- Innovative Design
- Premium quality screens
- Standard 3G connectivity
- Some excellent custom apps
- Heavier than expected
- Proprietary charging & power brick
- Wide bezels between the screens
- Aspect ratio poor for video
- Review Price: £499.99
- Two 5.5in, 1,024 x 768 screens
- Android operating system
- Curved clamshell design
- Nvidia Tegra 2 Platform, Dual Core 1GHz CPUs
The Tablet P is a perfect example of Sony at its most creative and most infuriating. The smaller brother of the more conventional Sony Tablet S, the Sony Tablet P takes what we know about tablets and rips up the rule book. Consequently we have a tablet which has two screens, folds in the middle and adopts a landscape clamshell form factor more associated with older smartphones like the Nokia Communicator. However bizarre the Tablet P make look, however, the methodology is simple: maximum mobility.
At 180 x 158 x 22mm this means the Sony Tablet P, while still too big for a trouser pocket, can just about be carried in a jacket or coat. That said at 372g the Tablet P isn’t the lightest tablet around as the more conventional Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus weighs a mere 345g. As such we don’t completely buy Sony’s claims about revolutionary portability, but that makes it no less interesting.
The Tablet P gets even more interesting up close. The company has opted for a sandblasted aluminium look for the P’s curved exterior and while the build materials are actually plastic it feels hard wearing and well built. The rear also comes off to reveal a welcome removable battery and a microSD slot and the hinge is extremely sturdy, opens and closes with a gentle magnetic pull and should last well beyond the device’s lifetime.
Sticking to the exterior the second obvious point is the minimal number of ports and buttons. Sony has opted for a clean aesthetic with just a headphone jack, micro USB port, power and volume buttons. To keep the ports clean Sony has stuck to its usual tactic of fitting flaps, but these do feel fragile and fiddly and it is something it really should stop – if you’re getting your device grubby enough that you might muck up the ports, then the rest of it needs protecting just as much. A further downside is the use of a proprietary charge port rather than microUSB and the surprising need for a power brick on the charger cable – ‘maximum portability’ indeed. The Tablet S suffered from these same drawbacks and we hope Sony will do away with them in future generations.
Despite this the Tablet P makes a promising first impression, but it is only once flipped open that the magic/weirdness truly begins…
The Tablet P is fitted with two incredibly high quality 5.5in screens, each packing in a whopping 1,024 x 600 pixels. As is often the case with Sony screens, the displays are wonderfully bright, the colours rich and, thanks to the pixel density, text is clear and razor sharp. The effect isn’t quite as eye-deceivingly perfect as the Retina Displays on the iPhone 4/4S and current iPod touch, but they set a new standard in tablets – at least until the tablet pixel wars which are expected to take place throughout 2012.
Brilliant as these displays may be it is impossible to escape the feeling Sony could have fitted 6/6.5in panels given the thickness of their bezels. The width of the Sony Tablet P also means there is considerable space to both the left and right of the screens giving it a somewhat retro Nintendo DS-like appearance. Quibbles aside it is hard not to be impressed.
Under the hood things are more mundane. The Tablet P runs on Nvidia’s ubiquitous Tegra 2 platform with its dual core 1GHz processor and 1GB of RAM. Internal storage is only 4GB, but the aforementioned microSD means this can be boosted by up to 32GB and all the usual connectivity is present and correct including WiFi, Bluetooth with EDR and GPS, as well as 3G (no SIM supplied). Meanwhile a five megapixel camera can be found on the rear and a VGA webcam in the massive bezel of the top screen.
On the software front the Tablet P has Android 3.2 at its core (the tablet edition of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich is still some way off), and Sony has used the same subtle skin seen on the Tablet S. Again any performance impact seems minimal and additional transition animations make the navigational experience far more fluid than stock Android 3.x. On top of this Sony has cashed in on its multimedia prowess building in its ‘Music Unlimited’ and ‘Video Unlimited’ portals which are part of its Qriocity download and streaming service. Content still hasn’t expanded vastly since we reviewed the Tablet S in October, but with content exclusives promised and a vast library at the company’s disposal they should both grow quickly next year.
So how does a radical design, dual screens, routine specifications and subtle software all combine? That’s the interesting part…
To its credit Sony has made a great deal of effort to make Android 3.2 run smoothly across both screens. By default the homescreen, web browser and mapping are spread across both screens creating a single display with a diagonal area of almost 7in that is also significantly wider than a standard 7in tablet’s aspect ratio. In addition Sony has been clever enough to make multitouch work across both screens, for example, one finger on the bottom screen and one on the top can still pinch to zoom or rotate.
It gets better too as Sony has customised a number of core applications to run in a split screen mode. This means many of Sony’s Android PlayStation titles can run in the top screen while controls are sat in the bottom screen and the clamshell form factor means it can bend into a far more comfortable natural gaming position.
Another good example is Sony’s mail client which opens messages in the top screen while locating folders in the bottom screen, while multimedia files are shown on the bottom and content on the top (video can expand across both screens but the screen layout isn’t really optimised for this). Perhaps best of all is the Sony Reader app which can operate in portrait, putting a page on each screen creating the most natural reading experience on any digital device.
In fact at its best the Sony Tablet P can feel like a multi-monitor setup in the palm of your hands and its form factor allows it to adopt either a tablet or laptop form factor depending on what is most useful at the time. The trouble is for every positive found in the Tablet P there is an equally powerful negative.
Most fundamental are the screen bezels. These are thinnest between the two screens but there is still 9mm (the thickness of a modern smartphone) between them which means your eyes never truly believes the illusion that they are watching one big screen. Worst still, the two screens are not generally bezel-corrected whereby the image is adjusted so it looks like the black bar of the bezel is physically in front of a larger screen, rather than the content starting and stopping either side of it.
With no bezel correction, content looks unnaturally seperated
Another fundamental problem is the aspect ratio itself which spread over two screens fits nothing properly at all. Videos have huge borders at any angle as do standard apps (some of which warp and stretch) and basic tasks like scrolling are made hugely frustrating when the action is broken every time your finger reaches the bezels between them. In short: unless both screens are truly borderless the whole concept simply doesn’t work and it is relegated to freak status, a perfect illustration of Sony’s simultaneous ability to be brave and utterly weird.
There are other shortcomings too. The five megapixel rear camera produces poor results with heavily pixelated images even in good light (though in fairness this is somewhat typical of tablets still) and the battery life lasted well under seven hours – not appalling but short of the competition. Despite this, so odd is the Tablet P we would like to recommend it for those craving something different, but with just 4GB of memory as standard for a hefty £499 RRP (£100 more than a 16GB iPad 2), which isn’t being heavily discounted yet, it is an overly expensive experiment.
The Tablet P is the perfect illustration of why Sony has risen so high but also fallen so low. Its clamshell, dual screen design is daring, well made and has some key killer applications. The screens themselves are also of wonderful quality and the whole device has a premium feel. Unfortunately reality sets in and for its core tasks the Tablet P is more hindrance than help.
The dual screen aspect ratio doesn’t work well with standard apps, video playback is horribly boxed off and simple actions like scrolling are made difficult by the dead area in the bezel between the two screens. Meanwhile the bezel itself is too thick to ever let the eye view both screens as a single display. We would love to recommend the Tablet P to those intrigued by its possibilities, but with an price that is more expensive than the competition, a proprietary charging port and a large power brick, it practicality won’t let us.
Score in detail
Screen Quality 9
Battery Life 6
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