Sony Xperia Z2 tablet: Gadget Watch

Sony suffered a bad start to 2014, when it announced it was selling its VAIO PC business to investment firm Japan Industrial Partners, spinning off its Bravia TV business into a separate subsidiary and slashing its global headcount by 5000 as part of a major restructure.

In the smartphone and tablet market, despite making sleek, waterproof devices, the Japanese tech giant has struggled in a marketplace dominated by Samsung, Apple and LG.

In February, at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, Sony announced the latest in its Xperia line of Android-powered smartphones and tablets.

So will the 10.1-inch Xperia Z2 tablet stand a fighting chance in the marketplace against Apple’s iPad Air, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 3 or Microsoft’s Surface 3? It’s time to find out.

Hardware and features

A key selling point of Sony’s Xperia Z2 tablet is, like its predecessors, that it is waterproof.

It is available in three configurations: Wi-Fi with 16 gigabytes of storage for $599, Wi-Fi with 32 gigabytes for $699 or 4G plus Wi-Fi with 16 gigabytes for $749.

By comparison, Apple sells an iPad Air with Wi-Fi and 16 gigabytes of storage for $598, WiFi with 32 gigabytes for $699 or 4G plus Wi-Fi and 16 gigabytes for $749. In other words, the Z2 tablet is in the same price bracket as the iPad.

The Z2 runs Android 4.4, is built around a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 at 2.3GHz.

It features a 10.1-inch TFT colour LCD display with a resolution of 1920×1200 pixels, a 2.2 megapixel front camera and an 8.1 megapixel rear camera.

Sony claims a battery life of 11 hours browsing the web with Wi-Fi, 13 hours playing videos, or 11 hours when browsing the web with LTE.

What’s the consensus?

Sony, famously, is one of the companies Steve Jobs took many of his design cues from. So as Harry McCracken at Time points out, it should come as little surprise to find the Z2 is a well-designed device.

However, for some users, the choice of widescreen display could be a very different matter:

There’s nothing plasticky or bulky about the Z2. Like the iPad Air and Amazon’s 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HDX–and few other full-sized tablets–it’s so light that I’m pleasantly surprised every time I pick it up. At 15.49 ounces and a quarter-inch thick, it’s a tad lighter and thinner than the one-pound, .29-inch iPad Air–but the difference is more striking than those numbers suggest, because the Z2′s 10.1-inch screen is meaningfully larger than the Air’s 9.7-inch display.

Sony’s screen, with a resolution of 1920-by-1080 pixels, is crisp, vivid and easy on the eyes. But I continue to be befuddled by why so many non-Apple tablets opt for a wide-screen orientation, including this one. Sure, it’s great for movies. But in every other respect, it makes for a more awkward experience than if the horizontal and vertical dimensions were more similar.

One of the strong points of a waterproof tablet is that, in theory, you could take it into the shower with you.

Over at IGN, Justin Rubio noted that using a tablet in the shower can be a little frustrating in practice, although the ability for your tablet to survive accidental spills is a clear advantage:

While wet, the Xperia Z2 Tablet often didn’t perform as desired. At one point, while watching Netflix in the shower (yes, that happened), water droplets hitting the glass would occasionally be interpreted as actual screen touches, sometimes stopping the media from playing or backing out of the app. Trying to navigate back to the desired app while the screen was still wet also proved troublesome, as the device had a hard time deciphering what I was tyring to do when tapping the display. But the waterproofing is for protection first and foremost, so while you likely won’t be able to play games while submerged, at least you’ll be happy to know that a clumsy accident involving a glass of water won’t permanently damage the device.

Ewan Spence at Forbes is impressed by the Z2’s tech specs, as well as the close-to-stock version of Android it uses:

It’s clear that Sony has not skimped at all on the hardware specifications. The Xperia Z2 Tablet’s internal hardware is at the top of the current Android tree. Sporting a 2.3 GHz quad core Krait processor (under the Snapdragon 801 architecture) with the Adreno 330 for graphics, it comes with 3GB of RAM, and is available with 16 GB or 32 GB of on board storage (microSD cards are supported for extra storage). There’s no doubt that if you are looking for a high specced tablet, the Z2 Tablet is going to be at the top of your list.

Every manufacturer starts with Android (in the case of the Z2 Tablet that is Android 4.4.2) and adds their own magic pixie dust into the mix. Sony doesn’t add much to the Android mix. Their own UI retains much of the basic Android UI elements, with just a few changes for clarity and consistency over the icons. Sony has continued to follow the path of making a device feel like a Sony device at the UI level, but leave as much of the stock Android experience in the mix as possible. Compared to Samsung and HTC, Sony is one of the cleanest implementations of Android out there.

Over at TechCrunch, Darrell Etherington was impressed both by the Z2’s battery life and its camera:

Battery life is strong on the Z2, with ample standby power reserves. In actual use, it drains quickly when viewing video, but for general use, I was impressed, and managed to eke out multiple days even without being too conservative.

Another area where Sony has genuinely added value, however, is the camera and its software. Google has opted to go simple with its own native Android camera app, but Sony clearly wants users to get the most out of their impressive camera tech. On the Z2, Sony continues its tradition of including a number of filters and different camera modes provided by itself and third-parties, with options to download more, and more of these effects can now be applied to video, too.

Should I get one?

In terms of price segment, this device is going head-to-head with the iPad. If you’re in the market for a low-cost Android tablet, something like the Kogan Agora is a better bet.

Likewise, if you’re looking at an all-in-one laptop and tablet for work, really I’d look in the direction of something like the Microsoft Surface or Lenovo ThinkPad over the Z2.

On the other hand, if you’re willing to pay a premium for a well-designed top-of-the-line tablet with Google’s app ecosystem, this is one to consider. Especially if looking for a tablet as an entertainment device (for example, movies on during a morning train commute) or are concerned about water damage to your tablet, this is the one to get.


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