As you might expect, we’ve seen a lot of phones and tablets come and go through the WhistleOut test labs over the years, and it takes a lot to get a ‘Wow’ out of our team. The Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet is one of the few devices to earn this high level of praise.
The ‘Wow’ moment comes after you lift the tablet up. At 426-grams, this tablet is impressively lightweight, about the same weight as a plastic chopping board that you might have in your kitchen. This makes the Z2 Tablet about 15% lighter than an iPad Air, which in turn is lighter than Samsung’s new Galaxy Tab 10.1. The light design makes the Z2 the most comfortable tablet we’ve had the pleasure to hold on to, which pays dividends after long periods of use.
It is also over a millimetre slimmer than the iPad Air, and is one of the few tablets (or phones) that is a marvel to behold. You think about all of the the functionality we expect in a device like this and you wonder how Sony’s engineers managed to squeeze in all the bits and pieces necessary.
That said, there are no surprise inclusions here. Sony packs in the standard ports and plugs, including a 3.5mm headphone socket, a micro-USB port, a micro-SD card slot and the obligatory power and volume keys. There is a dock on the bottom of the tablet to connect it with accessories and an IR-blaster at the top for changing the channels on your TV (among other things).
The chassis of the tablet is made from a stiff plastic with a matte finish. This gives the Z2 Tablet a classy look and a little grip, but overall this is quite a functionally designed aesthetic. This chassis also keeps out tablet-harming nasties, like water and dust, with the Z2 being equally water and dust resistant as the Z2 phone. Yes, that’s right: you can take this tablet with you in the bath.
Despite Sony’s outstanding tradition in making large, flat-panel TVs, the company’s expertise in displays has never translated convincingly to its mobile products. Sony smartphone have suffered in years past from having dull backlighting and washed out colours.
We saw a shift towards better mobile displays from Sony last year, and the Z2 Tablet is a positive confirmation that the screens from Sony Mobile are getting better. Sony opts for a 1920 x 1200 (full-HD) resolution screen across 10.1-inches and the results are pretty impressive.
This is a really punchy display capable of deep, rich colours. In fact, for our tastes, this display has been calibrated towards over-saturation, which is great in many instances, but can be a little annoying to look at.
What we do like is how black the screen is when you turn the power off — it is almost impossible to distinguish between where the screen ends and the bezel around the screen begins. This may sound like a ridiculous thing to include in a review, but when you consider that most tablets live on the coffee table in your living room, what it looks like with the power off becomes more important.
If you compare the approach to tablets by the two dominant names in the business, you find two conflicting approaches to the same basic concept. Apple, with its iPad, keeps things simple. Its tablet is basically just a screen with an operating system, and the rest of the ‘magic’ is left to third-party apps discovered through the App Store. Samsung, on the other hand, likes to pack in the features, like its S-Pen stylus, multi-screen modes and a dozen apps developed in-house.
Using the Z2 Tablet as a guide, Sony seems to follow the Apple ethos of tablet making. The Z2 includes a couple of Sony-made apps, but it feels like a blank canvas compared to the experience of using a Samsung tablet for the first time.
Sony’s user-interface for Android is elegantly designed and includes a few nice tweaks and flourishes, but overall it feels like Sony is stepping aside and letting the user take control. The look and feel of the software in the Z2 Tablet can be augmented with ‘Themes’ and while Sony includes a couple of simple themes to switch between, it also links you to the Google Play Store to buy more via third-parties.
We appreciate the effort Sony has put in to educating users on how to connect its products together, and the Z2 Tablet has a number of apps and widgets designed specifically to remind you that you can stream pictures and videos to your compatible TV, or share the internet on your phone with your Wi-Fi-only Z2 Tablet. In fact, there is a whole system setting dedicated to this purpose, called “Xperia Connectivity” where all of these options can be found together.
There’s a cool Sony-made app on the Z2 called ‘TV SideView’ which acts like an interactive TV Guide. You tell it where you live and it pulls together a list of local-area TV channels into a moving guide, and when you find something you like, you literally swipe the show up and towards your TV. Sony calls this ‘throwing’ content to your TV, and it is a natural and intuitive feeling gesture for this action.
One area Sony has put in a fair amount of effort is media sharing, or ‘throwing’ as its known on Xperia devices. There is a dedicated menu area for setting up how, and with what, you’ll be sharing your media.
You have two core options for sharing: you can mirror your tablet screen on a larger screen (like a TV) using Wi-Fi Direct or you can stream media to an external display using DLNA. Streaming will be the more popular option given the wide proliferation of DLNA devices, including media streamers like the Roku 3, media centre PCs and game consoles, like the PS3 and Xbox. In fact, most new TVs these days include DLNA support and a Wi-Fi connection.
All you need to do is make sure both the tablet and streamer (or compatible TV) are connected to the same WiFi network and they should recognise each other. All of Sony’s media apps (Walkman, Albums and Movies) include a ‘Throw’ button in the player section of the app.
Once you have this connected, streaming also works in the opposite direction: from a computer or media server to the tablet. This way you can set yourself up in bed and watch movies on the Z2.
A few years back, when the first iPad came out, we used to joke about the uselessness of having a camera on a tablet. Talk about egg on our face; you can’t attend a university graduation these days or enjoy a picnic by the water without seeing a parent photographing their child with a tablet.
These parents would be happy to get their hands on the camera in the Sony Xperia Z2 tablet. With an 8-megapixel image sensor, the Z2 has more pixels than an iPad Air, and it also benefits from Sony’s Exmor RS image technology — borrowed from Sony’s dedicated camera department.
The camera’s software is pretty similar to the software on the Z2 phone, with a few exclusions. You can rely on the excellent Superior Auto mode, or switch into one of the dedicated modes, like Panorama Sweep and Background Defocus (which works really nicely). You can also use Timeshift Burst to shoot a bunch of images in a row so you can pick the best of them after.
To match its exquisite design, the Xperia Z2 tablet comes packing some of the beefiest hardware components under the hood, too. Sony chooses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chipset, with a quad-core 2.3GHz processor and 3GB RAM. This combination delivers performance where it counts, namely the web browser and in executing apps.
There wasn’t a task we threw at the Z2 that it couldn’t handle — but then the same can be said for more Android tablets. The Z2 uses its horsepower to make it a seamless experience, but you could definitely save some money and get something less powerful if you have a specific task in mind.
Our Wi-Fi only review model enjoyed several days in standby mode without running out of charge and a little over 8-hours of actual use. This puts the Z2 in the middle of the pack when it comes to battery life, but then, 8-hours use is more than most of us expected from our gadgets these days, so Sony is pretty safe.
Sony has made the ultimate companion to its Xperia Z2 smartphone in this tablet. In fact, you could say Sony has re-made its Z2 phone in tablet form here. With the same internal components and much of the same software, there is more similarities than differences between these two devices, despite their sizes.
In terms of price, Sony is playing a curious game of cat and mouse in the tablet market, pricing the Z2 tablet almost identically to Apple’s iPad Air. Starting from $600 for a 16GB tablet with Wi-Fi only, the Z2 is not budget priced, but it is deserving of this price tag. Despite the flood of sub-$300 tablets available, the Z2 is clearly worth the extra money, if you choose to spend it.
It may not come with a stylus and it’s not a laptop replacement, but the Sony Xperia Z2 is a tablet we are happy to recommend all day long.