablet market, the Motorola Xoom shipped 440,000 units last quater. And, no, “ship” does not mean “sold.”
Motorola expects to sell 1-1.5 million Xooms by year’s end, while Apple sells 1.5 million iPads every two weeks.
That’s what you call a zinger.
My latest Guardian column is a pretty unenthusiastic review of the new Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, hailed by many as the first serious Android-based iPad competitor. The Galaxy has all the right parts, but they’re assembled without much care or forethought. Something I missed mentioning in the review is that the device hides the low-profile power key next to the low-profile volume key, and they’re nearly indistinguishable to the touch, so every time I adjust the volume, I end up turning off the device. Try to imagine how that goes over with the three-year-old when I turn down the sound on a YouTube cartoon she’s enjoying and inadvertently switch the screen off.
But Samsung’s tablets – for no discernible reason – use a custom tip that isn’t any of the standard mini- or micro-USB ends. Instead, it’s a wide, flat connector, like the one Apple uses, but of course, it’s not compatible with Apple’s cables, either. I’ve already lost mine, run down the battery and now I can’t use the tablet again until I find another one. I passed through three airports recently, and none of them had a store that stocked them.
I have phone charger cables in my office, my travel bag, my backpack and beside the bed. The very last thing in the entire world that I need right now is to have to add another kind of USB cable to all those places. The decision to use a proprietary connector in a device whose major selling point is that it is non-proprietary is the stupidest thing about the Galaxy Tab 10.1 – even stupider than calling it the “Galaxy Tab 10.1.”
Likewise disappointing was the decision to omit the microSD card slot on the Wi-Fi-only version of the tablet. The 3G-equipped models come with a built-in microSD reader (handy to have, especially if you need to load some data onto the device and you’ve mislaid the stupid proprietary cable). This is integrated into the Sim assembly used by the 3G devices, and rather than leaving the empty Sim assembly in place and leaving the card-reader intact, Samsung removed the whole thing.
comScore today released a new report detailing its new metric for tracking web traffic by device and connection type. According to the data, Apple’s iPad was responsible for 89% of worldwide tablet traffic in May, continuing to dominate the market it defined last year.
The iPad is currently the dominant tablet device across all geographies, contributing more than 89 percent of tablet traffic across all markets. The iPad’s contribution to total non-computer device traffic is highest in Canada (33.5 percent). Brazil has the second highest non-computer device share of traffic coming from the iPad at 31.8 percent, although non-computer devices account for less than 1 percent of total traffic in the country. In Singapore, where non-computer devices comprise nearly 6 percent of total traffic, the iPad accounts for 26.2 percent of this traffic.
Calculations on comScore’s data for share of non-computer traffic in the United States peg the iPad at a nearly 97% share, with Android taking nearly all of the rest of the market.
In the U.S., comScore finds that 53% of non-computer device traffic comes from Apple devices: 23.5% from iPhone, 21.8% from iPad, and 7.8% from iPod touch. Android follows in second place with over 36% of the market, nearly all from smartphones. comScore’s report finds an interestingly wide variation in traffic patterns among countries, with Canada seemingly leading the way in iOS adoption, where Apple’s platform is responsible for 83% of the non-computer device traffic.
iPad competitors, most of them based on Android, are continuing to flood the tablet market, but none have yet been able to break Apple’s stranglehold. Upcoming high-profile tablet entries include HP next week and Amazon reportedly within the next few months.
The Asus Eee Pad Transformer is what we’ve been waiting for – a tablet that can truly replace a netbook or ultra-portable laptop. With the keyboard disengaged, it’s a slim, fairly light tablet with a great screen and touchscreen. With the dock in-tow, it’s a typing demon whose battery will outlast almost any laptop you can find.
According to Samsung’s president of their mobile division, JK Shin, the company plans to launch a 4G tablet later this year, although we don’t know if it will be a 4G version of one of Samsung’s new tablets that have already been announced, like the Galaxy Tab 10.1 or a completely new tablet.
He also mentioned that we can expect to see the new Samsung Galaxy S III in the first half of 2012, so probably some time around April in 2012 as that would be one year on from the launch of the new Galaxy S II which was introduced recently.