Sony Tablet S Android Slate Review

User Interface & Software

Mmm, doesn't a freshly unwrapped Ice Cream Sandwich sound delightful? You bet it does, and we're not talking about the kind you get at your local dairy mart, we mean Android 4.0. But before you get too excited, you won't find ICS on Sony's Tablet S, not yet anyway (we're such teases). What you do get is the latest build of Honeycomb, Android 3.2.1, just like every other cutting edge Android tablet. Android 4.0 will begin rolling out to devices in early 2012, though Sony has kept quiet on when or if ICS will land on the Tablet S.

Armed with an Nvidia Tegra 2 dual-core processor clocked at 1GHz and 1GB of RAM, it takes about 38 seconds to boot to the lock screen and 11 seconds to fully shut down. The home screen isn't cluttered with a ton of bloat, just a few Sony-specific programs and your standard fare icons, like YouTube, Gmail, Google Maps, and the Android Market.

Navigating the five home screens is mostly smooth and responsive, though it's not as tight as iOS on the iPad 2. If you rapidly wiggle your finger back and forth, for example, you'll outrun the UI as it tries to keep up. This is largely a non-issue and will only be noticeable when skipping through menus at breakneck speeds. During normal usage, the screens scroll just fine.

Less forgivable is the overall performance. Even though the Tablet S wields a dual-core processor and a 1GB of RAM, it feels underpowered at times. We noticed a bit of lag in between pressing an on-screen button and hearing an audible click to let us know our finger tap registered with the device, and on rare occasions our finger taps would go unnoticed. The amount of lag varies, seemingly without rhyme or reason, and this sluggishness extends over to loading apps, which fire up a little slower than we'd like. It also plagues the virtual keyboard, but again, sometimes it's worse than others, and there doesn't seem to be a common denominator that would explain why it is or isn't being laggy at any particular time. Several times, however, typing would become an exercise in frustration, whether it was tapping out an Internet address or searching for an app in the App Market.

The Tablet S comes pre-loaded with a bunch of apps, all of which you're able to uninstall. Not a fan of Foursquare or Evernote? You can get rid of them if you want, along with several of Sony's own apps. Sony also includes a link to its Select App site, which "highlights new and unique Android applications in a number of categories, recommended for Sony Tablet devices." It's worth checking out if you're new to Android, but veteran users will want to skip the middleman and head directly to the Android Market.

While Sony did a good job with the physical design, the virtual side needs work. Sony is a media behemoth and so it makes sense that it would try to integrate services like Music Unlimited, Video Unlimited, Sony Reader, and PlayStation gaming onto its device. But what's missing is cohesion between these different services. Instead of one account to rule them all, these service require their own individual logins. Even worse, registering is a headache, or at least that was our experience. It would sometimes take us multiple attempts to register one of the services, and were even blocked at one point because the device's time zone was wrong -- that's just weird. A forced account manager update helped with this somewhat, but even after jumping through several hoops (installing the account manager, updating apps), we still ran into issues with Sony's Video Unlimited (force closes) and Music Unlimited (eligibility errors) services. Grind it out and you'll get everything setup correctly, but hopefully Sony smooths this out in a future update.

Not all of Sony's Tablet S software was marred with bugs, however. Easily one of our favorites features is the built-in universal IR remote control application. Within a matter of moments, we had the Tablet S configured to control our Sharp HDTV, DirecTV DVR set-top box, and our finicky Onkyo receiver that uses a different signal for turning on and off the device. The Tablet S handled them all with aplomb and there was a definite gee-whiz factor from wielding a ginormous touch-sensitive universal remote from our comfy command center (couch). We truly became a master of the living room, and the only thing missing is a laser to fire at people who have the audacity to step in front of the TV.

Also of interest is baked-in DLNA support, giving the Tablet S further flexibility in the living room, provided you own a DLNA-compatible TV set. This is a great feature, though one that has us even more confuzzled at the lack of an HDMI output. If there's a natural habitat for the Tablet S, it's the living room (or man cave).

With a folded back magazine design, the Tablet S is begging to serve up eBooks, and Sony's Reader app comes pre-installed. We were immediately implored to update it and, once again, issue yet another login. Once we jumped through the hoops, the Reader app fired up without issue and worked well with eBooks.

The Tablet S is the first PlayStation Certified tablet and it comes with a pair of classic games -- Crash Bandicoot and Pinball Heroes -- pre-installed and ready to run. You can also download more classic PSone and PSP games online via the PS Store. This has the potential to be awesome, but so far there are only 10 games you can download, half of which are free and the rest priced at $5.99. They include:
  • Cool Boarders (Free)
  • Destruction Derby (Free)
  • Hot Shots golf 2 (Free)
  • Jet Moto (Free)
  • MediEvil (Free)
  • Jet Moto 2 ($5.99)
  • Jumping Flash ($5.99)
  • Motor Toon Grand Prix ($5.99)
  • Rally Cross ($5.99)
  • Wild Arms ($5.99)

The games we tried all ran well enough with Nvidia's Tegra 2 processor pushing pixels around, though these aren't cutting-edge titles by any stretch.

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