Boot up the Sony Tablet S and you'll immediately see 'Music Unlimited' and 'Video Unlimited' icons on the homescreen. These are links to audio and video portals specially customised for the Tablet S within Sony's Qriocity download and streaming service. Here Sony pulls together the vast library of its Sony Music and Sony Pictures content and Tablet S owners will get six months free access. In something of an own goal Sony hasn't got these services running fully in time for the Tablet S's launch (just five movies are ready and Music Unlimited is listed as 'arriving soon'), but once active it should be an attractive option to potential customers and you can bet Sony will offer plenty of exclusives.
For gamers the Tablet S gets the same PlayStation certification as the Xperia Play making it compatible with Sony's official PSOne and PSP Android Marketplace ports, of which there are admittedly rather few at the moment. The Tablet S lacks the physical controls of the Play, but its added horsepower ensures all titles run smoothly and Sony has pre-installed Crash Bandicoot and Pinball Heroes to whet the appetite. What's more, the large screens of tablets makes them that much more conducive to using onscreen controls - proportionately less screen space is taken up by them.
For camera enthusiasts Sony has called on its camera prowess too and the 5MP shooter on the Tablet S is the best we've experience on a tablet to date. In automatic the camera takes pictures with greater vibrancy than the typically washed out images we've seen from the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and RIM BlackBerry PlayBook while it obviously mops the floor with the inadequate 0.7MP rear camera on the iPad 2. For more hands-on photographers Sony has also provided a reasonable level of control with dual macro and manual exposure options as well as an array of preset scene modes. Of course, there's still the issue of why you'd want a particularly fancy camera on a tablet but at least the option's there on this one.
Sony has done a good job with battery life too. Android is notoriously power hungry and while the Tablet S's claimed eight hours is less than the Galaxy Tab 10.1's nine we found it will last over six hours with heavy usage, superior to the 10.1's five hours . This still doesn't hold up to the iPad 2's quoted 10 hours though (we found it lasts close to this claim) and the Tablet S battery charge time of five hours is excessive. Meanwhile pricing is on a par with its rivals (£399 16GB, £479 32GB, £499 16GB 3G) offering reasonable value for money, at least technically. However, there's still that niggling feeling that any tablet rival really needs to be undercutting the iPad if it's to gain traction, as Apple's device simply offers the most complete tablet experience thanks to its vast app support. Then again, if anyone can muscle their way into this market, it's Sony, with its trifecta of music, video and game content to draw upon.
Sony has taken its time to enter the tablet race and the Tablet S shows the company has learnt from many of the mistakes made by its rivals and worked hard to integrate worthwhile differentiators. This effort is largely successful and while PlayStation conversions and Sony's Music and Video Unlimited services are only in their infancy these should bear substantial fruit in time.
Certainly the Tablet S isn't without its faults. Connectivity options feel different largely for the sake of it and Sony still can't resist dipping into proprietary ports, but the practical wedge styling should attract a loyal following – especially as it carries no weight penalty. Some may take issue at the slightly reduced screen size, but battery life possibly benefits from the choice of a 9.4in display and the added pixel density makes it easy on the eyes. For those who want a tablet which stands out from the pack the Tablet S will prove a sound investment.